Biking Stuff: Cycling Thailand – A Beginner’s Perspective

I only started cycling about 3 years ago and still consider myself a beginner, despite having cycled over 10,000 km so far. Thailand is a great place for bicycle touring for many reasons but it I found myself commenting often during our month there on how perfect it would be as a person’s first bike tour.


The first thing to strike me when we crossed the border from Cambodia at Koh Kong was how much more developed Thailand is compared to the other countries we have toured so far. The second thing I noticed – a 7 Eleven shop. I was beside myself with excitement. The snacks, the drinks, the air conditioning, the overwhelming choice of cheap products. Obviously this shouldn’t be the main draw of a trip through Thailand but after months of dusty, mini-market shacks with fish-flavoured cardboard snacks, this felt like such a luxury. It was instantly relaxing knowing that there would be a reliable shop every few kilometres so we never needed to plan our days around where we would be able to stop for a rest and get a drink. We just stopped whenever we felt like it. It also meant that we didn’t have the extra weight of carrying enough water for a whole day. We could get some more whenever we needed. A pit-stop for a Cafe Amazon frappe and 7 Eleven sandwich became part of our daily cycling routine. Supermarkets like Tesco and Big C meant we could get fresh food like fruit, dairy and bakery items cheaply instead of the packaged cookies and cakes we had been living on before. Other conveniences are nice public toilets at petrol stations and Wi-Fi almost everywhere.

Great Roads

The road surfaces in Thailand are fantastic. No skidding through gravel and avoiding potholes here. The main roads are busy but there is usually a decent hard shoulder (or occasionally a dedicated bike lane!). There is often an option to take rural roads instead of the highway as long as you don’t mind a few extra kms and a bit of navigating. These roads are just as well surfaced and are surprisingly quiet…some were almost traffic-free. On the rural roads we could relax and look around more, often seeing colourful (and loud) birds and monkeys. One drawback of the back roads is that there is a much higher chance of being chased by dogs.

Quiet Beaches 

I had been dreaming of Thai beaches since setting off on our around the world trip 9 months ago. At the same time, I was a bit worried that everywhere would be packed with other tourists and that it would be a bit spoiled. It’s true that some beaches are complete tourist traps but we purposely avoided these places and were surprised at how many perfect stretches of empty beach we came across. The road from Hua Hin south to Chumphon along the coast is dotted with small resorts catering to locals and quiet beaches. It feels a world away from the Thailand of full moon parties and tourist scams. Often, the road runs right next to the beach so you can cool off in the sea when you need a break from pedalling.

No Mountains 

If you are just starting out with bike touring and don’t want to tackle high mountain passes just yet, then Thailand is perfect. The route we took: Trat – Chumphon – Ranong – Satun was almost completely flat. We found it very relaxing and it meant that we could complete long distances quickly without spending too long in the blazing sun. It would be great for building up bike fitness at the beginning of a longer tour.

Easy Accommodation

Accommodation in Thailand is plentiful and cheap so the extra weight of bringing a tent is not essential. Dorm beds in hostels are a few dollars while ensuite rooms in guesthouses and hotels can be found for 10-20 dollars. Tip: Agoda has more options than in Thailand and prices are usually a couple of dollars lower.


  • There are plenty of ATMs in Thailand so you don’t need to worry about changing lots of cash at the border. However, beware the huge charges at some ATMs. Most that we came across charged between 200 and 300 baht per withdrawal. The purple AEON ATMs found near Tesco stores had a lower charge of 150 baht.

  • Packs of stray dogs roam Thailand and often chase cyclists. We have found that talking loudly when approaching dogs helps with not startling them. I have convinced myself that complimenting dogs dissuades them from chasing me. I’ll say “Hello puppy! You are so cute! Good doggy! Good doggy doggy!” even if it is the most ancient and mangy thing I’ve ever seen. If the flattery doesn’t work and they charge, we dismount with the bikes between us and the dogs and try to look confident. They usually stop when they see we are just humans and let us be on our way.

  • Don’t underestimate sandflies

  • If your visa is running out, a few days in Myanmar (pics above) is a good option as a visa run. The crossing from Ranong to Kawthaung is an experience and relatively hassle-free. Click here for more info.

  • If you don’t want the stress of cycling through Bangkok, take the ferry from Pattaya to Hua Hin, avoiding the capital. We had heard that you can’t take bikes in the ferry but had no problems when we tried. We went to the office at Pattaya port the day before the sailing and bought tickets that specified we were taking bikes. Ferry staff loaded and unloaded the bikes for us without needing to take off the bags. It was all really smooth.

