when students don’t consider themselves thinkers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Allison Poirot | Leave a comment

The Magic of a Great Mentor

So a couple of weeks ago I managed to reconnect with one of my favorite people on the planet, a retired international school leader named Tony Simone. Tony was my first Principal at Jakarta International School back in 2003 when I was a young, green, and wide-eyed third grade classroom teacher, and it’s fair to say that without Tony’s guidance I wouldn’t be where I am today. That reconnection not only brought back incredible memories for me, it also gave me the chance to thank him for being so influential throughout my life and career. Tony was the one who started me on the path toward leadership, and the one who gave me the confidence and opportunity to affect change outside of my individual classroom. He was a tremendous mentor of mine and I’m grateful to him in so many ways.

That whole experience got me thinking lately about the role of mentors in our lives, and how magical these relationships can be both personally and professionally. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who has found success in life can attribute at least a part of that success to the role that a mentor has played along their journey. Good mentors are pure magic, and if you’ve had one in the past, or if you have one right now, it’s important that you seek them out and thank them for the positive influence that they’ve had on your life…do that this week!

I am acutely aware of how fortunate I have been in my life to have had more than just a few amazing mentors, both personally and professionally, who have helped me become the person and leader that I am today…my wife, my parents and siblings, a couple of coaches, and over the past 20 years or so a small group of international school leaders who have inspired me beyond measure. These are the people who believed in me, who saw something in me that I hadn’t yet recognized, and who continuously pushed me to always get better. They shared their knowledge with me, they modeled courageous behavior, they constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone, and most importantly, they gave me the honest feedback that I needed to hear in order to grow. The thing about a quality mentor is that they find ways to tell you exactly what you need to hear in a way that inspires you into action. A great mentor not only shares the truth about your strengths and your areas of growth, they listen really well and offer advice in a positive and productive way. A great mentor can also be hard to find so when you find one make sure to hang on and take advantage of the gift.

Early in my life and career great mentors just kind of fell into my lap, and for that I am truly thankful. Over time however, I’ve learned to seek out inspiring mentors and I’ve even taken jobs because of the opportunity to work with leaders who I knew could help me become a better version of myself. Everyone needs a coach or mentor in their life regardless of how successful they’ve become, so if you don’t have that person in your life right now, start actively looking. In most cases, great mentors find ways to make the relationship reciprocal, and are open and eager to learn and get better themselves…some of the best learning that I’ve ever had as a professional came out of a relationship when I was considered the mentor, but really, we were both learning from each other. That’s the beauty of these kinds of relationships…they often go both ways.

Anyway, I’m asking you to take some time this week to think about the quality mentors that you’ve had in your life, and to reach out to them…thank them, tell them how much they’ve meant to you, and then go and be that person for others. We can all be great mentors if we open ourselves up to it, and we can all be agents of positive change for a friend or for a colleague…and if you’re really lucky, you find someone like Tony Simone who will alter the course of your life in a way that you never thought possible. Thank you Tony. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives

– John F. Kennedy

Inspiring Video –

Good Neighbors

Related Articles –

8 Qualities of a Good Mentor

Be One, Get One

Why a Mentor is a Must

A Two-Way Street

We All Need Mentors

TED Talk – Margaret Heffernan

Forget the Pecking Order

TED Talk – Laura Trice

Saying Thank You

Simon Sinek on Mentoring –

Reciprocity Improves Relationships

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

A Collection of Tales from the Road: #1 Albania

See previous post for introduction and context.

#1 Albania

Entering from the south western corner at the coastal border with Montenegro, Niamh and I pedalled inland through dried earth, drained by olives and grapes. We passed a house ablaze with more whipping flames then I’d ever seen, but then came the mind altering sounds of the fire engines from a distance. As we looked towards them knowing that we could do nothing, we saw Lake Shkoder for the first time. This would be the base for a boat trip called the Komani Ferry, winding it’s way northeast through fjord-like scenes along the Drin river and then across Koman lake. It was an empty part of Europe, so as we got further into what seemed like nowhere in particular, we wondered how we could possibly get to Kosovo as planned, on the same night.

