Meanderings on Attachment

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Meanderings on Attachment

“There are two seasons in Minnesota – winter and road construction.” I reminisce on this old phrase as I sit in traffic on 35W between Minneapolis and our home base in Duluth. This is a segment of highway that should be flying along at 70 mph, with nothing more than a possible deer running across the road to slow things down. Yet here I sit, staring at the line of green fir trees bordering the shoulder on a warm day in July, trying to exercise some level of patience. The summer is almost over for us. Soon we will be returning to the school we work at in Yangon. There is still so much we want to do before we return – people we want to see and experiences we want to have. Staring at that line of trees, I avoid thinking of what I could be doing if I weren’t sitting in traffic. That would be completely self-defeating.

One of the things we still plan to do before summer is over is take the family to see a production of Billy Elliot at the Duluth Playhouse. The whole family is together this summer, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to do things like this. With one daughter out of college, one in college, and another who is a senior, I’m not sure how many more summers we’ll all be together for things like this. This summer they are home though, I think partially because they want to get to know Max. He joined our family last fall, and we received legal guardianship of him in February. Our two older daughters had never met him other than through Skype. This summer, they were discovering what it meant to have a brother added to the family.

I had just purchased tickets to Billy Elliot while we were in Minneapolis. We were at a mall, where my wife was busy checking on sales of things that were a perfect bargain, whether we needed them or not. A bench at the entrance to the store seemed designed for waiting spouses. In fact, I wasn’t the only one sitting there. I pulled out my phone. After a quick check of email and news headlines, I browsed the website to purchase tickets to the musical. A number of evenings were sold out, so I exhaled loudly when I managed to snatch up five of six seats in one row for one of the final evening performances.

The car inches forward. Music is playing, but is more background noise than anything. My wife has her seat laying all the way back. The rhythm of her breathing tells me she is asleep. I sit up straight, suddenly more focused. How many tickets did I buy? Five? I shake my head. I did it again. With Max added to the family, we are now six. This has happened on several occasions. We go to a restaurant, and I tell the host we need five seats, and then realize we need six. I count five lifejackets for the boat, and then as we pull away from shore realize another is needed. As traffic is still standing still, I pull out my phone and check the theatre website. Great! That sixth seat in the row is still available. I quickly purchase it before the car inches forward again.

The first time I forgot to include Max in our family numbers equation I felt terrible. I thought it somehow reflected a lack of attachment to him on my part, or subliminal lack of acceptance of him into our family. I don’t think that anymore. Instead, I’m clear in my own mind it is more a reflection of my age and where I am in life. We had never expected a “Max” in our lives. When he came to live with us, we were a fully established family of five, planning for lives as empty nesters in two years. Forgetting him wasn’t about a lack of attachment; it simply reflected the mind of someone whose life had been going in one direction before being knocked into another by a nine-year-old boy we hadn’t ever expected. It was simply a matter of getting used to something different. Attachment is something else entirely.

I’m not much of an athlete. Somehow, in my formative years I never developed the hand – eye coordination essential to most sports. In a related manner, I never learned how to put my body into it when throwing a ball, hitting with a bat, or connecting with a variety of pieces of sports equipment. As a youngster though, I discovered I had been blessed with one bit of athletic ability, I could run at a reasonably fast speed. This kernel of knowledge propelled me to pursue running as the singular sport I believed I could excel at. Over the years, I ran in a number of 10Ks, and even a couple of marathons. With time, running became the singular sport for which I developed some level of passion. It became the means for me to stay in shape, to focus my attention, a solace for me to escape and think things through in my own mind. One of the first things I did when moving to a new country was to find a route to run so I could develop the routine that had become a focus of my life over the years. It was on one of my first runs in Myanmar that I came across Max.

There is heaviness in the air in Yangon in August. It builds up throughout the day making it seem like you are maneuvering through a wall of water each time you step outside. At times, it will culminate in a refreshing rainfall leaving behind a few brief hours of clarity and free movement. At other times, it simply dissipates into the night, with the wall being built anew the falling day with each passing hour. Avoiding the wall becomes the goal of each daily run. This is accomplished by running early – as early as possible. First light is around 5:00 AM.

Leaving our home one of those first mornings, I pursued a slow, steady pace along our, narrow, pock marked asphalt road. Running by a gold domed monastery where the sound of brass gongs broke the morning silence, then downhill past elegant mansions and colonial homes, I finally crossed a major intersection to arrive at a park that bordered one of the city lakes. These parks live daily changes in purpose. Mid afternoon and early evening they play host to young lovers seeking some time alone under umbrellas and behind trees, while night is party time with young people playing music and drinking. Mornings though are a time of sport. A group of women gather in the parking lot to dance aerobically to pop music, and young men with muscular physics make use of the permanent exercise equipment. For my part, I joined in the line of people walking and / or running along the paved trail that snaked its way along the lake and through the park.

I was about ten minutes into my run when I noticed the runners and walkers taking brief steps off the trail ahead of me. It was unclear to me why they were doing this. Coming closer, I saw a small mound of flesh in the middle of the pavement. At first, I wasn’t clear what I was seeing, and then realized it was two small boys with arms and legs wrapped around each other in a knot, fast asleep on the cool ground. They were both dressed in worn discolored shorts. One had torn t-shirt on, while the other wore a collared button down shirt absent the buttons.   They were both filthy, and I found myself wondering what they were doing there. Did they live close by and had sought refuge from the summer heat of their home, or was their existence somehow a more permanent situation? Why were people simply stepping around them as though they were some sort of mild irritation? I slowed to a trot as I went past the boys, following the lead of those ahead of me. What I didn’t realize as I went past was one of the boys appearing before me was a street boy who would come to live in our home in a few short months, and in less than a year would join our family as the boy we would come to call Max.

