International Schools as Community Hubs

There is an old cautionary Chinese fable about a rather witless soldier who while crossing a river in a small boat, loses his sword over the side.  He scrambles to grab it, but acting too late…he watches in horror as it sinks out of reach to the bottom of the river. In the hopes of retrieving it later when safely on the other bank, he marks the side of the boat with a dagger to remind him of the precise spot where his prized weapon went overboard. One can only imagine the confused sadness of the solder once reaching land, who cannot fathom why despite his best care in making his mark, it no longer serves the poor fellow in guiding him back to his sword.

There is a growing awareness among leaders of international schools that in the face of accelerating change both within and outside our institutions, we must evolve quickly, and with a more open mind to new and more innovative ways of organizing and sustaining ourselves.  Yet many schools could be forgiven if they at times might be operating under the same misconception as our water borne soldier, assuming the long standing routines and operating norms that reign within our walls still serve us effectively in gauging the shifting reality around us.

The explosion in the number and diverse types of international schools in recent years has not altered the underlying reality that such institutions still generally rely on certain tried and true approaches to planning, managing and financing their organizations.  These may include long standing tuition based fee for service models, curriculum and programming concentrated almost exclusively around student performance within the classroom alone, and finally, at least in a majority of cases, interactions with the local community that remain limited to a variation of traditional student service and charitable endeavors. However, the question is not whether a continued reliance on tuition fees and classroom centered programming will remain core elements of our operating realities, but rather that they will no longer stand alone as the sole methods of financing and justifying our schools’ continued reasons for being. In essence, if we are to truly innovate and reinvent our schools, our obligations can no longer be confined to what can be academically achieved within a classroom context alone, nor may we look only to our students and their families for the resources needed to build and sustain the future sustainability we seek.

In the same way that John Dewey so long ago laid the foundations for our contemporary understanding of the entire child, it is now time to begin viewing our schools in a similarly holistic and multidimensional manner.  If for instance, we embrace the whole child, why would we not extend that same broader understanding to schools in both how they operate, and as importantly, whom they serve.  Whether it be in finding new structural and financial models, or through the creation of more ambitious and far reaching programs that before may have been seen as out of our purview, schools must now reimagine what our new boundaries of action and impact will be.

Take for instance our experience here in Quito at Academia Cotopaxi, and our work in transforming our existing on campus language center into a broad based community outreach, partnership building and student led service vehicle for change.  The newly launched ONE Institute serves our mission, expands opportunities for student learning, rejects disciplinary silos, increases revenue, builds external partnerships and breaks down boundaries between our school and our larger community.  Here we have established a ground breaking lending library that will address both the challenges of economic inequality and illiteracy in our community, while also providing authentic student leadership experience.  We now offer SAT and TOEFL test preparation services and have been certified as a TOEFL testing center.  The ONE Institute designed an entirely new corporate and business English program for companies in Quito, and we now plan to expand English training for AC parents, as well as our summer camp programming to include intensive IB academic English courses across the full spectrum of disciplines, a program available to students of both AC and other surrounding schools.

Whether like our experience at Academia Cotopaxi, a school chooses to repurpose and redirect the energies of a satellite organization already on campus, or through a new program or initiative created with a broader mission and focus in mind, schools as community hubs will need to grow into places where sustainable external partnerships are created and new opportunities for learning and revenue are realized.  The role of the school now expands and concentrates the community’s combined energies, which makes for more authentic connections and stronger families. The benefits for the school also include a more energetic curricular program, tangible hands on learning and actionable experience community problem-solving. For our institutions as a whole, rather than detached “cities on the hill,” with walls that at times separate as well as protect, international schools now become vital centers of community activity, awareness and enrichment.

The challenge before us now is to truly reimagine our schools as more than academic institutions in the time honored sense.  We must enlarge the reach and imperatives of our missions beyond the students in our classrooms, but to families; and not just to families that pay tuition, but to our communities as a whole.  In this way, we can open vast new worlds of discovery and authentic learning for our students, reach beyond our walls and into the homes and neighborhoods of our local communities, and in so doing, unlock exciting new revenue opportunities and means for sustaining our institutions.

If on the other hand, we remain committed to our most traditional and long standing assumptions about what the role of our schools should encompass, we could find ourselves marking the gunwales of our boats, only to find that our ultimate goal of better organizational health and relevance remains stubbornly out of reach.

Posted in Trae Holland | Leave a comment

Technology Surveys for New Hires

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Since 2008, I have been working with groups of new hires. There is much stress and confusion when people are relocating to another country. I always try and provide the information new hires need to understand the technology culture at the school, and within the country.

Initially, I was simply doing Q and A, and creating FAQ documents. One year, I realized that I was missing a huge opportunity to do some data driven decision making. I began to develop a set of surveys.