Tour cyclists often get a lot of attention/funny looks from non-cycle-touring humans, but this was not the case at the terminal. I have since realised that tour touts and taxi drivers have no interest in cyclists coming off a ferry. So we stood there for a while, found a hut to drink in, and got chatting. Within a few minutes, we had a seriously upward and potholed ride to the border with a guy who wore a shell-suit well. Whenever I find or accept a lift on tour, there is always a part of me that feels guilty for not riding it. I have also come to terms with the fact that it is sometimes entirely necessary, whether because of flight bookings, visa expiry, extreme weather or sickness. This was not one of those times.

This whole day of scenic boat rides and connections could have been ridden in the time we had for the summer week tour, it’s just that they were going in a direction that was no nearer our tour’s final destination. So I swallowed it, and as we struggled up a mountain pass in an overloaded hatchback, with a unexpected human and non-fee paying passenger in front of me in the footwell, I was actually buzzing. But then came the border checkpoint with Kosovo. Not a place many tourists cross, perhaps for good reason. Kosovo was a word I had heard many times as a grew up, not really understanding the conflict, or the need for conflict anywhere. My mind’s eye saw many tanks, bad roads and sad stories, so I knew this border crossing wouldn’t be a normal one. It got a bit feisty, quickly. Our passports were pulled away then rowdy interactions ensued between our driver and an armed official. Then another official, and then one slightly less official, all the while shouting and demonstrating their masculinity through gesticulation. Turns out that our driver was brokering us a deal on a hotel, and the less-official guy owned it, the shiny Euro Hotel in downtown Gjakova. Turned out nice again.


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The Baby and the Bathwater

So this year we’ve embarked on a really exciting strategic planning initiative, which will guide our journey as a school over the next several years. In my opinion, we’ve had a wonderful start in many ways, and we’ve managed to engage all stakeholders in the process. We’ve purposely worked really hard to engage our entire community over the last five months or so, and most importantly, we’ve gone out of our way to give our students a strong voice, as it’s ultimately all about them and their learning. The one thing that I’m really proud of however, is our attempt to not forget about our foundation and core beliefs as a school…the things that we are currently doing really, really well. Often times in strategic planning, there is such an excitement and desire to change that schools forget about all the things that have made them successful in the first place. It reminds me of that old idiom, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”, because if not done correctly, schools can lurch so hard in a new direction that they end up losing who they are in the process.
A good strategic planning process is an incredible opportunity for a school. It allows you to audit current practices, to review your mission and vision, and it inspires a community to carve out a direction for the future…all very exciting. Now that we’re pretty deep into the process, it’s thrilling to see a few themes starting to bubble up that are common across our community. It feels good to know that we’re all collectively invested in a few areas that will allow us to become an even better school for our students and for our world. It’s also been super interesting for me, particularly since I’m relatively new to the school, to learn all about the history and the fascinating stories that shaped who we currently are…that to me is such an important part to all of this, recognizing and celebrating the work, the passion, and the people who have given our school such a strong foundation. It’s been a validating experience as well, for all of us to review the initiatives that were implemented during our last strategic plan, and to know that many of them have been truly embedded into the fabric of our current day to day practice.
I am really proud to be part of a team that is so grounded in getting this right…committed to not going too quickly, thoughtful about including every voice, diligent in doing the appropriate research, and careful to value the history and the people that have delivered us to this point. I remember one of our first admin sessions at the beginning of the year, where we all had a chance to share our visions for a blue sky future of ASP, and it was Brian Brazeau, our outstanding Deputy Director of Upper School, who in the midst of all of our frenzied excitement to change, reminded us all to not forget about all that is beautiful about our school currently…thank you Brian, you were right. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and the desire for change in a process like this that you can alienate, divide, and fragment who you are as a community. Schools make this mistake all the time, and simply go from initiative to initiative, and from plan to plan without ever honoring or setting a foundation from which to jump.
So, with all that said, I want to thank everyone in our community, particularly the educators who have been here for more than a couple of these strategic plans, for setting such a strong foundation for us to be able to do this work. We are truly a great school, and we’re poised to become even better as we set our goals and plans for the future. It’s an honor to work here and be a part of the process. We’ll throw out the bathwater and keep the baby so to speak, and end up in a place that is anchored in community, student learning, and in creating a better world for everyone. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
People don’t resist change, they resist being changed!
–  Peter Senge
TED Talk – Patty McCord
Inspiring Videos-

Related Articles –

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Language Validates Our Lived Experiences: Recognize Cisnormativity

The squiggly red line of social erasure.

