What to Read in 2017

       So last year around this time I shared a post titled, “Let’s Read”, which talked about the importance of carving out some time in our busy lives to settle into a good book…not just a fiction novel, but an inspiring non-fiction piece that would hopefully help us move forward as professionals, educators, leaders and as people throughout the year. Well, I’m happy to say that just last week I finished reading the final book from that 2016 list, and I’m ready to share my 2017 suggestions with you all. 

       I’m really excited to order these in the next couple of weeks, and my goal is to finish them all in the upcoming calendar year. I’m encouraging you to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own search and share those titles with me so I can add them to this preliminary list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small and simple life changes. Anyway, happy reading in 2017, and please let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can add it to my shopping cart…a good book can be transformative in so many ways, so please make the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body – Richard Steele

The Power of the Other – Henry Cloud

Originals – Adam Grant

Together Is Better – Simon Sinek

Wired to Create – Scott Kaufman

Creative Schools – Ken Robinson

Resisting Happiness – Matthew Kelly

Focus – Daniel Goleman

The Gratitude Diaries – Janice Kaplan

Rising Strong – Brene Brown

The Telomere Effect – Elizabeth Blackburn

Make Peace With Your Mind – Mark Coleman

The Art of Authenticity – Karissa Thacker

Eat More Ice Cream – Michael Bret Hood

Connection Culture – Michael Lee Stallard

The Coaching Habit – Michael Bungay Stanier

The Book of Joy – Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

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On information overload

Should you care what I am wearing as I write this? Read on, gentle reader…

Making sure that the education we offer is meeting student needs is an ongoing priority for us; and part of that has to be equipping students to use technology well. The modern age is different from what has gone previously; science and technology have given us access to a world of possibilities – not least increased lifespan and access to education, healthcare, travel and leisure.

In education one aspect of the changes brought on by technology that interests me is the information overload phenomenon – the notion that we are overwhelmed with the internet, emails, images, adverts and so on. I read somewhere that walking down a street in a big modern city, one encounters more data just in the form of billboards than someone in the 16th century would come across in a year. This historical perspective intrigued me – especially when I came across these:

What is the point of having countless books and libraries whose title the owner could scarcely read through his whole lifetime that matter books and burdens the student without instructing

Seneca (4BCE)

We have a reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as a barbarous is that of the century that followed the fall of the Roman Empire

Adrien Baillet (1685)

This might suggest that in fact things aren’t so very different after all; perhaps all the hype is nothing new; perhaps information overload is simply business as usual, dressed up in a new phrase. But it can’t be as simple as that; Baillet, writing above, would have been hard-pressed to find what Seneca wrote whereas we can get to in a few clicks. So there are differences, for sure.

It’s also instructive to look at the history of new technologies. The impact of the printing press was clearly hard to overstate, but it took centuries for it to be felt. The telephone might be a better example, being an early ‘information technology’. American sociologist Harvey Sacks writes that as it was introduced into American homes during the last quarter of the 19th Century, instantaneous conversation across hundreds or even thousands of miles seemed close to a miracle. Scientific American described it as “nothing less than a new organization of society – a state of things in which every individual, however secluded, will have at call every other individual in the community, to the saving of no end of social and business complications…”

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 9.22.10 pm

Information Overload

“..a new organization of society”! Karl Marx in his final years would have been proud! And such phrases have been written about the internet many times. But Sacks goes on to point out that in fact what we saw was not so new; instead it was the pouring of existing human behaviour -“our goodness, hope and charity; our greed, pride and lust” (sounds familiar in an internet age?)  – into fresh moulds.  New technology didn’t bring an overnight revolution. Instead, there was strenuous effort to fit novelty into existing norms. In Victorian times, one of the biggest questions revolved around decency; was it, for example, disgraceful to chat while improperly dressed? (You will be pleased to know that I always put on a suit when writing for TIE, but I will spare you a selfie). I wonder how many of our questions, around email, privacy, community, will be seen as quaint and amusing in 2150.

