A Collection of Tales from the Road: #4 Austria

Austria was the second country of nine cycled across in six days during the world record attempt called ‘9in9’.  Here’s a newspaper article about it. I remember whizzing down sunny mountain valleys from a high lake at the border with Italy, north and then west to Liechtenstein.

I was joined by two teaching colleagues and a friend. It was the springtime in the Alps and after a rough patch in my life, I had just learned that I would be moving to teach in West Africa, so I was full of optimism and excitement. We crossed the start line in a ceremonial roll-out in front of some press and many red uniformed students at the Priory School in Hertfordshire, before getting into a packed minivan support vehicle and heading to the English Channel. I also felt good embarking on this serious physical challenge with a purpose having raised a lot of funds for the Children with Cancer charity, as one of our students had been battling the disease.

Austria, in hindsight became the cause of the reason why I am not an official Guinness World Record holder. We had meticulously prepared the paperwork and the necessary details as stipulated by Guinness in advance of the ‘Epic Journey’ attempt. However, the official record still stands at seven countries in a week, not nine as we had covered. Guinness told me in retrospect that we required police testimonies from each town stating that we all arrived and left by bicycle. This was a horrible surprise to say the least. It was the first mention of a need to involve police in the attempt. It would certainly have been time consuming and a headache to have done so, and therefore may be one of the reasons why the old record still stands.

Whenever I think back to our ride through Austria, one split-second springs to mind. As we approached a tunnel on the mountain road, surrounded by packed snow and ice, we noticed a policeman in his car in a bay by the road. I had researched ahead of time, and knew that it was legal to cycle through this tunnel, but this tunnel looked a bit too dark and tricky, so a flashing thought about stopping came to my mind. But we did not stop to ask the policeman for an escort. Had we done so, and had we known to ask for evidence from him that we had cycled through, maybe I would not always feel angry when I hear any mention of Guinness World Records. Maybe I would be one of 4 official record holders. We know we rode the entire way, and we know that it makes us record breakers, but alas, our names are not carved in stone.


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School Visits – Great PD

So this week we are hosting a Middle School MUN event with over 250 students from around the world, and I managed to have lunch with a couple of teacher chaperones from Panama yesterday on campus. We started talking about the amazing and powerful learning opportunities that these trips can provide for kids, but then the conversation turned to the opportunity that trips like these actually afford adult educators as well. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that some of the greatest professional development a teacher can receive is through visiting other schools. The power of school visits are immeasurable, and the take aways for educators can be profound. It’s almost impossible to leave a school visit without some new and fresh ideas, some inspiration, and of course some new human and collaborative connections that quickly build your personal learning community. 

We left in agreement that when thinking about professional development, we universally don’t think of school visits as a traditional top priority… but maybe we should. Obviously there is value in attending the right educational conference, and of course bringing in the right consultant can move us all forward professionally, and the best professional development might just be in our own buildings with teachers teaching teachers, but what about going to see other schools in action? I think we should start creating networks across the the regions so that we get into the spirit of home and away visits so to speak….setting up targeted visits with both public and international schools to work more closely together, to learn from each other, to create meaningful collaborative relationships, and to leverage the power of reciprocity. 

Thinking back on my own professional development experiences throughout my career, the times that I went on school visits, either on an accreditation team or with another colleague or two, truly stick out in my mind as some of the best learning that I’ve ever had. Last year for example, I had the opportunity to visit both IZL in Switzerland and IICS in Istanbul, to see their outstanding early childhood programs in action, and later this Spring I’ll head to AIS Vienna and hopefully ASL London to share and learn about our individual approaches to student inquiry, and some innovative ways to report out on student learning. I always return home from a school visit with new ideas, plenty of inspiration, and some new professional connections that make me a better educator and a better leader. I want to start encouraging teachers to consider school visits when thinking about their annual PD, and to find schools (and other teachers working in these schools) that can help to improve their practice, and provide a boost to their current day to day classroom experience…you really can’t go wrong if you choose the right school and the right colleague. 