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

International educators may be particularly aware of the importance of language, seeing as so many of us toggle between multiple languages in our everyday lives, and teach children who do the same. We’re privy to the delight of discovering a useful word with no translation to our first language/s. I still use yella (Arabic for let’s go/come on/hurry up!), though I left Kuwait years ago. Or, we’ve experienced the profound feeling that language, when mastered, can shape even the way that we think, such as when the grammatical gender of nouns, according to different languages, changes how people personify them[1]. Language can also lend validity to our experiences; I remember the unexpected sensation of relief when I acquired the term TCK (Third Culture Kid or Trans-Cultural Kid), and could then put words to an identity I strongly related to, but hadn’t previously been able to articulate. Language, and the ability to use it to reflect our lived experience, matters.

How do words get past the gatekeepers of our cultural lexicon? In a 2017 interview, Merriam-Webster editor, Kory Stamper, explained that, in order to enter the dictionary, new words must meet three criteria:

  • Widespread use
  • Sustained use
  • Meaningful use

This post is a supplement to my submission to Merriam-Webster: I’d like to get the word ‘cisnormative’ added to the dictionary. My definition of cisnormative, based upon Merriam-Webster’s definition of heteronormative is:

Cisnormative (adjective): of, relating to, or based on the attitude that a cisgender identity is the only normal and natural experience of gender

The word cisnormative meets all three of Merriam-Webster’s criteria for entry. It is…

  • Widespread – Below you’ll see the word used in peer-reviewed, academic texts published across fields as varied as health, parenting, education, religion, law, business, public recreation, and architecture.
  • Sustained – At least one detailed explanation of the term (with visual diagram, below) dates back to a peer-reviewed journal article from 2009, almost a decade ago.
  • Meaningful – Discrimination based upon gender identity is deadly and serious; recognizing it by name is meaningful.

From the same interview, Stamper provides an example of a word she chose to add to the dictionary: bodice ripper (it’s a type of romance novel, for those unfamiliar). Other words you can find in Merriam-Webster’s tome: dumpster fire, f-bomb, ginormous, weak sauce, glamping, anyways, and literally (when used in exaggerated emphasis, not actually meaning, well… literally). I’d argue any day that cisnormative is at least as credible a word as these.

A quick search turns up long lists of peer-reviewed academic references to cisnormativity. Here’s a sample:

  • Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize.”[2]

From the same text, a diagram:

  • Cisnormative assumptions can have the effect of rendering the transgender population invisible.”[3]
  • “‘Cisnormativity’ is the assumption that it is ‘normal’ to be cisgender”[4]
  • “As with heteronormativity, what is in place with cisnormativity is the powerful categorization of people in opposition to an assumed norm, and the discrimination that is enacted through that power.”[5]
  • “Systemic discrimination can be challenged by reviewing policies, procedures, protocols and processes to remove conventions and assumptions of cisnormativity.”[6]
  • “As with heteronormativity, families are among the primary contexts in which cisnormativity is enforced and reproduced.”[7]
  • “This section will highlight how problematization of (trans)gender identity is an effect of cisnormative power and privilege.”[8]
  • “The participants oriented to a hetero/cisnormative social context by drawing on normalizing discourses to present their families as ‘just like’ other families and to downplay the significance of their parents’ sexuality/gender identity.”[9]
  • “Although these studies reveal the existence of transgender religious people, they offer little understanding of transgender religious experience or the construction of religious cisnormativity.”[10]
  • “What is our expectation of architecture when our cities, buildings – their programs, connections and interfaces – reinforce essentialist and cisnormative notions of gender?”[11]
  • “Research that has been conducted has been done primarily through a heteronormative and cisnormative lens ignoring the transition to adulthood for those who are LGBTQ.”[12]
  • “Queer theory is applied to the focus of this paper to investigate how heteronormativity and cisnormativity put GSM [gender and sexual minority] youth at a disadvantage to their peers, specifically with regards to accessing relevant sexual health and relationship information at school.”[13]
  • “Heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions are predominant in the language (including images) in mainstream breastfeeding literature and the language used by providers.”[14]

