Step back. step up. step in

The International School of Yangon is the first school I have worked in that has a performance culture in which everyone is focused on getting better than they are now

Given that I have only ever worked in good schools, that statement might rub a few ex-colleagues up the wrong way. But the reality is that for everyone to be focused on getting better than they are now, everyone needs to accept that they have a performance gap. 

If there is one thing that the 2020-2021 school year has given (and will continue to give) all of us, it is a performance gap. This is a gift that we all have received by virtue of being asked to perform in ways we have never been asked to perform before. We all have different performance gaps but we are connected by the circumstances that have caused them. 

It is the gift of performance gaps that have created a performance culture that I have never experienced before and I do not think we will ever experience again unless we can replicate the pressure that we are facing now. I’m not sure that we want to do that anytime soon so I think we should go into the second half of this year accepting that we will still be under pressure but trusting that our performance will continue to improve. But we will only continue to improve if we do not get overwhelmed by our peformance gaps and that is very hard to avoid when you are under pressure. 

‘Fight or Flight’ is a common phrase used to describe a person’s options when overwhelmed by pressure. People either become aggressive or just walk away. Now, given that teachers will generally do anything to avoid conflict and their sense of responsibility to their students will not let them walk away, we need another option – ‘Freeze.’

People that have frozen do not fight and they still turn up but they cannot contribute and perform as they usually would. Rather than being an active member of a team, pressure makes them passive. They might go through the motions in a way that suggests contribution and performance but really they are just trying to get by without drawing attention to themselves. 

We have all had our moments but we have all handled the pressure of the last few months exceptionally well and this is what our performance culture is based on. I am just wary of the fact that the end of 2020 does not mean that the pressure is off. It might even increase in 2021. So I have been reading up on how to handle pressure and would like to share a mental movement that I picked up from the book referenced below. It is called Step Back. Step Up. Step In.

Step Back: Gain Emotional Control

When faced with a challenging situation that has the potential to cause you to Fight, Fly, or Freeze, step back to think about your own state of mind. This has direct links to an Adaptive Schools’ Norm of Collaboration: Pay attention to yourself (and others). Thinking about your state of mind activates your powerful metacognition function (thinking about thinking) and is the first step in pushing through the urge to Fight, Fly, or Freeze. You are now ready to think about how you are going to face the challenge.

Step Up: Look for Better Options

Every challenge you face provides you with a performance gap. Challenges are challenging because you need to improve your level of performance to overcome them. And before you set out to improve your performance, you need to figure out what your options are to do that. Adaptive Schools’ would suggest that you take a ‘Balcony View’ of the challenge. By stepping up onto the balcony and looking down on the challenge without you in it, you will be able to see the challenge from multiple perspectives and determine a more objective best option to improve your performance.

Step In: Take the Initiative

Once you have established your best option to improve your performance to meet a challenge, you need to take the initiative to do whatever it takes to implement that option. Importantly, that does not mean you need to improve your performance alone. Taking the initiative in this sense might be as simple as asking for help or sharing an idea with a colleague. 

Asking for help and sharing ideas has defined our year so far and created a performance culture that will get us through the rest of it. As long as we do not let the pressure overwhelm us, we will meet every challenge that comes our way. I am sure that there will be plenty! 

EVANS, CERI. PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE: Change the Way You Feel, Think and Act under Pressure. THORSONS, 2019.


Recently, at the end of a comprehensive WASC reaccreditation and self-study process, our school was commended by WASC for engaging in long term relationships with outside providers that can support and sustain the work in development, implementation, and continual revision of desired initiatives. This commendation referred to our work with experts who believe in our compassionate Mission and Vision, and related strategic themes and objectives. 

Dr. Linda Henke is one of these experts. Linda is passionate about developing inclusive schools and has particular interests and expertise in early childhood education that aligns with our purpose of developing compassionate global citizens, lifelong learners, and agents for positive change. Linda began working with our Early Elementary team in November last year. This was pre-COVID and Linda was able to visit our campus. 

At this time we were right in the middle of our whole school WASC self-study process and Linda met with our Early Elementary team in a room that was being used to record and display that process. The walls of the room were plastered with sticky notes on posters to record what we felt we needed to do to achieve three overarching goals that we had set ourselves:

  1. All students will be able to apply their knowledge and skills to adapt and contribute to an uncertain or unknown future.
  2. All students will develop the self-efficacy and agency necessary to drive their own learning, control their own lives and positively influence the lives of others.
  3. The ISY teaching faculty will feel connected and collectively capable in meeting the needs of ISY students.