Survey data helps to shape the professional development for orientation and possible configurations for IT systems. Additionally, the data aids in the team building process by identifying new people with higher level skills. These people can then immediately contribute at the level they should be contributing instead of being sidelined because they are new.

Meet Them Where They Are

Many schools are hesitant to do surveys because new hires have a tremendous amount of paperwork to complete. Schools often do not want to add any additional communication to an already very busy process.

I do understand this view point, however, new hires will not be overwhelmed if a technology survey is incorporated into an already required technology process.

In the spring, I recommend all schools setup and activate the email accounts for the new hires. The moment they sign in the first time, they are a captive audience. The first email they see in their inbox could be the technology survey. New hires usually like getting their new account in the spring, so they will not be irritated at the process.

If the school has setup social media for new hires, such as a Facebook Group, those accounts can also be used to share links to surveys.

Survey Platforms

The only important thing to remember when choosing a survey platform is that it must support branching. Another way to say that, is it must support “if-then-then-that” (ifttt). Therefore, email based surveys are to be completely avoided.

Branching allows people to skip questions that are not relevant to their experience. Branching prevents the survey from wasting their time.

For example, if my school uses PowerSchool, I might want to know if new hires have used PowerSchool. If they have, then I want to know more about their experience, if they have not then I want them to move on to another section.

Both Google Forms and Office 365 Forms support branching. Both of these free services also help tally and graph responses. Remember, saving time needs to be on both ends of the equation, and email will always be a mistake laden waste of time.

Open Ended Questions

Having long form paragraph style open ended questions seems like a very politically correct way to make a survey. However, these questions are very difficult to measure, and they are extremely time consuming.

I firmly believe these types of questions should be optional, and only at the end of sections with structured questions. For example, asking someone to rate their experience with Google Drive on a scale of 1-5 is a structured question. Following that with an optional opinion would be good use of an open ended question about Google Drive.

Check Multiple

Most survey systems allow people to check multiple options to answer a question. I find these question types to be the most useful for broad group planning; and hitting larger professional development targets.

Here is an example:

Assuming the participant response rate is high enough, I could use this single graph to align their most recent experience with the technology culture at my campus. Knowing the similarities and differences among these services is a requirement, but that happens to be a requirement for my profession :).

Choose the Best Statement

Using questions that direct participants to choose the best statement, or the most correct statement, allows for them to show a weakness or preference in a more positive context. For example, instead of asking someone to rate themselves on Apple computer proficiency, I can offer them these options:

Instantly, I know that 50% of this group can help support the other 50% in learning how to master Apple hardware and software. I can now go into the individual responses, find those 50% who are very confident, and ask them if they would be willing to help lead in the professional development. Instead of wasting their time, I am utilizing their skill set and asking them to lead.

Survey tools are easier than ever to access and use. Every year consider making surveys for new hires part of the process, and use the data to make decisions. You can evolve over ten years and have ten unique experiences; or you can repeat the same year ten times. I try and avoid the latter.

 

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Changing tack… slightly

Hello all,

 

Greetings from Poland and Lithuania…

 

I am sure that most of you are relaxing – hopefully with family and friends, perhaps on a beach, climbing a mountain, cycling or sitting with a book near a pool.  I hope you are getting a chance to read all those books that were piled up on your night table for the last 10 months.  I know the syndrome.  During the school year, we all have the best intentions to read the latest bestseller, for personal or professional edification, but after the second sentence… hmmmmmm…… we find the book on the floor next to the bed when we wake up in the morning.  Sound familiar?

 

So, right now, I would like to take advantage of your relaxed state and free time to introduce you to my latest research: Catalysts for a Career in International Schools.  This was a labor of love. I truly enjoyed receiving and reading almost 100 narratives from educators like yourselves. Categorizing the stories was very tedious, but in the end, I found 8 categories, which describe YOU.

 

 

https://issuu.com/ecischools/docs/infocus_ettie_zilber

 

 

I hope you enjoy reading the stories and the findings as much as I had writing it.

And… I would LOVE to hear your comments.

Keep enjoying your holiday

Ettie

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What kind of experience do we want for our children?

I have been absent from blogging for almost a year.  This has been due to a sudden and unexpected change in our family status.  My wife and I have three daughters.  The oldest is out of college, the second just completed her second year of college, and the third is a senior in high school this year.  We were preparing ourselves for the next phase of life, when we came across a nine-year-old street boy – Max.  Through a series of circumstances, we ended up taking him into our home.  We didn’t initially plan to have him stay, but we very quickly found ourselves attached to him, and several months later went to court to gain legal guardianship of him.  He has now become a central figure in our family, with much of our time and attention focused on him.  For quite a while, I’ve been thinking I need to do some writing about our experiences and adventures with Max, but have been grappling with exactly where to start.  To be honest, it seems like every day with him brings a new adventure of sorts, and just when I think I want to write about one, another pops up that dominates my attention.  However, recently, I read an article by Diane M. Hoffman, Raising the Awesome Child.  It had me pondering a number of important topics related to Max, as well as to the early years with our daughters.  I realized the place to start is with a topic I am passionate about…..schooling.