I also asked around for some professional and familiar usages from my peers, and was supplied with these examples:

  • “The dearth of unisex restrooms in public spaces is reflective of the cisnormativity of architects and civil engineers, who provide no option for people with gender fluid or ambiguous appearances to meet a very basic human need without potential harassment.”
    -Jessica Holland, MA, MLS
  • “Queer playwright Kate Bornstein uses empathic characters to confront their audience’s cisnormative assumptions of selfhood in ‘Hidden: A Gender.’”
    -Brendon Votipka, Playwright, MFA, Assistant Teaching Professor, Rutgers University

I will be asking Merriam Webster dictionary to consider adding to their tome the word cisnormative (and related word, cisnormativity). I don’t want to see the squiggly red line throughout my Word documents anymore, invalidating the lived experience of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming children who are marginalized by widespread, sustained, and meaningful cisnormative social norms.

Readers, I invite you to add a sentence using the word cisnormativity in the comments of this post, to include in my submission to Merriam-Webster.

[1] Segel, E. & Borodistsky, L. (2011). Grammar in art. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, Article 244.

[2] Bauer, G. R., Hammond, R., Travers, R., Kaay, M., Hohenadel, K. M., & Boyce, M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives”: How erasure impacts health care for transgender people. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 29(5), 348-361.

[3] Oakleaf, L. & Richmond, L. P. (2017). Dreaming about access: The experiences of transgender individuals in public recreation. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35(2), 108-119.

[4] Worthen, M. G. F. (2016). Hetero-cis-normativity and the gendering of transphobia. International Journal of Transgenderism, 17(1), 31-57.

[5] Rhodes, C. (2017). Ethical praxis and the business case for LGBT diversity: Political insights from Judith Butler and Emmanuel Levinas. Gender, Work and Organization, 24(5), 533-546.

[6] Jones, S. M. & Willis, P. (2016). Are you delivering trans positive care? Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 17(1), 50-59.

[7] McGuire, J. K., Kuvalanka, K. A., Catalpa, J. M., & Toomey, R. B. (2016). Transfamily theory: How the presence of trans* family members informs gender development in families. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8, 60-73.

[8] Sharpe, A. The ethicality of the demand for (trans)parency in sexual relations. Australian Feminist Law Journal, 43(2), 161-183.

[9] Clarke, V. & Demetriou, E. (2016). ‘Not a big deal’?: Exploring the accounts of adult children of lesbian, gay and trans parents. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(2), 131-148.

[10] Sumerau, J. E., Cragun, R. T., & Mathers, L. A. B. (2016). Contemporary religion and the cisgendering of reality. Social Currents, 3(3), 293-311.

[11] Castricum, S. (2017). When program is the enemy of function… Gender-nonconforming experiences of architectural space. Architecture and Culture, 3, 371-381.

[12] Wagaman, M. A., Keller, M. F., & Cavaliere, S. J. (2014). What does it mean to be a successful adult? Exploring perceptions of the transition into adulthood among LGBTQ emerging adults in a community-based service context. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 28(2), 140-158.

[13] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 13(3), 356-370.

[14] Farrow, A. (2015). Lactation support and the LGBTQI community. Journal of Human Lactation, 31(1), 26-28.

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Just wondering about a life-changing encounter.

As I am flying out to a recruitment fair, I would like to share a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, when I attended my first job fair as candidate in London. I have been sitting on this story for a while and I feel that it is a good moment to share it now.

Back then, in 2004, I lived and worked in London and after four years it was time to go and discover the world a bit more. I knew very little about the international school circuit and I attended a late fair in London. It was very convenient for a first time as it was a train ride away from home. As I often say, job fairs have a very special flavour. There is actually something quite unreal about them: such a concentration of people looking for the best fit for their schools or for their lives is quite incredible. Some people love it, others don’t. I really do like this atmosphere but thirteen years ago I had no idea what I was going to experience. On my first day, the fair buzz hit me and on that first morning, after different interviews, I had three strong options. And as I was going to take a break and ring my wife to talk about the options  ahead us, I got into this elevator. An English teacher was already there and as we were going down to the hotel lobby and he looked at me and he said to me with a big smile:

“So, what do you have?”