But what I am confident about is the fact that the human condition has not yet been subject to rapid change. Perhaps in the future brain-implants will change us; if so, it will be in ways we can barely imagine. For now, I would argue that we may be overwhelmed by information, but as Criss Jami wrote “the eye of the storm is not so much what goes on in the world, it is the confusion of how to think, feel, digest, and react to what goes on.” And in that, we can take an historical perspective which allows us to see continuity with humanity over time, as well as differences.

Being able to shift perspective like that (across time, space or some other category) is important; it means we can nudge toward a broader understanding and appreciation of ourselves and better locate ourselves in human story. Barack Obama said that he believes in American exceptionalism in the same way that British probably believe in British exceptionalism, Greeks in Greek exceptionalism and French believe in French exceptionalism. And that’s the message, I think; that believing we live in special times, special places, and perhaps even are special – in technology and in so many other ways – doesn’t mean that other people, times and places aren’t special too. And for us, that means that as we adapt our education to our changing times, we have to be mindful of keeping the best of the old as we introduce the best of the new.


By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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Online Reports – Slim Budgets and Happy Trees


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

All things being equal, everyone agrees that publishing online is better for consumable budgets and the environment. However, when put to the test, many schools still opt to print reports and report cards (the latter referring to nicely formatted documents potentially with a cute photo).

Two years ago I did a survey of 24 schools. I found 50% did at least one online report, and 60% printed at least one major report a year.

There is a middle ground in this process if a school is currently using a modern student information system such as PowerSchool. These systems allow for HTML5 based reports. The formatting and style options are numerous, and parents can print or save the documents for their records (or embarrassing moments when they meet a prom date).

This is a One-Sided Accounting Issue

Printing is expensive. Printing student records of any type is rarely perfect the first time through the process. Re-printing is common. Waste is abundant. Finally, if you send documents home with students, or mail them, a percentage a never received.

In January of 2011, the Telegraph reported that state schools were spending roughly 200,000 GBP on photocopying over five years. Printing is actually more expensive per page impression, and less efficient. This is not taking into consideration the cost of running equipment or the environmental factors. This is just in paper and black and white toner. Another study in 2011  from the Edutopia blog stated that US Schools are spending 30,000-50,000 USD on printing done by teachers for their classes. Meaning, student printing and office printing is not included.

If that money were reduced by 50%, where could it be reallocated in the land of consumables? The options are fairly endless for teachers needing resources.

In 2015 the Parent Paperwork Blog collected data showing that many schools are spending around 10% more on printing than on education technology. Apps and subscriptions are an excellent value, and not normally considered an asset. Boosting subscriptions and apps with savings from printing would be an excellent benefit in and out of the classroom.

An economist would point out that schools would not be saving if they reduced printing, they would simply be passing the cost on to families. This is true, however, the cost the school is passing is offset by the fact that families will not have massive waste in reprinting. Schools tend to print in large batches. If a mistake is not noticed immediately, then the waste from one batch would equal the initial (and only) printing from many households.

Furthermore, a percentage of families will not print at all. They will save the records to PDF. If the school prints, the school must print equally for everyone.

I am not currently permitted to share my current printing budget. However, in 2013 I was told to find savings in printing and ink. My school has an excellent Xerox plan with all the tools needed to track cost and printing. After analysis, the main issue was printing reports.

The Environmental Impact is Real

If a school really wants to sell people on helping the environment by reducing printing, then the discussion should shift to the processes involved in making paper and ink, using paper and ink, and then wasting paper and ink. Forget about counting pages, and study the entire cycle.

Here is a nice infographic and some research to support what the full cycle looks like:



A single school, on a worldwide scale, may not seem significant. I would argue that on a local community scale, a single school is one of the biggest consumers of paper and ink (and all the interrelated components). When a school acts locally, they are not simply helping the campus, they are helping their surrounding community.