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Thailand.

More videos of our bicycle tour around the world can be found on our You Tube channel.

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We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part I}

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

With the flurry of recruiting season beginning to diminish, many international teachers are now standing, new contract in hand, preparing to pack up and start a new chapter someplace else in a few short months Aside from the logistics of moving, there is also the emotional management of bidding farewell. These good-byes are particularly complicated when we are not only professional educators, but also parents. This is the first of a two-part post about easing the transition of a big move for your child.

Be careful of how you break the news

Parents know that big changes can create anxiety, and we all have the best intentions to shield our children from discomfort. A family I once supported as a school counsellor decided to move their child to a different school nearby. They knew this might be upsetting so, to try to make the transition fun and quick, the idea was to surprise the child with cupcakes on their last day at our school and, at the impromptu good-bye party, break the news that they would be attending someplace else the following day. I managed to talk the parents out of that plan, but have seen various (less extreme) versions of attempting to conceal from children that they’re in for a major shift in scenery. Put your child’s needs at the forefront, and think carefully and sensitively about how to tell them that you’re moving.

Tell them now

Maybe not right this very second, but tell them soon. Here’s why:

  • They already know. Maybe they don’t know the details, but kids are so dialled in to their parents, it’s hard to keep major family secrets for long. My guess is that they already know something’s up, and could be worrying about it anyway.
  • They will find out soon. If you haven’t told them yet, they are going to learn about it in short time. International communities (sometimes called bubbles or fish bowls, for good reason) are close-knit, and exciting news gets around quickly. You want to be the one to share this information at the time and place of your choice, not have your child accidentally find out at a play date or in the hallways of school.
  • They need to prepare. Children will benefit from having time to process the idea of a move, as well as to wrap up at the current locale, and get excited for your new place. Basically, they want to know for the same reasons you’d want to know: they need to get ready.
  • It will cause less anxiety in the long run. Moving is hard. It can be positive and exciting too, but it’s always hard. There’s no getting around this, and cutting your child out of the conversation won’t make the shift any less difficult. Accept that there will be some aches associated with the process; don’t put it off like a trip to the dentist.

Full disclosure and special circumstances

We are actually moving ourselves. After seven incredible years in Hong Kong, we’ll be starting a new adventure in The Hague this summer. I’m feeling a bit hypocritical as I write this because we haven’t told our babe yet. He’s two, though, and June is a very abstract concept for him. We’ll make sure to give him plenty of notice as we near the departure date.

Every family is different, and you know your child best. There may be a good reason to temporarily hold off on telling them about an upcoming move, such as one parent is on an extended trip, and you want to share the news together. Or, perhaps your child is facing a different, significant challenge at the moment, and you need to focus on that. However, consider what your reason is for delaying the conversation, and whether waiting will actually address the issue. Kids are resilient, and bringing them into the family discussion about your transition now (even if it’s difficult) could be better for them in the long run.

If you’re not quite sure how to prepare your child for an upcoming move, stay tuned… My next post will offer tips on how to ease this perennial transition so associated with international teaching life.

What tips do you have about sharing the news of a move with your child? 

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Biking Stuff: Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a paradise for bike tourers. Although most people haven’t heard of this Central Asian country, we met more fellow cyclists here than anywhere else we have been. Challenging climbs and rough terrain are rewarded with pristine views along with warm hospitality.

There are a thousand reasons to cycle in this country but here are my top 5:

1. Camping

Kyrgyzstan is a camper’s dream. So much of this country is uncultivated, rolling, green hills perfect for pitching a tent as dusk falls on another day of riding. Kyrgyz people in the countryside live in yurts and are therefore not at all surprised by the sight of tourists camping compared to the reaction of locals in some other countries. It is a really special feeling knowing that you are completely self-sufficient with your vehicle, kitchen and house underneath you. Since leaving Kyrgyzstan, we have camped less and less because of the availability of cheap accommodation and the lack of open space. We miss our routine of setting up camp, cooking and watching the stars at night.

2. Waterfalls, Streams and Lakes

Waterfalls, streams and lakes in Kyrgyzstan are not just beautiful, they are useful too. When you spend 4 days cycling between villages, the waterfalls become showers and sources of drinking water (when purified and filtered- although it’s probably some of the cleanest water in the world). The streams are a kitchen sink for washing pots and pans. As a person who absolutely despises housework, I can say that chores are much less of a chore when done in a cascading waterfall!

