LGBTQ+ Intent vs impact in schools

EMILY (she/her): Creating the Anti-Racism Impact Vs. Intent deck together helped to organize our thoughts on common mistakes that White educators (like myself) make when attempting to be inclusive and equitable, but then how we miss the mark because we are centering ourselves rather than POC.

In my practice as an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools (and as a cis, pan person), I found myself looking for something similar to illustrate the concepts I work on with schools and, when I couldn’t find it, I naturally thought: let’s call Daniel and we’ll make one.

DANIEL (he/him): So glad you did. Being cishet and an LGBTQ+ ally, but currently doing more work in the area of Anti-Racism, I’ve greatly benefited from your expertise and experience as we’ve crafted this deck– and found some blindspots in my own mindsets, attitudes, language, and actions. This work has also helped me look at the environments and structures I inhabit through the same lens and critically analyze how aligned intention and impact are in these spaces.

So what patterns have you noticed in common, perhaps well-intentioned, LGBTQ+ allyship that indicate the need for deeper understanding of actual impact on LGBTQ+ individuals?

EMILY: I’ve run into a lot of folks who mistakenly believe that their internal acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is sufficient for inclusion. Kids can’t read teachers’ minds, however, so a classroom without LGBTQ+ representation looks uninviting, regardless of the teacher’s internal feelings.

Lots of educators will say that all students are safe and welcome in school, but when learning spaces ignore or erase LGBTQ+ people, it doesn’t feel safe and welcome. We need to actively and deliberately include LGBTQ+ students in order to cultivate equitable schools. Staying silent maintains the status quo of LGBTQ+ exclusion.

DANIEL: And that’s where Intent vs. Impact comes in! While educators might have supportive intentions, we need to take a deeper look at how our environments, practices, perceptions, language, policies, and decisions actually impact LGBTQ+ community members. It’s more than just believing in something– it’s about making sure that truly inclusive, equitable, and empowering outcomes really happen.

In creating this deck with you, I noticed that there are many common practices, phrases, and mindsets that (perhaps unintentionally) signal to LGBTQ+ individuals that their identities are invalid and unwelcome. How can these kinds of damaging signals affect LGBTQ+ youth, their identity development, and their lives?

EMILY: The research on this is really clear: LGBTQ+ children who grow up in contexts that provide support for their identity development, that nurture their healthy growth, and that affirm their sense of self are far more likely to thrive than LGBTQ+ children who do not see themselves reflected in a positive way[1][2][3]. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth are at much higher risk than their cishet peers for a number of mental health issues and negative outcomes, such as suicidality, depression, anxiety, substance use, disordered eating, and declining school performance[4][5]. The good news is that these health disparities can be positively impacted by adjusting the context around the child, such as by cultivating safe, welcoming, and loving homes, communities, peer groups, and schools[6][7][8]. This cultivation must be deliberate and visible, however – the impact matters more than the intent.

DANIEL: I believe that this kind of deliberate self-analysis comes through in the LGBTQ+ Intent vs. Impact deck we’ve created, which outlines common well-intentioned actions or mindsets that actually have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ individuals.

Our hope is that fellow educators use these infographics– not as a checklist– but as an opportunity for brave, meaningful, and sustained self-reflection and ongoing growth. All of us, especially cishet allies like myself, should be constantly working to understand the depth and nuance within LGBTQ+ identities, shining light on our own blind spots, modifying our language and practices, and pushing for more inclusive and supportive policies– all of which will have a long-term positive impact on our LGBTQ+ community members.

The LGBTQ+ Intent Vs. Impact infographic introduces the concept, and the rest of the deck with specific examples will be rolled out on Twitter and in our online gallery.

Follow us on Twitter:
@DanielWickner                                                       @EmilyMeadowsOrg

Emily Meadows is an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools. For LGBTQ+ inclusive policy support and faculty professional development, please contact Emily at:

[1] Hatzenbuehler, M. L. & Pachankis, J. E. (2016). Stigma and minority stress as social determinants of health among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: Research evidence and clinical implications. Pediatric Clinics of North America,63(6), 985-997.

[2] Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A.Am., Li, G., & Grossman, A.H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behaviour among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 503-505.

[3] Murchison, G. R., Agenor, M., Reisner, S. L., & Watson, R. J. (2019). School restroom and locker room restrictions and sexual assault risk among transgender youth. Pediatrics, 143(6), DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-2901

[4] Becerra-Culqui, T. A., Liu, Y., Nash, R., Cromwell, L., Flanders, W. D., Getahun, D., Giammettei, S. V…. & Goodman, M. (2018). Mental health of transgender and gender nonconforming youth compared with their peers. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-384.

[5] Duffy, M. E., Henkel, K. E., & Joiner, T. E., (2019). Prevalence of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in transgender individuals with eating disorders: A national study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(4), 461-466.

[6] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

[8] Poquiz, J. L., Coyne, C. A., Garofalo, R., & Chen, D. (2020). Comparison of gender minority stress and resilience among transmasculine, transfeminine, and nonbinary adolescents and young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, 104.

Agency: Reflections on an Interview with Jennifer Groff

For the past decade, I’ve focused on supporting teacher agency at my school. In the early years, our motto was “Continually becoming the professionals we already are.” 