Anyway, yesterday’s conversation with my new Panamanian friends was a great one, and I was excited to hear that they have found inspiration from a few things that we are currently doing here at ASP. It feels good to know that this experience has been a good one for their kids, but also an enriching one for them. I guess I’m asking you all to think about your current approach to personal PD, and start to begin thinking about a possible school visit to add to the possibilities…you won’t be disappointed. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out- James Bryant Conant

Inspiring Videos – A Girl and her DuckGender RolesWhy Be Kind?Their Autistic SonMotivation

TED Talk –It’s Okay to be Bored

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STEAM/STEM Core Skills

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Developing STEM and STEAM programs (Science Technology Engineering/Art Mathematics) is very exciting, but I have noticed recently there is a lack of cohesive standards to measure progress.

Like many people, I am working on building a set of standards. Some are customized, and some are licensed.

In my research, and through various networking engagements, I have settled on a set of core skills that need to be incorporated throughout the STEAM environment. The standards are being built around these skills.

I have found more engagement among students if the skills are presented first. The skills tend to fuel the desire for hands on work. I also want students to not focus on grades and common rubric models. I want them to focus on creating and going through the design process.

These skills have been developed by the MIT FabLab Program. The FabLab has been operating for well over a decade, and many FabLab partners have developed programs for younger students as well.

The overall philosophy is to learn the skills at every level, but increase the difficulty and complexity within the projects as students gain experience.

The List


Looking at this list, it might seem impossible to imagine a Grade 3 or even Grade 8 students accomplishing these in a meaningful way. I would argue that all are achievable at least at the planning and design thinking stage. Most of these are achievable with the correct level or equipment and/or some creative outsourcing.

The Game

Gamification has been a buzzword at conferences for some time. I have finally found an fairly universal way to “gamify” the list and formally track progress.

As students learn a core skill at different levels, their progress as a class or individual can be color coded.

Sample Using Colors

For better analysis, the color bands can also connect to numeric values. There are many ways to approach tracking. Even curriculum mapping systems can do this.

The best part about this structure, is each school can decide what their levels mean for their students.

I look at this as age independent. It is very possible for a grade 5 student to be a beginner in many skills, and have completed others at a level. It is also very likely that many older students who have never attempted STEAM topics, would fine they can quickly master Levels 1-3, while struggling with the final two levels.

As a student, I would like to see this type of grid and work towards being in the all green club :).

As a teacher, I would like to have students be all green, and after the smiles settle, add Level 6.

If you are inclined, share how you are measuring STEAM and STEM skills or standards. You can do this in the comments, or email me directly. I will post all ideas and give you full credit. ~ tony.deprato@gmail.com

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Just wondering about PD booster shots

As we are planning for professional development opportunities for next year, here is one of my big take-aways. Sorry if it is too basic, but I am a firm believer that sometimes simple solutions can bring some meaningful changes. Schools spend lots of money on professional development and we constantly think of what are the best options to make the learning stick. Of course, schools may have some external requirements. For instance, IB schools have to train their Diploma teachers when the courses change. This is fair enough and schools have learned how to plan for those required costs that can represent a good chunk of their budget. But schools may also have the options to do some professional development with external consultants and with their in-house specialists. While those two ways of offering professional development represent drastic financial differences, we can note that both types need something absolutely crucial: the booster shots. When we work with consultants or in-house specialists, the one shot experience is usually not the best use of time and money. Schools who can afford it have modified their approach working with consultants for a few years now. They have internalised that flying in an external consultant for a few days to work with the learning community has limited long term learning impacts but it represents big sums of money. So, schools and consultants have developed long-term partnerships for more durable learning impacts. The financial and time commitment is usually bigger but the results are more long-lasting. Now that we have tools that allow us to connect with people everywhere in the world, the partnerships may include not only physical visits to schools but also video-conferencing, webinars and so forth.