3. Horses

If you are into horses, then go to Kyrgyzstan immediately. Families of wild horses idle on the sides of mountain switchbacks while herds gallop past your tent in the evening. One morning, we even saw a group splashing and bathing in a stream next to the most remote border crossing I have ever been to. Kyrgyz people love their horses and treat them well. A highlight is the national horse games festival held in the summer at Song Kul lake. You haven’t lived until you have been a spectator to teams on horseback scoring points by throwing a headless goat carcass into a tyre.

4. Unrivalled Alpine Beauty

The place is just stunning. People say it’s “the Switzerland of Asia”. I’ve never been to Switzerland, but if it has even a fraction of the beauty of Kyrgyzstan, then it must be pretty nice. Also, Kyrgyzstan is approximately a million times cheaper (my economist boyfriend might argue with my math there but you get my point). Don’t need to say much more about this… the pics can do the talking.

5. Local Treats

Food should probably be in the top 5 and lots of people love Kyrgyz cuisine. But personally, having lived in neighbouring Uzbekistan for 3 years, it was just more of the same for me. And I’m not really a fan of kumis (fermented mare’s milk). So instead, let me tell you that like most of the former Soviet union, Kyrgyzstan offers bottles of great/questionable vodka for less than the change in your pocket. There are also some decent cognacs to be sampled as a reward at the end of a gruelling climb.  Ден соолугубуз үчүн (cheers in Kyrgyz – shortened and taught to us as buzuchun).

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Kyrgyzstan.

Videos of our bicycle tour in Kyrgyzstan can be found on our You Tube channel.

Follow our journey around the world at or on Facebook.

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Keeping Your Campus Safe: Who Can Do What

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

When a school network is designed, various levels of access have to be created to manage content access. The easiest way to approach this is to place students, teachers, staff, and others into groups. The group is then managed. If an individual becomes untrusted, they become a non-group member, and thus cannot access anything.

Groups have an ID, this is something people never see. To get into the group, people have a personal ID, this is something people use everyday. They never consider all the places their ID (username and password) travels.

In the physical space, group IDs and access indicators are also needed. These need to be designed so they can be visually recognized by members of the community. In addition, buildings and facilities need to be designed to accommodate certain groups, but not allow others.

Group IDs in the Visual Space

I have already spoken about uniforms, but many schools do not use uniforms. Dress code is definitely a manner to identify a group students, but beyond that, there are many other ways to know who is who and what they should be doing.


Student IDs are often the same for all student, and many are the same template as staff IDs.

IDs for different groups should vary visually. This allows anyone to quickly look at the color, and make a decision about access to facilities, food options, etc. Having to stop and read, requires engagement. Engagement either requires a sense of authority, or it can make a person feel as if conflict might ensue. Colors remove the direct engagement aspect of managing people in physical spaces from those who might only want to report a problem.

For example:

K-5 Students

6-12 Students

K-5 Teachers

No Go Zones

Libraries, Cafeterias, and other large areas should have spaces that are “student only” and “parent/guest only”. These spaces should separate students by age group when possible.

People who are managing these spaces need to manage problems over a larger landscape. They should be able to politely direct anyone to their proper area, without conflict. These areas can be labeled, and color coded. Colors could match IDs (or guest passes) to help everyone navigate.

For example, students in the middle school might have red ID cards. Middle school bulletin boards, information screens, etc., could all have a red border. Anyone noticing a student with a blue ID, would immediately realize that student is in the wrong building. Trying to sort students by size is something teachers try to do, but that practice is not very accurate when students are close in age.

Driving and Parking

Access to campus often starts with transportation. Although schools usually have buses and public transportation options planned, personal vehicles are often loosely managed, or not managed.

Schools tend to believe that issuing parking stickers to people, and then assigning them a parking lot/space, is enough. However, schools need to consider why people need to drive, and if it should be a right or a very limited privilege.

I have worked at one school that had no parking at all. It was in a city, and space was at a premium. If people needed to drive and park, they had to use public parking options. This meant that it was nearly impossible to have unscheduled visitors. Anyone coming to the school would make an appointment to ensure their paid parking was used efficiently.

As people evaluate campus safety, they need to consider that anyone looking to create a negative situation would need a staging area. There would need to be access close enough to the school to allow someone to prepare. Vehicles make excellent staging areas. The closer vehicles are to buildings and entrances, the greater the risk.

In addition, schools are full of children running around and not always paying attention. Vehicles allowed to move within spaces where children are walking can be very dangerous. Ideally, these types of vehicles should only be allowed if escorted or properly directed.