Tim Logan, the host of the Future Learning Design podcast, recently interviewed Jennifer Groff, Innovation Fellow at WISE (QATAR Foundation). She advocates for both teacher and student agency, and since Tim ends each of his podcasts with the invitation to continue the conversation, let’s do just that.

Future Learning Design


“There’s just so much about the old model that doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for quite some time. By ‘work’ I really mean that there isn’t research to support [the old model], in fact, there’s a lot of research to support  that many of the common structures that we just assume are fine … are actually rather problematic.” 

Jennifer Groff, Innovation Fellow at WISE and experienced school reformer, is convinced our traditional model of education is not adequate. The world is changing far more rapidly than our approach to getting students ready for the world.

“The world that they are entering into, the world that they are in now, requires such a different education than we have largely structured for them.”

I think most of us who listen to Tim’s podcasts would agree. After all, a podcast about the future design of learning attracts those who aspire to something new, not to maintaining the status quo. (In fact, I’d like to challenge Tim to interview a few folks who are convinced that our education model should stay as it is. Tim? Up for the challenge?) It’s time that we concentrate on showing real examples of the change we are talking about, as well as stories about how we have moved away from the old model (what Groff refers to as a “burning platform” of education) to new models.

Their discussion does hint at systemic conditions that will provide the space for change. First, they agree that change initiatives have to be “embedded in the structure” of school, so that they “cannot be pulled out.” Innovation, in other words, cannot be an add-on for when there is time or it is otherwise convenient. Innovation must be planned and cared for just like curriculum and assessment. Tim alludes to the difficulty of getting more agile while still in the box, yet that is exactly what needs to happen. However one understands the box, it is there, and that’s where innovation leading to reform needs to be embedded in a manner that “cannot be pulled out.” Otherwise, as any reader can recall from direct experience, promising reform initiatives are quickly winnowed by the inflexible sides of the box.

And how do you get agile in the box? For teachers, Groff recommends creating a culture of quick data collection, leading to quick designs and constant piloting of new ideas. That immediately sounds like an interesting place to work, doesn’t it? Much more so than a culture which claims we shouldn’t experiment on our students – which is complete hogwash because good teachers are constantly experimenting with new ways of teaching better – and that teachers should follow outside experts who train on the implementation of the latest method or software. 

Not that the latest method or software is necessarily subpar. It’s just that teachers need agency to come to their own conclusions about how they teach. Telling only goes so far. 

What Groff is proposing has an easy parallel with business agility, in which one develops new ideas in short iterations with plenty of feedback so that bad ideas are quickly discarded and good ideas are made better. Incidentally, this hints at a solution to a problem posed in an earlier Future Learning Design podcast that I reflected on, with Andreas Schleicher of the OECD. He suggested that in education we are not good at getting rid of bad ideas and unfortunately equally not good at adopting good ideas. The opposite of agile. Groff’s solution? Get teachers working in quick action research cycles and sharing what they learn with others, debriefing (and prebriefing?) as they go. 

I’m happy to think that at Leysin American School we’ve been helping support action research cycles for several years through the support of teacher-driven projects. Our application deadline for 2021-2022 just passed. We’re set to review and hopefully approve nine new projects for next school year. That’s about 15% percent of our teachers who would like to formalize their learning and experimenting with support from the research center.

Agency isn’t just for teachers. Teachers can model and help create the right culture for students, who, according to Groff and many others, need much more agency than the old model has provided.

“It really is about student agency, it really is about getting the kids hand on the wheel and them driving the bus, which is really scary for a lot of schools …”

Having the kids drive the buses would indeed be a little scary, but of course she isn’t speaking literally. Having the kids drive the curriculum and instruction is perhaps just as scary – and one of the reasons we continually build systems that downplay student agency. But there are consequences. When do students learn to approach learning independently, without the handholding? 

Groff: “When you spend 12 years thinking that the world is chopped up into linear bits and there’s a right answer that’s that short … you are doing immense damage to these kids. They don’t know how to handle the complexity of the world.” The damage comes because we aren’t teaching in manners that build student agency, but rather “sending them out into this complex world without the agency and the self direction to navigate it.” 

Ouch. But yes. Picture a class of students at the beginning of the hour, as the teacher enters the room. What are they doing? They are waiting. Waiting for directions. Waiting to find out what is going to happen for the next 45, 60, 90 minutes. Waiting to find out what they are going to learn, and how they are going to do it, and probably whether the work will be done individually or in pairs or groups. Why is this model so universal? This is the platform that Groff suggests is burning.

“I could very easily, with a research base the size of a mountain behind me, go look at a traditional school model and say that none of this is working…” Schools “have many things that need redefining and addressing, there’s … just loads of evidence to support that.”

So there’s work to be done. Starting with a cultural shift to greater teacher agency makes good sense to me. Just remember, as Groff chuckles at the end of the interview, reforming our education models “is not for the faint of heart.”

Nothing micro about microaggressions

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on

Microaggression is an attitude of silent aggression, apathy, hate, discrimination towards minority or lesser represented communities. These silent acts are mostly non-verbal; talking in a different language to exclude people of a certain minority; ridiculing people with an accent; never acknowledging the success of people of colour. It is also verbal in the form of racial insults, culturally biased comments, and derogatory comments about citizenship and nationality. 