For in-house professional development, it needs to be the same. In High School, this year, our goals are connected to three main concepts: collaboration, communication and instruction. Some of our targeted in-house professional development opportunities are about developing strategies to support our learners with specific needs and our English language learners. Of course, we started the year with professional development offered by our awesome in-house specialists, but it was crucial for us to think about ways for us to give them some more time. Some booster shots. To maintain the sense of urgency. To keep working together. To model this idea that we all learn every day. To confirm that, together, we are simply better than on our own. And, in fine, for all our learners to keep growing with our support. Therefore, this concept of booster shots is essential for all kinds of professional development and time must be allocated to do this regularly. Otherwise the good intentions and the benefits one time workshops may just get lost in the day-to-day school life.

For what it’s worth…

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Connected, But Alone?

As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?

This is the question clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle asks in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, which is based on 30 years of her work studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. While she is not anti-technology, Turkle presents a compelling case that our current communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships.

Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and workplaces, Turkle argues that many of us, “would prefer to send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call” (Turkle, 2015, p.3). Her concern is the cost associated with this new type of connection and how technology allows us to find ways around conversation. She argues that “face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy” (Turkle, 2015, p.3).

Reclaiming Conversation argues that, while technology presents us with seemingly endless possibilities to improve our lives, it also allows us to hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. And, it is this loss of connection and conversation that should give us pause and cause for concern. In having fewer meaningful conversations on a regular basis, we are losing skills such as the ability to focus deeply, reflect, read emotions, and empathise with others, all of which are needed to actually engage in meaningful conversations.

Turkle further argues that the ability to have meaningful conversations also depends on our engagement with solitude and self-reflection. If we are always connected, then we may see loneliness as a problem that technology needs to solve and that being connected is going to make us less lonely. However, Turkle cautions that it is actually the reverse: “If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely” (Turkle, 2015, p.23).  Research in this area indicates that being comfortable with solitude and, correspondingly, our vulnerabilities is central to happiness, creativity, and productivity.

Building on these considerations and thinking about Turkle’s writing in the context of ISZL, the book presents several compelling arguments for any school and community to consider, particularly given our collective work to support student learning and development. On a personal note, the book challenged me in several ways in terms of my own relationship with technology and my practices as a father, husband, educator, and community member. By way of an example, the following passage from the book has led me to further consider the implications of the presence of a cell phone during conversations:

“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us ” (Turkle, 2015, p.20).

A central question emerged during the reading of this book: Are we unintentionally inhibiting our students’ development in terms of the skills and tools that are crucial to friendship, love, happiness, work, creativity, and sense of worth? Like anything that is of deep significance, there is no simple response to this question as we continue to understand the benefits and impacts technology is having and will have on our lives.

Turkle believes that our regular connection to be online and “elsewhere” will likely lead to the erosion of the essential human qualities of empathy, generativity, and the mentoring of our young. If this is true, then there are obvious and compelling reasons for our school community to further our reflections, conversations, and actions associated with this challenge. These thoughts may perhaps be best summed up by Cameron, a student Turkle interviewed, when he shared what he sees around him: “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem” (Turkle, 2015, p.21).


Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Kindle Edition. Penguin Press.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo d26b73: i I i

Twitter: @dequanne

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

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Leveraging the Community

So as part of our strategic planning conversations recently, we’ve been talking and thinking a lot about how we can give our students more “real-life” opportunities as part of their school experience. Things like community based and regionally based service learning trips, experiential field trips, and internships, where kids can get out into the world as young people to not only affect some positive change, but to gain some rich life experience as well. I know that these experiences will absolutely help them to uncover a passion or a spark that will give them some added purpose, focus and meaning in their lives, and these experiences will teach them some important life skills that simply cannot be taught in a traditional classroom environment. 

We’re looking at this as a school wide initiative, beginning in the lower school and moving up through the grades, and it’s exciting to think about how we can leverage some learning opportunities outside the walls of our campus. I’m really intrigued by the idea of student internships and service learning projects that get kids out into the community for days or even weeks at a time. I know of some schools that frame much of their curriculum around the idea of community based learning, and their focus is to show students that learning doesn’t need to be confined to the classroom. In some school programs it’s actually the students who create their own learning experiences and schedules, and in many instances they spend more time away from the classroom than in it. I know that this looks very different depending on the age of the student, but with the right support and structures in place, I think there is definitely a way to get all of our kids benefiting from experiences like these in one way or another.

