Author Archives: Nikos Kritsantonis

About Nikos Kritsantonis

Nikos Kritsantonis has been working in international education the past 10 years. His experience has been enriched, both professionally and culturally, by working in diverse school environments in Europe and Asia as a Homeroom teacher, Theater manager and Drama Coordinator. Nikos sees himself as a facilitator of students' knowledge. He is passionate about implementing technology and design thinking to his practice, and his educational philosophy aligns with the inquiry-driven educational movement. He believes that the teachers’ role is to create learning environments where kids will find the space to unfold their unique talents. 

How to build the most magnificent thing

Can creativity, innovation and talents be taught?  How is school responsible for students’ success?

Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative. Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset. A type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Anyone who needs advice on how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity  and how grown-ups have abolished it for fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.

Developing a Growth Mindset 

Last week I took part in a teachers’ workshop with the title “Teaching with 21st century skills in mind”, led by Lance G. King. The facilitator has made an impact on education with his book “The importance of failing well”. In this book the author, based on his research, claims that, among other qualities, the successful students demonstrated acceptance of failure, while the underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives. Lance G King, claims that students with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity for feedback, that they believe that personality and intelligence can change and grow, and that they also believe in continual improvement through adaptation. In other words, the mindset of successful students does not let failure get in their way to success!
Psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her book: “Mindset:The New Psychology of Success” summarized the key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. Her decades long research showed that students with a growth mindset, who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned, go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence.

Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset

Mathematician John Mason from the University of Oxford claims that all students have “natural powers” in problem solving. He claims that these powers are integral to human intelligence and are used across fields of human activity. When it comes to being a successful problem solver, it is really about learning to use these powers within the right context. Cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky used the example of mathematics to argue that learning is a scientific endeavour and that students need to be in the presence of a teacher, who will scaffold the process of learning. It is within that process that students make meaning and they eventually become aware of how  fundamental  is to human intelligence to follow that process.

Another influential educator and mathematician Jo Boaler,  in her book “The elephant in the classroom” claims that ” one of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not”

It is not only academics and mathematicians who are making the point that success is something you learn. Writers and artists as well are argue that what most people refer to as talent is the result of perseverance, resilience, self-awareness and systematic work, qualities that are at the core of 21st Century learning skills.

So, if we all have the power to be creative what’s getting in our way? Here lays the importance of  Early years education. It is at this developmental stage that kids shape their mindset and it is really vital to make positive connections about their abilities and build trust on themselves.

Problem solving in the life of young learners

As an early years teacher I see examples of pure creativity in my classroom every day and my role is to support the students’ “natural powers” . A book that I love to use as a reference when I  talk with my students about the beauty of making and the power of  perseverance and resilience is  “The Most Amazing Thing”.

Author and illustrator Ashley Spires in this book  writes about a little girl who, alongside her best friend, her lovely dog, has this wonderful idea of making the “most MAGNIFICENT thing!”.  The little girl starts with enthusiasm.

but when things don’t go as she has planned she feels such a disappointment that she decides to “QUIT”.   

The little girl didn’t know back then that this is a phase of problem solving which is called “Being STUCK”.  

If you are a maker you sure know how it feels! Writers and artists call this stage “creative block”. John Mason claims that “being STUCK” is a honorable and positive state from which much can be learned. There is a major physiological impact when we are creating something. Stress comes with creativity and creativity as well as stress are  physical, a matter of hormone secretion that produces that special feeling. In that stage, positive reinforcement is crucial.

And this is what our little heroine did.  After a long walk with her best friend and after she treats herself with a muffin, the mad gets pushed out of her head. It might take some time but, as all teachers know, with the right support makers will go back to work. It is that time where reflection turns “Stuck” into “AHA!”.

Dr. Ken Atchity, whose work is part of very prestigious creative writing curriculums in universities around the world, claims that in that stage of creative block our mind is testing us to see how serious we are about our desire to be disciplined and to get the best from reflection.

Understanding how the process works is what converts anxiety to elation. As a learner and a maker, the challenge of  been successful in pursuing your passion is not to avoid anxiety but to cope with it and turn it in positive energy.  

Back to our story, the girl, who is now calmer, starts ” to work carefully and slowly, tinkering, hammering, gluing and painting”, or in the problem solving language, she entered the ATTACK phase,

and in the end :  

The little girl in the story is a maker, she had the growth mindset to see the opportunity where others would have “failed bad”.

Her early failures enable her to gain control over her mood or the effective skill of emotional management. She also demonstrated perseverance and resilience. All these are part of the 21st century skills that modern education sets at the core of the teaching practice.

Once the environment supports the cognitive and physical growth of every child and learning is designed to scaffold learners capacity to be creative and develop their super powers Innovation happens in the classroom every day.We can see it as long as we know where to look and how to support it. If we don’t recognize it, we are the ones that are failing, not out students.









Conquerors of Knowledge : The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. If I receive an e-mail written in English from your 8-year-old, Korean student, this makes me even happier. Especially, when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English, his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common in teacher-parents meetings for parents to voice their concern on language learning. Drawing from our experience, we find that for our adult minds learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, it is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere, usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. It takes thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but, also, on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.

Click to watch the TED Ed presentation:

Bilingual Brain - TEDEd