It was probably obvious than I was very excited. Then started a conversation about international schools in the hotel lobby. He had been in the circuit for a while and he had a genuine interest to give me some hints. What an opportunity for me since I was so green! To his first question about what I had, I told him about the three schools: school A, school B and IICS in Istanbul. Right away, he told me to not jump on anything but he shared that according to him school A was not necessarily a great choice for me (he shared very detailed reasons), that school B was a good IB school, but that it could be difficult for my wife to get a job in the local French school as it was very small. And he finished by saying that IICS was a great choice, that it was also an IB school and that I would learn a lot there. In my memory, the conversation ended at that moment, I have no recollection of other discussion points and the English teacher somehow vanished. I was left with my three schools on different continents and I was just given some critical advice. The research that I did confirmed all of the English teacher’s  sayings and I signed with IICS the next day. I started as a French and Spanish teacher, learned about the MYP and DP and left after eight fantastic years with a five year experience as IB DP coordinator. That was indeed a great choice and as years go by I still thank this English teacher who gave me so valuable advice. I can’t remember his name (did we even exchange names?) or where he was from, but I remember that he was an experienced English teacher well versed in the international teaching circuit. If he is out there reading this post, then I want him to know that he changed my life after this five minute conversation. 

I have since then worked with many more colleagues who gave me fantastic advice and I am now humbly trying to support and give tips to colleagues as much as I can. I am convinced that our lives are intrinsically collaborative : for teachers and recruiters to have a good fit we need to exchange to make informed decisions that involve not only us, but our families and our communities.

For those of us going to fairs over the next couple of months, let’s not forget to re-connect with former colleagues, PTC instructors, TIE folks  etc obviously, but I encourage all of us to talk to people we don’t know. You might encounter an English teacher in an elevator who will change your life.

Wishing you all a fantastic new year. 

For what it’s worth…

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | Leave a comment

What to Read in 2019

So last week I turned 49…nice! I had a great birthday and I was spoiled rotten by friends and family, and the best gift that I received (the same gift that I get every year) came from my beautiful wife…money for books! You see, we have this deal that I’ve written about before, whereby I get to order books each year on my birthday, and if I finish them all before my next birthday then I get more money to do it all again…awesome! Anyway, I finished my last couple of books from 2018 over the holiday break, and I’ve spent the last two weeks or so compiling my birthday list for 2019…I’ve pored over book reviews and online articles, I’ve combed through book stores, and I’ve asked around for recommendations from friends and colleagues from all around the world, and I now have a preliminary list of 15 books that I’m super excited to read…see below.

I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small and simple life changes. Anyway, happy reading in 2019, and please let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can add it to my shopping cart…a good book can be transformative in so many ways, so please make the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

I guess there are never enough books – John Steinbeck

What School Could Be – Ted Dintersmith

Educated – Tara Westover

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Be Fearless – Jean case

Brave Leadership – Kimberly Davis

Dare to Lead – Brene Brown

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

Loonshots – Safi Bahcall

Brave New Work – Aaron Dignan

Fully Human – Susan Packard

Nine Lies About Work – Marcus Buckingham

The Culture Solution – Matthew Kelly

10 Perspectives On Education Innovation – Todd Whitaker

Unlocking Creativity – Michael Roberto

The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

sweet to be home

Five months ago, my mother died, and I broke off my engagement with my fiancé. About a month later, I decided to quit international teaching and move back to the US. At the time, my Head of School asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this? ’ He cited some famous psych study that lists the most stressful [not physically violent] things a person can experience, and puts ‘death of a family member’ at the top, followed closely by ‘change in relationship status’ and ‘move’. I said yes.

Yes, living abroad is an adventure. Yes, I feel incredibly privileged and thrilled that i’ve been able to have had this experience, in two countries and two regions of the world, over the past six years. Yes, it’s financially very lucrative compared with public or private school teaching at home in the States (um, my school pays my rent, for starters– eat that, Park Slope). Yes, I’ve seen wonders of the world (Jersualem! Cairo! Petra! Mountains and deserts in South America!) and made amazing friends and had incredible conversations, and learned much about myself and my own culture in the process.