Obviously, there are plenty of ways to bring some “real life” experiences into the school as well by leveraging not only our local and global community, but technology as well. We’ve been trying very hard lately to give our students as much of this as we can by taking advantage of guest speakers and guest presenters but I think we can do even more. I know in the lower school we could take better advantage of the wealth of expertise that we have in our own parent community for example, and I know that there are some untapped resources that are just waiting to be discovered and explored. It’s all very exciting for us as a school and I guess I just wanted to get you all thinking of ways that we could leverage more learning opportunities like these for our kids. 

Send some ideas my way or pop in for a chat, or even try a few things in your own classrooms…then share! Let’s all start thinking of more ways to connect student learning to real life and real world situations, and please feel empowered to stretch the learning opportunities beyond the walls of your classroom and the school. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done

Inspiring Videos –Saving Service DogWish GrantingCreating a New Life With Art
Related Articles – Gender GapCollege BoundPreparing for the WorkplaceMiddle School Tech InternshipsJob ShadowingReal World ExperiencesIncreasing EngagementCareer DaysWhat Do I Want to Be?21st Century Learning

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A Collection of Tales from the Road: #3 Argentina

During a whistle-stop tour of South America I had the good fortune of meeting a guy with a bike in El Calafate, a town on the southern edge of the Patagonian Icefield.

Although brief, the day ride out and back from the edge of the town into tundra like flatlands, certainly gave me a taste of the place. I struggled all morning mainly because of the persistent winds upon which 3 metre wide condors soared above carrion, and worryingly, me.

I was in the region mainly to visit the vivid blue Perito Moreno glacier. One of the few in the world to not be receding. It was like a huge living creature. Creaking and cracking it’s chilly way down toward the lake. The relative calm of the noises that it made during the day we were there, were occasionally interrupted by a splash, as chunks from its face dropped off into the dark blue water. It was a pretty serene scene, but in 2016, a huge section of the face and the ice bridge it had created collapsed causing a tsunami.

On the way back into town I prepared myself mentally for the battle ahead against the dogs.

I’m not a big mutt fan, and being a cyclist I often feel that I am little more that two spinning dog treats, as far as they are concerned. I have never seen so many dogs and clearly the authorities were concerned by the numbers too, but I should never have been worried here. Although locals say that they belong to the town, none of these dogs seem to be owned. They do however remain well looked after, and are all coded by a coloured collar depending on their physical status, shall we say. They seem to be totally at ease, if anything, they seem to own the town, and as I pondered this over my Mate tea in a high street cafe, I remember realising what a remote part of the world I was in and how nature is nature, so maybe the balance of power the swaggering pack dogs have here is a good one.


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The Quality of Things Unseen: A Generational Divide.

Steve Jobs’ adopted father taught him the importance of building the back of wooden cabinets with as much care and attention as the front. This lesson on detail and care for the whole product stuck with Jobs throughout his career.

On the High Tech High (USA) web site, Dr. Kaleb Rashad states, “Young people long to do substantive, intellectual and beautiful work that contributes to making this world more just, verdant, biodiverse, healthier, and harmonious.”

So, how have changes in quality and process in the outside world impacted the learning environments we are creating 19 years into 21st century learning? Uber anyone?

Maker spaces, STEAM and Design, Digital Audio Workstations, Netflix original films, etc. etc. It’s amazing how these innovations have impacted the creation of products. A decade ago Netflix was a DVD rental service. Now it’s producing Academy Award nominated films. Instead of live performers, people will pay to stand for hours to watch a DJ or watch gamers video themselves playing video games as they talk about random parts of their day. Now that anyone can create products, what do we need process for? That’s what old people do.