The exact story of how Max came to live with us is one I’ll save for another time. I will say it was something unplanned and unexpected. A decision made on a whim, which has changed our lives, for the better, forever. The first several weeks he was with us were amazing, almost surreal. We weren’t exactly sure what we were doing with him at that point, or even what future we might have with him. He very quickly became a part of our lives though. He would get up early with me each morning and go running with me. Preparing breakfast followed this. During the day he would come by the school we worked at and hang out drawing pictures, talking to people, and helping out. Afternoons were filled with playing soccer, riding bikes, and helping out with various tasks, while evenings were filled with table games and watching television. Though we struggled with his inability to speak English, we found ways to communicate as he quickly fit into our family routines. As a result, it was a shock when this came to a sudden end.

Throughout these first weeks, Max had never asked us to visit the park where he had been living when we first met him. Out of the blue, one afternoon he asked, through an interpreter, if we could go for a walk in the park that evening. Sure, I said, though it would need to be late evening, as the school holiday concert was that evening.

“The whole family?” He asked.

“Sure.”

“Even Joey?” Our dog.

“Yes, even Joey.”

Max floated through the rest of that day. He was constantly hugging us at every opportunity. We attended the concert that evening. The stars twinkled in the sky and a soft breeze waffled through the air as the sound of children singing permeated our schoolyard. At one point I looked around for Max. He was sitting quietly with his head leaned against my assistant. She had her arm around him. All seemed well in the world of Max.

As soon as the concert was over, Max reminded me of my promise to go to the park. We went home and gathered together the family – my wife, our youngest daughter, Joey, and my daughter’s boyfriend. We strolled down our block, crossed the road to the park, and then made our way along the lake. At one point, a dirty boy in clothes dotted with tears and stains, clearly a bit older than Max, approached us. Max spoke to him, then asked me in his few words of English if he could give this boy some money. I handed over some loose change. The boy left, and we continued on our way. We arrived back home. Max was smiling, chattering and constantly hugging us. The excursion to the park had been a success.

Max and I settled into a short television show before bed. At this point, I can’t remember what the show was, nor does it really matter. What I remember is a feeling of fulfillment. A sense that somehow this boy, who had become a part of our lives, belonged with us. Everything just seemed to fit. As the show came to a close, I told Max it was almost bedtime. This had become a time where we read simple picture books, and practiced English words he had been exposed to.

Max turned to me and spoke very aggressively. “No. No bed!”

Caught off guard, I said, “What? Say that again?’

“No! No bed! No happy here!”

Again, I questioned what he was saying. Suddenly, he began to hit at me with two fists. He became very tearful and started to say over and over he wasn’t happy. He wanted to return to the park. I didn’t understand and tried to question him. He became incoherent, hitting at me more, and more loudly saying he wanted to return to the park. He didn’t want to live with us any longer. I took Max into my arms and held him, trying to get him to calm down. Trying to understand what was happening. He struggled and resisted. Finally, I gave up trying to understand. I carried him to his room, where I laid with him, holding him, until he finally settled down and fell asleep.

Once Max was asleep, I sat down on the floor next to his bed. Exhausted from holding him, my arms resting on my knees, I tried to make sense of what had just happened. What had suddenly changed? Where had this come from? Max didn’t have to live with us. He wasn’t a prisoner. That had always been a clear message from us to him. Still, I wanted to understand what was suddenly happening, where this change had come from. I slowly fell off to sleep next to Max’s bed, not wanting to leave. Somehow, I felt this was a time he needed us, though I didn’t understand why.

We approached the morning with a bit of trepidation. Max awoke surlier than we had ever seen him. Our Toyota Land Cruiser was smaller than usual and the route to school was twice the distance with Max in the back seat. Every pothole was accentuated, as we seemed to inch along. At school, our head of security met us, and I asked him to translate as we tried to understand what was happening.

Max stated he wanted to return to the park to live. My memory at this moment is of him sitting in a large leather chair. His head hung forward, and there were tears running down his cheeks. A part of me wanted to simply hug him, though I held back not really sure what was happening. I said that was fine, if that was what he really wanted, but did he understand we cared about him? Yes, he understood. It didn’t matter. He wanted to go. This just didn’t seem real. What happened that had caused such a rapid change? We had clearly started to feel a sense of attachment to Max. Was it really possible he didn’t feel the same? I asked my assistant if she would talk to Max, and see if she could figure out where all of this was coming from.

Right from the beginning, my assistant seemed to connect with Max. When he stopped by school, he would usually stop and chat with her first. He drew pictures for her, and talked about her regularly. On this occasion, she pulled Max aside at her desk and talked with him. He squatted next to her chair, speaking animatedly. In a short period, she brought Max to my office and sat him down. She explained the issue wasn’t that Max wanted to leave. He actually wanted to stay with us. He was feeling torn though. When he saw his friend at the park the night before he had realized how much he missed his friends there. She explained for the past year and a half, these other boys had been like his family. He felt he was somehow letting them down by being with us instead of them.

I thought about this. It seemed completely reasonable Max would feel attached to these boys, and he would feel a need to be with them. Max could return to the streets if that were what he wanted. Perhaps there was a workable alternative though. I suggested that Max stay with us. He could invite one or two of his friends over whenever he was feeling a need to be with them. He would just need to let us know in advance. This was translated to Max. He asked a couple of questions. As I responded to each, a smile came to his face. He jumped out of his chair and wrapped his arms around my neck. In a way, I couldn’t believe this was what had caused the melt down of the night before. There it was though.