The circumstances of Max’s life are such that though he was nine when he came to us, he had only attended a minimal level of schooling.  As educators, my wife and I believe there is a value in an education.  Therefore, though we didn’t initially plan to have Max stay with us, we did think it would be meaningful for him to further pursue an education, so we hired several tutors to work with him to bring his level of learning up to speed and to learn English.  Within a very short period, he was spending several hours per day receiving individual instruction.  Outside of those hours, it was a different story.  Daily, he would come by my office on a bike we provided him to check on me, and usually he and I had lunch together.  After school, he would wait for my youngest daughter to come home to have snack with her.  After my wife and I finished at school, we would swim with him in the pool, ride bikes, and review his studies.  Dinners became more animated as Max struggled with English to communicate with us, and we looked forward to a family game or a video each evening.  Occasionally, there were issues to be dealt with, but that was by no means the norm. As I said earlier, he became the focus of much of our time and attention, and we in turn had become the focus of his whole world.

When we finally became legally responsible for Max, our benefits provided it was now possible for him to attend the school we worked at.  I have to say; the decision to have him start school was one we made with a certain level of reticence.  In reality, there was no doubt in our minds he needed to go to school, but we questioned how school might change him from being the boy we had come to know and love.  Hoffman describes American, or Western culture as being obsessed with cognitive development to the detriment of other qualities.  This is something I recognize in many international schools we have been involved with, and I often question this particular value.  I remember when my second daughter was young.  The spring before she was to start preschool she had a chance to visit school for a couple of hours.  I remember when she arrived she was standing at the top step of the school entryway.  She spotted me, and immediately and gleefully shouted out, “Daddy, today I get to go to school!”  I remember thinking I wanted to remember that moment forever because I was confidant that joyful desire to learn and go to school wouldn’t last for very long.  It was this same sensation contributing to my reticence around Max starting school.  Here was a boy that had a level of maturity that went beyond cognition.  Life experiences had taught him to solve problems, read others, resist defeat, and appreciate the value of little bits of enjoyment that came his way.  In starting school, I wanted to believe this would be appreciated and valued, and I found myself thinking about what kind of experience we want for our children when we watch them go off to school that very first time.

I recently watched a TED Talk given by Tim Carr, the head of JIS in Jakarta.  In it, Tim discusses the creation of joyful schools for the future, and the need for fun and balance to exist in schools.  In listening to Tim, I found myself nodding my head a lot.  He spoke about wanting to revolutionize learning when he became an educator 30 years ago.  I’m sure when he said this, he spoke to the heart of many educators.  Many teachers, myself included, enter education because we want to make a difference.  We may have had some great teachers ourselves, but we recognized there could be so much more to learning, and we wanted to be part of that.

Unfortunately, the classrooms our children go off to and grow into usually do not reflect that revolution in learning so many of us wanted to be a part of.  As educators, we often find ourselves constricted by the latest, greatest trend in education, or confined by the desire to “fit in” with the educational process occurring in the classrooms around us.  Still others find themselves teaching in a world of educational isolation, lacking the ability to collaborate and explore new ideas with others.  In these situations, we often find ourselves relying on those tried and true methodologies that came before us, or finding an instructional strategy that achieved some level of success with one, or a few students, and then applying that across the board.  The challenge that exists when this happens, says Hoffman, is though some strategies might have some success, this doesn’t recognize individual students come to school with entirely different sets of experiences and what might work with one child may not carry over to another.  This is a particularly important factor in our international schools, or the diverse classrooms we serve overall, as different cultures and families most likely have different ideas of what a good educational experience looks like.

So, what can and will make a difference for Max and other students like him?  What can change school and create that joyful school experience?  I believe there are many aspects of a school that can contribute to this general condition, from leadership making children the focus of the school, to schedules that encourage teachers to interact and explore new ideas.  Ultimately though, it has to be the teacher.  Paul Tough tells us many schools respond to behavior outside the norm by increasing control, and reducing the sense of autonomy.  However, “if teachers create an environment that fosters competence, autonomy, and connection rather than control, students are more likely to feel motivated.”  As a school administrator, I try to regularly visit classrooms, and have had the opportunity to visit hundreds of classrooms over the years.  When I visit a classroom with an environment like the ones described by Tough, you can feel it.  There is joy in those classrooms and it has a clear impact on how students seem to view themselves and the learning they are engaged in.