But i haven’t been *home*. Yes, I’ve visited twice a year for six years, but those short tours no longer suffice.

I am tired of living a temporary existence. At age 38, as my father astutely observed, I am interested in finally ‘settling down’. I want to both build, and to deepen. I have 10- and 15-year old friendships in New England that I want to cultivate. I have interests in teaching and history and psychology and the arts that I want to explore. Instead of running away from the political mess that is the United States right now, I want to re-engage and see how I can play a small role in highlighting the positive, encouraging the youth, and doing annoying performance art in front of the White House as often as I can stand it.

I just don’t think it’s very viable to do all that while living overseas. Schools overseas too often overlook pedagogy in favor of pedigree (some schools in the US do this also). And expats overseas often seek short-term pleasures instead of long-term lives. We live outside our normal society, so we outfit ourselves with different morals. We aren’t fully a part of the place where we live, so we hold ourselves apart. This is what I want to get away from. I want to have roots.

I learned from my disabled mother that taking responsibility isn’t a bad thing, despite what the zeitgeist says. Even though I did sometimes resent the fact that I was her primary care-giver for the better part of ten years, over that time, I grew to accept it. I didn’t expect her to remember my friends’ names, but I still told her about them. I knew she wouldn’t stay awake for the new Muppet movie, but I took her anyway. I bought her clothes and scheduled her appointments and plucked her chin hairs and played Scrabble. It doesn’t matter if I thought some of it was boring. This is what life is.

I don’t need to always be seeking the highest mountain in South America or the most remote and secluded beach in Brazil. I want to also be content with the view of the trees at a local park and the taste of a toasted bagel with butter from a close-by cafe. My adventures will be eavesdropping on passers-by and chatting with taxi drivers about the weather, finding a lecture series at a nearby bookstore, going to hear live music in a bar the size of a closet, bringing a friend ingredients for soup and making it at her house, inventing new words with her 1-year old child. I can still enjoy new and fast and loud, but I resolve to also relish the small, and slow, and quiet, and sweet.

Posted in Allison Poirot | 10 Comments

A New Year’s Carry Over

So I cannot believe that it’s already the year 2019. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all stressing about the roll over to the new millennium, and wondering what the year 2000 would bring to the world? In some ways, those two decades since seem to have blurred all together, like time tends to do as we get older and older. One truth that I’ve learned for sure in my life is that the days go by way, way too fast, and if you don’t stop and hit the pause button every once in a while it will speed you by without warning, and more crucially, without notice. The start of a new year is an easy and obvious chance to do just that…to stop and reflect, to pause and consider, and to take stock in your life. It’s a natural opportunity for people to think about where they are both personally and professionally, and a chance to make goals and promises, or resolutions, to do better, to be better, and feel better about where they currently are. 
The problem that often comes with these “resolutions” however, is that they are usually framed in the negative, and unrealistically, often setting people up for failure. They tend to lean toward what’s wrong in your life, and toward areas that need improvement. Recently, resolutions haven’t felt right for me, because I found myself always starting the new year in a negative mindset, focusing on things that I am not currently doing, which in my mind, I should be doing. This ultimately made me feel bad about myself. I’m sure many of you have gone through a similar experience, and maybe you’re feeling that way right now. Well, this year I’m taking a different approach to the new year…entering into 2019 with a different and positive mindset, which so far feels really good. 
I remember staring out the window in northern Norway this past New Year’s Eve, just a couple of weeks ago, and going down my usual road of reflection as I marveled at the fireworks that were lighting up the midnight sky. I was thinking about all the changes that I needed to make in my life, and how I need to eat better and exercise more…how I need to drink less and spend more time with my family, and how I need to take more courses and maybe a doctorate degree in something so I can continue to learn. It was at that point that I caught myself starting to get a bit depressed and frankly, a little sad. I remember noticing this negativity and quickly shaking my head, and as I looked around I saw my two amazing kids, my beautiful wife, and this incredible light show, and it was then that I challenged myself to think about all that’s right with my life, and not about all that I perceive to be wrong with it. 
Well, talk about beginning the new year on the right foot! I spent the next day or two finding moments throughout the day to focus on all that was right about the previous year, and all that is going well in my life both personally and professionally, and I finally thought, okay, I’ll just keep doing that for 2019…I’ll take all the good things that are working, and that are making me happy, and I’ll carry them over into the new year…a new year carry over can be my so called resolution. Of course over the next few weeks and even months I’ll try to eat better and exercise more, like I do after every extended holiday, and I will find new ways to learn because I’m passionate about learning, but I guess my point is this…Instead of beating yourself up about the person that you currently aren’t, and all the work that you need to do to feel better about yourself, change your mindset…even if it’s just a little. 
Take stock in all that’s right about your life, and about who you are as a person, and start 2019 by celebrating that! Begin the year feeling good about yourself instead of bad, and you know what, I bet that this positive energy and outlook will be a better foundation and starting point to achieve any goals that you might have for the upcoming year. I’m willing to bet that if you begin from a place of celebration and gratitude that any changes that you want to make will be more sustainable in the long run. Anyway, happy new year everyone and I truly hope that 2019 is your best year to date! If we look closely enough, I bet all of us have areas in our lives that we are proud of and happy with…carry them over and make those positive aspects your focal point in 2019. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 
Quote of the Week…
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year
–  Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Over Developing Ideas