Parents Like Nice Looking Reports

I have often lost when debating that my school(s) should send home simple email based reports; or suggested the online reports should be the simple default templates found in PowerSchool and other systems. I have always believed that the data is the most important element, and that 90% of all the development of reports should be in working with and communicating the data. The reality is, people want to see something appealing. With the online world as it is today, families are immersed in nice looking apps and websites. There is an expectation of nice presentation.

I suppose it is fair to state that simple reports look bleak and a slightly unprofessional.

Therefore, I have committed time to developing HTML5 based reports. I have seen many other schools do this as well.

The reports are not only visually appealing online, but have special features to format them for printing or for turning them into a PDF.

Some systems I have worked with in the past can publish a PDF directly to a parent account, however, creating the layout in many of these systems is very time consuming. Because HTML5 is so common, developing new layouts is much easier. The entire process is the same as building any type of webpage, as opposed to developing in a system that use proprietary software.

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Raising your own children in the international school in which you work – What’s so great about it?

Well, as I promised, we are going to delve into the nitty-gritty of the research outcomes. What are the great advantages, or benefits, of having your kids with you at school?  When I asked this question at dozens of workshops, seminars, lectures, research surveys or Graduate courses, – both with my own staff or with those coming to participate from innumerable international schools – I heard so many positive and grateful reflections. Their comments made for very long list.

Actually, I often used this information when I interviewed candidates with children for positions at one of my schools (in Spain, Guatemala, China and USA). I helped many of them understand and realize the value of this parental, personal, & professional experience. (No, I did not sugar-coat it, because I also revealed some of the challenges – stay tuned).

So, let’s see:  for those of you who have your own children in tow throughout this international foray – what would YOU say were the positives?  Perhaps you should make your own list before I give it all away in this blog post.  I would love to read your list.  It could be so much more worthwhile comparing the entries in your list, with those of hundreds of your colleagues.

Maybe, you should send out the link to this blog to your international school colleagues who also have children with them. I bet they have items which are similar to yours – and some may have differences.  Another great resource would be to ask your school counselors.  They have excellent insights into the experience – far beyond the individual educator or administrator, because they see, hear and deal with many of the families ‘behind the scenes.’

Perhaps you have friends “back home” who may have their own child in the private, charter or public/independent school in which they work – ask them, too. (it would be fascinating to compare the ‘home country’ experience to the ‘expatriate’ experience.)

I love reading your comments and promise to respond to them as I have in the past.

Keep reflecting and keep enjoying the positives of your international school experience – where you are.  Remember, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence/ocean/continent/world.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Ettie Zilber


And, of course – Happy New Year. I wish for peace and normalcy throughout the world.