It seemed we had achieved a livable solution to this problem. That afternoon, Max and I went to the park. He sought out his friend, who came to our home the next day and stayed for dinner. The experience we had the night of the holiday concert turned out to be only the beginning though. It seemed to trigger some sort of inner struggle for Max. For the next several months, he would have days when he was the most fantastic boy in the world. Then, suddenly, he would erupt into verbal and physical struggles where I would again have to hold him until he went to sleep, and often spend the night by his bed. At these times, we would find ourselves wondering what we had involved ourselves with, and questioned if it was something we could continue with. At times we felt we were walking on eggshells, wondering when the next episode would occur. When I was younger, before I went into teaching, I had worked in a residential facility with emotionally disturbed children. Many of these children struggled with issues related to abandonment and a lack of attachment. They regularly acted out physically, especially if they began to feel close to someone, out of fear of the relationship. After each episode with Max, we would take him the next day to someone to translate. Invariably, there was some reasonable reason for his behavior that was often frustrated by a lack of ability to communicate with us. Still, his behavior was reminding me more and more of the children I had worked with many years ago. When I was younger, I could deal with that type of behavior. I even appreciated the challenge of it. I’m much older now though, and both my wife and I began to wonder how much we could handle. That said, we were also starting to feel torn. With each episode we felt we were beginning to understand Max more. His protective layers were slowly peeling away and we were slowing finding ourselves more emotionally tied into him. We reached a point where we began to feel we needed to either be all in with this boy, or we needed to find an alternative solution for him.

We gradually came to know Max’s mother. She lives in the north of the country, and was clear she was unable to take Max back and care for him. With this knowledge, and given how much we had come to care for him, we made a decision to seek legal guardianship of Max. We were still struggling with some of his behavior, and still had questions about his ability to completely attach to us, but we began to believe we could make it work. We had to appear in court on three separate occasions. The first time both Max and his mother had to attend. This was one of the first interactions Max had with his mom in approximately two years. He sat and talked with her, but didn’t show any real emotion. When the judge questioned his mother, she described how her husband had passed away and she had found herself alone with five sons – Max being the youngest. Blind in one eye, she had struggled to support her sons, and gradually had sent each off to work in different labor arrangements. She no longer knew where her two oldest sons were, and had lost knowledge of where Max was when he ran away from his work situation over a year and a half ago. She acknowledged she loved her son, but couldn’t care for him. He had already been dead to her until we found him, and she was happy to have him live with us. Max listened to all of this. He wrapped my wife’s arm around himself and moved closely to her, holding her hand tightly. I remember watching him as all of this was going on. I was happy to see him seeking solace from my wife, but again I wondered about his ability to attach. His detachment from his mother didn’t fit with my worldview of mother / child relationships.

A funny thing happened after we went to court. We don’t know why, but Max changed. It was like a switch went off inside of him and he realized this situation was for good. We weren’t turning back. We watched him suddenly become more content, and the behavior challenges gradually diminished. Starting school meant the creation of routines and development of relationships with other kids other than street kids. This also seemed to settle him, and we saw him become more comfortable in being a part of our family. This doesn’t mean our questions regarding his level of attachment changed. In the months that followed, we still experienced occasional issues that made us wonder about this, but the behavior challenges seemed to go away.

This summer has been fantastic! Why? English! Max is in the U.S. with us, and the exposure to constant English has caused his language skills to take off. For me, the most important aspect of this has been the ability to begin exploring different issues with him, like attachment. Max has a real affinity for fishing. He loves to go fishing for trout and through the summer we have spent hours at different fishing holes along the north shore of Minnesota. During these times we talk. The other day I asked him about his mom and how he felt when he saw her in court. He was initially reticent to talk about it, asking me why I want to talk about these things. Finally he said, “You know, I love my mom. I know she loves me. But, I don’t like her. I can’t explain it. Maybe when I’m twenty I can explain it.”

We’ve also talked about some of the issues he had during the months before we went to court. He has explained to me that he loves us, but he was also angry with us for a while. He said that if we hadn’t come along, he would have stayed with his friends on the streets. Now, they are gone and he wonders about them and worries about what has happened to them. He tells me he is no longer angry, but he still thinks about his friends.

Having the ability to communicate with Max has made a big difference. We are now able to communicate our thoughts and feelings. He is able to do the same. We still have issues with him, like any parent. We are also beginning to understand attachment from his perspective is a more difficult concept than it is for us. He’s had many different types of relationships in his life, and it seems he is trying to fit them all together and make sense of them. What is important for us right now is we love him. We know he loves us. And we are all working very hard to be successful.

I just need to remember to think of six now instead of five.

 Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

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Tell Me a Story

So I spent some time last week pushing into a few classrooms to tell stories to our kids, and it was easily the best part of my week. I love telling stories and I love listening to stories (who doesn’t), and I’ve come to believe that engaging students through storytelling can be a powerful strategy that all educators should have in their toolbox. Since I began my teaching career all those years ago, telling stories has always been my favorite thing to do, and in my opinion it’s one of the best ways to get learning to “stick”. Think about your own experience with stories, whether it’s with a great book or movie, or even with a simple anecdote from a friend, storytelling engages not only our minds but our emotions as well, and that’s where learning really takes hold.

 

The great thing about telling stories is that they always find a way to access a personal connection or experience with the listener, which ultimately makes it partly their own. How may times have you read or told a story to someone and the immediate response is, “that reminds me of when”, or “I can relate to that”. I’ve been reading a lot about the science behind storytelling lately, and the research around how our brains become more active when we tell and listen to stories is really interesting. I think that we have an opportunity as educators to tap into the power of storytelling with our students even more than we already do, to better engage them in their learning. I know that teachers are already natural storytellers but I think we can be more purposeful in how we deliver our curriculum, and how we approach our lesson and unit planning with this in mind.

