An Autumn Re-Set

So I got home this past Friday evening feeling a little more tired than usual. I wasn’t physically sick or anything, it was just that my mental energy was dragging a bit and I wasn’t sure why. I poured a glass of wine, turned on the barbecue and some music, and as I was reflecting on the week it hit me…it’s the Autumn chill. For me, the Autumn chill refers to (in my opinion) the toughest stretch of time in the school year for educators. It’s a time when energy can sag, morale can dip, fatigue can set in, and we can ultimately start to lose focus. We’ve all worked so hard over the past two and a half months to give our students an amazing start to the school year, and now that the routines and expectations are set, and we’ve become comfortable with our schedules and the approach to our days, it can become very easy to start running on autopilot. This post is a call for an Autumn re-set…a chance to think about how you’re feeling, to intentionally recognize how you are putting yourself out there for your colleagues and for our kids, and a chance to think about the steps that you can take to re-discover that passion and energy that you brought with you on the first day of school back in August.

Think back to the start of the school year for a minute…the excitement around the new facility build, the energy around some new divisional imperatives, the addition of fantastic new students and faculty, and the overall buzz and energy of a year that was bursting with promise and possibility. In those early weeks It wasn’t hard to want to sprint to work everyday and to soak up all the positive vibes. For us this year, we have had a wonderful beginning in so, so many ways, and we seem to have now come up for air after that much needed October holiday. It’s fair to say that we’ve settled into the year that lies ahead, with a clear focus on our collective and individual expectations for ourselves and for our students…and now here comes a long, demanding stretch that is bound to test our resolve. The weather has changed, the daylight is disappearing, the skies are a little grayer, and the next holiday break seems like miles away. Like I said, it can be a tough stretch of the year.

I guess what I really want to say about this time of the year, or this “Autumn Chill”, is that we need to take care of each other, and be a tremendous source of support for one another. Let’s talk openly about how we’re feeling, let’s rally around each other when the weeks seem to drag on, and let’s go out of our way to lift each other up. I’m asking all of you to please take care of yourselves physically and mentally over the next five weeks, and to find a balance in your lives that keeps you healthy and energized. It’s going to be a relatively long stretch, the weather is going to get cold and damp, the days are going to get shorter and the nights are going to get longer, so let’s prepare and ready ourselves, and re-commit to one another to find our joy and energy again for the benefit of our students.

Don’t forget, this upcoming five week stretch is brimming with opportunity for our kids, as the uninterrupted student learning time is as good as it gets. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and I’m honestly looking forward to the weeks ahead. I’m excited about all that is coming our way, and together we can make it an incredible second quarter. We have American Thanksgiving, holiday concerts, fun field trips, the school musical, winter fest, and don’t forget we get to feed off of the smiles of our kids each and every day…let’s feed off of each other’s as well. Be good to yourselves everyone, and please be good to each other…and remember, I’d love to help and support if you ever need an ear to bend. I’ll show up Monday morning energized and ready to roll…feed off of my energy and I’ll feed off of yours. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and supportive of one another throughout the Autumn Chill!

 

Quote of the Week…

Winter is an etching, Spring is a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.

– Stanley Horowitz

 

Related Articles –

Teacher Inspiration

Re-charging Professional Batteries

The Best Things about Teaching

The Best Job in the World

Autumn Awesomeness 

 

Interesting Videos –

TED Talk – Laughter

TED Talk – A Good Night’s Sleep

The Science of Empathy

The Book Thing

Autumn Season

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Please Don’t…

In one of my finer moments as an educational leader, I stood in front of an assembly of 400 students and stuck a microphone in front of a 10th grader, asking him to tell us what the mission statement meant to him (cue the mic squeaking). His eyes widened as his friends leaned back away from him as though something terrible was about to happen (which it was).

“Please don’t” he mumbled into the mic. The entire assembly cracked up. I think I recall offering to pay for the boy’s therapy later. Or at least a few rounds of medication. It was pretty bad. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It has been fun to witness the sea change taking place in education, particularly around innovation and designs around learning rather than testing. But one thing is starting to really scare me.