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The Year Ahead

        So we’re back to school after our holiday break, and we’re a week into a brand new year, and I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about an experience that I had during our vacation that has hit me like a fist to the jaw…an experience that has me thinking about what’s really important in our lives as educators (and as human beings), and what is the real purpose and the top priority that we have when we step in front of young people each and every day.
        It was the day after Christmas and we were driving in the early morning to the airport to begin the second leg of our holiday. I was in the front seat of the taxi, with a bag between my legs full of gifts that we had all just recently opened the day before, and I was thinking about how terribly uncomfortable I was when we pulled up to a red light. I looked out my window to an empty lot across the street and saw a beat up and run down homeless shelter that was put together with cardboard boxes and pieces of wood and plastic bags…it had a few shopping carts parked outside and clothes hanging from a makeshift laundry line, and to me it was truly a sad and depressing sight. When I looked closer however, and a little to the left of the shelter, I saw a tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree that was propped up with rocks…it was decorated with a few cans and some red ribbon, and underneath it was a little soccer ball that was made out of rubber bands or something like that…all of a sudden a boy about 10 years old came sprinting out of the shelter, along with his scraggly old dog, and he raced for the tree and the ball and started playing around like he was in the World Cup. He was laughing and smiling and full of joy and very much feeling the joy of Christmas. A few seconds later his father came out stretching and yelling to the boy to kick the ball his way, and they began playing. Just as the light turned green, I saw the father pick up the boy and grab him in a big bear hug and kiss him just like I do to my kids…all of a sudden I wasn’t all that uncomfortable anymore with my bag full of presents cramping my legs.
        For the rest of the ride to the airport I starting thinking about how truly privileged I am, and how I could be doing so much more to give back to those less fortunate. I remember just before that red light I was wondering if my kids had received enough gifts for Christmas, and how maybe I should buy them a few more things when we landed at our next destination…wow, talk about a wake up call. I haven’t been able to get that little boy’s smiling face out of my head for the last few weeks, and it’s driven me to think about the real “education” that we should be imparting to our very privileged international school students…our first responsibility is NOT to make them better students, it’s to make them better people!
        Our job is to teach them that they are in a position to be able to change our world for the better, and that giving back is not a choice, but a responsibility. Our job is to help them find their purpose as young people so that when they become adults they are living meaningful lives with an eye on impacting change. Our job is to get them into not the “best” colleges but the “right” colleges, that will allow them to find this purpose and meaning. Our job is to get them to understand that the decisions that they make and the actions that they take should be not only about what’s best for themselves, but also about what’s best for others. Our job is to get our kids to see and understand how everything that they are learning has a purpose…a purpose which ultimately relates to them becoming successful citizens who make a positive contribution to our world. Our job is get our young students to see their privilege, and to use it as a tool for good for others, not just selfishly. Our job is to make our kids struggle and fall and make mistakes and to feel uncomfortable…this will help them become resilient and strong willed and able to make courageous decisions as the grow older…and now. Our job is to teach our kids right from wrong, and to teach them about integrity and character and honesty and the power of a smile and a kind word. Our job is to NOT make better students, it’s to make better people.
        Thinking about the year ahead, I’m wondering about all of this…I’m looking not only at my life and how I can do more, I’m wondering about how we can do more with our kids, so they grow into the people that we need them to be for our world. We all need to recognize how privileged we are, and we need to use this privilege to create a better future for generations to come. We also need to stop and think about all of our “first world problems” that we often complain about, and recognize this year that joy is in the little things in life, and that happiness can be found in a loving relationship, a rubber band soccer ball and a scraggly old dog…it’s about love and finding ways to making other people’s lives better through our daily actions…it’s about all of us giving back and teaching our students to do the same. Happy New Year everyone, and I’m challenging us all to make this the year of giving back, and using our power as educators to teach our kids what’s really important in their lives…being their best self for others…not for themselves. Have a great week and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Simon Sinek – Millennials (Every Educator Needs to Watch This)
Interesting Talk (Pop Tech – Amanda Ripley)
Watch these Videos – 
Related Articles –
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An essential quality of a great teacher.

I came across a story about three stonemasons giving accounts of their work.  The first said I am cutting stone; the second I am building a cathedral; the third I am serving God.  It is not hard to imagine which mason is likely to find his work rewarding and valuable, and I had thought about using that story with students; it seems to map very neatly onto the Jobs, Careers and Callings categories that are so useful for young adults to think through as they make their choices about their working lives.

Knowing you are doing something in service is something bigger than yourself means you are more likely to do it well. It does not have to be religious.

Knowing you are doing something in service is something bigger than yourself means you are more likely to do it well. It does not have to be religious.

But that story has also stayed with me while we have been interviewing for new teachers in recent weeks.  Which stonemason is most likely to do the best job, go the extra mile, be disciplined where necessary, creative where possible?  Nothing’s ever certain of course, but my guess would be that it’s the one who sees the greater purpose, and the moral worth of his work.  Similarly for teachers.  So in our interviews we have been seeking professional diligence and flair, of course, but beyond that, we’ve been looking for those who fuse love of craft and determination to serve into singular devotion to shaping the next generation.  These are hard things to describe, and impossibly to quantify.  But they are what we’re looking for, because that’s what we know our students are looking for too.