 

Stories I think, can truly help reshape knowledge into something personal and meaningful, and ultimately, stories can make kids really care about what they are learning and motivate them into doing. There’s a great example out there by Hans Rosling, of how information can be brought to life when it’s presented in the context of a story. Take a look. Anyway, I guess my challenge to you this week is to see if you can find more ways to engage our kids through storytelling. I also want to thank you in advance for allowing me to take a few minutes of your time to tell a story or two to our kids…it’s a great way to help them get to know me, and a great way to model this idea for them early on in the year.

 

If we take this idea even further, I want to empower you all to tell your own story with your students, and to find ways to get them to tell theirs. The story of who you are and where you’re going as a person and educator, and the story of your classroom and the journey that you’ll be on together this year. Like us, kids have incredible storytelling tools at their disposal these days, and so many opportunities to tell their learning story through digital tools. What a way to use technology as well to enhance student learning, and what a way to bring their learning and imagination to life.Telling our story as a division and as a school is also something that is very much on our radar, and together we can make our Lower School come alive even more than it already is…let’s start with our kids and watch our collective story unfold from there. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories – Muriel Ruykeser

 

Related Articles –

http://www.teachhub.com/storytelling-classroom-teaching-strategy
https://www.edutopia.org/blog/storytelling-in-the-classroom-matters-matthew-friday

https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/enhancement/starter-tools/learning-through-storytelling

http://www.consider-ed.org.uk/the-importance-of-storytelling/

https://teach.com/great-educational-resources-the-power-of-storytelling/

 

TED Talk – Andrew Stanton (Excuse the language at the beginning) –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxDwieKpawg

 

TED Talk – David JP Phillips –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA

 

A Whiteboard History of Storytelling –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6E8jpFasR0

 

Visual Storytelling on the Web –

https://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/inspiration/30-compelling-examples-of-visual-storytelling-on-the-web

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Negative Effects of App Attachment

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I was speaking to a friend recently about an argument he had with a teacher. The teacher was adamant that if they could not use one particular app, their classes would come to a halt, and learning would immediately be suspended until further notice.

Obviously, I cannot think of a single application or subscription that is that critical to learning. I am not referring to a complete environment like Google Apps for Education. I am referring to people getting angry, and going into a panic, over a single application or service.

More and more I see these conflicts among teachers and schools (similar to the Curriculum in a Suitcase problem).

Schools and teachers need to be aware that being a fanboy or fangirl will not be rewarded. In fact, the odds are that being too connected to a particular solution will more than likely lead to a lack of resources and very real disappointment.

Cancelled Without Notice

This is an excellent page to look at: Cancelled Google Services

There are 43 services listed that have been cancelled, even though many were used by numerous people. Google Wave was hugely popular with schools, and then one day, Google closed it down with very little notice.

In 2017, the popular library service RefMe was bought by a competitor and shutdown. This service had a popular paid version, and customers still lost access to the product they wanted.

The fact is many of these companies are funded by venture capital. If they do not meet their required metrics, they lose their funding and are quickly shutdown or sold. Often when companies are sold, the services they provide are shutdown. The intellectual property and user data is more valuable than the actual application.

Where does all this leave a person who has built their entire practice around a single service or product? Desperate and angry.

A Basket of Solutions

A basket of currencies is an interesting model to reflect on when setting asset management policies. A basket of currencies helps set a value, so that if one currency happens to plummet in value, the value of the target currency is not impacted significantly.

Applying this to educational technology asset management, schools would:

  • Make a requirement that departments have a defined set of resources they are using
  • Complete a regular review of those resources
  • Develop a process to allow teachers to regularly propose and pilot new resources

The influx of a few new solutions will buffer the school against big changes made by products and services they are using. Thus, not allowing a single company’s decisions to shift the learning, purchasing, or culture of the school.

In addition, there must be an annual expectation that technology will change and training will happen. Having a culture where people expect stagnation is dangerous in a technology driven environment that is based on companies constantly cannibalizing one another.

Brands Do Not Care About Learning

I have been recommending Apple laptops for many years. However, after the recent round of Apple changes to their base laptops, I am no longer recommending Apple without a discussion about the current downside of the new designs; and a review of the briefly held negative status of the Macbook Pro published by Consumer Reports.

The truth is, there are many options now that are better for many types of schools and users. Apple changed. They changed to meet their market. They did not make decisions to improve learning at K-12 organizations. Apple chose to make more money.

This holds true for all the big players in educational technology. Their decisions are focused on growth and profit. They want to take as much of the market as possible. Sometimes that means creating innovative new features, and sometimes it means making a cheaper product to increase margins.

Hardware is normally purchased in cycles of 3-5 years. That means, every year 2 or year 4, a platform review should occur. The practice of always buying the same brand without a critical analysis of that brand is the equivalent of letting the brand dictate the options available for teachers and students.

Schools should make good choices and be able to adjust to the market. Teachers should be aware that change is always on the horizon, and using technology is an agnostic endeavor.

Buy into the school. Buy into the curriculum. Buy into people and ideas. Do not sellout to software, services, and nicely branded machines.

 

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First Things First

So we made it through the first three days of school, and what a first week it was! For me, there’s nothing more exciting and heart warming than watching our kids spill off of the buses on the first few days of school. They are excited, and nervous, and full of hopes and dreams for the upcoming year ahead. They are wondering what their teachers will be like and who their friends will be, and they are all desperately hoping that their experience will be everything that they are silently wishing for…If you’re like me, you can’t help but to love this time of the year.

 

Inevitably, the first few days of school always get me thinking about my own grade school experience, and all of those special memories that I still cling to all these years later. Funny enough, the memories that continuously pop up for me have very little to do with what I learned in any particular grade, but rather with the people that I met and the relationships that I developed over the years, which ultimately impacted me in very profound ways as I grew into an adult.