Linda saw our thinking on the wall and invited me to present it at the first Convening of the Transformational Leadership Initiative (TLI) in St. Louis, Missouri. TLI is a partnership between Washington University in St. Louis and the Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leadership which Linda founded and directs. 

The convening was an opportunity for educators to share their school’s compelling purpose and how this was guiding their work in developing a culture of deeper learning. I was invited because our purpose was clear to Linda in her work with our Early Elementary team and in what she read on our walls. Our purpose comes directly from our Mission and Vision and the three goals we had set for ourselves were an expression of this purpose.

Linda introduced me to TLI’s Human-Centered School Transformation Model to develop a culture of deeper learning. The model was new to me but it’s call for high level collaboration, shared leadership, creativity and courage, empathy and compassion, and a growth mindset echoed what we had also identified as important to achieving our purpose.

I shared our thinking using TLI’s model and after two days of conversations with a very diverse group of educators all working towards their compelling purpose, I left St. Louis with a deeper understanding of our purpose and what we now needed to do and why we needed to do it. 

When I left for St. Louis, no-one was really talking about COVID. When I returned to Yangon at the end of January 2020, everyone was talking about it. On March 18, we closed our campus and moved all teaching and learning online. We prepared the best we could prior to moving online and worked incredibly hard to replicate learning experiences that we had planned to deliver to students on campus. 

COVID was not on anyone’s radar when we decided upon the first of our three goals but we had already decided that we needed to prepare our students for the unforeseen. We had imagined an interdisciplinary teaching and learning framework to do that and we had the beginnings of an action plan to develop and implement it over a 2-3 year period. 

It soon became very clear to exhausted teachers, understandably frustrated parents and increasingly disengaged students that replicating what we had been doing prior to the pandemic will not get us through it. With no end in sight to the crisis as we neared the end of the school year, we made the choice to transform teaching and learning at ISY over a 2-3 month period. 

In the last few weeks of the school year, we experimented with interdisciplinary units to get a feel for what we were about to spend our summer developing. These also gave our students and families a taste of what was coming their way in the new year. 

Immediately after we finished the year, we started planning for this one. Teachers spent all summer planning interdisciplinary, multi-grade level units. We had no time to scaffold this process for those who were not familiar with what we were asking them to do. We put teachers in teams, provided a planning structure, a (very tight) timeline and asked them to come up with units that could be delivered to students in classrooms, synchronously online, and asynchronously online. Not only did we need to develop new units, we needed to develop three different learning platforms to cater for students who were spread out around the world in different time zones. All of this was compounded by the fact that almost half of our teachers were also in different time zones and those of us still in Myanmar could not get in the same room. 

From the outset, we were very upfront with our teachers as to what we were asking them to do – cram 2-3 years worth of work into 2-3 months. How we were able to present to our community a new interdisciplinary teaching and learning framework on three different platforms weeks before the school year started is hard to explain. We proved that it was not impossible but it sure felt like it to all of us at some point along the way. 

It helped that we had the beginnings of a plan to transform teaching and learning at our school. It was a plan with a purpose as articulated in our three goals but it was not until COVID happened that our purpose became compelling. We had to act immediately – not just to get through this crisis but so our students will be able to adapt and contribute to an uncertain or unknown post-COVID world.

We also had to act immediately to earn the trust of our families. We did that by acknowledging their need for us to develop something different and working hard to meet that need. We were then very deliberate in over communicating to them that while our new units and platforms will get us through COVID, they are part of a framework that was imagined prior to COVID to get their children through anything that the future throws at them. 

As communities all around the world continue to struggle and suffer through COVID, we do not take for granted that we are in a position to prepare our students for a post-COVID world. COVID made our purpose compelling, forced us to act, and our actions earned the trust of our community. We know that we are not doing everything right yet. But schools are not transformed by people trying to do everything right. Schools are transformed by people trying to do the right thing and COVID has allowed us to define what that is for our community. 

The longer we are online, the more our community wants us to get better at what we are doing now. They no longer want us to go back to ‘normal’ and they expect us to keep adapting to make sure their children are prepared to learn and thrive in an uncertain future. That was our purpose prior to COVID. As we navigate through and beyond COVID, our purpose now compels us to act and our community to trust us. 