Getting back to Max…his first day of school was an interesting experience.  As I prepared to take him to class, he told me he didn’t want to go.  I took a picture of him, and when I look at it now, I see a boy who is clearly unhappy, even petrified about what he is about to encounter.  I didn’t blame him.  His short previous experience with school had not been too positive.  Plus, I was nervous for him.  I didn’t know how school would change him.  How would the expectations for learning, as well as the pressures he would face from other students impact the aspects of street culture and self-reliance in his personality we had come to love?  The boy I saw a few hours later was a different one though.  He was beaming from ear to ear – with joy.  I asked him why he was smiling.  He told me he loves school.  When I asked him why, he was very clear in saying, “because of my teacher.”

We are now on summer break, and it has been several months since Max started back to school.  I’m happy to report, he still loves school and can’t wait to return.  Even more important, he seems to love learning.  We bought him a bug box, and he has been thrilled to collect different bugs and learn about them.  He has been tutoring with my older daughter and looks forward to it each day, and he is constantly exploring and asking questions.  Tony Wagner says play, passion, and purpose drive innovative learning.  It is the teacher in the classroom who creates this.  When I think about what I want for Max, and other children, as they go off to school, it is that joy, that passion and that desire to learn and be there.  I will write more about Max in the future.  For now though, I’m pleased to write the teachers in his life have provided that experience I hoped for him.

 Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Works Cited

Hoffman, Diane M. “Raising the Awesome Child.” The Hedgehog Review Fall (2013): 30-40.

TEDxTalks, and Tim Carr. “Creating Joyful Schools for the Future | Tim Carr | TEDxJIS.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 23 June 2017.

Tough, Paul. “How Kids Really Succeed.” The Atlantic June (2016): n. pag.

Posted in Gregory Hedger | 3 Comments

Closing off, not closing down

We are approaching the long vacation and I have been giving thought to the rhythm of the school year.   Especially in today’s ‘disrupted‘ world, there are probably few institutions that have the same annual cycle that schools have, and I see the luxury of predictable cycles as one to cherish, not to take for granted, and to plan for, and to make the most of.

For us, that means approaching the holiday knowing that the long break is a rite of passage for students and colleagues, and to plan for it carefully and intentionally.  Just as we start the year with orienting students to the year ahead (planning the activities, deadlines, trips, exams etc) so we need to close off the year with equal care and attention.  I have been in schools where the two options have been either  (i) watching ‘fun’ videos and eating lots of chocolate for the last few days (ii) full speed ahead until the last minute.  Neither of these is what we now want; the former is profoundly disrespectful to everyone’s time, and suggests a mistaken view of learning and ‘fun’.  The latter misses an important opportunity to improve student learning for the current year overall, and indeed the next year to come.

We have a three-part approach to helping students and colleagues closes the year in a meaningful way – one that consolidates the progress that has been made, and focusses us on the things in ourselves that have allowed us to make progress.  It’s based on research from a very wide range of sources, and can be used at any point, wherever learning is wanted  – and therefore applicable far mode widely than schools of course.  The steps, as listed here, may sound rather abstract and vague; when I case across them I was skeptical about them.  But having used them over the years in class to end units, with leavers to frame graduation thinking, and with colleagues, I now see the power of devoting time to this process.

The first step is to be aware of what has happened to us over the year.  The question is: Considering your aspirations for the year, your experiences elsewhere, and the events of this year, how would you describe the year?

The second step is to analyse what we have become aware of.  The questions are: What have you done that you have been most pleased with?  What capacities in yourself were most important in your successes?
 

The third step is to see how the analysis can lead to application. The question is: What might be some of the most valuable things that you most want to remember for next year?

We believe that education for our children should be engaging, demanding, challenging and at times uncomfortable. There’s no denying that this can mean that it is also very intense; likely far more so than when we parents were at school. So ending the year well, making space to enter the vacation having ‘parked’ a lot of thinking, is an important process.  It provides closure, and marks a re-entry point for next year.  The power of carefully scaffolded, focsussed conversations is hard to overestimate, because even a slight increase in self-awareness or self-efficacy yields a hundredfold return or more.

Happy Holidays! My next post will be in August.

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | Leave a comment

Understanding The End of Year Process: Tech in the Spring Determines Tech in the Fall

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In August or September, the first week of a new school year, do you find that your campus seems to have problems that are unexpected and out of line with the status quo from the spring term? If so, then there is probably one or many problems embedded in the execution of the school’s End of Year Process (EOY). Although this post is going to focus on technology EOY, the fact is all systems and departments have (or should have) an EOY.

Any system, department, etc., that is not practicing a well thought out EOY will not only struggle, but create a cascade of problems that will spread through out the community. This cascade will feel like a sudden and unseen wave of chaos, or a series of seemingly small disconnected problems.

An Example of a Technology EOY

Here is a list of EOY processes/jobs that must be completed before the end of the first week of July. I have simplified some of them as most have multiple steps to complete.