I saw my first “creativity rubric.” Now, ever since I saw Sir Ken’s famous talk about schools killing creativity back in 2007, I have been somewhat obsessed with learning environments that are relevant to what students need to know and be able to do in the next generation. I’ve seen the concept of ‘design’ turned into a curriculum, coding and STEAM, robotics, maker spaces and some pretty good attempts at personalized learning. It’s all good-intentioned stuff and seems to tinker (pun intended) around the edges of the type of skills students need.

Then I went to a workshop on innovation and saw a creativity ‘rubric’ and thought. Oh….My….God. There are so many things that schools take responsibility for in the lives of people, everything from socio-emotional development to music to math to ways of thinking, etc. etc. and for the most part they do a pretty good job. But teaching creativity is the one domain that is going to possibly destroy the very thing it is trying to….create.

I can see it now; Creative Academy. Creative Tutoring. Creative Communities. Creative Commons. Creative Classes. Creativity Labs. Creative Conferences. Creative Rubrics.

I consider myself to be fairly creative. None of it I learned in school. I learned it from hiking in the mountains, praying in Buddhist temples, snorkeling in crystal lakes, lying under majestic palm trees, reading magical pieces of literature, and talking to cab drivers, lots and lots of cab drivers. My life has been open to opportunities that have made me feel very lucky to have had such opportunities to nurture my creativity. I am filled with “what ifs” and “why nots” (which often get me in trouble). I really don’t know if we can teach this.

A creativity rubric is going to formulize the process of being creative. It may even end up with a grade. Can you imagine getting a grade in creativity? (I have no idea how art teachers manage).

What I do know about creativity is that it is deeply rooted in being curious. It is rooted in that ability to transcend your present experience, put yourself into something new, and have all of your senses absorb everything that it can. One of the most creative days I ever had in my life was after climbing the ancient rickety steps of a crumbling castle in Ireland that was traced back to my ancestors. I wrote a story non-stop for six hours after that day and I’ll never forget it.

You cannot teach that.

If you can teach a child to be curious about the world around him or her, then so be it. If you can teach a young person how to strike up a conversation in another language with a man fixing shoes on a side street in Bangkok then so be it. If you can develop in young people the mindset to write a poem in the pew of an ancient church in Lisbon on a rainy day, then all the more power to you.

But whatever you do, please, please don’t turn creativity into a rubric.

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The Invisible Knapsack of Privilege Part II: Heterosexual & Cisgender Privilege

 

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Almost three decades ago, Peggy McIntosh published her now-legendary piece on White Privilege[1]. McIntosh likened white privilege to an invisible knapsack of advantages that white people carry with them, listing a selection from the abundance of everyday rights withheld from people of colour. This post is the second of two parts, in honour of McIntosh’s birthday this month. The first addresses the ethnic privilege I carried as a student growing up in international schools. This piece considers a few of the many ways that I benefitted from my invisible knapsack of heterosexual and cisgender privilege as a student in international schools:

  1. I was free from concern that a teacher or classmate would misgender
  2. I never had to worry that a teacher would deadname me while taking attendance.
  3. The standardized tests that pre-entered our personal information always checked the box that corresponded with my gender identity.
  4. I could be certain that both anatomy and relationships similar to mine would be discussed in sexual education lessons.
  5. I could enjoy the playground and other common campus spaces without worry that I would be the target of verbal or physical harassment because of my sexual orientation or gender identity.
  6. My parents were able to attend school functions without concern that their relationship would be an uninvited topic of discussion.
  7. If a classmate turned down an invitation to visit my home, I never suspected that it had to do with my parents’ relationship.
  8. I could audition for a part in a play or try out for an athletic team without being asked to discuss my gender.
  9. I was able to use the school bathroom that corresponded with my gender identity.
  10. I was never assigned entire reading lists with characters and plots that completely ignored or invalidated romantic relationships like mine.

How do you see heterosexual and cisgender privilege playing out in international schools today?