Microaggressions are like dementors, from the Harry Potter series, they suck away the happiness, ambition and zeal to succeed, from the people of colour and minority. This silent killer leaves them with no other option than to perish silently, never raising a voice or even trying to make a difference. In fact, it is such a silent killer that it has become an accepted norm across the world to call it ‘systemic racism’ and completely ignore the root cause. Unfortunately and dangerously the attitude currently is, “yes it exists, deal with it”!

Being a woman, and a woman of colour I have learnt to recognise microaggressions. Here are a few types of microaggressions that I have experienced.

Gender biased microaggressions: Professional development is always prioritised for men as “they need it more”, this is a classic case of silent gender-biased microaggression. Another classic example is the office dress code that mandates the length of the skirt, type of shoe, ‘no spaghetti tops’ etc only for women. While for any other gender it is limited to ‘dress formally’. Women are labelled desperate, needy and narcissists if they post about themselves or their achievements on social media, but men are rewarded with words like great communicator, successful, positive networker and very active on social media. The same act has different connotations for different genders. 

Culturally biased microaggressions: People of colour or minority are often asked this question, “How long have you lived abroad?” This clearly indicates the presumption that people of colour or of different religion do not or cannot belong to the same country as they look different or have different beliefs. Recruiting people of colour in international organisations is still a distant dream, even further away is the reality of having leaders of colour. I say this as microaggressions throttle the very desire, right at the beginning, they snatch away the pleasure of having ambitions and dreams and leave people of colour or minority with no desire to compete.

Racially biased microaggression: When a racially different person enters a public space, they are always asked for an ID. There is an assumption that people of a different race can be criminals or have an ulterior purpose to be in public space. Recent episodes of racially biased xenophobia is a very good example of underlying microaggressions. In the most developed countries of the world, we saw Asians being attacked, black lives being taken away, foreigners being segregated, children being alienated and yet we keep quiet. All of this is happening openly and the perpetrators are finding ways to exhibit their microaggressions violently under the pretext of nationalism and economic stability.

I consider microaggressions the most crucial link in the fight against inequality and discrimination. It is the very root of all issues in the world. As educators, we have to eliminate the root cause. We need to teach our students to avoid microaggressions. As educators, we can check for microaggressions and nip it in the bud.

Educators themselves have to audit their microaggressions, do not preach or practice bias. For example, I remember a teacher refusing to participate in Remembrance Day as it is a western tradition; a Head of School making a remark that Indian sweets will ensure a visit to the dentist; a PE teacher forcing a student to swim during Ramadaan. We need to face our insecurities and biases so that we do not make the mistake of harbouring microaggressions and passing them on to the youth. They will model what they witness.

Educate students to check for microaggressions and reduce them. Discourage bias, encourage brevity to stand up against bias. The trauma students endure due to the segregation by nationality intentionally or unintentionally needs to be checked as it further manifests into racism and apathy. 

Overall, there are many ways to reduce microaggressions; the difference lies in the intent. The lack of intent is the most dominant problem and this needs to change. Remember there is nothing micro about microaggressions.


April 21 is Earth Day. It will be celebrated around the world by planting seeds, picking garbage, starting a recycle program or in many other ways of being kind to the earth. In addition to projects, you can also celebrate Earth Day through those wonderful books.

My Ocean is Blue by Darren Leboeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron is a picture book with poetic text that looks at all characteristics of the ocean – from shallow to deep, from quiet to loud. A lovely read with the youngest readers. And a good incentive to collect shells and pebbles for an ocean display in the classroom. ISBN 978-1-52530143-8

Beginning scientists will love That’s No Dino! by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. This book shows how new research determines the characteristics of dinosaurs. From such extinct creatures as Platyhystrix (not a dinosaur!) to Velociraptor (yup! A dinosaur.) the book has lots of information, humour and a check list for budding dinosaur lovers. ISBN 978-1-5253-0023-3

Kids in grades 2 – 6 will likely love this gross book: Extremely Gross Animals by Claire Eamer. You’ll need a strong stomach to read this book but you will learn many unusual, fascinating facts like how fish can spit prey out of the air, how birds use vomit as self defence and about many other slimy, smelly adaptions that help animals survive. ISBN 978-1-5253-0337-1

Ashley Spires wrote a fun graphic novel about the power of bugs: Burt The Beetle Doesn’t Bite! The humorous text is a dialogue between the book’s narrator and the June bug who feels he has no super powers like other bugs which can use smell, webs, strength or flight. But June bug does redeem himself in the end. A fun book to read out loud or to encourage young readers to read by themselves. ISBN 978-1-5253-0146-9

For older readers, Flush by Carl Hiaasen is a good book about the environment and what kids can do to help. In this fictional novel, Noah wants to help his father in proving that someone is dumping raw sewage into the ocean. A fast paced, exciting read for anyone who loves the earth as well as reading. ISBN 978-0375861253, Grade 4 and up.

Margriet Ruurs loves the environment and has written many books about nature, including AMAZING ANIMALS, WILD BABIES and IN MY BACKYARD.

Agency: Reflections on an Interview with Andreas Schleicher

Agency: Reflections on an Interview with Andreas Schleicher

For the past decade, I’ve focused on supporting teacher agency at my school. In the early years, our motto was “Continually becoming the professionals we already are.” While we originally focused on teachers, lately we’ve been able to directly impact students, from supporting individual passion projects to creating entire programs.

Yet I feel we’ve only just started to touch on teacher and student agency and I’m a little plagued by the thought that we might only be tinkering. What if we are so stuck in legacy thinking that we can’t even see future possibilities?

So I keep my ears open for those who have something to say about agency. Tim Logan, the host of the Future Learning Design podcast, is introducing many of us to the ideas of influential thinkers in this area. He ends each podcast with the wish that we continue the conversation. So let’s do that.

Future Learning Design

“You are not going to see student agency without having teacher agency,” says Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Exactly! Telling students they need to think and act independently, while not creating a school environment in which teachers benefit from autonomy and self-direction, is by no means ideal. Do as I say, not as I do. Yet if teachers feel their hands are tied, they are justified. There are so many constraints on teachers, including inflexible curricula, demands for grading, teacher evaluations … I don’t even care to try to think about the factors we could include here. 

So teachers need to feel and experience real agency so that students can do the same. Fair enough. Even in our traditional conceptualization of school we can find room for more teacher agency. I know that the set of alternative electives we’ve created at my school have given us teachers a significant level of space and time to practice our own agency. This is a good step forward. 

Schleicher cautions, though, that supporting teacher agency requires an environment where teachers know what is best, and just don’t suppose they know what is best based on individual feelings and beliefs. As he puts it, “The professional needs to do what they know is right, based on evidence …” Our school’s support of teacher-initiated, year-long action research projects comes into play here, as does the school’s acknowledgment that we value teachers who are constantly trying out new ways of supporting student learning. Have you ever heard someone say, derisively even, that “we don’t experiment on kids?” Well, we do. We believe all good teachers do. And we do it because we want our teachers to do what is best based on their own research and the feedback they get from others.

Often the debate between content and skills is framed exactly that way – one focus pitted against the other. Content versus skills. For Schleicher, that’s framing the problem far too simply. Both content and skills are important, one supports the other. “We shouldn’t treat knowledge and skills as two ends on a spectrum … one without the other is of very little value.” Indeed. It’s just that it seems we are so completely enamored with content. Content determines how we name our courses, hire our teachers, fashion our assessments, and report to our stakeholders. 

Perhaps Schleicher shares our bias that skills don’t get even close to equal billing with content. He mentions, as others have when reflecting on teaching during a pandemic, that “those students that succeeded were the ones … who could live with themselves, who could live with others, who could have the discipline to organize their learning independently, who could structure their learning, who could access a wide range of learning resources.” Student agency is out there, in other words, but not universally. To what extent are our students able to pick up the reins when the teacher isn’t present? Should they have to wait for the teacher to be absent to pick up the reins? Do we give them adequate time to learn how to self-direct? Are we holding their hands much too firmly?

But a word of caution: “… it’s not about less structure, it’s about an enabling structure rather than a constraining one.” Right. We want more agency for both teachers and students, but we won’t get there by pulling away all the structure. In fact, it could be that the less structure there is the more demanding the task is for teachers. How do we create the right climate for agency to thrive?

Schleicher: “You do need very carefully crafted curricula.” But these are different types of curricula he is talking about. Not the big plan before the year begins, nor the blow by blow, lesson by lesson. “It’s not about packaging exactly what you should be teaching in what hour, but it’s about providing some structure and good guidance for teachers; how to develop those kinds of thinking and reasoning skills that are of enduring relevance …” For many this will be a very different notion of curriculum. By no means is it a list of content items to cover.

And Schleicher’s use of the phrase enduring relevance makes me think of David Perkins and his suggestion that we teach lifeworthy content and skills. Content and skills of enduring relevance. That also requires a healthy reimagination of our curricula. I’m wondering if the notion of enduring relevance doesn’t also demand quite a bit of choice on the part of the student. We adults might be clever enough to select enduring skills: collaboration, innovation, and the like. But are we clever enough to imagine what content will have enduring relevance for students? Is it maybe even more complicated than just being clever? Endurance may well include a healthy dose of self-selection, choice, or as I learned in Spanish, ganas – that which you really want and what really drives you. 

Just thinking about innovation. How many of our school mission statements include innovation in one form or another? And how do we foster innovation?

“It’s about professional autonomy in a collaborative culture. And that collaborative culture in my view really depends on a good accountability system.” There he goes again, full of the pragmatism that comes with expertise. “If you are amazingly innovative in your own classroom and nobody else knows about it, that innovation will dissipate very quickly.”

This is true. And now think about our general education model. Would you say it’s default state is teacher-collaborative or teacher-alone-in-the-classroom? 

“Perhaps we should think more about lateral accountability,” he continues, so that teaching “becomes more of a public process rather than a private process – something that is actually visible to your colleagues.” I pause the podcast here to think. How much lateral accountability have we built into my school? We’ve tried with our faculty evaluation. We have some professional development that requires peer observation and feedback. We’ve even had some classes with two teachers … but it didn’t last. Teaching is still by and large an individual endeavor.

A caution and a reason for hope to wind up with. 

“We need to make sure that good ideas spread in scale and also that bad ideas disappear … we are not doing well on either side.” Ouch. We know that our current way of doing school is quite entrenched. Attempts to move away from the classic school model (kids move in groups, between rooms with one teacher, each with a desk, whiteboard at the front, not too much time for individual student input, eyes on your own paper, homework at night) are often squelched. The structure of school just isn’t set up to support much beside school as we know it. 

Might this be why good ideas are hard to spread? Because good ideas tend to fall outside the current closed circle of what works? We should have a very open conversation about what “works” means, I suspect. We are perhaps stuck in the eddy of a strange attractor that keeps school the same year after year (and even more telling, after a global pandemic), giving bad ideas a longer shelf life than reasonable, even as good ideas are pulled back to the mediocre.

But there is hope, foreshadowed in the podcast by Schleicher’s earlier comment about lateral accountability. The future of teaching and learning, he thinks, likes in lateral instead of vertical relationships. Those of us pulling agile into school thought will resonate with this sentiment, as will anyone tired of top down, carrot and stick management. “I think that the future is not command and control but about collaboration … and I believe that has a lot to do about how we educate young people.”

I’m thrilled to hear this from a person uniquely situated to have a truly international perspective on education.

And for those of us in the trenches, who might be just a little uneasy about radical change, consider these final sentiments from the interview:

“If your role is really to develop human beings rather than just to transmit a specific piece of a subject, I think the role for teachers will be far more rewarding, not to speak of more effective.”


An Unwillingness to Hand Over Curiosity to Google

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

~Albert Einstein

At the beginning stages of a project on innovation, I conference with students. My conversation with Anthony was staccato, more detached than cut short.  

“Great, you want to see how gaming consoles have changed throughout time. As you begin to research, what are some questions you have?  Or, if you find out anything about gaming consoles, what do you wonder most?”

The response a dead end.


A child void of wonder could be linked to a listless boat in harbor.  Not only captainless but tethered.  However, eternal optimism screams out, “The boat is still afloat!”

Unfortunately, the conversation with Anthony was not exclusive, others had played out over the years.  Dejected tones imbued in learned compliance.  Students comfortable with conforming to carousels of simple obedience and going through the motions traditionally called, school.  

In quiet reflection I question the myriad factors which might contribute to what appears to be an inverted approach to learning.  Specific to Anthony I wonder, “How often  in middle school has Anthony been given free reign to wonder?”  The normative approach possibly is one where teachers have over a hundred students and countless standards to “cover.” Systems of disempowerment where students are subjected to learning, as opposed to being agents of their own learning.  

Further contemplation led me to take a deeper dive into what research says about the nature of wonder and curiosity.  There is little if any scrutiny of the value of curiosity in learning.  Yet, there is artistry behind designing approaches that truly listen to learners and provide the right conditions for revelling in wonder.  To do so would not be noble but simply, humane.  Intentionally fueling, as opposed to extinguishing this lifeblood. Curiosity, a hallmark of our human experience.

Tomorrow is Already Today

The role of curiosity is essential as we step into a possible fickle future. In an article titled, “Why Curiosity Might Be the Most Important Skill for Recruiters,” John Vlastelica shares:

“My team and I at Recruiting Toolbox have worked with thousands of corporate recruiters and hiring managers inside many of the best known companies on earth. And as you uncover what makes a great recruiter great, you start to hear common themes across industries and geographies. Curiosity is not always explicitly called out, but it’s there — it’s like an underlying competency, that leads to the more visible competencies that talent leaders and business leaders tell us they want to see more of in their recruiters.”  

But it does not stop with curiosity.  So too is the need for context and razor sharp problem solving sets.  Kurt Reusser’s 1986 study, is in effect sadder than it is humorous. How Old is the Shepherd  posits, “There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd?” Though absurd, researchers reported that  three quarters of schoolchildren were willing to offer a numerical answer to the shepherd problem.  Conditioned to calculate and not question, there is little wonder how passive learners were not confused by the word problem. They just needed to come up with a number.

Good news! This study was more than 40 years ago. Or is this really “good” news.  School curriculums have done anything but prune existing curriculums.  The time and space to develop intuition, explore, and question most likely has become even more confined. The pace of the world continues to quicken and students are expected to know and be able to do more, but seemingly in even less time. Racing as if there is soe sort of finish line. Further, consider the wieldy role of AI and algorithms.  Aimed at optimizing everything, algorithms increasingly are taking hold.  Their grip tightening as can be seen in the case of the “all knowing,” Google. “People Also Ask,” (PAA), previously known as “Related Searches,” appears after any word is typed into Google.  Only, no longer is this search all about knowledge and limited to generation of millions of results in less than a second.  Google also proffers a list of questions (PAA).  A list of what we might want to know.  The pivotal role of wonder shortcutted.  Users neither “have to” nor “get to” think of the questions.  Though under my brow for several years, only now am I conscious of the implications this feature may have on the future. The approach so seemingly sleight of hand. I am left with one dominant feeling. 