Active Directory access for all non-returning staff needs to be removed.
Active Directory accounts and groupings for all new staff needs to be created
Active Directory Student Accounts Need to Be Moved to the Next Year Group
New School Student Enrollment Complete/Check/Verify
Leaving Grade 5 Students in PowerSchool
All other Primary School Leaving Students Transfer After RollOver and Remove AD Accounts
Destiny needs to be updated
Powerschool Roll Over and Back to School Update (If Required)
Powerschool Records must be Cleaned- teachers/students/etc/ use PowerTools to Check Data Issues
PS Database Backup to Test Server
Make Primary School School Teams
Primary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
Secondary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
New Courses for Primary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
New Courses for Secondary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
PowerSchool- Plugins Update
Office 365 users and groups need to be adjusted to match the schools AD
Turn-It-In, and Naviance Updates/Staff/Students/Etc
ATLAS- Add new Hires and Remove All Old Accounts
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment that have been damaged sent for repair
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment to be recycled
Year 17-18 Orders – All Paperwork completed so items arrive in August
New Constructions/ Building – Checked and Tested
Websense Sync and Configure
Filewave Sync and Configure
Secondary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Secondary School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked
Primary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Primary School School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked

This list does not include the procurement process, as that connects to other EOYs in other departments. 

This list is share as an online dashboard. Jobs are assigned to team members. Each job has a status, due date, and comment box.

Many of the systems on the list above have embedded EOY processes as well. For example, PowerSchool and Atlas Rubicon have steps to follow every year to close out the school year.

If any of these jobs is not completed, or not completed with enough time to repair problems or make some adjustments to the fall planning, the start of school will be rough.

The Myth of the Summer Staff

Many schools assume that EOY processes can be done slowly during the summer because they have summer staff. This is a myth, and it usually does not work well because the logic is flawed.

First off, summer staff are always fewer in number than the staff during the normal year. So unless the school is completely closed down, then they will actually have less time to focus on meaningful work. For example, unless the schools avoids summer camps, conferences, admissions tours, etc., the summer staff will become distracted. Their jobs many seem less demanding, but EOY processes take hours to complete, and require large blocks of time. Large blocks of time require more human resources than are available during the summer.

Secondly, summer staff tend to work a different work schedule. The hours are reduced, and oversight is lacking. Knowing it takes 4-6 weeks at 40 hours a week to complete the EOY, how is it possible for fewer people working fewer hours to complete the same job in 4-6 weeks? The math simply does not work. Departments trying to fulfill EOY with limited summer staff will be setting the stage for an anxiety and problem ridden start of the year.

Finally, unless summer staff have 100% full signature authority and empowerment to make decisions, many jobs will be partially done and awaiting a manager to return. Not only will this cause delays, but it will also cause project fragmentation. Think of a multiple puzzles missing multiple pieces in order to visualize this problem.

EOY is End of Year not The Beginning of Next Year

EOY processes are designed to allow the time needed to make upgrades, backups, repairs, etc. These processes need to finish no more than a few weeks after the last day with students (and many need to be completed on or before the last day with students).

Do the EOY on time, prevent the cascade of problems, and start the year on a forward moving pace that exceed the status quo. I firmly believe a good start leads to a good year.

Further Recommended Reading:

The Systems Lifecycle

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Systems_development_life_cycle

 

Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

You’re So Lucky to Have Summers Off

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

No educator I know actually takes a full summer off. Many, justifiably, use part of the break to recover from a demanding school year, but most of us continue to hone our craft from June to August. My husband and I are both educators, and I cannot remember ever using the entire holiday just for fun. The summer we got married, I took six graduate credits and did an out-of-town International Baccalaureate workshop for counselors. The summer after our baby was born, my husband and I completed a cumulative eighteen graduate credits while living, with our infant, in a college dorm. Summers off – ha!

If you’re traveling this summer, catching up on reading is a flexible means of professional development and mental stimulation that fits in your carry-on. Lest we fall into our own summer slump. Here’s what I’ve got in my Amazon Smile[1] cart at the moment, divided into three categories: Professional, Parenting (in my role as a school counselor I often suggest literature to parents), and Pleasure.

{Professional}

Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools
By Elizabeth J. Meyer
Meyer contributed a solid chapter to Queering Straight Teachers: Discourse and Identity in Education by Nelson Rodrigues and William Pinar (Eds.), so I anticipate that her book will be excellent as well.

LGBTQ Issues in Education: Advancing a Research Agenda
By George Wimberly
I keep waiting for this one to be required for my doctoral work so that I can justify the hefty price tag, but nobody has put it on a syllabus thus far, so I may just need to splurge.

Solution Focused Practice in Asia
By Debbie Hogan, Dave Hogan, Jane Tuomola, & Alan K. L. Yeo (Eds.)
Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter to this book. I am eager to read the other chapters, though, as my counseling practice is heavily influenced by a solution-focused approach.