[1] McIntosh, P. (1998). Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In P.S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race, class, and gender in the United States, p. 165-169. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Your Brain on Childhood

So I just finished reading a ridiculously good book titled, Your Brain on Childhood, by Gabrielle Principe, and it has my head spinning with ideas, questions, concerns and wonderings about the kinds of experiences that we regularly give to our kids in school and at home. I find it super interesting to read books like this, which through research address the kinds of things that we do with children, and the kinds of things that we’ve seemingly always done with our students, that simply don’t make a whole lot of sense. We do these things because we’ve always done them, but just because we’ve always done them doesn’t make them right. The small print title on the front cover reads, “The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan”, and honestly, if you’re an educator, a parent, or at all interested in brain development, this book is a must read in my opinion…order it now for your next birthday present to yourself.

It’s tough for me to know how to organize my thoughts around the chapters, as I just put the book down a couple of days ago, and I need more time to digest the information. There seems to be a blog post screaming out to be written on every second page, but there are a few topics that really caught my attention, which speak directly to some changes that we can be making in our traditional school environments that would enhance learning with our students immediately.

The first chapter that I want to quickly discuss talks about our need and want as educators and as parents to prepare our young learners for the future…focusing on the adults that our children will eventually become instead of on the children that they are NOW. She calls the chapter the Butterfly Effect, and illustrates her point with an example of a colleague of hers who won’t take his children to Disney World until they are old enough to remember it. He tells her, “why would I spend thousands of dollars on a trip that they won’t even remember?” Her concern is that as parents and educators, we often choose experiences and make choices for our kids that we think will make a positive difference later in their lives, which may or may not be true, and we then ultimately forget about the experiences that will make our kids feel good now, and make them happy now. She also points out the unintended pressure that adults often put on kids through extra “enrichment” activities, over scheduling children (excessive activities and homework) in the belief that this will somehow be the golden ticket to getting into Harvard. She ends the chapter suggesting that there is no basis for belief that speeding up a child’s development, or delaying enriching experiences (like going to Disney World) will do any good…if anything, these adult choices are often counterintuitive.

Another interesting chapter is called Organized Crime, and it deals with the difference between self-esteem and self-respect in children, and which one we should be focusing on in classrooms and on the sports fields…it’s self-respect by the way. It reminds me of much of Carol Dweck’s research around Mindset and grit and praise, where effort and failing forward and mistake making are the skill sets that we should be developing in our kids. She also tackles the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems, and the research around how extrinsic reward systems in classrooms don’t actually work as a way to change behavior in the long term. She states that, ‘it’s better to develop intrinsic self-respect, and to acknowledge that failure can provide harmless but valuable life lessons”. This has me wondering about how we speak to our kids in school, and what we are actually praising them for, and the language that we use to do so…the final part of the chapter deals again with how as adults we love to schedule and manage and supervise every aspect of our kids’ and students’ lives…she begs us to let go of our inner helicopter and stop spending so much time hovering over the lives of our kids. She implores us to give our kids plenty of time to do “nothing – to indulge in pretense, create their own fantasy worlds, and to foster their own happiness”.

The final chapter that I want to talk about (believe me I could write about them all, especially the chapter about nature as a classroom) is called Old School, and it touches on the importance of student brain breaks, recess, and how we view homework or home learning…things that I’m personally passionate about. With regards to recess, Principe believes that it (unstructured play time) should be seen as a vital part of the curriculum, just like math or science. Children need this time, just like with regular brain breaks throughout the academic day, to be best able to sustain attention on tasks and to help reduce fidgeting and increase attention. With regards to traditional homework, and the research which shows next to no link to academic achievement in the elementary grades, she asks the question, isn’t there a better use of a child’s time after the school day is over? My answer is yes, and I’m excited to continue this conversation at our school about what that may look like. Anyway, it’s things like this (limited recess, lack of brain breaks and traditional homework) that many, many schools continue to embrace when in actual fact it’s the absolute wrong approach to helping our students grow and learn and achieve…interesting to think about for sure, and I encourage you to do so, and to do your own research around these topics…read this book too.