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Questions are the important thing, answers are less important. Learning to ask a good question is the heart of intelligence. Learning the answer-well, answers are for students. Questions are for thinkers. ~Roger Schank

Elevators are interesting. I use elevators as a model on the first day of any programming class, interface design unit, or STEM class. I find it fascinating to have students stop and think about how everything works and how everything is designed.

I use elevators because they are a universal norm; a mode of transport every student is familiar with using. However, the best part about using elevators on the first day of class, is everyone thinks they know everything about them. As students deconstruct the elevator, they realize there is an entire world of creation they have never noticed.

The day after the initial class, students often tell me they are angry. They are angry because now they are studying every small detail when they use the elevator, it is not longer just a quick hassle free ride.

Recently I  experienced two elevators in two very different hotels. The first hotel was a fairly standard US chain. The second hotel was on the upper end of the luxury scale in Asia. In both places, the elevators had horrible design flaws. I am certain that elevator number two was significantly more expensive to purchase. That fact did not negate the issues with user interface or reliability.

I began to wonder about the people who worked on designing these elevators, building them, and selling them to the hotels. These teams had to be worlds apart, yet, making the same mistakes. These teams obviously had very different and diverse backgrounds, yet, they ended-up in the same place with the same problems.

In a connected world this type of outcome should be fairly rare. It seems as if people should be able to study existing models, research back through history, physically explore and test systems that already exist, and easily interview people about their experiences. Yet, these team did not do that. I believe they worked in an insular fashion, and over complicated a traditional and reliable system.

Over Design and Over Development

Solutions are normally constructed with a series of processes all working together, and usually in some required order. There is a tendency for people to focus on a single link in the chain and the over develop that particular area. When this happens, the solutions and/or design weakens as a whole.

For example, assume someone is designing the security system in an elevator. The default process is to use a simple card swipe. Someone decides to make the product and solution more modern by removing the card swipe and switching to bio-metrics. This requires the use of fingerprints for everyone who is known to work in the building. The technology works, but many challenges start to appear:

  1. Dust on the surface is tough to manage
  2. The scanner is not adjustable, and not accessible to people who are in wheelchairs or on crutches
  3. The fingerprint database has an additional cost due to backups and emergency power
  4. A by-pass has to be installed for VIPs who may take the wrong elevator, thus allowing anonymous access
  5. Updating the system is slow, and requires all security guards to have an additional 6 hours of training

This example is not entirely fiction. There are many case studies on situations like this where people over develop solutions.  An older example, but truly timeless in my opinion, is the Denver Airport Baggage System. I will not go into details, but it is worth a read.

Another consequence of over designing and over thinking is stagnation. Good ideas simply never get off the ground. The desire for perfection starts to consume the project, and eventually, the momentum fades. People will generally find a solution or work around for their problems, even if that means compromising in areas that should be held to a high standard.

When solving a problem or developing a new idea the best rule to follow is to look-up and look-out. Explore the world and the ideas of the past and present. Find the same idea, or similar idea, and ask questions. Get the story, including the anecdotes, because facts and function are rarely where the secrets live.


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