If I really wanted to make campus access secure, I would run shuttles from designated areas. In an ideal world, those areas would be owned by the school, but at least 5 minutes from the campus by shuttle.

A small parking area could be created for certain groups of people, but all visitors and guests would be scheduled and shuttled into the campus.

Students would never be allowed to drive to campus. They would need to park and shuttle; or park and bike/walk to school.

School’s should be friendly communities, but communities are often not in the public domain. Access management is important, and it does not have to be overly complicated or expensive.

Group privilege is a privilege. It can be earned. It can be lost. It must be managed.

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Teach the Child – Part 3

So over the last few weeks I’ve been writing a bit, and thinking a lot about our primary role as educators in the world in which we live, and honestly, I believe that a profound shift needs to occur. If I boil it down to one core takeaway and approach for all of us moving forward, it would be this…schools need to start focusing their efforts and attention on social emotional learning, and on finding ways to make the development of these skills the focal point of a students daily educational experience. I’m only half joking when I say that we have it absolutely backward in schools…backward in that we spend all of our days prioritizing subjects and content and academic skill development with kids, with only a brief interlude in the day for a 30 minute advisory (pastoral care time) or a counselor corner time, with maybe a weekly assembly thrown in there for good measure…if the kids are lucky. Well, I think we should flip it around so that we start spending the majority of our days with kids teaching them about empathy, and leadership, and kindness, and compassion, and inclusion, and environmental stewardship and service learning and how to become outstanding human beings for our world…this should be what school is all about! Heaven knows the world needs it, maybe now more than ever.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we stop teaching math and literacy, and only give these subjects 30 minutes a day with a weekly added “academic” assembly, but I am suggesting that we find ways to teach these academic skills through an empathy based curriculum, or something like that, where everything that we teach kids is connected to these powerful and important social emotional skills. I’m concerned about our world these days, and I’m concerned about that fact that we seem to be taking two steps back in so many ways…so much conflict and divide and turmoil and hate, and the change that needs to happen in our world lies firmly on the leadership of our young people, and with the opportunity that we have as educators to empower them to become true change agents.  Anyway, I’ve been extremely encouraged recently with the student led movement around gun control, not just in the United States, but all over the world, because students are finally saying that they’re fed up, and ultimately, that they are done waiting for adults to fix our world…student voice is alive and well and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s time to start embracing leadership like this in schools, and finding ways to empower students in all aspects of their education. Time to start empowering kids to lead their own learning, and to think critically about issues, and to push back on the status quo, and to move beyond the traditional model of school that continues to hang on by it’s fangs all over the world.

Until I take the time to write an empathy based open source curriculum for schools (which I might just do by the way), that teaches ALL academic skills and learning through the concepts that I listed above, there are little things that we can start doing which will make a profound impact in our classrooms. All of us can begin the shift by seeing our primary role throughout the day not as teachers of math or literacy or biology or PE or French, but as teachers of kindness and love and compassion and integrity. Actively seek out times throughout the day to teach our kids about what it looks like to be an amazing human being…embrace those teachable moments when you can focus on empathy and what it looks like to be a leader. Find ways to give our kids agency and voice, and actively celebrate all the unique personalities that our kids bring to our communities. Like I’ve been saying in my two previous posts, stop teaching the subject and start teaching the child…each special, unique and beautiful child. We are teachers of children, not teachers of subjects or grade levels…we are mentors and advisors and surrogate mothers and fathers, and we are needed now more than ever to be this for our kids…and for our world.

Okay, there you have it…an impassioned plea to think about how we currently do “school”, and how we view our role as educators. If nothing else, think about some changes that you can make in your own approach to each school day, which might allow you to focus a little more on these social emotional skills. Little changes in kids will turn into big changes for our world and it can begin with us. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week –

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself

– John Steinbeck


Powerful Videos – Take the Time to Watch…and Think

Eating Alone

Are You Lost

Take Care of Each Other

A Positive Word

Story Exchange

Standing Ovation


Related Articles – Empathy

Teaching Empathy

Teach Thought

Parenting Science


Compassion in Schools

Education World


Student Voice –

Student Voice Website

Giving Students a Voice

Including Students Voice

Empowering Student Voice

Emma Gonzalez example


Student Agency –

Getting Smart

Meaningful Student Involvement

New Designs for Schools

New Teacher Center

Leap Learning

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An Economist’s Take: Budgeting and Adventure Part 2

Budgeting for a bike tour. Reflecting on the last 6 months and thinking ahead. This post was first published on in January 2018.