Principe says it best very early on in the book when she says, “The problem is, despite parents’ and teachers’ real desire to help young brains grow into smart and successful adult brains, most know remarkably little about how brains really develop. Anyway, as you can tell I enjoyed this book very much, and it really got me thinking. Although we’re making great strides in moving away from our many traditional approaches to educating children, there is still work to be done. The first step is to understand what really works with kids, and to learn the truth around how they develop. It’s also important to be able to identify, and to step away from the urban myths around what we think is the best approach to helping kids learn…remember, just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The more you and I learn about how the brain develops, the better we can care for and educate our children, and the better we can raise old brains in a new world – Gabrielle Principe

 

Interesting Articles –

Brain Development – New Insights

Early Childhood Development

Why Play is Important

Learning With Nature

Student Brain Breaks

 

Ted Talks and Videos –

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Read Montague

Forest Kindergarten

Alternative Education

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does living abroad accentuate or obliterate class? yes to both.

In recent years, I’ve found myself in a position that sometimes seems to transcend class and yet is so much an explicit embodiment of it.

In Jordan, I had the experience of being assumed to be rich. This makes sense, because how would you get to Jordan (and how would you choose to come) if you didn’t have the money to spend on the plane ticket at least? Also, I worked at a boarding school that enrolled royal princes from both Jordan and elsewhere. What was interesting to me was that the normal signifiers of class status that I was familiar with from the US- the size of houses, the type of clothing, the accent, the car, etc.-  were invisible here; the people I was meeting had no idea what my background was other than what I presented. They couldn’t see my house or my car or my parents or my neighborhood. They could make guesses based on my accent and my clothes, but they didn’t seem to need to- I was a foreigner (and an American) in Jordan, and that meant high class. Maybe this was due to the golden glow working at a prestigious boarding school founded by the king gave me, but I saw it more as just a function of being American. “Oh, you’re American,” they seemed to say, “you must have three cars and a house and a pool and six golden retrievers and three TVs.” (Actually, my dad’s life is somewhat like this, minus the golden retrievers….Hmmm.) I felt disingenuous sometimes, like when parents assumed I would be familiar with the names and reputations of all the colleges their son wanted to apply to, or when I was invited to swanky embassy events. I still have a hard time navigating my relationship to some of my ex-colleagues and ex-students from that school.

And what about now, now that I’m in Argentina? I still don’t understand the signifiers here. My colleagues and friends who are local can instantly do so– name an neighborhood, and they’ll tell you a connotation; describe an accent or a speech pattern (as if I could) and they can name a reference. Of course, we do the same at home. Here I, as a foreigner, can only accurately perceive the most obvious and blatant markers- someone asking for money in the subway versus someone whose parents are paying 40 grand a year to attend a private school. Besides noting who lives in a house in the suburbs and who lives in an apartment downtown, I don’t have much knowledge about class variances amongst Argentines. And what about the other way? How do people in Argentina perceive my class status? How does class work in an international context?

My thinking now is that although I take great pride in deciding to travel abroad, having come from parents who have never left the country (except to Canada) and a town where many stayed close by, I don’t think that my experience is really about class, but that it’s more about opportunity and education and interest. I am also not that interested anymore in how I am perceived by the locals- what they think of my self-cut hair, my foreign-looking outfit and the fact that I’m reading the New Yorker on the train to work. I know that the fact that I’m here is a sign of privilege. They know that too. We may think we’ve transcended signifiers of class: no one can see the house I grew up in, no one bullies me for wearing the wrong brand of sneakers, people don’t judge me for where I went to college. When I first meet an Argentine they don’t immediately ask where I live or what I do. But the very fact of our expat existence, and the fact that most of us can choose where to go next (back home, continuing abroad, or whatever) means that our class is one of privilege. Our access to local culture will always be through that lens.

 

 

 

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The Invisible Knapsack of Privilege Part I: Ethnic Privilege

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Almost three decades ago, Peggy McIntosh published her now-legendary piece on White Privilege[1]. McIntosh likened white privilege to an invisible knapsack of advantages that white people carry with them, revealing a selection of everyday rights withheld from people of colour. For example: #34) I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking. Or #41) If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem. A few of McIntosh’s items in the knapsack have to do explicitly with school: #8) I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race, and #44) I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race. Unfortunately, the concept of the invisible knapsack is as relevant today as it was in 1988. This post is the first of two parts, in honour of McIntosh’s birthday this month.