{Parenting}

The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in the Real World
By Alice Dreger
Who doesn’t need more help with how to do this gracefully? I am a fan of Dreger’s work, and my work as a counsellor has put me in touch with more than a few parents who would like guidance on talking to their kids about sex. The audio version for this book is less than 3 hours long, so it promises be a quick read.

Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising Kids With the Freedom to be Themselves
By Paige Lucas-Stannard
The Kindle version of this mini-book is free!

Teaching Overseas: An Insider’s Perspective
By Kent M. Blakeney
I also contributed excerpts to this book, and ought to get around to reading my copy.

{Pleasure}

En Finir avec Eddy Bellegueulle (The End of Eddy)
By Edouard Louis (Translator: Michael Lucey)
This novel (by a 23-year old author!) earned rave reviews in France, and has already been translated into twenty languages, including English. The story promises to shine a light on gender stereotypes and the experience of growing up gay in a traditional, working-class community.

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)
By David Sedaris
I relish pretty much everything this satirist publishes, and look forward to a peek into the diaries he has been keeping, daily, for the past forty years.

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read this classic, but the recent publicity makes it an irresistible addition to my list.

Push
By Tommy Caldwell
Tommy is a local hero in our summer home of Estes Park for being one of the best rock climbers in the world (you may remember his Dawn Wall accomplishment in 2015). Now he is also a New York Times best-selling author.

 

This summer, I will be hiking in the Swiss Alps, and visiting friends and family in Colorado and Michigan. I am also enrolled in two graduate courses, and will attend a residency on LGBT health policy and practice at George Washington University. I hope to get through as many of these books[2] as time allows (and do feel fortunate to have summers “off”).

How do you make the most of your summer as an educator?
What’s on your reading list?  

[1] Amazon Smile is exactly like regular Amazon (and Amazon Prime), except that they donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of your choice.

[2] Fellow TIE bloggers, David Penberg and Daniel Kerr, have also shared their reading lists.

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It’s Real

“I’m struggling.” I’ve said these two words more times than I can count in the past week. On one hand, it’s a relief to openly express my feelings and frustrations, and on the other, I feel guilty for complaining about something so wonderful.

With just over a week remaining until the end of the school year, I should be feeling like I’m in a state of euphoria. I should be counting down the final hours of the school year, celebrating my successes and the academic gains of my students, and looking forward to basking in sun, family and the awesomeness that is summertime.

And yet, I’m struggling.

As a career international teacher, I’ve never been directly confronted with issues such as budget cuts, incentive pay, lack of professional development, or students with extreme special needs. I’ve had it pretty darn good.

But there is something missing.

Next week marks the end of my 11th year in an elementary school classroom. When I began college, I remember learning that the average person in today’s workforce will change careers about 5-7 times. “Of course”, I remember thinking, “why would anyone do the same thing for forty-plus years?” I made the decision right then and there that I would be an elementary teacher for 5-10 years, tops, before making the move to something new.

And here I am.

It’s not for lack of trying, mind you. I’ve expressed my interest in teaching middle school on multiple occasions, and have attempted to make internal moves, to no avail. Like an actor who is typecast, I can’t seem to “break into” other roles within a school. Despite my credentials and strong desire to teach more focused content, I am viewed as an elementary school teacher, and always cast as such.

Not that being an elementary teacher is a bad thing. To be clear, I would not have stayed in this role for 11 years if I was miserable or somehow disliked this age group. On the contrary, I love working with young children, and would relish in the opportunity to continue working with them in a different setting or context. I just don’t want to teach science. Ever. Again. Science isn’t to blame, of course. My passions just lie elsewhere.

Educators in middle and upper grades have the great blessing of being able to teach the subject of their passion, be it math or chemistry or literature. Elementary teachers, however, typically teach all of the core subject areas, whether or not they have substantial interest, desire, or content knowledge in a certain area. Spending the day with a homeroom teacher, stable classroom community, and set routine may be more developmentally appropriate for younger learners, according to research. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to witness and be part of the bonds and communities that have been formed in my classrooms over the years. But I also believe that some of the same factors that benefit young students may contribute to teachers being stretched too thin and feeling burned out more quickly. I wouldn’t be sharing these feelings on a public platform if I thought I was alone. I know I’m not.

There are plenty of statistics sharing the startling rates of teachers leaving the profession, and it makes sense in a place like the US, where the education system is in need of a major overhaul. But for overseas educators, life is grand. We earn competitive salaries, get our housing provided, receive countless professional development opportunities, work with incredible colleagues and students, and get to travel the world. What’s not to like?

Nothing, you might think. This gal’s got it made.