If you look up “gobsmacked” on Google, the first enquiry in “People Also Ask” reads, “Is gobsmacked a bad word?” Impulsively, I click on the question and find “…it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks.”

Exactly. I am speechless, stopped dead in my tracks.

This is because “Googling” is no longer solely about knowledge and answers.  It is also about questions. Conditioned to still question I do not intend to hand over this privilege to Google. But how many busy learners will?  Or, already do!  

Will Google revisit their mission and even rebrand themselves? This seems to be a matter of  subterfuge, as Google exceeds their  interest in, “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.” 

This all reminds me of shopping for a greeting card.  Of greater importance than the inflated price tag, the happy birthday or get-well-card, comes with a message already written for the consumer who toils with the words to honestly express their feelings.  Yet, according to an Atlantic article written nearly a decade ago, “Consumers are expected to spend $860 million on about 150 million Valentine’s Day cards this year.”  In essence paying a card company to express YOUR feelings!

What We Can Do?

Warren Berger, self proclaimed questionologist and best selling author of A More Beautiful Question, references how today’s work environments are entrepreneurial and in need of educational systems which value questioning. Personally I plan to begin by truly nurturing curiosity and intentionally affording time to question in the classroom.  I myself modeling inquisitiveness and improving the habit of verbalizing my questions.  I also aim to take inventory of the types of questions students are asking.  Thankfully, “Is this going to be on the test,” appears to have all but vanished. I plan to hold close to the following five steps by Berger to help my students become better questioners: 

1. Make It Safe
2. Make It “Cool”
3. Make It Fun
4. Make It Rewarding
5. Make It Stick 


Lupus in fabula

They courageously took their masks off, one by one, breathing in the fresh, clean air of an early Spring day. It had been months in the making, this sojourn of artists to a neighboring museum, an appropriate stage for the products of a two year journey.  

The relief was palpable. They sipped bubbly water, taking in the people crossing the street at the nearby cafe, trying to live out ordinary lives in an extraordinary time. But nothing was ordinary, as this age of uncertainty and stress draped over the annual ritual of hope and commencement like a resilient strain.   

The painstakingly planned exhibition reflected more than ever a similarly painful journey of people whose stories had become as significant as the ceramics, sketches, photography, and textiles. Their humanity transcended criteria in a time of crushing challenges.

Lupus in Fabula, an Italian expression, literally meaning ‘the wolf in the fairy tale which is, as we know, the heart of nearly every children’s fable. The expression came from author Bruce Feiler who quoted it in a book I’m reading called “Life is in the Transitions.”

It seemed like an apt metaphor for the circumstances under which these people produced their art.

Several years ago, I invited an expert on data from the National University of Singapore to visit and help me realign my definition of success in school and how I measured it. I was failing miserably in the usual indicators of “success” under which every Principal’s head was lain, pouring my energies into the success of others rather than my own survival in a survival of the fittest culture. My neck was on the line and I needed a win, however small. 

She sat down in my office as I closed the door, gently sipping from the tea I had served her, and smiled, waiting for my response to her question. “Well, what is it? You must be doing something well?”

I felt a small lump in my throat. No one had asked me that question in three years at the school.

I told her about the dramatic gains we had achieved with students that came to us with learning and emotional support needs, the improvement in English for the newcomers, the sense of belonging students felt thanks to our advisory program, the discoveries students had made about talents they didn’t know they had in spite of their parents pre-determined wishes for them. 

You know, the things we never measured. 

She laughed and yelled, “THEN START MEASURING THEM!” 

Seven years later, I contacted her to check in and shared the artist story, how they painfully, emotionally, started opening up, exchanging not tales of relief and accomplishment per the norm, but of being judged, rejected, and unhappy. They actually wanted to stay, to remain in the cocoon. It was incredulous, not the usual ‘can’t wait to leave this popsicle stand in the rearview’ I’d come to expect. 

The one whose parents were disappointed that he wasn’t taking the path that had been chosen for him but had accepted him for his newfound happiness. 

 The one whose family lived faraway and couldn’t share in the journey.

The newcomer who had to fulfill dreams at any cost.

The one afraid to leave the house due to a dreaded virus. 

The one who overachieved to prove it could be done.

They told their stories and talked about their fears. Their real, deep seated fears that, when looking back, were evident in their art as a connection to the person, not some loosely defined object designed to please an examiner. They spoke not of achievement but in symbolic terms of the wolves that had attacked their fairy tales.

“So what are you going to do with that?” the professor asked. “Can you measure this?” 

“I have no idea,” I said. The self assessment of the students, focusing on their humanity, not their achievement, caught me by surprise. I thought they would have reverted back to the old I hope this uni accepts me, and I hope I can go to so and so to live in London and I really hate chemistry but I need at least a four to get in.

But they didn’t. They just talked in a very accepting way, a very courageous, honest way about what had gotten them to this point, for better or worse with circumstances they couldn’t control.

She paused on the phone.

“It’s the great accelerator,” she said. “I don’t know if you can measure this one.”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s taken away that moment, that glimmer in the eye when they think anything is possible because in this moment of history they have been forced to realize that maybe it is not. That’s usually an epiphany that hits you in your thirtees.”

We both laughed. Yes, the normal metrics for success had gone out the window. Even the IB has lost the plot on how to measure success, I smiled.

I thought about all the things I poured my life energy into (coaching stressed out department heads, negotiating learning challenges with families, unravelling conflict, attending open ended meetings that unveiled enormous problems with few answers). All of the illusions of control cast into the spotlight by a situation that no one could control.

“So how do you bottle that?” she asked. “How do you take that moment with those people together, sharing that journey in spite of the obstacles and making something of it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “All I can think of is telling them to stay in touch with each other and to have a chance to share their story.”

“Gratitude,” she said. “Measure that and you’ve found your metric.”


Books can help create awareness of traditional and cultural holidays around the world. There are many wonderful stories, including fiction and nonfiction, about seasonal celebrations like Passover, Easter, Eid and Mimouna, often including unique traditional foods. Why not enhance reading by sampling matzos or painting eggs in the classroom.

Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illustrated by Tara Anderson. A lovely rhythmic text  for the very young that celebrates more than just bunnies and eggs at Easter. This picture book is waiting to be shared out loud and can be chanted along, with sometimes predictable, other times surprising rhyming words, with preschoolers and kindergarten students. ISBN 978-1-77278-177-9

Passover, Festival of Freedom by Monique Polak. This nonfiction book explains the origins and traditions of Passover. Through text, facts, photos and personal accounts, the book shares stories and information from the Jewish community. Recipes for traditional Passover dishes are also included in this beautiful information book. ISBN 978-1-4598-0990-1

A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow

Not only is this brand new release a story about food, it also brings awareness of a Jewish holiday with which I was not familiar. Mimouna marks the end of Passover in Morocco and, like Ramadan, it is celebrated by eating special food at the end of a period of fasting. The lovely art shows a Jewish child who invites her Muslim friend and neighbor to share the food. The book includes a recipe to make your own moufletot, a pile of leavened pancakes. ISBN 978-1-77306-397-3

The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobson. This picture book explains the biggest holiday in the Muslim year when Aneesa gets to wear new clothes, helps cook lamb stew and goes to the mosque. ISBN 978-1-59078-431-0

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki is a celebration of community kitchens. This picturebook has the looks of a comic strip with speech bubbles, making it joyous and interactive as everyone contributes ingredients, supplies and ideas. Together they peel, chop and splash. They set tables and invite in the long line of hungry, waiting clients. The multiracial characters bring this story to every realistic neighborhood and ends with the encouragement to volunteer in a community kitchen near you. Besides a read for younger students, this book can also be a good place to start classroom discussions of community service work with older students. ISBN 978-1-77306-262-4

Going Up! by Sherry J. Lee, illustrated by Charlene Chua is a brand new picturebook with a unique angle. The story focuses on the building in which all of the characters live. They have all received an invitation to come to a birthday party on the 10th floor. Many people get into the elevator, carrying their favourite dishes to contribute to the party. From cookies to gulab jamun this is a fun book to anticipate who will get on next and what they will bring. Will they all fit into the elevator before they reach the top floor? ISBN 978-1-5253-0113-1

What A Party! by Ana Maria Machado, illustrated by Hélêne Moreau is a joyous celebration of friends and food. What starts as a birthday invitation, soon turns into a feast when kids bring coconut cookies, mangoes, pickles and friends. Signora Gina makes pizza and Mrs. Tanaka brings sushi and together they celebrate global diversity. ISBN 978-1-55498-168-7

Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian Is A Camel, How Books Are Brought to Children Around The World. She conducts author visits to international schools.

Iterate to Innovate: Design Thinking in hybrid classrooms

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on

The COVID19 pandemic has ushered a paradigm shift in pedagogy and technology; educators need to change strategies to cope with the demands of this paradigm shift. Unlocking this paradigm shift will compel educators across the world to reevaluate curriculum design to cater to a world where problem-solving and critical reasoning will be highly required skills. Pedagogy has to equip students with divergent thinking, out of box thinking and in contemporary terminology- design thinking (DT). 

The future is closer than expected; schools around the world are now struggling with this change or paradigm shift. The solution is to learn and teach a strategy that will equip students with problem-solving strategies-design thinking. DT will help teachers to create tasks that require students to think critically and creatively to solve problems by following the design thinking framework.  Another significant reason for teaching design thinking strategies is to meet the global skills deficit and to adapt to the dynamic needs of an ever-changing and dynamic world. A small change in pedagogy can be the key to future preparedness.

The five stages of the design thinking framework are; Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. The whole process engages the participant in looking for solutions. The DT framework is human-centric approach with strong focus on empathetic study of the problem. It is a very hands-on approach to problem solving. Here are a few ways it can be adapted to pedagogy.

Empathise: The very foundation of the DT framework is built on empathy; empathy towards the students needs. In a hybrid classroom, this is where a teacher has to understand the students online, their needs, their preferences and their personalities. Teachers have to be open-minded and willing to get insights from students that illustrate their needs. Some strategies for practising this human-centric approach are via informal Q&As with students and asking open-ended questions. Remember DT compels the design thinker (teacher) to listen and not to judge. This is a stage for the teacher or the design thinker to frame design questions to understand the students and their needs.

Define: After understanding the hurdles and challenges of the students in a hybrid classroom the next stage is to define the problem. But the major difference in the DT approach is to define the problem in terms of the students. The design thinker, in this case, the teacher, must synthesise all insights to frame a solution-oriented question, for example, ‘How can we…?’ One strategy for defining the problem is through structuring insights to create a problem statement.

Ideate: In this stage, the teacher needs to brainstorm tools and strategies with students to generate ideas stimulated by the challenge or problem. Some strategies to brainstorm solutions are 30-circle exercises, word ball, mind mapping, sketching, storyboarding, worst possible idea, etc. Encourage students to think divergently, any solution is a step towards solving the problem, even solutions that don’t make sense are important in the process of design thinking. Collaborate, collate, and eliminate to come up with the best solution to answer the ‘How can we…’ question.

Prototype: From identifying the potential problem it’s time to identify the best possible solution. Prototyping helps to create a new and better version of the solution. The teacher can experiment with the new strategy or solution at this stage to observe students’ responses to the new solution. Remember to keep it simple and allow iterations to come up with an innovative solution. 

Test: The most decisive phase where the teacher puts the solution in action and gets feedback from students to get a better outcome for all. This stage decides the future application of the solution. The teacher tests the new solution/idea and goes live with it, the students complete the action stage and give feedback to the teacher, which is used to inform the different stages of the design thinking framework. This iterative process starts at the end of the testing phase, hence it is necessary to ‘iterate to innovate’.

Design thinking is a dynamic, human-centric, collaborative and iterative process of finding solutions to the most impossible problems. Teachers need to try it, especially considering the new set of challenges being thrown at them in a hybrid classroom. An example is the problem of summative assessments, where students are in all different parts of the world in different time zones and teachers need to ascertain that the work is academically sound and permissible. In this case, a simple solution is to design assessments that do not require students to do a paper-pencil test, an online oral exam is a possible solution that has worked for me. This solution was brainstormed with students in the hybrid classroom environment and they suggested this to be the best approach to avoid plagiarism or academic malpractice. I am in the testing phase, based on the success of this solution I will make changes to this mini-DT approach to assessments in a hybrid classroom. I encourage you to join this iterative process to innovate solutions to problems in your milieu. 

Digging Deep

So just last week as I was greeting the kids off of the buses, a student who was new to the school at the beginning of this year said to me, “Mr. Kerr, it always looks like you are smiling under your mask but I’ve never actually seen your face”. So I stepped back several feet, far away from anyone around me, and pulled my mask off to the side for a quick second to give him a huge smile that stretched from ear to ear. He said, “yup, just like I imagined”, and then off he went with his friends to the playground. You would think that a moment like that would bring me loads of joy, and it did make me smile inside a little bit but honestly, as I was walking into the school after the final bus had arrived I was hit with a pretty deep sense of sadness, and then it really hit me…I am so done with this pandemic. 

It’s been over a year now since the world first locked down and it’s getting old and tiring. I know that everyone is feeling it too, and even though the vaccines are starting to roll out at a greater rate, and we have our sights set on possible summer travel, the next stretch coming up is going to require us to dig a little deeper, and to rely on each other even more as we struggle through the third wave. 

We have done so incredibly well as a school to keep our students on campus for the majority of the year, and we are all very good now at staying vigilant with our protocols and restrictions. We have all learned some valuable lessons about resiliency in the face of adversity over the past 15 months, and we have managed to find ways to stay upbeat, energetic and hopeful as the virus hangs on by it’s fangs. The saving grace, for me anyway, is the fact that spring has sprung and the sunny, warmer weather and the gift of these longer, lighter days have given me the boost that I needed to take on this next stretch. 

Over the next few weeks, as we speed toward the upcoming holiday, use the warmth of the sun, and the warmth of each other to find that extra gear, and dig deep for our kids and community. Here is a beautiful poem that celebrates the gift of spring, and over the next three weeks find joy and energy and love in the natural world around us. Have a wonderful week in the sun everyone, and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other…we got this!

“Flower God, God of the Spring…”

Flower god, god of the spring, beautiful, bountiful,

Cold-dyed shield in the sky, lover of versicles,

Here I wander in April

Cold, grey-headed; and still to my

Heart, Spring comes with a bound, Spring the deliverer,

Spring, song-leader in woods, chorally resonant;

Spring, flower-planter in meadows,

Child-conductor in willowy

Fields deep dotted with bloom, daisies and crocuses:

Here that child from his heart drinks of eternity:

O child, happy are children!

She still smiles on their innocence,

She, dear mother in God, fostering violets,

Fills earth full of her scents, voices and violins:

Thus one cunning in music

Wakes old chords in the memory:

Thus fair earth in the Spring leads her performances.

One more touch of the bow, smell of the virginal

Green – one more, and my bosom

Feels new life with an ecstasy.

Quote of the Week…

Some of life’s best lessons are learned at the hardest times 

Inspiring videos – 

Fairytale Ending

Mom’s Final Trip

Sadness into Smiles (A good one to reshare)

The inspirational Dick Hoyt

Surfing in Ice Cold Water – Related TED Talk

Related Articles – 

Pandemic Tips

When Times Get Tough

7 Strategies

Keeping Your Stability

Mentally Strong