I grew up in international schools. I am white, and carry a number of other privileges: U.S. nationality, English as a first language, cisgender, heterosexual, socio-economic status, typically-developing[2], to name a few; the road to my academic goals has been paved with advantages. In the spirit of cultural humility, I am reflecting on some of the ways that I benefitted from my invisible knapsack of ethnic privilege as a student in international schools:

  1. I could wear clothing from my home country without being referred to as ‘ethnic’ or ‘exotic’.
  2. If my parents missed a meeting or arrived late for a school function, I could be sure that it would not be attributed to their cultural background.
  3. Regardless of the demographics of the host country, I could count on seeing my race represented in school leadership figures.
  4. I did not have to explain the contents of my lunch box to anybody.
  5. If I had difficulty understanding an academic concept, I could be sure that my teacher would not attribute this to a work ethic stereotypically associated with my heritage.
  6. I never had to explain where my country was located, what language we speak there, or what it is like where I come from.
  7. I could speak my first language to anybody on campus and assume they would understand or try to understand me.
  8. I was never labeled solely by my nationality (i.e. the American kid).
  9. When I auditioned for school theatre productions, I could be sure that most people had already seen the leading parts played by somebody of my race.
  10. A wide selection of books at the library reflected and validated people who resembled me.

How do you address ethnic privilege in international schools today?

[1] McIntosh, P. (1988). Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In P.S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race, class, and gender in the United States, p. 165-169. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

[2] This two-part post will not address the privilege that comes with being typically-developing in international schools, as this type of exclusion is often overt rather than ‘invisible’.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Unchained from the Desk: How I Went Completely Wireless

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Disclaimer: Normally I do not like to specifically discuss products, but in this case I will be required to do so. I am not recommending any products, I am only explaining how I used a combination of two products to achieve my goals. Other products on the market will certainly work, and possibly better.

In the spring when I was planning a brand new STEM space, I had a few non-negotiable goals. One of those goals was to have a decentralized and fully modular classroom and workshop.
I knew I wanted to have full wireless audio and video from my laptop, mobile device, or desktop computer; I knew I wanted students to be able to use the display(s) as well without any physical connection; I wanted a hardware based solution that was centrally managed; and I wanted the display and even the tables to be mobile.

In the end, I achieved the solution for about 1500 USD for the wireless functions and interactivity; the actually display can be anything with an HDMI input. A cheap 65 inch LED TV for example with a rolling stand would be large enough for a big room. If you wanted, you could use an existing classroom projector as well.

That means, on scale, the cost would be $2100-$3000 USD per classroom (depending on the display choice) that allows the teacher and the students to quickly connect and share their device screens/work.

I Can Do That with Software Over the School Wifi

I have used software only solutions in the past, they are ok. They are very affordable.
However, they can be unstable, they can be interrupted by the Wifi traffic, and they are a security risk if they are not properly setup.

When working with audio, software solutions do not really have any features to truly stream audio and video. They are simply allowing the students to connect through the teachers laptop/desktop to the display. The teacher workstation is still wired.

Apple TV and other Streaming Boxes

The Apple TV is a common solution to doing wireless display. However, it is limited in features, it is a consumer solution, and it has no central management for the hardware. As an IT Director I do not want 50 Apple TVs in the building that cannot be centrally managed.

Also, I want students and teachers with Windows and Apple to be able to interact and not limited by brand compatibility. In a STEM space, some equipment only works well with Windows. Therefore, students should have some operating system flexibility.

Other companies like Roku and Xiaomi make very cool boxes that allow for wireless connections. Some of these boxes do not require any special brands; nor do they all require an account like Apple.

However, they have performance issues and lack central management. They are consumer products designed for home entertainment not the classroom.

I Did it with Barco ClickShare

SMART, Promethean, Apple, Windows, etc. are all common names in educational technology. But Barco? Not really.