 

It’s no coincidence that my favorite years as an elementary school student were directly related to the relationship that I had with my teachers that year, and the effort that they made to get to know me as a young person. The years that I had those “relationship first” kind of teachers are the years that have stood the test of time for me, and funny enough, when I think back, also the years where I just happened to learn the most. It’s funny how when you feel safe as a child, and trusted, and loved, and appreciated, you actually end up tying harder and taking risks and opening yourself up to learning…In my opinion, there is nothing more important than the student-teacher relationship to inspire learning, and to get kids literally sprinting off those buses to get to class in the morning.

 

So, with all that said, I bet that if you think about the teachers that made the biggest impact in your own lives, it will be the ones who were at the time like second mothers and fathers to you…the ones who knew what you loved and how you best learned, and the ones who knew your strengths and your areas of growth that they helped you to identify and to work on…the ones who loved you and the ones who you loved back. The longer I remain in education, the more convinced I am that it’s the relationships that drive everything positive around student learning. If we can get these relationships right, then we can truly inspire our kids to exceed expectations, and to truly maximize their potential. I’m asking you all to take the time over the first couple of weeks of school to put relationships first. Get to know your kids, get them to know each other, and let them into your lives as well…I guarantee that it will pay tremendous dividends as the year moves forward. The curriculum is important I know, and we’re all excited to dive into that, but first things first…the relationships with your kids is your biggest priority.

 

So when thinking about the opportunity that we all have this year, to develop the kind of strong and lasting relationships with our kids that will be remembered for a lifetime, think about these lines from a beautiful James Russell Lowell poem…think about these when considering how you’ll spend the first few weeks of school with your kids and with your colleagues…giving a little bit of yourself positively impacts everyone around you, and it boosts your own spirits too!

 

It’s not what we give, but what we share-

For the gift without the giver is bare;

Who gives himself with his alms feeds three

Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.

 

Have a fantastic first full week of school everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the week…

Who the teacher is, is more important than what they teach

– Karl A. Menninger

 

Related Articles –

https://www.pridesurveys.com/index.php/blog/4-beneficial-effects-of-student-teacher-relationships/

http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/crash-course-evidence-based-teaching/teacher-student-relationships/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/importance-teaching-through-relationships-stacey-goodman

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105124/chapters/Developing_Positive_Teacher-Student_Relations.aspx

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/genia-connell/10-ways-build-relationships-students-year-1/

 

Inspiring Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=19&v=TXFCCWzlCkU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=50&v=tZ7Y1-0bNeQ
http://www.upworthy.com/this-teachers-thank-you-letter-to-her-students-went-viral-because-we-all-needed-it

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM_smbQAYv4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZOy6w6UsMY

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Start the School Year : What is our ‘why’? 

Last week we spoke with students and parents new to our school, many of whom were new to Singapore.  We started with the why – our school’s Mission:
The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.

This may seem obvious,  but schools differ a lot in the ‘why’

For those who were understandably wondering about new classes, friends, uniform and timetables, this may have seemed a lofty, distant ideal. But with so many very good schools available in Singapore, this lofty goal remains our defining characteristic. Or more precisely – because lofty goals are easy to write – how we put this into practice remains our defining characteristic, and I hope why families have chosen us.

I am very pleased, however, that it is no longer a very special goal – at least, not if we take special to mean rare. Go back fifty years and this kind of thinking was marginal, outlier, considered naïve and well off the mainstream. Today the idea that we should not settle for less for our children is absolutely mainstream, almost banal. The notion that education should narrowly focus on academics, without recognizing that children deserve more and need a higher purpose, is clinging on here and there, but it’s on its way out. There are two reasons behind this; they may seem to be quite different, but ultimately, they are mutually supportive.

Our ‘why’, the reason we do what we do, has twin tracks but unlike a road, they both head in the same direction

Firstly, there’s the realization that academics are not enough even for the world of work. In truth they never really were, but the changing nature of work means we are increasingly focused on what skills students possess, and what they can actually do. In the past, these may have been very tightly linked to what students know – but in the disrupted, AI-influenced economy we face, knowledge alone will be far from enough.  To be ready for tomorrow, today’s students will have to be increasingly adept in human skills and qualities, and ready to use them in real-world contexts on difficult and complex human problems  It’s not just educators saying this, but governments, businesses, NGOs, the OECD and others.  So the contexts provided by our focus on the peoples, nations and cultures part of our Mission is exactly how to prepare students for an uncertain future; because these are the areas that are the pressing challenges we face and that will not be automated,

Secondly, it’s important to place schools in a much broader social context.  And that context may be startling. Because despite the horrific events going on around the world, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been, in many significant ways.  Extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.  Now let’s not be naïve here – tragedy, atrocity and grinding poverty are still real today. But the current trajectory is astonishingly positive, and where there is injustice, we are beginning to see outrage and social activism to address it – not consistently, but increasingly so. In the past where issues may have been ignored, we’re also seeing thought leaders take a lead.  That includes CEOs, and the US –  admittedly under extreme provocation from its administration – is leading the way here. CEOs have publicly come out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and most recently, against the extreme right. At the same time, we’re seeing many high profile billionaires – including two of the most famous in Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – pledge half their wealth to philanthropic causes.  So there is a broader social move towards widening moral circles; and schools both reflect this and importantly, prepare students to continue down this path.  That’s where the peace and a sustainable future part of our Mission comes in, and why we weave the Mission so carefully throughout our Learning Programme.

There is no tension between the pragmatic necessity to prepare students for their future, and the idealistic opportunity to make whatever small contribution we can to the historic trend.   We intend, this year and forever, to do both to the best of our capacities.
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Everything to Win

So an educator friend of mine spent the better part of last year traveling around the world visiting schools, in the hopes of identifying the innovations, the pedagogical approaches, and the educational strategies that are truly engaging students and driving student learning forward in today’s ever changing world. As you can imagine, he was inspired by much of what he saw, and in many instances hopeful and optimistic about the future of education. He called it the best year of his professional life but interestingly enough, also the most depressing. You see, although he found many, many schools across the globe that are genuinely pushing innovation, and taking creative risks for their students, and empowering all kids to lead their own learning, he came back a little overwhelmed and saddened by the traditional and industrial models that still shape our global educational landscape. In a recent conversation with him earlier this month, he remarked that something drastic needs to happen in education because we have absolutely “nothing left to lose”…

 

I started thinking about that, and honestly, I’m not sure that I agree with him…I think we have plenty left to lose, particularly regarding the future of our young people, and I’d like to reframe that comment and suggest that it’s actually the opposite…we have “everything to win”. At the heart of his disappointment was not the lack of effort by schools to redesign their buildings and teaching spaces, there was plenty of that. Lots of open, futuristic, and collaborative building designs, new and inspiring maker spaces and purposeful incorporations to the natural world, and a tremendous amount of thought that went into shaking up the “look” of a traditional school. In that respect he was very, very encouraged. He came back discouraged however, because what he saw happening inside those school designs and spaces, in the classrooms, and at the heart of what matters in the day to day approaches to teaching and learning, was very much 1982.

 

Like Dylan Wiliam says, the hardest thing to do in education is to get teachers and leaders to change their day to day practice. We all know what the research says, and in most international schools we now have access to the resources and the spaces to engage and personalize for all of our kids, but often times when the door shuts and the day begins, it’s easy to revert back to what we’ve always done…what’s comfortable, and what we’ve gotten very good at. Schools and educators across the globe continue to do what they’ve always done because of habit, but it sure doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

 

On the heels of a fantastic weekend with Carol Ann Tomlinson here at ASP, and with the new school year staring us down, I want to encourage all of us to look critically at how we’re engaging our students, and how much of our approach is the same as it was a few years ago. How much “innovation” is actually making its way into our lesson and unit planning? What opportunities are we giving to our students to really and truly own their learning and to lead their own educational journey? How are we setting up our classroom spaces, and what opportunities are we giving students to showcase their learning…is it a one-size fits all or have we looked at our curricular approach and assessment through the lens of meeting all students where they are, and moving them forward as individual and unique learners?

 

I want us all to feel empowered to shake it up this year and to take some risks…to try out some new strategies that will push us out of our comfort zones and will make us feel a little uneasy. We have an opportunity this year to move past the traditional…the comfortable…the easy, and to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to stretch the limits of what’s possible with our kids. Then when we do, we have the moral imperative to share and to model and to collaborate so that we all can learn and stretch together…no more siloed approaches to education, we’re past that. Anyway, I want to wish you all a tremendous 2017-18 school year, and I truly hope it’s the best year of your professional lives. I guarantee that if we take some risks, shake things up, and truly make an effort to change some habits, then it will be a year that will be worthy of our kids. Like I said, it’s not that we have nothing to lose…we very much have everything to win! Have a fantastic opening week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom

– Albert Einstein

 

Interesting and Useful Articles –

http://www.futurity.org/creativity-teachers-education-914562/

https://www.rubicon.com/risk-taking-in-the-classroom/
http://inservice.ascd.org/7-reasons-why-differentiated-instruction-works/

http://www.readingrockets.org/atoz/1123/all

http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy042.shtml

 

Innovation in Schools –

http://www.businessinsider.fr/us/most-innovative-schools-in-the-world-2-2016-10/

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2016/01/innovation_in_schools.html

http://www.designorate.com/creativity-innovation-in-education/

http://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/04/innovation-leadership-in-schools/

 

TED Talks Worth Watching –

https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_grant_the_surprising_habits_of_original_thinkers

https://www.ted.com/talks/charles_leadbeater_on_innovation

 

Great Educational Podcasts –

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-11-16-education-podcasts-to-check-out-in-2017

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Transgender Children Deserve a Warm Welcome Back: Here’s How (and why this benefits all students)

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

The roster says they’re a she, but… they look like a he. What do I call them?

I’ve met numerous educators who express annoyance at not getting a heads-up from administrators that they have a transgender (or gender variant or gender creative or gender nonconforming) child in their class. And, understandably so. We care about our students, and want to treat them all with respect. Calling her ‘him’ can be awkward at best, and deeply offensive in many cases. Pronouns are incredibly personal, so it’s important that we know what our students want to be called.

We can’t necessarily tell someone’s gender identity (internal; how they feel) by their gender expression (external; what they show through dress/appearance/behaviour) or their assigned gender (assigned at birth; usually based on external sex characteristics). Additionally, some of the software programs that schools use to keep track of student records are outdated and don’t include a function to update students’ gender data as necessary. This could lead to inadvertently outing a transgender child to their peers. Don’t rely on your roster to give you the correct information about gender pronouns.

Instead, let me suggest a simple, but powerful getting-to-know-you routine for the start of every term: ask students (all students) what their pronouns are. You can begin by offering yours as an example (i.e. I use she/her/hers or they/them/theirs, etc.) This exercise eliminates gaffes without singling anybody out.

I gave a training to graduate education students on this topic. One participant wondered aloud whether it was worth the “trouble” for the “zero point zero, zero, zero, one percent” of students concerned. First, I answer that sure – this is a fairly simple strategy to create a safer space for your students, even if it’s only a small number who benefit. Second, however, this person’s statistics were way off. Many more people (about 0.6% of the U.S. population, which equates to 1.4 million Americans) identify as transgender[1]. I can assure you that, over the course of a full career as an educator, you have taught, and will continue to teach, numerous transgender and gender nonconforming children. You may not always know who they are, but there are transgender people in every culture.

The practice of recognizing students’ gender identity can have a significant impact on their well-being. Transgender kids are some of our highest risks for being harassed at school[2], a range of related risk-taking behaviours, and both physical and mental health issues, including suicidality[3]. Research shows that supportive school contexts can mitigate this disparity[4]. Asking students about their pronouns suggests that you are supportive of gender diversity, and could be a literal life-saving gesture for a child in need.

Plus, all students benefit from learning about diversity. Consider if we only taught minority groups about issues of oppression, and excluded dominant groups from this conversation. White children would not learn about slavery. Christian children would not learn about the Holocaust. That would be absurd, and avoiding gender identity issues with your cisgender (gender identity matches assigned gender) students is similarly exclusive and nonsensical.

It is a privilege for cisgender people to be fairly certain that others will correctly guess their pronouns just by looking at them. When we, as professional educators, question socially-constructed assumptions about gender, we exercise cultural humility, we establish that our classroom is a considerate place, we take a step toward rejecting gender hierarchy, and we set a positive example of inclusivity for the students in our class. This enhances the learning environment for all.

I recommend repeating this welcoming routine at the start of each term, and letting students know that they may update their pronouns with you at any time. If you’re still uncertain about how to get started, some resources with tips and FAQs are available here, here, and here. Proactively asking for students’ pronouns is best practice, and should be systematically implemented in all international school classrooms.

[1] Flores, A. R., Herman, J. L., Gates, G. J., & Brown, T. N. T. (2016). How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States? Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute.

[2] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[3] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

[4] Poteat, V. P., DiGiovanni, C. D., Sinclair, K. O., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Gay-Straight Alliances are associated with student health: A Multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 319-330.

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Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Pareto_principle)

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

As an example, an international school wanting to implement a new system like Google Apps for Education only needs to formally train 20% of the end-users in each user group (Administrators, Teachers, Students, etc.). This 20% can then work with the remaining 80% to achieve the desired results; results which are often very niche and vary by division and department.

In another case, consider a school purchasing Microsoft Surface Laptops for their staff. Only 20% of the end-users need to have the full training on the hardware and software in order to fuel the future deployment.

The optics of 100% are not really fair when the majority of the 100% are not actually gaining the information and skills need for mastery. In education there is always pressure on students to reach mastery. That same expectation should be placed on everyone, and embedded in every initiative. Organizations working towards a good introduction, are not working towards their full potential.

Words to Actions

Randomly selecting 20% of a group to master a new PD initiative is a mistake. That would only work if the entire group were known equals. New and existing staff should be surveyed to identify their current knowledge and aptitude. Identifying aptitude is essential. New initiatives tend to have a limited experienced population within the organization; but aptitude is around every corner.

Years ago I took the 80/20 approach when switching a very large campus to Apple. I made certain all required hardware and software was available for 20% of the staff before summer. I selected the staff based-on their current familiarity with Apple and their ability to work with their colleagues.

The switch went very well, and after about three weeks the technology support issues declined by 75% from the previous year. The switch to Apple while following a 80/20 implementation plan reduced the non-Apple issues as well as the issues with the new hardware.

Recently, using an 80/20 plan, I sent a core group of people for training on a new school information system. Those people were tasked at training, and evangelism, within a hostile environment.

Knowing the system was actually in competition with other plans, a final meeting was held to determine if the school would continue with the new information system. The option was on the table to remove the new and bring back the old. The old was rejected. I do not believe this would have been possible without the core 80/20 group.

Keep in mind during each of these difficult transitional experiences the remaining 80% were not always happy. They new change had arrived, they were being delayed access at different stages, and they were not being trained or equipment immediately. This was noise. And noise should never dictate a plan or process.

The optics of 80/20 do not look as “nice” compared to working with 100%. However, the outcomes will be fair, balanced, and better. Most importantly, those suffering in silence will have a smaller more agile group for support.

Take a chance. Make a change. Go for 80/20.

More 80/20 Resources

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Take What the Mountain Gives You

Nireki Mountain Adventures

Satish Man Pati makes me feel like a thimble of a man. Not because he’s full of great quotes like the title of this essay. Not because he climbed Mt. Everest like I decide to canoe across a lake. Not because he just looks like more of a man than I do. It’s because I watched him sitting with a tin cup filled with hot tea, smiling at 4000 meters as a fading sunset settled behind him on the Annapurna Range (Nepal) and he took the time to ask how I was doing. He watched with calm competence as his team methodically set up camp, assembled cooking stations, and prepared all that was needed to support myself and twenty six people during a trek in his native country. He was the captain of the ship, his love of the mountains surrounding him with good karma, a gentle smile creasing grizzled, unshaven cheeks even as countless details likely ran through his head. This guy who was responsible for so many people at the top of a mountain sipped his tea and asked how I was doing.

I am constantly trying to learn from people that I think are great leaders. And what I loved about Satish was that I knew he had a million things going on, but had that humble majesty of being able to focus on the happiness and safety of the people around him. He was really tuned in to everything, but never seemed to show it. He knew I was nervous about the safety of the students that had never been in the mountains but he took the time to check in to see if I was okay. He was on an emotional intelligence scale that was off the charts.

I took him aside as he sipped his tea, looking contentedly out onto the distant horizon. “Satish,” I asked. “What makes you such a great leader?” He laughed and of course said he was not such a great leader. I disagreed and told him that his team worshipped the ground he walked on. “I’m willing to do any job,” he said. “And I have. They see what I’ve done to get here and I treat them fairly. And I know each of them as people and they treat me the same. We are like family,” he added. “It’s more than a job.” Then what I observed from him that was absolute genius was that he knew his team so well he knew exactly what to expect from them and to put them in a position to be successful. He knew the guys that were the best left to be behind the scenes and the ones that could deal with my students. He knew the ones that could take on the leadership roles and the ones that needed to be told what to do. Not only did he have everyone on the bus, he had them in the right seats. They knew his expectations too. One of the members of the team left a new tin coffee pot that he had purchased at one of the tea houses at the top of the mountain that we had left the day before. It was a five hour climb back. Rather than tell him that it was okay and that they’d buy a new one, he made the guide go back and fetch it. And he did. Satish laughed at my amazement. “The details matter in the mountains,” he laughed. “He’ll remember that.”