By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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Where Do We Go From Here

Now that the fog has lifted, the smoke has diffused and the reality of our choices have been exposed: Now what? Or as Dr King posed, in the title of his final book: Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

The beauty and safety of life in the international school world is the feeling of a certain remove. The separation of geography and time somehow protects us. It’s as if we are sovereign islands buffered from the tumult of life back in America. But not really. Not ever.

Here in New York, which unlike the local mindset, is not the center of the universe, we have all awakened from the haze of denial and the aftershock of reality, to resume getting on with our lives. As educators we are faced with the thorny and existential proposition: How do we move forward?

With a sense of solidarity and regard for all of my international colleagues from Barcelona to Moscow, I share the following questions as handles and levers for making sense of our new reality and for continuing to infuse a sense of hopefulness and civic responsibility in all the students we work with and the teachers whom we support:

How do we grow global mindedness (cultural appreciation and intercultural understanding) in every child/student in a time of sectarianism, insecurity and divisiveness?

How do we infuse critical and creative thinking not across or into curriculum, but as the very basis for becoming educated and aware?

How do we tap into all students, a sense of agency, idealism and social imaginations to imagine the world as it should be, and provide them with the tools and capacities to act?

If education is the linchpin for democratic living, what does that look like in our schools, our classrooms and our boardrooms?

How does dissent and resistance function in the face of the irrational, the bellicose and the authoritarian with the threat of compliance and retaliation?

These are, in the veritable Socratic sense, meant to provoke and not prescribe. We are all at the dawn of an historical moment in which uncertainty and anxiety colors the global landscape. There is nothing to be taken for granted. And nothing that can be ignored. What we can do, is hold onto the immense responsibilities of using education to teach the young how to become passionate, ethical and inquisitive human beings. Or as the great educational philosopher Maxine Greene, once described, now is a moment when educators must become “lights in dark times.” I concur. It is neither a time for silence or for retreat, but a time to illuminate what matters.


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“EdKids” in the international school community: Who cares?

For your holiday reading pleasure…

How cool to be the author of a new moniker, describing a unique group in our international school community – “EdKids.” An “EdKid” is a child of an educator who works in the same school as their child attends. While there are similarities with kids who are educated in their parents’ schools ‘back home,’ there are many paradigms which are unique to families which are ‘overseas.’   In many of my published articles, I refer to international schools, international school educators, EdKids, Cross-Cultural Kids and Third Culture Kids. I so enjoyed listening to and reading narratives from EdKids, their parent-educators, colleagues of the parent-educators, administrators and counselors during my research, writing and publications.

But, why are we even talking (writing) about EdKids? Typically, they might not even add up to 5% of the student population. As my dissertation advisor kept demanding: “Who cares?  Why is this worth talking about – or researching?”  Well, perhaps many of you, my readers and colleagues,  should care. Whether you thought about it before this blog – or not, whether, you are single or partnered, whether you have children of your own, contemplating having children, or are teaching EdKids – or any other permutation or degree of separation, maybe you should care.  I hope reading this blog will help clarify a number of issues,  answer your questions and develop a greater sense of understanding.

So where do YOU fit in?  Maybe you are:

  • A current or adult EdKid
  • A friend/classmate of EdKids
  • A current or former international educator-parent
  • An educator in the international school,  interfacing with the children of their colleagues
  • A counselor who works with EdKids and all the others who interact with them
  • A non-educator parent in the international school community
  • An administrator, who recruits, hires, orients and supervises these parent-educators and their children
  • An administrator who may have EdKids of your own
  • A board member who may have children enrolled in the school
  • A recruiting agent who promotes careers in international schools and wishes to augment your pool of qualified educators
  • A potential educators/candidates who is considering a job overseas AND/OR…
  • A current international educator who is considering starting a family (as mentioned in my previous blog post)Did I leave anyone out?  In which category/ies do YOU belong? Please write and tell me your insights.