We’ve all worked with those people who just don’t seem to like kids (why did they become teachers in the first place?), or who are unhappy no matter what. But burnout affects even those of us who are truly passionate about working with children, and who generally greet life with a smile. I love my school and the young people with whom I spend my days. They make me smile constantly. We learn, we laugh, and we help each other. And yet, there’s a part of me that is not feeling fulfilled.

The struggle is real.

Perhaps this is one of the few drawbacks of being a lifelong learner. I have too many interests, and I’m not done navigating their positions in my life just yet. I’m not ready to settle on one thing, even if there’s still so much to learn about that thing. Let’s face it, nobody’s ever really at the top of their game in the field of education, because the game is always changing. Still, I feel that there are so many options out there for me to explore. Maybe that means that someone will finally offer me the chance to help middle school students cultivate a passion for words and find their written voice. Or maybe I will go back to school for another degree that will make me more marketable in a different realm of international education, taking me outside of the classroom entirely. But then again, maybe now is the time I start that business on the beach I’ve been talking about for years, or become a pediatric nurse, or join in a humanitarian aid effort. I struggle, because while the beach business idea is a good one, I don’t really see myself walking away from international education anytime soon. What I do know is that I’m approaching the end of the line in elementary, and I’m ready to be cast in a different role. My soul is yearning for something new, something fresh, and it can no longer be silenced or ignored.

After this summer, which will hopefully provide some clarity, I have another year of teaching fabulous fifth graders. I will give them the same amount of love and attention that I have given every group of students thus far. And then, I believe that this scene will come to a close. I’d love to remain part of the same storyline; the change to a new scene doesn’t necessarily require an entirely new script. Perhaps someday, it will. But for now, just being cast in a different role might provide the needed change I seek. Like an actor who finally breaks out of their typecast and then watches their career really take off, I am ready.

 

Posted in Shannon Fehse | 8 Comments

Middle School – The Beautiful Struggle

So I’m down to the last two weeks of being a Middle School Principal, and as it draws to an end I find myself getting really, really sad…and feeling very, very grateful. It’s been an amazing seven year run for me, across two very different schools and communities, in two different countries and in two different continents, and if I’m being honest, it’s been the best seven years of my life so far. There’s something about the Middle School experience that is not for everyone. It’s challenging in many ways, and it takes a special kind of educator who can find their passion dealing with this age group of kids, but you know what, it’s so immeasurably rewarding and it changes your life for the better.

If I think of all the grade levels in a traditional school environment as a burning flame, I see the Middle School years as that bright blue part right smack in the center…the core…the place where it burns the hottest, the place that shapes and molds, and the place that transforms the overall identity of the fire. I like to call Middle School the beautiful struggle, because in many ways it is very much a struggle for kids, as they try to figure out life and their place in it…but with each struggle and with each stumble and eventually with each success, there is always incredible beauty!

 From the sweet innocence of the 6th grade class, who come to Middle School so excited, and scared, and hopeful, and nervous, and who still think it’s okay to go on playdates and to cry when they get hurt, to the confusing and formative 7th Grade class who learn so much about their changing bodies, and hormones, and how to fit in and make friends, and about who they are starting to become as people, to the desperate to be adult 8th grade class who want so much to be given independence and autonomy, but still silently scream out for boundaries and guidance…how can you not love this beautiful struggle? All the awkwardness, all the mistakes, all the tears and heartache, and all the relentless hope, it truly makes my heart want to burst! Their search for themselves is so wide open and honest and pure, and it draws me in day after day after day…and it makes me smile.

 The best part of my day is watching them all come off of the buses first thing in the morning ready to start again. They walk past me smiling, sleepy, and eager to learn about life, hoping to be noticed and inspired and validated by the ones who matter the most…their peers. I watch them, I joke with them, I try and set a good example for them, and I love them…I have grown to understand their struggle. If you ask anyone about their Middle School years you always get a passionate response. Some people loved Middle School and some people hated it, but everyone remembers it intensely. That first crush, the hopeful first kiss, all those risks that were taken that either fell flat or successfully catapulted you ahead with relief…constantly failing forward, and growing, and doing things you wish you hadn’t done…Middle School changes you, and it sets the tone for the rest of your life.

 For some people these are the best years of their lives and for some these are the worst, and for me it’s beautiful to watch it all unfold. I love Middle School and I love Middle School kids, and I’m inviting you all this week to go out of your way to watch them, and to marvel at them, and to be inspired by what they’re going through. We need to praise them, and set high expectations for them, and embrace those daily (hourly) teachable moments, and we need to hold them accountable. We need to encourage them to take risks and to make mistakes and when they do, we need to take the time to watch them learn and learn and grow and grow.