So, it’s official. Our generation of teachers have officially become old. We ramble on about the lessons of history, doing math without a calculator, writing with a pencil, and mixing potions of chemicals for something that seems to have little meaning other than a 6 on the summative.

A frustrated music teacher lamented to me last week that her students could compose on the computer without any training and create really sophisticated pieces with hardly any training and 1/10th of the equipment she had to labor over in grad school. An electronics teacher complained to me that his students were tired of making ‘junk’ and frustrated over the substandard results that looked like gizmos their grandparents grew up with. A film teacher shrugged his shoulders and said, “These kids have no concept of what it means to create a real film. They think they just slap together some random YouTube clip and it’s quality.

We’ve become so fixated on process and (I could be wrong) our young people on product that I fear we’re at risk of missing an opportunity. For some reason, achievement has become passé, vulgar, one dimensional. We’re de-emphasizing grades and instead focusing on feedback, standards and criteria. Process. Of course, I get the logic, but kids want to hold something up and say, “I did this and it’s beautiful and it didn’t take six months of listening to a teacher to create.”

We could be experiencing a crisis of process. After all, if someone with absolutely no political experience can get elected President of the United States, can’t anyone?

So, the old people have some things right. It is important to build the back of the cabinet as well as the front for many reasons. There’s something necessary to the quality of things unseen that brings thought, deliberation and planning to making a film.

But we can’t just take the trophies and grades away and make everything about the journey.

When our students came back from the Knowledge Bowl and Speech and Debate competitions, there were actual winners and losers. They competed. They were ranked. Some won. Some lost. It’s so 20th century but the clarity of what it took to win and lose brought the students closer together as a team than they’d ever imagined, and it felt good.

A very successful businessman visited our school a few weeks ago and a student asked him a fascinating question. She said, “How do you think process compares to the outcome?” He smiled and thanked her. After a moment of reflection, he looked up and said, “I used to think process was important and of course in many ways I still do. But I was once at a big meeting with a very successful company and the CFO raised the point of process being a serious issue and proposing to change structures to improve it. The CEO asked if the company was doing well to which the CFO responded, “Yes, very,” to which the CEO concluded. “Then don’t change anything.”

It was a good dichotomy for the students to hear someone apply some cold reality to their process oriented days. I don’t think his message was just get good grades and the rest doesn’t matter. But rather he was bringing clarity to the importance of outcome and performance. You can have all the process around film-making you want, but if someone puts together a fantastic video in 30 minutes that goes viral, which is better?

So, as the pendulum continues to swing between process and product, design and outcomes, grades and feedback, performance and practice, I have to remind myself that in order for people to do ‘substantive, important and beautiful work’ they have to see what that product looks like from time to time, regardless of what path it took to get there.

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A Collection of Tales from the Road: #2 Armenia

The birthplace of wine and the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion is Armenia. An intriguing place that I almost didn’t visit. But as I pedalled south from Tblisi at short notice, I felt that, although hurried, I had recently discovered just enough about it to have a desire to see some of it. I’m pleased I did.

On arrival, gold-toothed ladies selling fruit, yards from the border, probably got a good deal from me. I can tell when this happens because often sellers belatedly give you a few free bits as the realisation that they have just shafted an Englishman starts to play on their conscience. No, maybe not. I like to think that what they chat about with their mates around them is that this harmless cyclist could do with some extra energy. So as I rode off to cries of laughter behind me, I took it is a positive first interaction and felt welcome. My target was a bar with some rooms and a TV, so that I could watch England play football. I was foiled yet again, they had no TVs, or doors.

When I woke, pointlessly sulky as I was alone, I soon realised that I would be following the enormous green Debed river canyon for the day as it grew deeper and darker. Soviet mines, cranes and gargantuan structures that I did not know the purpose of, loomed over me like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. I was excited to see a chair-lift, to what is probably a good viewpoint over the valleys, but it was closed. So I continued to pedal further south towards Turkey, only to find out that I had not done my hurried research very well at all before I left Georgia, as there has been no border between Armenia and Turkey for decades.