    So now that the point has been hammered in – we probably should all ‘care’ about the EdKid experience. And, now, you may be thinking impatiently, “Ok, ok, Ettie…. Tell me something I don’t already know. Stop teasing me and start telling me more about this unique family paradigm and school experience.”

    Stay tuned, folks.  There’s lots more to come. My research has identified many absolutely positive aspects of this experience, yet also a number of, shall we say, ‘challenging’ aspects of this paradigm.  And, once I begin to describe some of the scenarios, you will probably say “sure, I knew that” or “of course, I observed/experienced that” or “really?  I can’t believe that actually happens.”

    In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy your holidays, with time away from the intense demands of your jobs, time to visit and celebrate with your friends and family who may live far away, … and have time to read, reflect and respond.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Happy Holidays.
    Ettie Zilber
    ZedEd Consultancy

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Unplug for the Holidays!

So the holiday break is agonizingly close, and I know that we are all excited about the opportunity to rest, relax, recharge, and to reflect on the last 4 and a half months of school. It’s been a long run to this point for sure, but thinking back I’m really proud of how much we’ve accomplished for our kids and for our community. We’ve grown together, we’ve learned together and learned from each other, and we’ve become a really tight group of educators focused on doing what’s right for our students. The first semester is often times the most challenging, as we implement and consolidate new initiatives…we get to know the new students and our new colleagues…we figure out and manage change, and we give all of ourselves as professionals to set the stage for a successful year…and all of that is exhausting.


I see the upcoming holiday as a tremendous opportunity for all of us to re-set, to re-boot, and to re-focus, and to turn our attention to the second half of the year. With that in mind, I want to challenge you all to really take time for yourselves over the next few weeks, and to find ways to connect with the people that you love, with nature, and with your surrounding environment. Essentially, I’m challenging us all to unplug for the holidays, and to give our reliance on technology a much needed break. I’m challenging us all to put down the phones, and the iPads, and to go out for a hike, or a swim, or a run, or to lunch and dinner with friends and family without needing to post or record or take a selfie or be tempted to stare at your screen.


I know we talk all the time about how our students are addicted to technology, and how they are disengaged because of the love of their screens, but I’m not sure we are any better as adults. I know that I spend too much time checking my phone or surfing the net, and sometimes I find myself missing out on opportunities to connect with my kids, or my wife, or with other people, or with the beauty of our natural world. I’m making a commitment this holiday to leave my computer behind, and to find joy in what’s really important in my opinion…the connections that we make with others…face to face. I’m excited to travel, and to explore, and to play, and not feel the need to document or record every single experience. I’m sure that I’ll check my email once a day just to check in, but other than that I’m out…and I encourage you all to do the same. I’ve included some interesting articles, and some powerful videos which bring to life the importance of unplugging for even just a little while. Think about how much time you stare at a screen each and every day…think about how many times you are doing it with another person right next to you…at dinner or in bed or when you’re traveling. Instead, let’s read real books, and write in journals, and have deep and meaningful conversations while staring at the stars. The beauty of our world is breathtaking, and like I mentioned in last week’s post, the beauty of other people is even better…take the time to take it all in!


I want to wish you all a safe and amazing holiday! I want to wish you all a magical and life changing 2017, and I can’t wait to hear about the adventures that you’re all about to have. Happy holidays and Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for making my 2016 so incredible, and here’s to an even better year to come. We have 4 and a half days left before we head off, so spread the holiday cheer, smile a little brighter and laugh a little louder and hug a little harder…I’m in the holiday spirit and I’m asking you all to join me…have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.        


Quote of the week…
Life is what happens between Wifi signals – Unknown



‘Auld Lang Syne’ Lyrics – Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pu’d the gowans fine.
We’ve wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
Sin’ auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin’ auld lang syne,
We’ve wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin’ auld ang syne.

We twa hae sported i’ the burn,
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin’ auld lang syne.
Sin’ auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin’ auld lang syne.