This is how it works:

  1. Barco has a base station with HDMI; and it can be assigned an IP address and managed on the network. These base stations have different versions at different price points. The one I have supports 8 interactive laptops or mobiles devices.
  2. The base station creates it’s own network (very cool), so it does not need the bandwidth from the student/teacher Wifi network.
  3. Each table in STEM lab, and the teacher workstation, has a “button”.
    The USB goes into the laptop; and then there is a small program that has to be launched. The process takes about 30 seconds. But so far I have a 100% success rate. The connection is immediate. Tablets and phones share the screen with an App and QR code.
  4. When I want a student to show their work, they tap the button. The student’s laptop video and audio streams to the display in realtime.
  5. The buttons can be purchased separately, and registered to any base station. The more expensive base stations support more buttons.

How this Changed My Class Dynamic

The best thing about this, is I am not the center. Most display systems waste time keeping the teacher in the front of the room in an attempt to use gadgets and features.

When the students come to class, I choose someone to be the pilot or the driver. They work through the lesson, problems, activities, etc. and share with everyone else.

When team work is completed, the team can easily share their work, and immediately take feedback and make changes.

In my style of teaching/instruction, I would have challenges and goals ready for the students online before they arrive. I would spend a few minutes launching the class, but then I switch off my display and let them take over (sometimes nervously).

Since the display is mobile, I can rearrange the entire room per the needs of the students and project.

Safety issues and repair issues with cords etc. are eliminated immediately. So even a single Barco with one button would be ideal for classrooms with smaller children full of kinetic energy.

In fact, one button is so easy to pass from table to table, that having a button per table is not needed. Sharing is easy, and the delay of 30 seconds is not going to impact a lesson.

I really like being free of the chains of cables and wires, and the STEM spaces are whatever they need to be, when they need to be. The spaces are fun.

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. ~ Dan Kerr

 

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Reflections on Progress

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Reflections on Progress

Last week I had an opportunity to join our seventh grade class on a Week Without Walls (WWW) experience to Hpa-An, an area several ours drive to the east of Yangon. Before going any further with this blog, I want to comment on the overall experience I had. Our faculty was wonderful! I was thoroughly impressed with how cognizant they were of the developmental level of seventh graders and the effort made to understand student needs and appropriately engage students in thinking about the experiences they had. Similarly, I’m convinced these were some of the nicest seventh graders I’ve come across. They were diligent in trying to make sure all were included, in trying new things, and in expressing appreciation for the efforts of others. These WWW experiences really are unique. Several times during the trip I found myself lamenting the fact such things didn’t happen when I was a youngster. The overall benefits seem so powerful and enduring.

The second day of the trip found us bicycling as a group through the countryside. In many ways the experience was a bit surreal. A morning rain meant there were puffs of small clouds hovering over royal green rice paddies spread out as far as the eye could see. Occasional buttes poked skyward from the ground in a haphazard fashion, reflecting slivers of sunshine, while atop some of the buttes golden pagodas paid credence to the role of Buddhism in the region. The beauty of it all struck me. Just as impressive though was the level of engagement with the environment. Individual farmers – children, adults, even an elderly woman – toiled in the rice paddies, working by hand to ensure a thriving crop. Wagons pulled by bulls made their way along the muddy roads, cows meandered along the roadside, boys shepherded goats and cattle, and homes made of natural material were spotted across the land.

I found this scene to be somehow calming. It seemed natural, in a sense wholesome. Life seemed to be moving along in this remote corner of the world in the same way it had most likely done for centuries. A lifestyle was lived completely dependent on the same tools, traditions, and dependence on the land as it had been for generations. As an outside observer looking in, I was conscious of the fact I was probably witness to the last remnants of living in this manner. Already, indications of progress and change were beginning to seep through. Evidence of plans to widen the road and pave it was everywhere with trees being removed and markers placed. Plastic waste had begun to collect around shrubbery, trees, and other natural collection points. Simultaneously, signs for mobile carriers dotted the roadside to entice the occasional traveler. It was beginning to appear as though the past would be pushed aside to make way for the benefits and pitfalls of progress, and I found myself questioning in my own mind the gains progress brings.

This is not the first time I have questioned the tide of progress. In 1992, my wife, Kirstin, and I moved to Romania to teach at the American School of Bucharest (Now the American International School of Bucharest). This was our first overseas experience and we were amazed at the life we observed there. I often said to friends back in the U.S. that each time I stepped off the plane in Bucharest I felt I was stepping through a time tunnel. This was a place where electricity was in short supply, traffic lights were turned off at 5:00 PM and never turned on during weekends due to the lack of traffic, and milk was still delivered in a horse and wagon. Outside of Bucharest, you were more likely to see the highway blocked by a heard of sheep than by traffic. At one point in time, while hiking, we met an old man dressed in handmade leather clothes and boots who told us the last time he had seen a foreigner in the area was when the Nazis were there during World War II. In many ways, life seemed simple there, and we were in awe of what we were fortunate enough to experience.

We lived in Bucharest for five years. During this period, there was rapid progress throughout the country. New restaurants opened up, medical care improved, and there was greater access to modern amenities. That said, there was a sense of great loss as well. By the time we left, we no longer had that sense of going through a time tunnel. Many of the types of experiences we had were no longer available. Similarly, the improvements that were most apparent were not necessarily gains for everyone. One time during this period, we had lunch with a Romanian family. I asked them how they felt about the changes since communism. As an American, I anticipated they would appreciate the changes and the progress made by the country. Instead, what I heard was despair. The father told me, in the beginning there was great hope. Everyone believed life would improve. Instead, it improved for some, but for most it got worse. He told me under communism they didn’t have much, but at least they always had enough. Now, he could not provide for his family on a daily basis. He indicated this was true for many others. He believed they had traded away their way of life for an empty dream.

This sense of despair was a bit of a shock to my system. Coming to Bucharest, I believed people there would welcome progress with open arms. In my mind, everyone would want what we had. I began to ask more people their thoughts on progress, and often heard a similar sentiment. I also began to pick up on a certain level of resentment toward foreigners, especially Americans. For some, this resentment seemed to stem from a belief somehow certain promises had been made but were left unfulfilled. For others, there was resentment over attempts by other countries to control the flow of progress by making threats around things like MFN status if Romanians didn’t conform to standards imposed by other countries. For most though, there was simply a sense there had been too high a price for progress, that too much of the traditional way of doing things had been given up. In short, they had experienced a loss of cultural identity in the name of progress.

Riding my bike on muddy roads around Hpa-An, I experienced a sense of déjà vu. I couldn’t help but feel I’ve been down this road before. It is such a shame in so many ways. While I understand the drive for progress, there is also so much to be gained by maintaining certain aspects of a more traditional way of life. It is interesting. Things like the WWW experience we provide for students are a means of making sure contact is made with that way of life and an effort is made to honor it and appreciate it. That said, I believe we need to somehow make an effort to make sure the pitfalls of progress don’t overpower the gains and in the process lay waste to the magic and beauty of what came before.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

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Thank You Monsieur Monet!

​So a couple of weeks ago I took a trip with our Grade 4 students to Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, and it was easily one of the most inspiring experiences that I’ve had in quite some time. Not just because it was ridiculously surreal to be standing on the Japanese Bridge looking at the waterlilies, but because of the way that the students were so engaged in their learning. It really got me thinking about a few powerful approaches to education that should be seriously considered when rolling out curriculum…things like connecting students to the natural world, giving kids real world experiences, teaching across disciplines, and using the local community to enhance and underpin student learning. With this particular field trip, all of these approaches were very much on display, and it was an educational experience that kids will remember for a lifetime.

The unit combined all aspects of the curriculum, and it blended magically together in a way that brought the learning to life from every possible angle…Math (linear perspective, natural frames, angles, distance and proximity), Art (of course), French Language Acquisition, Music (we sang French songs all the way there and back), Science (biodiversity, physical and life science), Literacy (journal writing, poetry, biographies, small moment writing activities), Social Studies (regional geography, French history), PE (active touring and game playing in the gardens), and so much more. That’s the power of these types of authentic real world, real life experiences that make learning so deep and rich and meaningful for kids.

My 4th grade daughter is still singing the French songs every chance she gets, she’s looking for linear perspectives and natural frames everywhere we go, she has a new-found and deep appreciation for the Artistic beauty of our natural world, and she has started to learn that school doesn’t have to be single subject specific, it can be just days full of learning that’s blended all together and connected…so good. Oh yeah, here’s where I want to celebrate and recognize the educators in our Lower School for bringing these experiences to life for our kids…so, so impressive. Thank you!

You see, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of traditional, stand alone subjects, especially since I read about how Finland will be eliminating many of their classroom traditions in the next few years, and getting rid of specific subjects in favor of project based/phenomenon based learning. I’m intrigued by this, and I’m curious how that all plays out. I love how many schools and some countries are looking critically at how to engage students in their learning in this day and age, and honestly, I believe that even a few small changes can start a real paradigm shift in how we “do school”.

As a small example, we have an opportunity coming up here at ASP over the next year or so, as we design and develop a new Early Childhood playground. It’s so exciting to be thinking about how we can bring the natural world into our current space, and how we can engage kids through creativity, nature, play, and curiosity. The right design with this project can be a powerful spark that will open up a wider conversation around traditional school, and how we can move forward in all areas of our educational delivery.

Anyway, let’s keep talking about this as we move forward, and let’s continue to find ways to blur the traditional lines of curriculum, let’s continue to engage our kids in experiential learning experiences, let’s get out in the world and connect with our community and surroundings, and let’s continue to collaborate together to give our kids similar experiences like the one that inspired me so much just a couple of weeks ago…thank you Monsieur Monet! Have a fantastic short week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher 

– William Wordsworth

 

Related Articles –

Mother Nature – The Greatest Teacher

Explorable Places

Teaching Outside the Classroom

The Atlantic – Students Learn on Field Trips

Edutopia – Absolutely Awesome

Interdisciplinary Study

 

Inspiring/Thought Provoking Videos –

On-Line Bullying

Community Based Learning

Place Based Learning

Gratitude on a Community

Monet’s Garden

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We Are All Diplomats: The Politics of Being an Expat

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Growing up American in the Soviet Union, I was highly aware of my nationality. When we moved to Moscow, I was only six years old, and not quite sure what being American meant – but I knew I was one, and lots of people around me weren’t. When the first McDonalds came to town, I understood I was somehow connected to the symbolic edifice, even though my parents agreed that it was not an acceptable place to eat, and I certainly hadn’t felt any relationship to the golden arches when we lived in the States. Being in an international setting brings our own national identities into relief.

I was living in France when George W. Bush was elected to his second term as the President of the United States. I stayed up all night with astonished French friends, watching the outlines of states turn from pink to dark red. From their perspective, this was a person at the helm when the Congressional cafeterias changed the menu listing from French fries to Freedom fries. To the French, Bush Junior was an overindulged war-monger. I, as the sole American amongst my peers, was charged with explaining why he would continue on as President (despite losing the popular vote).

Then, I moved to Kuwait. Kuwaitis I met had mostly fond memories of Bush Senior, thanks to his intervention after the invasion of their country in the Persian Gulf War. Upon learning my nationality, locals would cheer “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and offer high-fives. It was a blatant contrast to the French perspective. Again, as an American, I was personally associated with the actions of my president, though I was not even old enough to vote when he took office.

As a foreigner, we represent our countries everywhere we go. My nationality is part of my identity, and a major element in how others see me when I am a guest on their land. I bear the responsibility of my politicians’ mistakes, along with the credit for American successes. Though I have spent more than half of my life abroad, my passport marks me as a symbol of the United States, and my actions reflect upon my fellow citizens.

As the State Department is facing major cuts to funding, and U.S. diplomacy is threatened to be gutted, it is critical that Americans around the world represent our country with integrity. While I am still don’t think I could tell you exactly what it means to be an American, I do know that I am committed to contrast the image (however justified) of the Ugly American[1] while I am fortunate enough to visit other places on this earth. International educators are reminders to the people we meet around the world that our countries are more than just the high-visibility emblems we come to associate with each place. Any national population is diverse, and many of us – regardless of political leadership or corporate icons – favour diplomacy, positive international relations, and active participation in constructive global citizenship. Whether we signed up for it or not, we are all diplomats.

[1] Burdick, E. (1999). The Ugly American. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

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