It is wrong to say that COVID will make us a better school. It is our commitment to our purpose that will make us a better school and our transformative response to COVID just proves that point. It takes a lot of creativity and courage to transform a school and these attributes are developed through partnerships with other schools. Our partnership with Linda and TLI is relatively new but we could not have connected at a better time. In times of uncertainty, it is important to fully commit to your purpose and try your best to do what is right. That was the message I left the St. Louis convening with that is what our school continues to do.

A Thread of Silver

So I was walking home from the store the other day through some back alley sidestreets when I stumbled upon a dried up and sad looking Christmas tree lying right in the middle of the lane. It had been blown there by the wind I guess, or maybe just carelessly dumped there by someone who wanted to get rid of it. It had lost most of its needles and a few of the branches were snapped and barely hanging on, and I felt kind of depressed honestly when I bent down to pick it up. Just as I was dragging it to the side of the curb though, I spotted a single piece of tinsel clinging to one of the branches…a little thread of silver that flashed and sparkled and danced in the air, and you know what, it made me smile.

As I continued on my way back home I couldn’t help but think about that withered up tree, and how it relates to the year that we all just went through. 2020 was so incredibly difficult in so many ways, and all that the world wanted to do when January 1st rolled around was to throw the year out in the trash and to move on, and so did I. But what that little tree got me thinking about over the last week or so was that as difficult as last year was, there was a little thread of silver that came out of 2020, and that thread of silver is the promise of change. 

As much as 2020 brought disillusion and disruption to our world and to our lives, I believe that 2021 will bring action and accountability, which will ultimately change so much of our world for the better. I believe that 2020 will serve as a wake up call, which will bring about, at the very least, social and environmental change that will end up strengthening the fabric of the global community. 

On a smaller scale, I also believe that the events of last year will mobilize us as a school community to become stronger, and better, and in many ways it already has. We’ve committed to some transformative initiatives that were bolstered by last year’s events, and which have given us a renewed sense of purpose. Like our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) work, our peer on peer safeguarding work, our focus on assessment, and so much more. I know it’s easy to simply throw away 2020 and to not look back, and to be thankful that it’s finally over. People want to set their sights firmly on the hope for a brighter 2021, and I get it. 

For so many people in the world, 2020 was a disastrous year, and now it’s a collective loud scream of good riddance. That said, I do believe that just like the sad little tree that I found when I was walking home, if you look carefully enough at that terrible year that has just passed, you might just find a small thread of silver that you can take with you into 2021. A little thread of silver that will give you some hope, and hopefully call you to action, because action is what 2021 desperately needs. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change

– Wayne Dyer

Inspiring Videos – 

Gloria’s Gladiators

Man With Dementia 

Fairy Garden

TED Talk – Overcoming Challenges

TED Talk – 3 Secrets of Resilient People

Related Websites and Articles – 

Center for Optimism 

Finding the Silver Linings

Challenging Times

Staying Positive 

Positive Thinking

What if we taught gender equality?

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Recently I was asked by students to audition for the TEDxYouth event they are putting together under the theme of ‘What if…’After critically reasoning, I decided to pick a topic close to my heart, gender equality. I framed my question ‘What if we taught gender equality?’ By teaching about gender equality we can aim to achieve it.

What impact would gender equality have? By gender equality, I mean equal opportunities. Imagine if women had equal opportunities in all aspects of life. A bit of research helped to answer this question and the results were astounding!

The Power of Parity: Women’s equality can add $28 trillion to global growth! If women participated in the job market the same way as men then US$ 28 trillion could be added to the global Gross Domestic Product in the next decade. If the next decade sounds too far, let’s see some present-day data. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 865 million women in the world have the potential to contribute more fully to their economies, for example, the Asia-Pacific region would make $89 billion a year because if women had equal job opportunities. (Copyright © McKinsey & Company 2015)

So to begin answering the What if…question, just by including women in the workforce the world can get rid of poverty.

The World’s Largest Inequality: According to the statistics published by the United Nations (UN) 1 in 5 women experienced violence in the hands of a man they know; Global gender pay gap is stuck at 16%; 12 million girls are married below the age of 18. These are only some statistics, furthermore, decisions being made for women, are not been made by them; 75% of parliamentarian are men, 73% of managerial decision-makers are men, 67% climate negotiators are men, 87% of people at the peace table are men. This proves that one of the world’s largest inequality is Gender inequality! (Copyright © United Nations 2020)

Once again to answer the ‘what if’ question, we would solve the world’s largest injustice.