And ther’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

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Around the World in 34 Years: Life in International & Charter Schools

I set off for my first international job in 1978, right out of Bard College, to become an ESL teacher in Bogotá, Columbia and have been indelibly bitten since. Culture has been my elixir. I’ve been educated by the world and acquired cultural fluency by relinquishing the familiar and embracing the diverse. Over three decades, I have lived on three continents, running schools in Mexico City, Mexico; Hoboken, New Jersey; and Barcelona, Spain. In this time, New York has served as my family and professional hub. For the last five years, I have been battling windmills and state bureaucracies as a school head in the contested world of charter schools—a test-centric universe in a city where education is a political football.

Heading a middle school and later a dual-language K-8 school, my work has at times involved being a pastor, a priest, a detective, and a tweeter. I battle for the soul of kids one life at a time. Not a day goes by without a meltdown or an act of defiance. In the charter world, I’m doing less big-picture work and more reaching out to the wounded. I give pounds to kids with pouty faces and pounds to kids brimming with confidence. I take the social and emotional temperature of my students every day: Has Aiden taken his meds? Has Chemere gotten enough sleep? And why was Jackie wearing lipstick? I have always cared about helping young people learn to find their voice, discover their humanity, and learn to use their minds well. But here I find we are measuring a kid’s intelligence through standardized tests and reducing the scintillating gifts of intelligence to a matter of holding a # 2 pencil, being quiet, and staying seated.

I’ve seen both sides now—the international and the charter—and the most differentiating factor is socioeconomics. Poverty introduces a whole new language into an already complex world. Here, complacency and mediocrity are acceptable. Likewise, low expectations and cultures of disrespect can become the norm.

In the international world, one finds bullying, cultural prerogative, helicopter moms, boundary-testing young adults, and the rank-and-file issues inherent in administering a school. But rarely are there shattered families and cycles of social and emotional privation. In the global world of American education, school culture anchors stability, optimism, and a sense of the future. The charter world, by contrast, is a place of uncertainty and “at risk,” where dysfunctionality still prevails. In the international world, we place a premium on care and human development. Test scores are not jugular. In the charter world, testing is the driver and becomes all-consuming. Leading in an international school is more than living in another country. All the core elements of climate and wellness are there to draw on: school pride, mission, parental involvement, community service, resources, responsive boards, strategic plans, a sense of expansiveness and vision.

The fact is, international schools and charter schools are operating on intrinsically different models with different outcomes. One makes its way in the global era while the other, with wonderful exceptions, seems stuck in the industrial one.

My students are no longer third-culture kids who flit from one country to the next, vacationing in Amsterdam over spring break, and being dropped off at school by their nannies. Mine may never leave their neighborhoods. Or be able to find the Netherlands on a map. Some are angry kids with tragic lives. Overweight kids who dream of being professional basketball players. Desperate kids who sit invisible in the back of the room. Deprived kids who have never heard of Shakespeare or Marvin Gaye or Billie Holiday. Kids who shuffle. Kids who can’t sit still, whose bodies are like perpetual slinkies. Kids with “anger management issues.” Kids who carry homophobia, misogyny, and bias around their necks like medallions. Kids covered with labels and stereotypes, who face a lifetime of societal biases and obstacles.
And yet, the bottom line is constant: all students have the same human need to be listened to, to be taken seriously, to be loved, to be held to high expectations, and to be surrounded with opportunities to learn. Our job is to set those conditions, be it in East Harlem or Helsinki.

The experience of education according to Ken Robinson, “is always personal. But the issues are increasingly global.” Here is what I have discovered after 34 years: the love for learning and interest in people and cultures develops a broad and generous vision of education and leadership. And the life of crossing many boundaries of language and culture deepens our understanding for and appreciation of how children learn and the varieties of communities that support them. Charter or international, the common thread is passion and commitment—not to any ideology or methodology, but to learning with and from students—and infusing our communities with a culture of joy and a sense of purposefulness wherever we happen to be.

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