Being a Middle School Principal has been one of the most inspiring experiences of my life because I got to live vicariously through them all, and I got to feel that burn that comes from being right at the center of the flame…everyday. Middle School kids make me feel alive, and I’m honored to have been such a major part of their journey over the past seven years. It’s a struggle for sure, but there’s no better place to be than right in that flaming blue core…where life burns the brightest.

 Next year I begin a new chapter in my life as a Lower School Director, and I couldn’t be more excited. With this will come a very different kind of beauty, and days filled with constant joy, innocence, and belly laughs before the school day even begins. I’m absolutely thrilled to be going down this road, as I’ve felt the pull down to the lower grades for a few years now…it’s honestly where I now want to be. That said, there will always be something about the Middle School that has a huge piece of my heart, and as the final two weeks come to a roaring end, I want to say thank you. Thank you Middle School for all that you’ve given to me, and for all that I’ve become because of your burning flame. I’ve loved every moment of this beautiful struggle, and I’m all the better for it…in every possible way.

 
Quote of the Week…
It takes courage to grow up to become who you really are – E.E. Cummings
 
Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

You Don’t Have to Kiss Auntie Katie: Teaching Consent in International Families

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My son will undoubtedly be thrilled to see my sister this month. Whenever he hears the FaceTime ring, he shrieks her name in anticipation of their chat. However, if it takes him a while to warm up to Auntie Katie since our last visit, that’s understandable. Katie also has children and knows that it is not just about respecting our babies’ personal space; we are teaching them about consent.

It can be tricky when the relative seeking a kiss from your child doesn’t receive it in return. It may feel like a personal affront when a little one denies their offer to snuggle and, as parents, there may be pressure to apologize for the perceived slight, or even coax the wee one into their loving relative’s arms. The message we send when we do this is that physical contact is owed to certain people, by nature of the relationship, regardless of whether it feels good.

These interactions may seem innocuous: What’s the harm in one hug? It’s from someone you love, after all. And they gave you a present! You don’t want to make them feel bad, do you? You hugged them last time you saw them… However, the path to date rape and other forms of sexual harassment can follow chillingly-similar lines of logic. When we prioritize other peoples’ desire to be physically affectionate (however well-intentioned) over bodily autonomy, we are depriving our child the chance to learn how to set boundaries.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has reinvigorated this conversation with a report published last month showing that an estimated 87% of women aged 18-25 in the U.S. have been sexually harassed[1]. These findings are serious, and all children will benefit from understanding how to set boundaries for themselves, and to respect those of others. Of course I am not equating our loved ones’ affection with assault. Still, it is understandable that children may have difficulty understanding bodily autonomy if they have learned at home that personal boundaries are trivial. Indeed, this Harvard study suggests that most parents and educators aren’t talking with young people about consent at all.

As a school counselor, I have taught hundreds of children about consent; this can be done at any age. We discuss the importance of asking permission before offering a hug. We learn about reading body language and experiencing empathy for others. Even young students appreciate personal space, and should be taught how to say no to unwelcome touch[2]. Hugs can be heartwarming, bond-enhancing acts of kindness, but only if all participants are enjoying it. While parents and educators world-wide teach children to use their manners, it is important that young people also know they have the right to be firm when it comes to unwanted physical contact.

For international families, this is a particularly salient issue. Children abroad may not see extended family and friends for spans of months or years at a time, so close physical contact might not feel appropriate upon reunification. International families sometimes harbour guilt at separating their children from relatives and friends back ‘home’, which can exacerbate the situation. And even if, as in the case with my son and his Auntie Katie, the child adores the person, seeing them face-to-face for the first time in a while may feel overwhelming.

5 ways to support children learning about consent: 

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about consent with your child now. The full report from Harvard includes recommendations and resources for teaching children about healthy relationships, with a focus on preventing misogyny and sexual harassment.
  • Check with the school about lessons your child has received on consent so you can reinforce the message, language, and strategies at home.
  • Have a chat with family and friends before reunions to let them know your child is learning about consent. This way they won’t be caught off-guard.
  • Offer your child the option to give a high five/fist bump/wave instead. These can be friendly alternatives to a hug or kiss.
  • Finally: be prepared! We have all had the experience of being caught, with our child, in an awkward situation. (I will never forget the first time – yes, it happened more than once – that a friend stuck her finger in my baby’s mouth. You’d better believe I had a quick response ready the second time someone tried this.) If you and your child have a plan for how to respond to unwanted touch, they will feel more confident asserting their needs, and you will be prepared to support them.

How and when does your school teach students about consent?
What are your favourite resources for talking to children about consent?

[1] Weissbourd, R., Anderson, T. R., Cashin, A., & McIntyre, C. (2017). The talk: How adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment [Executive Summary]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

[2] Children should also learn about exceptions, such vaccinations from the doctor, which are not necessarily welcome touch, but required for health and safety. I teach students that these exceptions should never be a secret and, if in doubt, to seek help from a trusted adult.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment