Understanding the Cultural Context in Education

I started teaching in China in 2019; even though I was recruited to teach the international curriculum to a diverse population of students, I found myself learning a lot about the educational philosophy and the cultural context in China. I discovered the underlying principles of education in China deep-rooted to the Confucianism philosophy. Teaching an international curriculum requires teachers to first understand the cultural and regional context; having taught in three different cultures I was very cognizant of this requirement hence I made it an objective to read and learn more about the educational philosophy, aims and objectives in China, purely to be able to connect with my students and be a better teacher. This led me to a journey of traversing through ancient pedagogy only to realise that contemporary pedagogy has evolved from age-old ideologies with a sole objective to make the world a peaceful place (Confucius, 551 – 479 B.C.E.).

Confucianism is a dominant ideology in many Asian countries and has shaped the education policies, approaches to teaching and learning objectives. It has survived through time as it is relevant, fluid and practical in its approach, something that is very similar to modern-day pedagogy. The success can be measured in the ways schools in Asian countries score high on most assessments, statistics gathered from tests like SATs, PISA, ISAs have proved that students from Asian countries, especially those influenced by Confucianism, do very well in academics. To be clear from the beginning, these tests not only assess rote knowledge but also assess critical thinking, analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities hence it is worth analysing what is working well these cultural contexts.
Let us look into a few famous quotes of Confucius which will help us understand this better:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

It is very clear from the above Confucian quote that knowledge has to be understood, memorizing is not enough, it has to be applied, hence there is the need to ‘do’ or in a very simple way Confucianism promotes experiential learning, something we teachers are trying to integrate into our pedagogy every day. This can be linked to understanding the concept by taking action or by doing which is very much part of the cultural context in China.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Another quote by Confucius proves his deep thinking into the inquiry process, learning through reflection on action and experience. This can be compared to the contemporary pedagogical approaches of the inquiry cycle: ‘Inquiry-Action-Reflection’. There is an explicit focus on reflection being the highly regarded way to acquire knowledge.

“Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old, and you may become a teacher of others.”

Once again there is alignment with present-day pedagogy, that new knowledge builds on existing knowledge or in other words there is reinforcement on prior knowledge to be able to acquire new knowledge, this also begs educators to make connections between the present and the past to create the future. A very well established nuance in creativity and criticality.

In China and Chinese schools, Confucianism is integrated as neo-Confucianism which focuses on creating the ideal man who gains perfection in his craft/skill and exists peacefully with others. The quote below reinforces how the purpose of education in neo-Confucianism aims for peace:

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”

In fact, Confucius believed that the way to transform society is only through education (Xueji I). Xueji is Confucian text on education, focusing on teaching and learning. Further ideas of Confucius can be found in the book ‘The Analects’. It is interesting to discover that Xueji explains an approach to teaching called the ‘enlightening approach’ where a teacher should teach to open up the students’ minds, helping them to find solutions and not giving them the solutions (Xueji XIII). Further, there is a strong emphasis on memorizing only to get to understanding something very similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy; learning by reflecting; collaborative learning; higher-order thinking and learning as a life-long process. Confucianism primarily focuses on developing critical thinking through respectful ways of inquiring and reaching the conclusion through inference.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping at an international symposium to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of the birth of Confucius endorsed the transmission of Confucian tenets (Xinhuashe, 2014). An official document titled “Notice by the Ministry of Education on the Issuance of the ‘Synopsis of the Education Guide on Perfecting Excellent Traditional Chinese Culture’” calls schools to “deeply excavate and elucidate China’s excellent traditional values by articulating benevolence, valuing the citizens, abiding in integrity, upholding uprightness, treasuring harmony, and seeking common ground” (Ministry of Education, 2014).

Understanding this context has helped me to focus on the global objective of education that is to be dynamic, ethical, universal in order to create a peaceful world. It is an experience that has made me realise all great education systems in the world are grounded on the values of humanity, to coexist peacefully. This learning also helped me to understand the needs of my students, their learning style and respond better to their requirements situated in their cultural context. As an international education knowledge of the cultural context has helped me understand my role in shaping the future of learners in different cultural settings and how to respond to different approaches to learning.

Re-Design, Don’t Reopen

Are we going to be the same but different post-Covid?

I read a post recently that said re-opening is going to be like playing three dimensional chess in a hurricane on one leg.

Ok, maybe in New York public schools.

Besides that, it’s really not that dramatic.

Use common sense. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. It’s not rocket science.

We didn’t have IB exams this year. Did the world stop spinning? Maybe for schools that overpredicted, yes. Otherwise, did we learn that maybe summative exams don’t determine the course of our lives?

This is a real opportunity for school leaders to make a difference and to stop making excuses 21 years, yes 21 years into 21st century learning. What is truly amazing about this pandemic is that it has literally created classrooms without walls. Now let’s step into the void and create something special.

If you are opening full virtual, then you have a huge opportunity (sorry primary) to get students out into the field to do things they’ve never done before, to have an impact on their communites and environment, to interact with nature and their surroundings rather than the four walls of a classroom and to do something. (With masks, social distancing and handwashing of course).

If you’re opening hybrid then you can do similar things now that the learning spectrum has expanded, bringing back their experiences, redesigning timetables to accomodate this work, and developing interdisciplinary teams across subjects to

Tom Kelley, CEO of IDEO said, “Creative confidence is the ability to come up with great ideas and the courage to try them out.” Pundits have called Covid-19 ‘the great accelerator.’ In other words, innovations that would have taken 10 years in normal times, such as in healthcare, online shopping, food service, travel, and yes, education, are happening now.

Re-opening cannot simply mean putting all of our energy into temperature checks and cafeteria grids. It has to mean so much more. The line ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ has been bouncing around and it’s incumbent upon leaders to understand what this means for schools beyond returning to status quo.

Yes, it’s unsettling to introduce new things when everyone just wants to revert back to September 2019. Yes, it’s tempting just to make everyone feel stable again by lining children up in 2 meter separate rows. But, what does this disruption tell us about the fundamental role of schools? Why do we gather in a space to learn? Do we really care anymore about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand for crying out loud?

I have too often enabled the comfortable boundaries of investigating uncertainty through the academic lens. All of that important stuff, whether it be socioeconomic injustice, environmental collapse, racial divide all through the relative ease of a formative assessment.

But now we cannot even go to school because of something that has called everything into question.

What an opportunity.

It is our responsibility to realign the WHY of what we do (thanks Simon Sinek) and connect it to the HOW. It’s no longer good enough to proclaim exceptional IB scores on LinkedIn or brag about university admittance. If we value things like learners having the “mental agility to solve problems we’ve never seen before,” or to “see the big picture, zero in on minute details, and move things around to make a difference,” (Vivien Luu, HR Vision, 2016) then we have to do a much better job of connecting the world to our schooling than a CAS project that hardly scratches the surface.

We continue to train kids to do school. Now that this has blown up, it has exposed a lot of shortcomings (well beyond access to WiFi). We act like we are teaching resiliency and adaptability, but this crisis has really shone a spotlight on the fact that we can do a LOT better (this goes for teachers and admin too). We act like we are building capacity for problem solvers and creative thinkers, but we panic when a student falls short on a conditional offer in HL Math. I don’t get it.

Don’t waste this crisis when you go back. Take care of the hand sanitizing and the temperature checks and the socio-emotional learning, but most of all, resist the temptation to restore order. This is your crisis to move forward on the type of learners we are going to need to save the planet.

Don’t waste it.

TEACHER WELLBEING IN THE NEW NORMAL

Schools are soon going to reopen next month after the summer holidays; teachers, staff and students will be stepping into a new normal in the midst of a raging worldwide pandemic. Schools will be either online, onsite or blended, depending on their geographical region. A common factor in the new normal is that everyone wants to return to school even though there are many different permutations and combinations involved in doing the same. School leaders and administrators are working tirelessly to ensure a safe, flexible and practical way of returning to school. One thing the entire education fraternity, and this includes higher education institutions, are focusing on is the staff and student well being as they try to adapt to the new normal. Whilst student well being has been a paramount focus in teaching and learning for many years, it is time to implement solutions to focus on teacher well being.

Why? Teachers have not had a break since the pandemic broke out in early 2020! Whether it was teaching online, or struggling to juggle home and work, or dealing with the stress of losing their jobs, teachers have been through a lot. Some other reasons include international school teachers have been displaced from their home countries, caught between borders, separated from families, have had to take pay cuts, look for new jobs, the list is not exhaustive.

Hence, in the academic year 2020, the primary focus of educational institutions across the globe should be teacher well being. Here are a few pointers that school leaders and administrators should have in place to help their teachers settle in after having undergone a tumultuous half-year of stress and anxiety.

1. Workload- Reassess workload of each and every teacher, starting with the contact time, duties and responsibility hours wherever possible to prevent teacher burnout. Increase efficiency not productivity.

2. Timetabling- While creating the time table for the academic year 2020 opt for longer periods which will allow the teachers to have longer free periods for planning. Longer lesson time also facilitates meaningful teacher-student interactions creating a culture of positivity.

3. Human Resource- Ensure HR plays a crucial and supportive role in maintaining teacher well being. If logistics like bank accounts, housing, permits, visas, taxes etc, are well organised by HR, teachers get more time to breathe.

4. Communication- Be brief, be bright and be gone! This is a mantra I have applied as a leader; be direct, keep emails short, reduce emails, maybe to once a week. Remember lengthy and repetitive communication only stresses people out, also research says most people don’t even read emails due to their length.

5. Stay connected- Anything that can be discussed in person should not be communicated through emails. As a teacher I find it extremely agonizing to reply to emails in the middle of a teaching day, it only leads to a nagging pain in my head throbbing with the words: “reply to the email, reply to the email…”

6. Mindfulness practices- Indulge in weekly activities for teachers like cultural dress-up days, healthy snack day, share your food day or even drop everything and breathe for 5 minutes a day!

7. Intrinsic motivation- Educators are motivated by career development or intellectual discussions, schools need to budget for meaningful professional development opportunities and ensure no one is left out, this will keep teachers passionate and motivated.

8. Cut down on meetings- Weekly collaborative meetings can only be productive if there is an agenda, send out the agenda in advance and if there is no agenda don’t have the meeting. Try to combine department meeting allowing more planning time for teachers.

9. Documentation- Reduce redundant documentation by creating a database for all resources to ensure no one is tasked with recreating and reproducing the same work which already exists. Meeting minutes should be linked with resources online and in-house, making it easier for teachers to look for necessary documents.

10. Culture of Appreciation- Send out more positive emails, shout outs to acknowledge the great work teachers do every day, shower praise and positive reinforcement to drive away any residual blues from the past few months of stress and anxiety.

There are many more action points schools can put in place to nurture teachers’ mental health after the trauma they have undergone due to Covid19. Let this year set an example of how taking care of teachers’ well being became an educational aim and translated into necessary school policy. Remember happy teachers create happy classrooms whether online or on-site.

Schools of the Future

Recently I went back to the Schools of the Future report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It’s dated January 2020. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at their recommendations and the exemplary programs they chose to highlight, you probably should take a minute to do that now. I won’t be offended.

If you want a preview, here are my takeaways.

The report recommends shifting the learning experiences we educators provide our students. They encourage teaching and learning to look like this:

  • Personalized and self-paced learning;
  • Problem-based and collaborative learning; and
  • Lifelong and student-driven learning. 

To better understand the need for a shift, we could ask ourselves what we are shifting away from. So let’s imagine the opposite. I’m going to overstate the contrast here a bit, but I think my list is a good discussion starter. In short, the WEF is recommending we do less of this:

  • Depersonalized learning that maintains the myth of students learning in sync;
  • Focus on recall and the insistence of “eyes on your own paper” / “do your own work;” and
  • Content from a worn out canon determined by institutional inertia, which limits the creativity of schools and teachers.

Does this second list describe too much of the way we go about education? Does it describe what you see and hear, what you perhaps feel pulled into more often than you would like? 

Do systems like off-the-shelf and/or standardized curricula, bell schedules, assessment regimes, curriculum mapping, over-reliance on rubrics and other accepted teaching practices pull us toward the second list, the list of WEF opposites? 

And what are we to do about it?

The authors of the report note that “Much work is being done by private sector chief human resource officers on customizing work experiences to enable lifelong learning and integrating alternative work models to improve flexibility” (Schools of the Future, 2020 p. 11). They refer to a table in an earlier WEF publication (Shaping People Strategie in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2019) about the “changing nature of how learning is approached in an organization” (p. 18). They report again on a shift:

From Know-it-all mindset … to Learn-it-all mindset

From Planned learning programs … to Lifelong learning culture

FromPeriodic learning … to Continuous learning

From Company-directed learning … to Self-driven learning

From Homogenous learning … to Personalized learning

Are we doing our part by preparing students for an adult life characterized by the right hand column above? I’m frankly worried that it is too easy to make parallels between much of our current teaching and learning with the column on the left. For starters:

We as teachers may not feel comfortable in an environment where we are not the expert, limiting the chances we provide to explore with students, to allow them to teach us, to be learners side by side. Our assessments reinforce this know-it-all mindset because they are overwhelmingly about being right or wrong, black or white, true or false. (See Elon Musk’s entrance exam to his school, Ad Astra, for a refreshing contrast.)

Further, our curriculum and instruction is full of planned learning, in quite specific and predictable periods (grade 10 biology, grade 11 chemistry, grade 12 physics – sound familiar?), overwhelmingly decided by the “company” and certainly favoring a particular style of learning at a predetermined pace. 

Companies are shifting. I believe schools are trying to shift, too. In schools, however, there is less fear of shareholders, competition, and going bust. There is perhaps too much room to be cautious, changing perhaps so slowly that it’s hard to notice much change at all.

Self-paced, student-driven, collaborative learning that creates lifelong learners is not unattainable if we let go of the assumptions and practices that constrain us most. Be courageous to identify those assumptions and practices and to openly question them. If you are a teacher, create the conditions the WEF is recommending, when and where you can. If you are an administrator, avoid the temptation to sound smart by reciting yesterday’s “knowns.” They are safe, yes. But they are hamstringing us, and worse, our students. When you can, be bold. Be just a bit more outspoken about how teaching and learning can fulfill the promise of self-regulated learners. 

Or, I suppose, let companies re-educate adults who didn’t get the right hand column from us when they were students.

World Economic Forum. (2020). Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Geneva, Switzerland.

World Economic Forum. (2019). WHR4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva, Switzerland.

2020 Results Rollercoaster

Last week the International Baccalaureate(IB) results were declared and since then I have heard many complaints from students and teachers alike about how unfair the results have been. Surprisingly only a handful of stakeholders in education have truly understood how the final grades were calculated. I will not be discussing how these grades were generated as IB has done a great job in explaining it; many educationists and school leaders have also simplified the whole process for all stakeholders. But there is a tension between the students and their parents, the parents and the schools, the school and the students, the students and the universities and the universities and the school, almost like the vicious cycle of mistrust, there is doubt, suspicion, anxiety, fear and negative assumptions. In the next few days, I am sure this will grow exponentially when the A-level exam results are published. This year all ‘Class of 2020’ grades have been generated sans the actual end of year exam, hence there has been an increasing dissatisfaction amongst students and parents as they are unable to foresee a tangible way these grades have been generated. So what can the entire teaching and learning community do to restore the trust and faith in each other and the grading system? Here are a few things all of us can do:

Schools

Since schools are closed for the summer, there is limited communication from the schools to students and their families regarding the grading process of the ‘Class of 2020’ exams results. Even though the results come out the same time every year, schools need to consider the extenuating circumstances that led to the cancellation of exams and the impact of this on students. Since most schools have already gone online, they can also open up virtual channels of communication to answer FAQs regarding results and to give students and their families an opportunity to clarify their doubts. For example, schools should consider having an FAQ page on their website or a helpline or an information session for all stakeholders in order to explain the rigorous process and data analysis that has been put together by different organisations to generate the final exam grades. At the same time, schools need to review the internal assessment process and internal grading system to identify the gaps in the assessment process or in the process of generating the school-based grades. The school-based grades are the benchmark for all stakeholders, the students, parent, the education organisation and even the universities. If there is a considerable difference in the actual grades and school grades, it is time to scrutinise the system that is not efficient in order to build a more robust grading and predicting process.

Parents

I got a few frantic emails and texts from parents expressing their fears and concerns over the exam grades. Most of these queries were complaints, this was surprising for me as I am also a parent of a 15-year-old who complaints about how unfair life is to him when he gets a lower grade or loses a football match. Of course, my role as a parent is to empathise with my child but my more challenging role as a parent is to understand the root of my child’s problem and the anxiety associated with it. Agonizing over an agony is like adding fuel to fire. As a parent we have a very big role to play, that of understanding the agony of our child and take an unbiased stance based on critically examining the situation, hence I urge parents of ‘Class of 2020’ to reach out to the school in order to understand the grading system, look into their child’s grade objectively and have a thorough conversation with their sons and daughters to hash out any doubts or negativity that might have risen since result day. In this process, if they find a loophole in the school’s or education organisation’s grading system, they should absolutely go ahead and fight their case, but do not make this an social media event to sign petitions and breed negativity and cast aspersions on established and tested grading systems. Do not add fuel to the fire, our role as parents is to douse the fire. This fire will only burn the students’ faith and hope in the institution of education.

Students

Students are the most impacted by the results, good or bad. Their disappointment and desperation are understandable especially if they do not meet their predicted grades or university requirements. It is time for students to take things under control and communicate with their university to confirm if their offers still hold; it’s also necessary to meet the Programme Coordinator or the Head of School to discuss the options of re-evaluating or re-sitting the exams. Students need to note that they were aware of the grading method for this year’s result, hence they should stop comparing results of other schools and other students as this is not helpful, it only builds negative assumptions and causes mental anxiety. A bit of open-mindedness and honesty will go a long way, stop blaming the system and the circumstances which led to this outcome, it’s time to move ahead without negative assumptions. Break the cycle of mistrust and remember even when the actual exams are conducted and the results come out, many students and schools are surprised to find a difference in the actual grades and the expected grades, the difference this year is that there were no written exams, but point to note is that the assessed work is still the student’s own work. The grades are generated from the students’ work and evidence provided by the school supported by data and statistics.  Hence, I would advise all students to keep their faith in the process and after thoroughly analysing the process of grading, if it is not acceptable then students should look at ways to find a solution. The solution also depends on how well the students understand the grading system, for example, the decision to re-sit or re-evaluate will completely depend on the understanding of the grading. Students need to be well informed and stay motivated in the pursuit of higher education.

Universities

A lot of universities across the world have been flexible with admission requirements, some have become test-optional others are willing to consider school transcripts and recommendations in conjunction with the exam grades. Universities are being increasingly accommodating to ensure they give maximum opportunities to international students to continue their education. Whilst the conversation of admitting students via multiple flexible options has been ongoing since the time the pandemic started, there are still universities who have not done enough research to understand the grading system adopted by different education systems across the world. Students have been denied the opportunity to continue with university education just because they did not make the exact grades as predicted by the school! At this time of uncertainty and confusion, the most reassuring consolation is a place in the university for the next 3 to 4 years. This has been taken away for many students as there is a difference between the school predicted grades and actual grades this year. But again this happens every year and there are ways around it, so this year there should be even more ways to ensure admission offers are not taken away. It is a known fact that students have been most impacted and the class of 2020 has been further disadvantaged by the cancellation of exams. Hence I would request and recommend universities to understand the grading system that led to the current grades and be fair in their decision to decline or accept a student for 2020-2021 admissions. “System-generated” or “default” emails are not the answer, it is frustrating for students and families to receive an email which says, “unfortunately you have not met all the conditions hence we will not be able to confirm a place at…”. As an educator, I thought this year will be an exception, a positive change when academicians across the world will come together to support the ‘Class of 2020’. It is shocking to note that some universities are issuing this kind of emails right after results day proving that no homework has been done to understand the grading process and no empathy is shown towards students even though there is a global pandemic destroying lives and career aspirations for millions of students. If there was ever a time to make an exception, this is the time. I do not mean to criticise any university but I would like to appeal to them to be more considerate and think twice before sending “default” emails and take time to offer an alternative solution especially when the difference in actual grade and required grade is 2-3 points!

This is a very challenging year for everyone, what has kept us going is hope and faith that when all of this is over we would still have opportunities to realise our dreams. But for this to happen we need to keep hope and faith alive; negative assumptions, hasty decisions, mud-slinging and lack of empathy are big impediments on the path to success. These success barriers have to be removed and all stakeholders have to come together in order to do so. After all, results are not the final objective, they are the means to the end. Understand the process, to achieve the desired result.

A semantic difficulty for school reform

Paul is working with ScrumAlliance on the first agile certification specifically for educators: the Agile Certified Educator. 

For the better part of a year I’ve been working with a small group on a new approach to teaching and learning. At least, we believe it is new. But sometimes we question ourselves.

Here’s the issue.

As we move away from the norm – away from our regular experience with education – we start introducing more and more new terminology to describe our vision. It doesn’t take long before what we’ve written isn’t terribly clear, because of the new terminology. We then rewrite using terminology more familiar to us as educators. Then the text is clearer, but … we find that it is clearer because readers relate with the text by understanding it as their regular experience with education. And that’s not the goal.

This in turns introduces a new level of concern for us. Originally we were worried that using language common to education would impede readers understanding the unique quality of what we are proposing. So we introduced new terms, which make what we are saying hard to understand, leading us back to common terminology, which waters down our vision. As we continued working, we began sliding back and forth along this continuum.

Now we have to ask ourselves if our vision may simply not be all that grandiose a departure from our regular experience of education because of our ability to move back and forth on a continuum. If on one end of our semantic continuum we are able to describe in words familiar to educators what is already familiar in practice, is the other end of the continuum, expressed in unfamiliar terms, actually different in practice? Are we really breaking new ground or are we just renaming things? (We believe we are going beyond renaming.)

I imagine this is a common problem with new ideas. Namely, there isn’t quite the right words to describe them. New terms sound contrived and are hard to understand. Current terms reinforce current understandings, which isn’t really the point. Arriving at any understanding tends to mean arriving at current understanding. Again, not the point.

Maybe this is what folks mean when they say they can’t describe something, but they’ll know it when they see it. And maybe that provides a bit of the answer to the problem. We need more people actually seeing the different teaching and learning we are writing about. We may need examples of what this new manner of teaching and learning is before we try so hard to describe it. Short of actually experiencing it, perhaps we move forward by describing real examples more and the theory less. Then with time the terminology may come.

Interested in pulling agility into education? Contact Paul at pmagnuson@las.ch.


Summer of 2020: Once in a Century Opportunity

This summer holiday is an exception, it is once in a century that schools are closed and there are no travel plans! No frantic last-minute packing, no reminders set for online check-in, no travel maps downloaded and no one waiting for you on the other side of the globe. The ‘Summer of 2020’ is ushering a massive change for the international schools’ community. Every summer we disappeared into destinations across the earth to rejuvenate and reunite with loved ones. With travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, the best way to spend summer 2020 is not to travel! So what do we do? Let us for a moment think of this as an actual opportunity to do three very simple things that will prepare us for the next academic year and give us a refreshing experience without having to travel.

Learn to fail

As a teacher how many times have you said to a student-It is ok to fail? Honesty, I do say it but with hesitation, thinking, if the students learn to be comfortable with failure it will be a disaster. But on second thoughts, if someone is afraid of failing they will never try out new things. And this summer is about trying out new things like learning to program an app, ride a bike, cook pizza, edit videos, play a new instrument, sing in front of an audience…the list is inexhaustible, the idea is simple to learn from failures. This year have been an epic failure for many industries, organisations, business etc. across the world. While they are trying to recover from the pandemic, the aftershocks are already being felt in most sectors. In the education sector, many schools have closed, teachers have lost their jobs and students have lost their alma mater. Everyone talks about how failure is hitting us hard, and yet life goes on, we fall, we rise and we learn. Hence there is no better time to get used to failing. This summer is an opportunity to learn to rise from failures. Also to try something new and keep trying repeatedly-It is ok to fail!

Learn to empathise

Another important exercise is to take care of emotional and mental wellbeing. When it is hard to socialise, go to the movies, see new places, meet new people or meet people you know, it is very stressful to deal with being at home. To take care of one’s own mental wellbeing is a symbiotic process, one has to be caring and empathetic towards others in order to e treated the same way. Recent conversations on racism, xenophobia, discrimination have lodged a sharp wedge into the human psyche and made us doubt everything, from the use of masks to origins of the pandemic to people walking on the streets. These are signs of a deranged human society that does not trust its own inner voice which tells them to be empathetic. Hence empathy has to be taught! While schools are focusing on teaching empathy, it will also fall upon caretakers, guardians and parents to teach the same to children/students during the summer holiday. Teach them to care; care for the little plant in the pot; care about their personal hygiene; care about the neighbours; care about their friends and family, call them once a week; care about keeping the locality clean; care about pollution; care about anyone and everyone. Learn to trust, learn to relate to other peoples’ problems and care about it, learn to empathise.

Learn to know yourself

This is a great time to discover a whole new person, that is you. Learn more about yourself, start by keeping a journal, it can be digital or a physical. A journal helps you to understand what you enjoy the most, it is an indirect way of reaching self-actualisation by reflecting on your interests and skills. Ask questions, interview yourself, take pictures of things you enjoy, organise your thoughts to get clarity on what describes you and defines you. This is a meditative process of self-healing by connecting with your inner self. Once you have enough evidence on yourself, read your journal, you might be surprised what you have discovered.  A simple self-reflection exercise can be a groundbreaking realisation for discovering yourself. Clear your head disk, declutter your thoughts, get clarity on your aims and objectives, this is a great time to do it. Even though it is summertime, it is a great time for spring cleaning both spiritual and digital. Clean that drive, desktop, device to get rid of unnecessary digital dross and dregs. Next step is to organise your headspace and disk space. Once you have done all of this a clear picture of you will emerge, free of worries, stress and anger, ready to face the next academic year.

So put on your seatbelts and experience the journey of failure, empathy and self-discovery as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity-‘Covid19-Summer of 2020’

Juneteenth & the June Issue

How’s your neck today? Me, I’m feeling the whiplash. As editor of The International Educator newspaper, it’s my job to stay abreast of events that impact our sector so I can help to keep all of you informed in turn. Hence the neck problem.

I’ve got to be honest: in the midst of the massive upheaval that has surged at the juncture of COVID-19 and the brutal legacy of 1619, my best efforts will necessarily fall short. There is simply too much of import to report, and it’s all happening so fast.

TIE was never in the business of covering breaking news. Since its inception almost 35 years ago, our quarterly publication has changed little in format over the decades. Sure, we adopted a supplemental June issue and have developed a dynamic online platform to complement our print edition, but even through these changes we have maintained an unharried pace, publishing your stories at a sort of reflective remove from the present moment.

As educators, I think we can all agree that there is a lot to be said for mellow reflection and careful deliberation. When crisis strikes, however, or in the throes of a global awakening over racial injustice such as the one we’re experiencing today, mellow and careful just don’t cut it.

Today, we all need to take immediate action, performing a probing and critical examination at the individual and collective levels to identify the ways in which systemic racism is baked into all of our institutions—TIE included—and devise a concrete plan for rooting it out. To be sure, this is work we should have been doing yesterday, just as it is work we will need to do again tomorrow. And the day after. And every day going forward, as we learn to make antiracism a daily practice in striving toward a just and equitable world.

Tricky as it is figuring out how to meet this monumental moment with the means at hand, I feel very fortunate to be able to place at your disposal our newspaper as a forum well-suited for fostering the deep reflective work so needed within our community. Let’s use this platform as a safe space in which to pursue a sustained conversation about how we get to authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion—a conversation I heartily invite you to join.

Back in March—or was it five years ago?—when planning the June edition of the newspaper, we decided to devote the entire issue to your wildly impressive and phenomenally resilient students, offering them the chance to tell the international school community what they’d learned and felt in the move to remote learning. They blew us away.

So when you’re back from the protest and have a quiet moment for reflection, please take the time to read these thoughtful and moving articles by tomorrow’s leaders.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

— Meadow

“You don’t understand, Dad, your skin is white!”

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Like many international school educators, I have found myself confined to a distant country during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In my case, Myanmar, where borders have closed, flights into the country have ceased to exist, and departures are limited to relief flights organized by embassies and INGOs for people not anticipating a return in the short term.  As a result, I’ve watched from afar the recent protests and demonstrations that have rocked my home country, the United States, in recent days.  Each morning, I wake up to notifications on my smart phone telling the story of unrest that has spread across the country, and then the globe, as we begin to grapple with the soul searching sparked by the gruesome death recorded for us all to see of a black man at the hands of a police officer on a previously unknown corner of a street in South Minneapolis.

The needless death that appeared in that video held a particular poignancy for me.  Watching it, I realized I recognized the location where it took place.  It was just over a block away from where I had lived for several years.  It was just a few blocks north of the elementary school I had attended as a child, and little more than a mile north of where I had lived for five years when I was growing up.  It hit home for me, and, like I imagine it did for many others, has caused me to look inward, to re-examine some of my own experiences and ideals, and to question my own beliefs about myself and my perspectives as a white person, a white man in this world.

People who know me are aware that several years ago my family took in a nine-year-old street boy who had been living on the streets of Yangon.  Through a series of circumstances, I brought him home one day with the intention of helping him out and providing him a sort of safe harbor he could make use of as needed.  Instead, he stayed, and over time we gradually made the decision to adopt him into our family.  When he first joined us, we were surprised how quickly and how easily he seemed to fit right into our lives.  He became a part of everything we did, and seemed to thrive on the time he spent with us.  Early on, we bought him a bike.  He wasn’t attending school at first, so would ride that bike to the school where we worked every morning to have lunch with me, and then return home for the afternoon to wait for our return.  We would spend the afternoons and weekends engaged in play.  We would swim in our pool, where he would climb on my shoulders to dive into the water and swim to the other side.  Some days, we would go on long bike rides through the city, dodging the traffic, and stopping to explore the zoo, the local markets, or sites known to him from his days on the streets.  At other times, we ran around the yard, hiding out on the roof top, or in the garage, shooting at each other with nerf guns.  There were games of basketball and one-on-one soccer.  He has a great love of fishing, and we would often go fishing in Yangon, and later in Minnesota where we go for the summer.  In all fairness, I should say he went fishing.  I spent most of my time unraveling incessant knots in the line, or getting his hook loose from the rocks and weeds in the water.  In every way, this small boy who had at one point seemed to have an incredibly rough exterior became a member of our family, fitting in alongside our other three children.  We grew to love him, and guided him as he began to navigate many of the same kinds of challenges we experienced with our other children – homework, making friends, keeping his room clean, household chores, and contributing as a member of our family.

As my son grew older, his interests began to change, as they do with kids.  He began to exert a level of independence.  He no longer was as interested in hanging out with dad.  He would go off with friends on his bike.  He discovered malls, arcades, and laser tag, venturing to these sites with friends, and began to pay closer attention to how he was perceived by others.  We witnessed a change in his dress and his social interactions, and his smartphone became a permanent appendage.  The most noticeable difference for me as this was happening was the gradual lack of desire to be seen with us.  I think I felt it most as I seemed to go from being the center of his world, to suddenly being a bystander watching his world go by. 

I believed that what my son was experiencing was the normal maturing process children go through as they get older.  I understood this and excepted it, but there was a part of me that missed the way he had been when he was younger.  I would often joke with him, asking if he was sure he didn’t want me to hang out with him and his friends.  He would respond jokingly, and with a fun sense of humor.  At one point though, I became a bit serious, reminding him of how much he used to want me around, and I asked what had changed.  He grew very serious as well.  Looking at me, he stated, “you don’t understand, dad, your skin is white.”

I was completely surprised by this statement.  My surprise was partially because the statement was so unexpected.  I had never really thought of him in terms of skin color or of ethnicity.  He was simply my son and a member of our family.  Clearly, it was something he was thinking of though, and was somehow playing into his need for independence and desire to do things that didn’t include us.  I was surprised for another reason though.  I had always considered myself fairly enlightened and open minded when it came to race.  As a child, my family had specifically moved to a neighborhood where the first schools were being integrated through bussing so my sister and I could attend school there.  Growing up, I had many friends of color, and believed I was sensitive to the challenges they had experienced.  As an adult, I had worked for a while with children from multi-racial backgrounds, and my wife and I had specifically chosen careers that exposed us to a myriad of different races and cultures.  Really, how could my son now say that I didn’t understand him because of the color of my skin?

Slowly, though, I began to realize that this was the issue.  Yes, I had been exposed to others and had integrated with others, but I couldn’t understand them.  I couldn’t understand because I can never experience things from their perspective.  From this short statement my son had made, I began to look at things differently.  I began to realize that I don’t fully understand what it is like to be him, I can’t understand, and in reality, I never will.  To be honest, any contradictory thinking on my part just isn’t reality as he has a set of life experiences and perspectives that are beyond my ability to fully comprehend.  However, I began to realize there are things I can do.  Since that time, I have come to realize the importance of listening, and truly hearing him as he expresses his personal perspective.  I have come to realize the importance of making sure he knows we appreciate his perspective, and that we value his experience.  I have come to accept that when he says he doesn’t want me around, it isn’t about me, it is about him needing to be him and needing to feel comfortable being himself. 

As I adhere to the current orders to stay at home during these difficult times and watch the scenes of protest unfold around the world, in the U.S., and in my old neighborhood, I can’t help but think about what is happening in relationship to what I have learned from my son.  As a white man, I can’t ever fully understand the challenges people of color face every day in this world.  To pretend that I can is not being honest.  I can listen though, I can appreciate the sacrifices others are making and the experiences that have brought them to this point, and I can make sure I value those experiences.  As an educator and as a fellow human being, I need to be committed to this.  These are things we need to do if we are going to begin to see change result from the events unfolding around us.  I really believe that this is the first step.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Racism alive in 2020- As school leaders what are the lessons we are teaching our international school communities?

As the sun goes down in beautiful Surrey tonight, tensions are high in my multi cultural household of 3 people. A caucasiian husband, african black mother and a biracial child who identifies strongly with both cultures, and is comfortable with who she is. We are all processing the events of the past week from our individual perspectives as well as the family collective ones. Some conversations have been safe and exploratory whilst others have been heated and unforgiving. Our daughter is an activist on social media with very strong opinions on social injustice and is feeling that it is a wee bit too late for big corporations to be making statements of support, she is asking what exactly they are doing about it besides making a public statement for positive publicity. How will their actions actually make a difference to how black people continue to be treated in this world?

As an active and vocal international educator who has for years tried to make other international educators understand and be conscious of the discrimination people of colour contnue to experience in recruitment practices from recruiters, school boards of directors and school leaders; with one breadth, I am grateful that the conversation has been forced upon us by the recent events in Minneapolis , and I am saddened that in 2020, little has changed in this space. Racism is alive and bubbling and it continues to be systematic. I am grateful that those that have been silent all these years can no longer continue in their ignorance and discomfort and that they are being forced to delve deeply into their consciousness and reflect on what they can do to change practices, understandings and perceptions of white privilege and how they can support others.

Our role as international educators has never been more important as it is today. We have a moral duty to all our students to model leadership as activists and also build community, love, empathy, respect, understanding and all soft skills that will open the door for better communication and collaboration access for all cultures, races and peoples.

What is sad? I have not seen any statement from international schools or recruiters, making a stand against racism especially as many of our students globally are affected by what has happened in recent days.

Passport – race – accent – inequality- culture -black lives matter – people of colour – international mindedness – diversity – white privilege – implicit biases.

WHAT ARE THE DISCUSSIONS WE ARE HAVING ABOUT REAL LIFE ISSUES?