If you are thinking of having a break of any form to go and wander, I suggest that you:

1.) Work out how long you want to go for, and divide your savings by that. In some parts of the world, a bicycle tourer who mixes camping with paid-for accommodation, and cooking with restaurants can live comfortably on $30 per day. But this is my own calculation taking an average of the many countries toured so far. This rose to $60 per day in Norway and as little as $10 in Kyrgyzstan. If you do the math and it doesn’t seem realistic, trim your plans. Don’t let your budget dictate where you go. Go to the places you’ve dreamed off, even if you have to go for fewer days.

2.) Try to put some money aside for Investment/Retirement plans. This is a luxury, although parents would tell you it is a necessity. The fact is that 80% of the World’s Population has no retirement income (World Bank 2010).

However, there is no disputing the fact that having a standing monthly payment into a plan provides a warm feeling. The knowledge that you are following your dreams, whilst at the same time being a little bit considerate of your future security.

3.) When budgeting consider the cost of:

Travel insurance. Silly not to really. (Global Voyager)

Location Beacon and other safety measures (SPOT Tracker)

Inoculations (Many required including boosters)

Flights, visa-runs etc (,

Medicine/first aid/supplements/sun cream. Not to be taken lightly.

Clothing. They wear out quickly on tour.

4.) Always seek a bargain. When your money equates to days on tour, don’t accept the full price. Look for happy hours, make the most of special offers. Travelling as a couple is cheaper than solo.

As I sit here in Ho Chi Minh, I can’t stop thinking about the happy position we are in with our world tour. They say Christmas is a time to reflect, well this year it certainly is. Come January 7th, we will have had over a month off of our bikes to see our families, and for once, to be invisible to strangers rather than standing out as oddities. Each day I get flashbacks of some weird and wonderful place we passed and how they are all joining up to form one wholly positive experience so far.

We have had only a few days of rain, our bikes behaved themselves as we treated them well, and ignoring a few back pain issues and a virus, we have done well throughout this physical challenge. I hope that we will have renewed excitement when we start again, pushing our bikes out of District 8 and on to the Cambodian coast.

From there we should have 6 months of sun, sea and sea, with the occasional downpour I am sure, towards Nusa Tenggara (Indonesia).

I’ve checked myself a few times over the last few months saying “Oh this reminds me of ….so…and..such.. a country.” I’ve begun to realise that as I join up the lines around the world, they all blend into each other. It’s a landmass, not a political territory, so it’s no wonder that we are reminded of other places with similar terrain and similar people. I am hoping that I appreciate the next section for what it is, the kindness of the people we meet, where we are, and the journey itself.

Follow our journey around the world on or on Facebook.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our You Tube Channel.

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Beautiful Places and Moments: Myanmar

Mergui Archipelago, Southern Myanmar

When cycling the world, visa duration is a serious consideration. Upon entering Thailand we were issued a 28 day stamp, as no actual visa is required for many nationalities. While this certainly saved us some money, it didn’t ease the slight tension that goes with pedalling with a time restriction. Nevertheless we thought it would be enough and were just grateful for the ease of entry. We were planning to cycle from Trat (border with southern Cambodia) to Satun (border with northern Malaysia). This is around 1500km. So the daily distance calculation was fine, but it did not leave much time for side trips and relaxing.

We began to find our rhythm in this friendly and relatively developed country (compared to most others on our tour thus far) after only a few days and quickly discovered that bike touring here is wonderful. We really didn’t want to rush, so after running a workshop in a school and hopping across the gulf to Hua Hin, we started looking at our options for extending our stay. In short; it is possible to extend the days on the visa-free regime by applying at any of the dozen or so immigration offices around the country. We were willing to do this and pay the fee in order to avoid overstay penalties, but then the idea came to mind of dipping into Myanmar. We are glad it did.

The new Myanmar E-visa ($50-  3 day processing) enables many tourists to enter at airports and some land/sea ports including Ranong-Kawthuang in the extreme south. There is very little information about this on the internet as anything other than a ‘Visa-Run’ for tourists/sexpats in Thailand wanting to go out-and-in for another 30 day stamp.

We had to dig around to find out whether there were any trips we could do to see some of Myanmar for a few days. There most certainly are. Using Kawthuang as a base a few tour companies offer 1 or 2 day boat trips to islands in the Mergui Archipelago. We visited 4 islands in the south including the entertainingly named Cock’s Comb, and staying in a wooden bungalow next to the beach on Horseshoe Island. It was basic but blissful. We were delighted to be pretty much on our own snorkelling and kayaking, playing frisbee and kicking- back.