Further what if we taught gender equality: We would achieve success in resolving world issues. What if women had gender equality is almost like asking for permission, and this permission has to come from us, women. This all starts by educating our students to work towards a gender-balanced society as gender equality is the answer to all our current world issues.

Our economic potential would be doubled, more people would have jobs, which would bring equality in many realms of society due to reduced economic insecurity and reduced poverty. There would be better socio-economic progress as the world would be better balanced with men and women, dualism and monism, yin and yang, enthalpy and entropy and in machine language binary off and on!

The world would be a peaceful place, as per statistics from the UN, 87% men sit on the peace table and we have only seen war in the past five decades, if only we change the statistics by 10% there would be better negotiation and meaningful decision making for keeping world peace. A recent example is the of superior decision making and impactful action by women to the COVID19 pandemic; most countries that handled this crisis well had women leaders like Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Tsai Ing-wen.

Our planet would be greener and would age slower, as clearly, the climate negotiations have not been effective. In spite of great will and united efforts from leaders of the world, where 67% were men, the collapse of the planet is becoming a reality. This has to be stopped and one way to do so is to give women equal opportunity to make important decisions. If Greta Thunberg in her teens can make such an impact imagine what our girls and women can do for this planet, if, given an opportunity.

Unconscious biases that become invisible enemies like racism could be addressed if women had more opportunity in the parliament. Clearly a less that 30% representation in the parliaments of the different countries has only led to promoting discriminating based on sex, color and creed; exploiting religious beliefs for electoral gains; and changing women rights instead of changing the systems.

We are a world where female genital mutilation is a current practice; where women and girls cannot make decisions about their own bodies both sexual and non-sexual; where culture, religion, rules and policies justify segregation of women and prevent them from achieving their full potential and the world’s full potential. We have to teach equality for women and for women rights.

In summary, if there was gender equality, there would be an equal, greener and more peaceful world!


“At our faculty meeting yesterday we spent too much time talking about how to give final exams so kids who are home don’t cheat.”  So began a Whatsapp message from a friend months ago, her frustration shared by many. COVID-19 caused more than a disruption to education.  However, it may be the catalyst that was needed in order for education to reach a more authentic approach.

“The vast majority of the things we don’t readily forget are all learned from experience and interaction, not from a curriculum or a test,” Tweeted Will Richardson, co-founder of the Big Questions Institute.  Nominated as a Top 5 “Edupreneur to Follow” by Forbes, Richardson’s tweet was aptly given the hashtag #justsayin.

The game has changed. We knew this as we broke into the 21st century and as the digitized world hurdled us all forward.  Long gone were the days of “sit and get” and text books.  Yet still “the institution” seemingly maintained some of its grip.  Control handed down by tighter or even more robust curriculums.  And of course the tests.  

The tests. The tests. The tests.

However, need we be reminded that the game has changed?

With greater clarity we are able to see eyes to see the broken systems but moreover what ultimately matters most.  The “end-all be-all” high stakes hallowed tests have fallen by the wayside.  According to Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, “More than two-thirds of 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which maintains a free, online master list, reports that more than 1,570 schools are now test-optional.”

The Phoenix Flaps Her Wings

An outdated education system akin to crumbling infrastructure or even political shambles, is in transition.  A re-birth of sorts.  One of purpose, authenticity, personalization, and empowerment.  Matt Miller, author and educator of “Ditch That Textbook” sums it up best by positing whether students rent or own their education.  The renters come to class out of compliance.  Whereas the owners are dedicated to caretaking for their own education.  And this makes sense because the global job market no longer is about clocking in and out.  Rather, it expects us to problem solve and proactively and passionately produce.

Getting students excited to have the keys to the car, their car ultimately, does however take educators to trust. “I struggled early on to accept that you couldn’t just convert your class to digital without making changes. I’ve only recently really started to embrace allowing students to own their own experiences,” reflected Jake Trinca in a recent post in response to Dr. John Spencer’s, “7 Big Ideas As You Shift Toward Online Teaching.”  

Letting Students Own Their Own Experiences

Talk about liberation, step back and allow students the space to discuss, grapple, and wonder.  Then, listen and remain flexible to the subtle and sometimes overt direction learning may meander, reminding yourself what this all is for.  Further, who this all is for?  

In “What School Could Be,” author Ted Dintersmith appeals for schools to do just this, by “prioritizing critical thinking, the scientific method, and the essentials of civil society — not high-stakes fact-based multiple choice exams.”  Dintersmith makes the bold claim that, “failure to do so imperils our democracy.”

And wouldn’t this approach in itself be more democratic?  Sitting eight hours a day, being talked at, and told what to do, not only is contrary to democracy and dehumanizing, but also counterproductive to any end goals we have related to student preparedness or empowerment.

A More Authentic Approach Moving Forward 

At the heart of this new, or in actuality old approach, is authenticity.  Proof in the power of apprenticeship is but one example.  A clearer but also brighter vision of the near future is one where education is focused on core competencies and their mastery.  What can students do?  Not on one test but as demonstrated with evidence through their school career. 

The Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) officially launched in 2017 with a purpose of introducing a digital high school transcript. The intent to provide a venue for students to showcase their “unique strengths, abilities, interests, and histories fostered, understood, and celebrated.”  Ultimately, this is where we are.  The train HAS arrived.

This approach is not only possible but necessary because inherent in the design is authenticity but also accountability.  Google and Apple are but two of fifteen companies boasting how they hire individuals without a university degree.  Credentials and moreover “pedigree” are not necessarily the “golden ticket” that they maybe once were. This is because employers want to know and be able to see what an individual can do.  Increasingly, it is about evidence.  

“When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people,” said Google’s former SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock. 

Graduates with a mastery transcript not only have gone to school but also are able to demonstrate competence.  Much more telling than a fancy resume or high test score.  

Tony Wagner, a globally recognized expert in education, ironically has the initials M.A.T. and Ed.D.  attached to his name.  Both degrees are awarded through the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  Yet, for more than a decade Wagner has exhorted how outdated the standardized framework for high school is.  Carnegie Units are essentially what students have to earn if they are to graduate and they merely are measures of how much time a student sits in class.  Doing time? Similar to prison. The uncanny resemblance even shows up architecturally.  You can test your luck in determining whether a building is a school or prison on a fun website even.  

Wagner shares how a mastery transcript goes beyond the knowledge and skills mastered.  “It will also include qualities of character that make their humanity visible and help admissions officers make better decisions when it comes to an applicant’s ‘fit.’”  Again, it’s all about authenticity.

Over the past few years The Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) has developed into a network of 369 schools, a blend of public and private schools in the United States but across the globe. “That 99 percent of the high school transcripts follow an identical format is a vestige of an outdated industrial age,” asserts Scott Looney, Head of Hawken School.  

For now, mastery transcripts may be the exception, yet we can await the day when it is the norm.  

Summer Camp: Learning without Grades

With Keri Porter, Director of LAS Summer, Leysin American School.

The two of us have a lot of experience with summer camp. Combined, we count over 35 summers as a student, as a counselor or teacher, or as a program administrator. 

Learning to cook

We’ve also spent many academic years learning about schooling – more than we are going to try to count! Of course we were students, and then grad students. We’ve also been teachers and administrators.

You would think that summer camp and the academic school year would inform each other. That each program would take the best of the other program, based on the evidence, and through doing so, improve the quality of both programs. In our experience, that hasn’t been the case. The style of summer camp learning doesn’t play a big role in the academic year. We think it might have something to do with perception. Summer camp emphasizes fun, while the academic year school is serious. There’s lots of freedom and creativity in summer camp. There’s a canon of knowledge to be learned during the academic year. 

This is an unfortunate dichotomy. Read the paragraph above again. Which environment sounds more appealing to you as a learner?

Consider grades. The academic year generally has them, summer camp generally does not. Or in the summer camps we’ve been in, if there were grades, they were there because someone thought summer camp, to be taken seriously, had to be more like the academic year. (A pity.) Even so, grades were downplayed. 

The freedom from the “seriousness” and “core” of traditional schooling allows summer camps and teachers to be more creative and to learn more naturally. The focus isn’t on a test or a grade for a transcript; the focus is more on what students are passionate about, the new experiences they can have together, and the relationships they build. The focus is more on having fun, on learning something new, and on working together and being creative. Yes, there is content, but the content is more a means to an end, where the end includes a heavy focus on the soft skills mentioned above. In summer camp there is less emphasis on quantifying growth, so there is less adult worry about whether or not the growth can be quantified, which frees one up. It opens up new possibilities for learning. In the absence of working toward a grade and deciding on a grade and valuing a grade, young people can just get down to learning – just as their counselors can get down to teaching – free of the baggage.

When a student walks into a summer camp there is a different relationship with failing. You can still fail, but the stakes are low. Failing matters less. An afternoon activity might not be something you are good at or will ever pursue. You might shoot a crooked arrow, or get lost reading a compass, or create an arts and crafts product that no one recognizes. So what? You are there to have fun and explore, the stakes are low, you learned something, and measuring what was learned isn’t very important. We certainly don’t measure summer camp learning that comes from meeting new people, staying up too late in the cabin talking, presenting skits, or having a summer romance. It would be absurd to want to measure and report on these things. Yet they are important moments of learning. As are other aspects of camp, whether it’s religion, sports, world language, or some other type of instruction. So too are the many aspects of the academic year good learning, even when not measured. 

Perhaps especially when not measured. Why do we place such a focus on grades? And why don’t we bring a little more summer camp mentality into the academic year?


Not all people are the same. Recognizing yourself in a story can be a powerful experience. The right book can be a tool to reach out and help a child. Here are some books that show how people can experience different feelings, emotions and conditions.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a beautifully written picture book that introduces very young readers to the concept of Alzheimers and memory loss. This story is so skillfully told that it will appeal to readers of all ages. Wilfrid Gordon lives next to a seniors’ home and knows all of the residents. Through sparse language we learn, as does he, what it means to lose memories. Wilfrid Gordon collects objects, each one of which helps his friend to remember special things in life. Highly recommended for classroom discussions. ISBN 978-0916291266

Duck Days by Sara Leach is a novel for ages 7 – 11. Third grade student Lauren has Autism Spectrum Disorder and experiences some things a bit different from her friends. Lauren has learned how to handle her own reactions and copes just fine. In this story her friend challenge her to ride a bike without training wheels. When her class has a bike workshop, Lauren is not happy but eventually overcomes her fears and triumphs. This book is part of a well written series for young kids on Autism and Asperger’s.  ISBN 978-1772781489, Pajama Press

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is written in the first person, which is a brave and bold move by this award winning author. Because Melody, the main character, has cerebral palsy. She cannot speak, her limbs move involuntarily, she drools and makes funny sounds. What no one realizes is that Melody’s brain works perfectly. She remembers facts, she gets match, she can spell like the best of them but she cannot let anyone know. Imagine the words and thoughts all stuck inside your brain and no way to let them out… Thanks to Draper’s skillful writing, we are inside Melody’s head and feel her frustration. This book is a must-read for all booklovers, but a special eye opener for all those (educators) who work with children who have physical challenges. ISBN 141697170X (ISBN13: 9781416971702)

Other highly recommended titles include:

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen (cerebral palsy); Wonder by R.J. Palacio (disfigurement); A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (synaesthesia); Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism)

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children and speaks at schools around the world.

Happy New Year: Resolutions for Education 2021

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The much-awaited and anticipated start to a new year full of new hopes is here! As we step into 2021, we all will look back at 2020 as a year of the education revolution. Prior to COVID19, educators had been contemplating a change in pedagogy; discussing the skills required for a near future; training young adults for coping with artificial intelligence, but suddenly all of this changed as everyone woke up to a new reality-COVID19. A lot has changed since then, hence with the new year coming in, we need new resolutions for education 2021.

Well-done to Well-being

Learning is an emotional and cognitive experience; we achieve cognition if we are emotionally connected to the learning experience. Teacher and student well being is the urgent priority of the new education revolution 2021, physical well being and most importantly mental well being. With increasing pressure to adapt to a new normal, the stress level has skyrocketed, this can only be addressed by changing the teacher appraisal and student assessment objectives and strategies. The objective has to be well-being over well-done, process-oriented over product-oriented, personal growth over professional growth. Moving away from a culture of extrinsic motivation towards more intrinsically motivated teaching and learning culture has to be the number one resolution of education 2021.

Globalisation to Glocalisation. 

COVID19 has changed the momentum of globalisation; it has forced the businesses, organisations and people to think local. The education revolution of preparing students for a global world has suddenly being forced to change direction and this has left us with the question what next? Even though globalisation will not die a sudden death it has surely slowed down, this has compelled us to delve into the local culture, local knowledge and give it a global perspective; it has narrowed the vision of international mindedness in order to prioritise the immediate needs of the people within the community. This ability to integrate the global objectives into the local perspective and vice versa is glocalisation. The world is heading towards glocalisation hence education resolution will be to prepare a curriculum which integrates local and global perspectives equally into the curriculum. Glocalisation is the true identity and meaning of internationalism for 2021.

Infrastructure to Infostructure

Prior to COVID19 education institutions across the world invested in their physical infrastructure in order to recruit and retain students. In 2020 the physical infrastructures remained unused, teaching and learning continued in a new learning space, the hybrid and online learning space. Schools had to immediately invest into bandwidth, education software, technical support, teacher training and take to social media for communication. Suddenly the conversation changed from the effects of technology in a classroom to the effectiveness of technology in a classroom. The biggest resolution we need is to have a state of the art info-structure for teaching and learning. The education revolution 2021 will see us all investing in info-structure where a milieu of online collaboration, information exchange and artificial intelligence will be called school.

Games to Gamification

Learning by doing is changing to learning by simulations. Thanks to school closure and social distancing, physical games have been replaced by online gamification. By gamification, I mean the use of simulations and games like Minecraft that help students to apply knowledge in virtual reality. Education revolution 2021 will need more gamification software for schools along with firewalls for protection against harmful content and context. Hybrid and online learning will thrive on the gamification of education. Learning through play is a pedagogy currently practised by teachers worldwide, the mode of play has changed hence forcing games to gamification.

We need to step into 2021 with a new set of resolutions for education and new hope for mankind we thank 2020 for ushering the education revolution.


Atop my wish list for 2021 is a post pandemic world.  As it pertains to the field of education, I also hanker for increasing adroitness and understanding.  Dexterity if you will, amongst people and cultures.  Understanding ourselves and our identities as individuals and collective societies is preliminary.  Then, fittingly as international educators, we reflect how our school cultures blend, balance, or possibly even juxtapose with the host culture.  

Erin Meyer, author of “Culture Map” recently published another book alongside Netflix co-founder and CEO, Reed Hastings.  “No Rules Rules~Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention,” attests to the importance of freedom and responsibility.  Late in the book, cultural “maps” or charts are utilized to depict how countries compare one with another, along behavioral scales.  For example, communication tending to be high versus low context.  Or, leading being more egalitarian or hierarchical.  The results are revelatory. For example, when using the country mapping tool comparing the Netflix culture map with the the Singapore regional hub map, the results are nearly parallel.  The largest difference is in how time is scheduled.  Netflix has a bit more flexible rather than linear approach to time.  However, when Netflix and Japanese cultures are mapped, there is a near inversal relationship.  The most striking example is how in Japanese culture there is an avoidance of confrontation, whereas at Netflix it is considered disloyal to not express disagreement if your opinion differs. Netflix even socializes the idea of “farming for dissent.”  

Borrowed from: “No Rules Rules”

How fascinating but also worthwhile it might be if schools apply a similar approach?  To look at an institution’s values and compare it to the culture of the host culture.  In the school where I teach, what would various stakeholders say about the similarities but also possible glaring differences of our school values? In confidence the value of respect would likely be mapped the same.  But what about balance? Or, courage?  Would we similarly envision or even define these values?  

Enter innovation stage left.

Or quite possibly stage left, right, and center! With the continued shake-up felt around the world and increasing globalization, the role of innovation continues to be the loudest voice in the room. Whether wrench in the wheel or the necessary spark to the fire, innovation is more than mere buzz word.

However, how much ultimately has resulted from 21st century education and the declaratory driving force to be more innovative?  

How much remains just words?  

And is innovation embedded in our school cultures? If you live in Germany, Singapore, or Korea, innovation likely already has taken root in your host country and possibly is spilling into your schools. Arguably, it is also happening in pockets throughout districts and even schools. But truly embedded or a guiding principle that is realized?

Yong Zhao, Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, cites a failure of education in its ability to catch up to technology. Moreover, professor Zhao attests to governments going at educational reform in an erroneous way.  The answers do not necessarily reside in curriculum, greater testing, school accountability, or even more educated teachers.  Rather, success hinges on creating environments where students own their learning.  

Within a school’s mission and vision, is there a tapping into the most powerful resource?  Students’ imagination, creativity, and joy.  Moreover, do teachers, families, school cultures and host cultures trust students?  By empowering students we ultimately will engage them in the magic that education can be.  

Flexibility and adaptability are often preached, and yet so, we hold fast to certainty.  And also control. Prolific is the desire to just tweak. A freshening up of the baby’s bath water, as to not let any water escape.  Yet, at Netflix a very different approach is taken; the water blithely thrown out.  Netflix’s heart beats from a place of trust, empowerment, risk and responsibility.   Are these same variables commonplace in our schools? Amongst our teachers but also learners?  And are they implicit in our school’s values?

Let’s have 2021 be the year of paradigm shift. 

Naturally, a first step would be to informally audit, or least reflect on who are as an institution.  So too is the importance of grappling explicitly with reality and the culture of the host nation. In international settings, this close examination is especially critical. Where are the matches?  Contradictions?  Furthermore, what is reconcilable? Respecting of cultures is paramount, but so too is the necessity to strategically plan for pathways of growth.

The goal to clearly see our culture maps while diminishing the culture gaps.

Surviving The Worst Case of the Mondays…ever

2020 may go down in recent history as the worst case of the Mondays….EVER! I don’t know about you, but I experienced long stretches of time that felt like Monday was repeating itself day after day and each of those days presented new and unexpected challenges. It seemed like just when things couldn’t get worse…they somehow did. Eventually the “Mondays” turned into Blursdays…each day was so similar it was hard to tell what day of the week it actually was…

The good news is we survived…and as hard and frustrating and uncertain as 2020 has been, we learned A LOT. We learned a lot about ourselves, about teaching and learning, about wellbeing, about building partnerships with families, about clear communication, and we successfully increased our ability to effectively use technology.

How can we capitalize on our new learning? What do we understand now about teaching and learning that we didn’t know a year ago at this time? What new knowledge have we gained? What skills have we developed? What are the dispositions that have been important for successful learning? How do we incorporate all of these new learnings into our practice?

As we begin 2021, take time to reflect with your colleagues and share what you have learned so we can build a collective knowledge base of strategies, insights and resources to continue to improve and refine best practices. There are several tools that can help facilitate this process.

Success Analysis Protocol: This protocol is designed to unpack your successes in a more deep and profound way than self-reflection. The process works best in groups of 3-4 people. Taking time to reflect, discuss, and build off of current successes helps teachers unpack the impact they have in the classroom and how they work together with colleagues. The success analysis protocol works well during faculty professional learning and, in my experience, highly impacts student learning through the sharing of successful strategies while serving to inspire teachers. To read more about how you might use this protocol with your faculty or on your leadership team, read “What’s Working and How can we do More of it?

Interviews: School Leaders, who are the teachers that thrived and innovated during 2020? What did they do to make learning effective and engaging for students? How did they communicate with families? What tools and platforms did they use? How did they find resources? How did they manage the multiple transitions from teaching in person to teaching online, transitioning to hybrid instruction and then navigating their way back to teaching in person or to teaching online (again)? Uncovering the answers to these questions will be critical for moving forward. We have so much to learn from these innovative and resilient teachers.

There are two tools in particular that can help you in this process. The first one is an interview process called, “Bright Spot Interviews.” The purpose of these interviews is to: (1) surface keystone practices and (2) understand the journey the teachers have taken- what helped these teachers grow during these uncertain times and how can these practices inform our next steps? The second interview process is the Appreciative Inquiry Interview. The example I just linked is specific to “improvement groups” but you can easily adapt the questions as needed for your purpose. The interview will help you uncover high points, success factors, three wishes for moving forward and better understand the time needed by the teacher to experience his/her successes.

Action Research: In addition to taking time to uncover and celebrate successes from 2020 we also need to use these successes for future planning. We are no longer reacting and responding to uncertainty, we are living it. How do we intentionally learn our way forward? Engaging in action research is a purposeful way to learn and innovate. The tools of improvement science can help us do this successfully. What problems of practice are at the forefront of our work? How do we use what we have learned and continue to innovate and refine our practices? What ideas do we adopt, which ideas do we adapt and which ideas do we abandon because evidence shows they haven’t worked?

In the article, “Getting Better Together,” you can learn more about how improvement science uses just enough data to accelerate teacher learning, facilitate deep reflection, and guide further action. Feel free to contact me for a copy of the article or to learn more about how to launch action research in your school using the tools of improvement science.

Congratulations on surviving the worst case of the Mondays in recent history. As we move forward into 2021 lets put our best foot forward, use what we have learned and build off of our successes because there have been a lot of them!