I won’t get into politics, suffice to say, there is a lot going on in this part of the world and they are not on friendly terms. To my east the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continued between Armenia and another neighbour, Azerbaijan. Totally stumped, I re-routed in Vanadzor so that I could get into Turkey after going north-west back into Georgia. This process of figuring out the situation and riding all had to happen pretty quickly, or I’d be stuck on a hillside somewhere near a border, riding eagerly in a circle, knowing that I had a flight to catch at the end of the tour. Adding to this unusually confusing tour section, is that Armenia is not recognised as a country by some of its neighbours. This means that any local currency I had at the time, had no value outside and cannot be exchanged. So I decided that there was only one course of action; to have steak and wine for dinner for the last few nights. Any other memories have been rather blurred.

Previous story: Albania

Next story: Austria

(Cover photo: Looking towards Turkey and Mt Ararat, Armenia)


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when students don’t consider themselves thinkers

I almost walked out on my class the other day. They weren’t doing anything terrible, just talking over me and over each other a bit, and a few hadn’t done their homework, but several moments had just happened consecutively that together made me upset with the realization that they didn’t think of themselves as thinkers.

As it came to a head and I stopped class and made a little speech (what I generally call ‘public service announcements’, a moment outside of the normal run of class time when I address an issue of class behavior, make a correction to the emotional tenor, or identify something that I think may be an underlying misunderstanding), and I realized that I almost was crying, I remembered a time when I did walk out on my class, years ago when I was in my first year as a teacher.

The reason at that time was that my students weren’t listening to each other in their class presentations, and all the work I had thoughtfully prepared (the project design, the research support, the tips on note-taking, etc.) seemed to be all for nought, casually disregarded, or worse, not even considered as meaningful or worthy at all.

I did leave the room- first I think I spoke to them in a strong voice (not yelling), then I realized I was probably going to cry, so I walked stiff-armed out of the room and into the closest faculty bathroom, where I hung out for a while, standing in a stall, sniffing furiously and blowing my nose. When I returned to the class probably 5 minutes later the students were quietly working, a group presenting while others took notes. They were gentle with me for a while after that. It was sweet.

I read somewhere recently that people don’t actually cry out of sadness, but out of frustration, and this rings so true.

In planning to write this entry I had thought my experience over ten years ago was notably different. Not only in that then, I actually did cry and leave the room, but I also had thought that the incident years ago was for a different reason- that kids generally were just not working, or there was an actual behavioral issue, something more substantive. But now in writing this I realize that the reason I left the room in 2005 was the same reason I stopped my class this past Tuesday and actually considered walking out on them. Both times, I was frustrated that my students weren’t acting as, weren’t thinking themselves as, thinkers.

Partly it is selfish– and what I said to the kids this week reflects this– because what I’m reacting to is that my own work is being devalued. But ‘my own work’ is not just the setting up of countless educational scenarios, every minute of planning and preparation that I do for the 140 minutes a week I see each 10th grade class. My work is also the building of student identities, my influence in helping them form their minds. My teaching is not only about the Cold War or economic development or the effects of meditation. It’s about how to learn, and how to be curious, and how to get better at learning and communicating our learning. I want my kids to think of themselves as capable, and to act like it. That’s why I raised my voice at Felipe when he tried to read what he had written aloud for the class and couldn’t make any sense of the idea of it, then laughed and shrugged, not even trying. Not only were the kids not engaging with the material (that my other sections of the same class had rhapsodized about), they weren’t engaging with themselves. I told them I wanted them to take themselves more seriously, take what we were doing with each other in class more seriously, that I needed to see that more.

Now, a week later, I’m inclined to be forgiving, because I am aware of a lot of research that says that teenage brains really are less capable of quality decision-making and intentional focus, and because I know it’s OK to not always take yourself seriously, and we have many more days in the classroom together, and I have faith that they’ll get better and things will change. We have more days together, and they have more years in high school, and more years of developing as a learner after that. I hope at some point they realize that they are intellectual beings, that they enjoy learning, that they can use their minds to do amazing things. I think it may be the most important thing that I teach them.

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