Many islands in south east asia are now overdeveloped for tourism and their beauty and isolation somewhat compromised because of it. These little islands in Myanmar though are still uninhibited, untamed and au-naturale. Well worth the trip even if pricey at $180 dollars all in, but it’s difficult to put a price-tag on that experience.

The logistics involved with getting to the jumping off point, the town of Kawthuang, were not clear when we arrived at the Thai frontier. To be fair, everyone was helpful and finding a boat (yes this is a by sea entry point) to take us across on the 30 minute ride to Myanmar was easy. After some bargaining with eager drivers, it cost us about $7 to get ourselves and bikes across. When arriving in Kawthuang  remember to report to immigration at the dock. We forgot to do this for 5 hours and only remembered when sipping beers after we had ridden right out of town to Pulo Tonton island, a good place to go as an out-and-back day ride if you want to experience the diverse culture of this part of the country. Thankfully the immigration process when we arrived back in to Kawthuang town was simple and involves no more payment.

I have mixed feelings about the town.  It sure is different to Thailand; Intermittent power, Indian/Malay food and spices, ludicrously cheap drinks ($2 for a litre of Rum). Overall I think the change of environment and atmosphere broke up our Thai ride perfectly. However, we sure were glad to get back to 7-eleven and Cafe Amazon land, with a fresh 30 day stamp in our passports.

We chose Life Seeing Tours for the islands. They were fine. I think there must be some tacit collusion on pricing between operators. Many service the wealthier tourists staying at the Victoria Cliff Resort and pick up from there and Kawthuang’s main pier.

Follow our journey around the world on or on Facebook.

More videos on our You Tube Channel.

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Your School’s GSA May Be Saving Lives

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Before school-shooting survivor, Emma Gonzáles, burst into the public spotlight for her role in pressing U.S. legislators to tighten up gun control, she was contributing to a life-saving cause of another sort. Emma Gonzales is the president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).

GSAs are clubs to provide support and safety for gender and sexual minority (GSM) students, and to improve the campus climate for this demographic. The acronym GSA historically stands for Gay-Straight Alliance, but has been updated by some to mean Genders & Sexualities Alliance, a more accurate reflection of the youth running them. Allies are usually invited to participate, providing an outlet for heterosexual, cisgender students and faculty to acknowledge their privilege and contribute to making schools more inclusive.

GSAs originated in American high schools in the 1980s[1], but have spread around the world since. These alliances change – and even save – lives. Here’s how:

Gender and sexual minority (sometimes called LGBTQ+) students are more likely than their heterosexual, cisgender peers to miss school because they feel unsafe, to achieve lower grades, and to report less support from teachers and other adults at school[2]. Indeed, large-scale studies show that the vast majority of students who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgender are subject to frequent verbal and physical harassment and discrimination at school, at the hands of both students and faculty, based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation[3][4]. Furthermore, this stigmatizing school climate leads to serious negative outcomes for GSM students, including increased risk of mental health issues and suicidality[5][6][7].

Fortunately, GSAs make a concrete positive impact on school climate, and can mitigate these serious risks. For example, students attending schools with a GSA reported significantly higher feelings of school belonging compared with those who attend a school without a GSA[8]. Schools with GSAs see lower truancy rates for their GSM students[9]. GSA presence is associated with significantly lower levels of homophobic victimization and fear of safety at school[10], and can improve overall GSM student well-being[11]. In fact, the mere presence of a gay-straight alliance at school has been reported as more impactful on GSM students’ well-being than whether they had actually been a member or participated in the club in any way, so it’s worth hosting even if only a few students attend[12]. GSAs have even been associated, in multiple studies, with lowering the suicide risk for sexual minority youth[13][14]. These organizations make a difference.

Most of the studies on GSAs have been carried out in the U.S., but it stands to reason that their impact may be felt at least as strongly where they are present in international settings. Seeing as plenty of international school students are limited by language skills or cultural barriers from joining organizations in the local community, school is often the hub of social support for our expat children. Your school’s GSA may be the only option for students to meaningfully connect with other GSM children.

GSAs may be unsafe for students in some countries, where gender and sexual non-conformity is harshly penalized, so exercise caution according to your context. If you are in a place where these groups are possible, I encourage you to attend a meeting or event with your school’s GSA to show encouragement for the students running it, and for the many other children who are quietly noticing your support. If your school does not yet host a GSA (you may be surprised to learn that they do exist in conservative regions and in religious schools), this resource from GLSEN offers a how-to guide for getting started.

Tell us about your school’s GSA: what impact does the group make in the city/country where you work? 


[1] Russell, S., Muraco, A., Subramaniam, A., & Laub, C. (2009). Youth Empowerment and High School Gay-Straight Alliances. J Youth Adolescence, 38, 891-903.

[2] IOM (Institute of Medicine). (2011). The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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

[4] HRC (Human Rights Campaign). (2012). Growing up LGBT in America.

[5] 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.

[6] Lick, D. J., Durso, L. E., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Minority stress and physical health among sexual minorities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(5), 521-548.

[7] Russell, S. T. & Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1276-1281.

[8] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. School PsychologyQuarterly, 26(2), 161-174.

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

[10] Marx, R. A. & Kettrey, H. H. (2016). Gay-straight alliances are associated with lower levels of school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 1269-1282.

[11] Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., & Diaz, R. M. (2011). High school gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and young adult well-being: An examination of GSA presence, participation, and perceived effectiveness. Applied Developmental Science, 15(4), 175-185.

[12] Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 187-196.

[13] 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.

[14] Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L. & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(5), 573-589.

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Education Project: Back to School – Briefly

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at or on Facebook.

One of our aims while cycling around the world is to visit schools along the way and to engage students in workshops in order to develop our educational project:


We had the pleasure of visiting Tara Pattana International School in Pattaya, Thailand, a couple of weeks ago to do just that. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. We have been out of the classroom for 9 months and running a workshop is very different to teaching your own class in familiar surroundings.

We needn’t have worried though. We cycled through the school gates and made our way to the office where there was a big welcome sign for us! The school had also arranged their own teddies on bicycles at the front of the stage so we felt right at home. It turned out that the school was holding a Bike Day the following weekend (similar to the Cylothon we organised at a previous school) so the timing of our visit was great.

We set up our tent and props, familiarised ourselves with the tech and prepared to share our journey with the whole elementary school in a presentation. Matthew teaches secondary while I work in elementary so it was a new challenge for us to present as a team. Matthew took on the role of on-stage presenter while I wandered amongst the children, encouraging interaction and questions.  We showed photos and videos, played guessing games, had the students try some of our gear and answered questions. In our excitement, we ended up rambling on for quite a long time (probably a bit too long) but the students were kind to us and listened attentively. We were surprised and delighted to receive very useful gifts of caps and water bottles.

After the presentation, two classes stayed behind for the workshop. They shared stories that ranged from historical accounts of battles to local folktales, favorite foods, family moments, unicorn adventures and more. We enjoyed chatting with the students so much that we slightly lost track of time and had to rush to photograph the students and their stories for uploading to our growing online library before they went off for lunch.

Just before home time, the students gathered once more to be awarded the badges they had earned during the workshop. We had group photos, said our goodbyes, packed up our bikes…. and then it started lashing rain. The children kept us entertained while we waited for a break in the weather with LOTS of questions and some good advice too. One girl told us about a particular doll that she thought we would really like and where to buy it. Another boy asked how old I was when I learned to cycle (7 but then had to learn again at 24 after more than a decade without a bike).

The rain eased off and we made a break for it – until we were stopped by the very friendly member of the school community for a coffee and chat at the school cafe. We hadn’t been to a school with a cafe before but it seemed like a great idea. Parents could socialise while waiting to pick up their children and teachers could come find them there if they needed a quick chat.

After one last photo to remember our visit we cycled back to our hotel and prepared to head south the next day.


I realised that evening that you can take a teacher out of the IB but you can’t take the IB out of a teacher. How do I know this? Because the first thing I did back at the hotel was to open up a memo on my phone and write down what went well and what could be improved for next time. Without realising it, I had written…. A REFLECTION!

Click here to read the stories we gathered at Tara Pattana International School along with many others.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

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School Shooters Are Male (and this isn’t just an American problem)


Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

The hegemonic definition of manhood is a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power[1].

Masculinity has been studied by social scientists, and broken down into core dimensions that many of us recognize. Masculinity means[2]:

  • Femininity Avoidance & Homophobia
  • Status & Achievement
  • Dominance/Power/Control
  • Toughness & Aggression
  • Restricted Emotionality

Toxic masculinity is when these dimensions are expressed in harmful ways.

In addition to (not instead of) gun restrictions[3], consider how social gender norms contribute to the school shooting epidemic. Mass shooters are almost invariably cisgender males. (Those who commit homicide in the U.S. are also overwhelmingly male, comprising more than 90% of cases where the murder’s gender is known). If this was simply a biological issue, then all cisgender men would be murderers. But, of course, they are not. This is a sociological issue.

Boys are fed the message, from a young age, that their masculinity is of paramount importance, and that they must actively maintain it lest they be figuratively castrated. Sissy, or other feminine insinuations, are perhaps the greatest insult for a male. Only more offensive might be fag[4], and other slurs that connote a lack of both masculinity and heterosexual prowess.

Social media has done a nice job of pointing out the lengths men go to in order to clutch onto their male identity. The hashtag #fragilemasculinity pulls up a range of contortions designed to reassure men that they are, indeed, men. It might seem funny that anyone would require his bath products to be shaped like grenades, but the underlying message is serious: boys, your masculinity defines you, and it’s at risk – take steps, even irrational and bizarre steps – to protect it.

There are several ways to try to fit into the masculine mold. Referring back to the bullet (no pun intended) points above, one of the most effective methods to keep up your perceived masculine levels is to exude heterosexuality. Social norms would have us believe that masculinity and heterosexuality are mutually-dependent, that you can’t claim one without the other[5]. Therefore, to be considered masculine enough, boys must also show that they are firmly and indisputably straight.

Another way to assert masculinity is to display power. As masculinity is so inextricably tied to power, males are taught to claim and exert power in order to stay in the boys’ club. This power can take a variety of formats, but physical power and aggression is a high marker of manliness. So, the fierce guy with muscles who attracts the girls is on top of the pyramid of masculinity. But how about the (many, many, many) young boys in our schools who do not fit this description?

Some find productive, alternative ways to achieve status (i.e. Tim Cook or Morgan Freeman style). Some find healthier ways to understand their own masculinity (and sexuality), and live comfortably outside of the constricting social norms of their gender. And others struggle and bash around inside that rigid, narrow box, looking for a way to exist, to prove their worth, to Be. A. Man.

If this struggle brings up feelings, acknowledging them is to further emasculate oneself. From the bullet points above, restricted emotionality is a major element of traditional masculinity, so great displays of emotion are contrary to these boys’ search to become men. The one exception to this rule is anger: boys can get angry without being accused of being effeminate. So, anger may become a default emotion for boys, replacing other strong feelings like sadness, shame, fear, and loneliness.

In America, these males, pressed with the burden of traditional masculine norms, but unable to fulfil them to our social standards, can find incredible, breathtaking, earth-shattering power behind the sight of an assault rifle. And they do. In the hallways of schools. There have been 270 school shootings in America since Columbine in 1999. Ninety-six percent of them were committed by males.

Outside the U.S., we have the advantage of government regulations that significantly reduce the risk of a school shooting. Still, while young boys in international schools who battle with the heavy, unreasonable expectations of masculinity may not be armed to commit mass murder, this does not mean it isn’t hurting them. Toxic masculinity exists, and does harm, world-wide.

Educators can help. Question gender norms at your school. Point them out, analyze them, wonder aloud – with your students – about their ridiculousness and the damage they may be doing. Select literature that portrays male protagonists who defy traditional masculinity. Avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes when you talk to and about children. De-emphasize heteronormative sexual relationships, such as those endorsed by prom and over-the-top, public promposals (especially on campus). Check your curriculum for signs of institutionalized heteronormativity. Teach little boys about the range of human emotions; let boys cry. Allow a flexible space for students to define their own gender and sexuality. Reiterate these messages in official policy documents.

Also, provide students with alternative ways to exercise power. Teach all children, including those who identify as male, to make a positive difference in other people’s lives, to contribute to a cause greater than themselves, and to help those who need it most. This is where their power lies.

How do you challenge traditional gender norms in your school?


[1] Kimmel, M.S. (1994). Masculinities as homophobia: Fear, shame, and silence in the construction of gender identity. In Brod, H. & Kaufman, M. (Eds.) Theorizing masculinities. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

[2]Zurbriggen, E. (2010). Rape, war, and the socialization of masculinity: Why our refusal to give up war ensures that rape cannot be eradicated. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 538-549.

[3] The message in this post is in no way intended to conflict with the underlying problem of Americans having easy access to guns. Get 100% of guns out of the hands of civilians, and you’ll get a 100% reduction in school shootings, even with no adjustment to gender norms. As a vegetarian, I do not even advocate for the right of hunters to bear arms. As far as I’m concerned, no civilian needs, deserves, or is entitled to a gun. I am completely supportive of banning firearms from the public altogether.

[4] Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

[5] Bem, S. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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