When I asked about his relationship to the mountains, he looked past me into the distance and gave me an explanation of the ranges behind us and their connections to the local people. When he was finished, he looked right at me and said, “You have to take what the mountain gives you. You cannot fight that. If it rains, snows, fog, sunshine, whatever. You have to understand it and take it. You cannot fight that.” It sounded so simple, but I thought of how it went against just about everything you heard from adventurers. They fought, resisted what came at them and battled to overcome the obstacles in their way. Satish was not defeatist. Of course, his acceptance was similar to what you hear from great sea captains and those that listen to what their circumstances are telling them.

When you start this new school year, especially if you are going to a new school, take what the mountains give you. When there is chaos all around and you’re responsible for 30 people at a metaphorical 4000 meters, sip some tea from a tin cup, smile with grizzled cheeks, look out onto a setting sun, and realize that by the grace you show towards others and the gratitude you have for what you do in the majestic surroundings of wherever you are, that you got this.

Best of luck this year. The kids need you more than ever.

Posted in Stephen Dexter | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

International Schools as Community Hubs

There is an old cautionary Chinese fable about a rather witless soldier who while crossing a river in a small boat, loses his sword over the side.  He scrambles to grab it, but acting too late…he watches in horror as it sinks out of reach to the bottom of the river. In the hopes of retrieving it later when safely on the other bank, he marks the side of the boat with a dagger to remind him of the precise spot where his prized weapon went overboard. One can only imagine the confused sadness of the solder once reaching land, who cannot fathom why despite his best care in making his mark, it no longer serves the poor fellow in guiding him back to his sword.

There is a growing awareness among leaders of international schools that in the face of accelerating change both within and outside our institutions, we must evolve quickly, and with a more open mind to new and more innovative ways of organizing and sustaining ourselves.  Yet many schools could be forgiven if they at times might be operating under the same misconception as our water borne soldier, assuming the long standing routines and operating norms that reign within our walls still serve us effectively in gauging the shifting reality around us.

The explosion in the number and diverse types of international schools in recent years has not altered the underlying reality that such institutions still generally rely on certain tried and true approaches to planning, managing and financing their organizations.  These may include long standing tuition based fee for service models, curriculum and programming concentrated almost exclusively around student performance within the classroom alone, and finally, at least in a majority of cases, interactions with the local community that remain limited to a variation of traditional student service and charitable endeavors. However, the question is not whether a continued reliance on tuition fees and classroom centered programming will remain core elements of our operating realities, but rather that they will no longer stand alone as the sole methods of financing and justifying our schools’ continued reasons for being. In essence, if we are to truly innovate and reinvent our schools, our obligations can no longer be confined to what can be academically achieved within a classroom context alone, nor may we look only to our students and their families for the resources needed to build and sustain the future sustainability we seek.

In the same way that John Dewey so long ago laid the foundations for our contemporary understanding of the entire child, it is now time to begin viewing our schools in a similarly holistic and multidimensional manner.  If for instance, we embrace the whole child, why would we not extend that same broader understanding to schools in both how they operate, and as importantly, whom they serve.  Whether it be in finding new structural and financial models, or through the creation of more ambitious and far reaching programs that before may have been seen as out of our purview, schools must now reimagine what our new boundaries of action and impact will be.

Take for instance our experience here in Quito at Academia Cotopaxi, and our work in transforming our existing on campus language center into a broad based community outreach, partnership building and student led service vehicle for change.  The newly launched ONE Institute serves our mission, expands opportunities for student learning, rejects disciplinary silos, increases revenue, builds external partnerships and breaks down boundaries between our school and our larger community.  Here we have established a ground breaking lending library that will address both the challenges of economic inequality and illiteracy in our community, while also providing authentic student leadership experience.  We now offer SAT and TOEFL test preparation services and have been certified as a TOEFL testing center.  The ONE Institute designed an entirely new corporate and business English program for companies in Quito, and we now plan to expand English training for AC parents, as well as our summer camp programming to include intensive IB academic English courses across the full spectrum of disciplines, a program available to students of both AC and other surrounding schools.

Whether like our experience at Academia Cotopaxi, a school chooses to repurpose and redirect the energies of a satellite organization already on campus, or through a new program or initiative created with a broader mission and focus in mind, schools as community hubs will need to grow into places where sustainable external partnerships are created and new opportunities for learning and revenue are realized.  The role of the school now expands and concentrates the community’s combined energies, which makes for more authentic connections and stronger families. The benefits for the school also include a more energetic curricular program, tangible hands on learning and actionable experience community problem-solving. For our institutions as a whole, rather than detached “cities on the hill,” with walls that at times separate as well as protect, international schools now become vital centers of community activity, awareness and enrichment.

The challenge before us now is to truly reimagine our schools as more than academic institutions in the time honored sense.  We must enlarge the reach and imperatives of our missions beyond the students in our classrooms, but to families; and not just to families that pay tuition, but to our communities as a whole.  In this way, we can open vast new worlds of discovery and authentic learning for our students, reach beyond our walls and into the homes and neighborhoods of our local communities, and in so doing, unlock exciting new revenue opportunities and means for sustaining our institutions.

If on the other hand, we remain committed to our most traditional and long standing assumptions about what the role of our schools should encompass, we could find ourselves marking the gunwales of our boats, only to find that our ultimate goal of better organizational health and relevance remains stubbornly out of reach.

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