They Ask Me Why I Teach

So I had to deal with a few situations last week that truly made me appreciate being an educator, and that made me feel honored to have the opportunity to interact with young people each and every day. Most of the issues revolved around students who had made bad decisions, or who had made a big enough mistake that it warranted a hard conversation. Anyway, reflecting back on these interactions, I found that they were easily the best part of my week, as they reminded me why I love education so much…being with kids!

 

Having the opportunity to speak to students who have made bad decisions and mistakes is one of the best parts of the job in my opinion, because it’s then that you can really teach, and mentor, and get kids to become better versions of themselves. The mistakes that kids make are where the beauty of adolescence lies, and to have the opportunity to help guide a child through their formative years, which is at times hard for every child, is a true gift that educators have been given. That said, it is remarkable to me that with every conversation that I have with a student around making better choices, I am reminded so much about life and what education is all about, which is that the most precious and most teachable moments often happen outside of the academic classroom.

 

Teaching kids to be better human beings, and to learn from their mistakes, so that they can become better each and every day is the good stuff, and if we approach these opportunities with the right mindset and attitude then we can change and truly impact a young person’s life in immeasurable ways…and we get to learn about ourselves in the process. It’s easy to quickly go straight to the discipline approach, or to frame the conversation around consequences, but then we miss out on what’s really important, which is the learning. I always walk away from one of these conversations changed for the better, and with a deeper appreciation of the student who is with me at the time. Kids make mistakes, we all do, but it’s how we approach the outcome that makes all the difference. No other profession has the opportunity that we have, and it’s beautiful. How fortunate are we to be doing what we’re doing? How fortunate are we to be spending our days with kids? We get to be mentors and role models and we get to learn from the best teachers on the planet…our students.

 

It all reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Glennice L. Harmon, which brings to life the reason why we all do what we do…we get to spend our days with young people, and like she says, where could you find more splendid company? Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

 

They Ask me why I Teach – Glennice L. Harmon


They ask me why I teach

And I reply, “Where could I find more splendid company?”

There sits a statesman,

Strong, unbiased, wise,

Another later Webster

Silver-tongued.

And there a doctor

Whose quick, steady hand

Can mend a bone or stem the lifeblood’s flow.

A builder sits beside him — 

Upward rise the arches of that church he builds wherein

That minister will speak the word of God,

And lead a stumbling soul to touch the Christ.

And all about

A lesser gathering

Of farmers, merchants, teachers,

Laborers, men

Who work and vote and build

And plan and pray into a great tomorrow.

And, I say,

“I may not see the church,

Or hear the word,

Or eat the food their hands will grow.

And yet — I may.

And later I may say,

“I knew the lad, and he was strong,

Or weak, or kind, or proud

Or bold or gay.

I knew him once,

But then he was a boy.

They ask my why I teach and I reply,

“Where could I find more splendid company?”

 

Quote of the Week…

Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops – Henry Brooks Adams

 

The Power of Great Teachers Videos – 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebN9VocKiyg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN3iLeq1828

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypFRxw9czi4

 

The Power of a Great Teacher Articles –

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104136/chapters/The-Power-of-an-Effective-Teacher-and-Why-We-Should-Assess-It.aspx

http://www.edutopia.org/teachers-power-shape-lives

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/06/06/anne-lamott-stitches-teachers/

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A Week Without Walls

So for the past two weeks, our middle and high school students (and many of our teachers) have been off discovering different parts of Ecuador through our outdoor education program here at AC. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with the middle school kids last week in two different locations, and to tell you the truth I was really inspired by what I saw. Our students were working tirelessly doing meaningful service projects for the local communities, as well as coming together as grade levels through team building and trust activities. They bonded as a group, they made new friends, the got pushed out of their comfort zones, and they learned a lot about themselves…it was amazing. It left me wondering why we don’t do this for more than just 5 days a year honestly, as it seems to me that these trips might just be the most profound learning that our kids will experience all year. I love the quote below by Walt Whitman because it gets to the core of what I believe in as an educator, which is that not everything that our children need to learn can be taught in a formal classroom setting.

 

        In my opinion, students at this Upper School age need to learn about and internalize the importance of things like trust, service, cultural awareness, environmental stewardship, risk taking, failure, teamwork, and a host of other life skills that will shape who they are, and how they view the world as they meander toward adulthood. Obviously, the best and most profound way to teach and learn these skills is through direct experience, which is why it is so important that we provide opportunities for students, like our Discover Ecuador Trips, where these kinds of experiences can be embraced. I also firmly believe that due to the somewhat sheltered, privileged, and pampered environments that many quality International Schools provide for kids (like ours), breaking students out of their comfort zones (no 5 star hotels, nobody picking up after them, next to no technology, room sharing, getting wet and dirty, trying new foods, giving their time to service, etc..) is an educational responsibility that we all share as a global community.

 

Inevitably, students return from these trips changed for the better (whether they like it or not)……..better attitudes and perspectives about themselves and their community, better cultural awareness and understanding, better relationships with their teachers and peers, and a better sense of what they can accomplish as young adults. Teachers also return from these trips changed for the better…… a better understanding of their individual students as people, better relationships with students who they don’t necessarily teach, better relationships with their colleagues who they rarely see outside of the school walls, and a better perspective on what’s possible when their kids are pushed past their levels of comfort. I cannot wait to hear the stories, the celebrations, and the life anecdotes that have been generated from this remarkable week away, and I cannot wait to see the positive changes in our kids. It was a wonderful way to begin our school year, and I think it’s time to think critically about how we can bring more experiences like this to life throughout the year. Seriously, if the learning is so rich and meaningful, and the service to our local communities is so impactful, then the question remains…why only 5 days?

 

Finally, I want to thank all of our teachers who spent these past two weeks with our kids. I know the hard work that is involved with trips like these, and the energy it takes to be with our students for 24 hours a day. You truly are mentors, guardians, and change agents for our young adults, and I could not be more proud of you all…thank you! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.


Quote of the week….

Now I see the secret of making the best persons, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
– Walt Whitman

 

Funny Commercial about Nature – 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=70&v=Bf5TgVRGND4

 
TED Talks –http://www.ted.com/talks/emma_marris_nature_is_everywhere_we_just_need_to_look_for_it

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_francis_walks_the_earth

http://www.ted.com/talks/yann_arthus_bertrand_captures_fragile_earth_in_wide_angle

 

Outdoor Education Articles – 

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/5-benefits-of-outdoor-education-michael-becker

https://www.whatihavelearnedteaching.com/5-benefits-outdoor-education/

https://smartmom.co/outdoor-education/

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It’s possible to be too open minded

I have just finished reading some work done by a student in one of my Theory of Knowledge classes.  He had been asked to compare several possible solutions to a problem, evaluate them and explain which one was the best one, in his opinion.  Toward the end of his essay he wrote that each of the (contradictory) solution had its strengths, and each could be accepted because the person proposing each one came from a different culture, and had been “exposed to different cultures of learning”.

At one level one must applaud the open-mindedness here; the student was trying to see all possible solutions from the perspective of the person who offered them.  Excellent.  We are delighted to see tolerance here.  I worry, though, about the slippery slope from tolerance to relativism.  Toleration of other people is the disposition to fight opinion only with opinion; to use the pen and not the sword.  So far so good.  But toleration of people is based in respect for people simply because they are people (a good thing) – and it’s easy to confuse this with respecting ideas simply because they are ideas (a bad thing).  That means accepting that all opinions “are equally valid” – an appealing but dangerous step.

The trouble is that if all the ideas are equally valid, and all our beliefs are “just our opinions” then we lose the right to search for a better world, or a more just world.  If everything is just opinion, then there can be no right or wrong, no progress and no real engagement with other people.  Perhaps it is the word just that is the problem; because when we call for an end to human rights violations around the world, for example, it is more than just our opinion; it is the voice of humanity’s bitter experience with war, torture and atrocities over the centuries.  The right reaction, therefore, on matter of importance, is not to nod gently, smile indulgently, and respect opinions, but to agree or to disagree, as strenuously as you can and to say why.  Philosopher Simon Blackburn puts it thus: “The virtues of courage and intelligence, patience and concern, are virtues the world over”. This cannot be in doubt.

In giving feedback to the student whose work I mentioned above, I told him that I would defend very much his right to make up his own mind.  But I would at the same time defend the position that there are some things that it makes a lot more sense to believe than others.  We talked about this, and we concluded that there are three ways to respond to differences of opinion:

  • you can shrug and say ‘all beliefs are equally valid; we are both equally right’
  • you can discuss why you believe what you do, and why others believe what they do, and try to understand the difference
  • you can just say ‘I am right, you are wrong’

Why is the second of these so much better that the first and the third?  Because it is the start of an intelligent, patient and concerned conversation, whereas the the other responses are the end of one.

————————————-

By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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Viva Voce

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” –Marcel Proust

Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “with living voice” and represents an insightful way to describe one of the highlights of our school year. The dual reference of “with living voice” to signify both the concept of “word of mouth” and an oral examination, such as a thesis defense, accurately represents students’ experiences associated with our culminating International Baccalaureate (IB) Extended Essay experience.

The IB’s Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed work of research that is concluded with the writing of a 4,000-word paper. Through the process of investigating a topic of special interest, the IB highlights how students develop skills that include the formulation of a research question and the corresponding capacity to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge.

While the completion of an Extended Essay is an impressive accomplishment in itself, the American School of Brasilia extends the experience and learning through an event called Viva Voce. This special event may best be described as the verbal counterpart to the student’s written essay when our IB candidates literally talk about the passion and challenges they experienced when writing their essays. A three to five-member panel, usually comprised of parents, teachers, and students with expertise or interest in the subject, carefully read the essay and formally engage with the IB students during their presentations. The Viva Voce event is also open to our community to participate as a silent audience and, given the full attendance, there is clearly a high degree of support and interest.

Beyond this framework, what makes the Viva Voce experience so profound is the high degree of passion and engagement that students clearly convey for their research topics. It is not uncommon for students to write much more than the required 4,000 words. The following is a sample of some of the research focus areas:

  • Economics: Government’s Management of Brazil’s Electricity Sector
  • World Studies: Sustainable Fashion
  • Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s influence in film
  • Macro Economics. The effect of the Greek economic crisis in the EU.

This year, I had the honor of serving on Carolina’s panel, a student whose research question investigated the ballad structure in Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” While Carolina spoke to the panel and audience about both her findings and her learning, I could not help but be impressed by her reflections on how her research changed how she sees literature, human relations, and the world in general, but also by her depth of knowledge and understanding of Wilde’s work, as represented by her concluding statements:

“The author uses a poetic method as a tool of offering palpable representation of life at Reading Gaol, which causes people to feel sympathy and sadness. The convicted men inside prison are hopeful, therefore although the initial feeling is that of pity, the author transforms it into a soothing, otherworldly environment, one that proved the human soul capable of conquering the harshness of reality.”

Well done Carolina! And, well done to all Viva Voce students!

viva-voce-1

The deep learning experiences demonstrated not only by Carolina but all of our students is not the only factor that makes Viva Voce such a special experience. It is also the fact that teachers, parents, students, and members of the greater community are also participating in the learning experience. As it was the first time I had read Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, I was grateful to Carolina for sharing her analysis and introducing me to such an important work of literature. I had similar feelings last year when serving on a panel for an outstanding economics paper and was seated with a talented economist from the British Embassy and the World Bank Country Director for Brazil. While I would like to think that I made some meaningful contributions to our conversation about economics, I have no doubt that I was also a learner on this day.

While these are my personal stories, I am confident that I speak on behalf of everyone who has participated in the Viva Voce event when sharing how meaningful and transformative the experience has been for students, teachers, and parents. To that end, Viva Voce is a good example of how learning can be personalized, relevant, and meaningful. In terms of school culture, Viva Voce also embodies and exemplifies the spirit of our mission statement: Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.”

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

viva-voce-2

 

 

 

 

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Students Leading Change

So we are about 6 weeks away from hosting a regional GIN conference here at Academia Cotopaxi, and it’s exciting to think about the opportunity that we have to inspire our students around the planet’s most important issues. We’ve been trying hard of late to build and grow a culture around the idea of service, and to empower our students to think of themselves as true agents of change for our local and global community. In an effort to dig deep into this, we’ve created a specific GIN elective class this year for Middle School kids, who are excited to lead some powerful initiatives around several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which we’ve been breaking down over the past couple of weeks in class. The best part about this class for me personally is that I get to co-teach it, and watching the students think critically about their ideas, their projects, and their passions each day leaves me incredibly inspired and hopeful. 

 

        The students have already identified a few specific areas of need for our local community, and now they are ready to bring their projects to life. By working through the design thinking process, and by coming up with their own authentic and complex driving questions, and by following their specific passions, each group is truly leading their own learning…and the absolute engagement that I see each and every day is a beautiful thing to be a part of. We have groups that are tackling issues around gender equality, hunger, health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, reduced inequalities, and quality education, and the ideas are coming fast and furious. These groups are a multi-grade level mix, which provides so many opportunities for collaboration around student passions, and mentorship/leadership  opportunities for all of the kids regardless of age. 

 

        Last week we had our students prioritize the 17 UN goals, and the conversations and debates around which goal should be the world’s top priority was fascinating…kids lobbying to end poverty and hunger as the best first step, only to be challenged by other kids who were adamant that climate action and reduced inequalities were the way to go. I just sat back and listened to the rich and thoughtful conversations, and marveled at the level of maturity and higher level thinking that our middle school kids were producing…it felt like a high school theory of knowledge class honestly, and I just kept thinking that this is student learning at it’s finest. 

 

        The kids are now in the beginning stages of identifying teacher mentors, and community experts, and field trips, and solutions to their driving questions. One group has already begun work with our language center to bring Quito’s first true lending library to life, and the incredible change that these kids will help inspire with regards to literacy in our local community will be immeasurable…and that’s just one of the projects! Anyway, as we draw closer to the conference date, I want to ask you all to think of ways to help build a culture of service and action in all of our students. How can your individual classes contribute to this cause, and how can you help lead? Our student leaders will be coming around shortly looking for ways to bring you all authentically into the conference conversation in one way or another, so start thinking about how you can use this opportunity to empower your beautiful kids. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

 

 

Quote of the Week…

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children – Native American Proverb

 

 

Articles/Websites – 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160327-wilson-half-planet-conservation-climate-change-extinction-ngbooktalk/

http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/green-living/planet-friendly-tips/home-1

http://wwf.panda.org/how_you_can_help/campaign/plant_seed/

http://www.savingtheplanet.tv/

http://www.exploringabroad.com/travel-resources/environmental-organizations

 

The Lorax – The Last Tree Falls

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh31x2VICgc

 

 

Interesting Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHnIJeE3LAI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8osYLeLTXE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M

 

 

Great TED Talks –

http://www.ted.com/playlists/342/talks_on_water

http://www.ted.com/playlists/151/earth_appreciated

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Passing of an Ethical Icon

ethics

This past summer, we saw the passing of an ethical icon. In July, we learned Elie Wiesel was no longer with us. As I read the obituaries and platitudes written in his honor, I was reminded Wiesel was 16 years old when he emerged from the Holocaust as a survivor. I couldn’t help but think of my youngest daughter, who is now 16, and question how someone this age could have the capacity to survive such a horrific experience. This seemed to have been a question that compelled Wiesel as well, as he has often been described as “a witness who reminded us of the grim realities of the Holocaust in a never-ending pursuit of lessons learned. “ (2016) He was more than just a witness; he was someone who pushed us to ask questions, to seek to understand, and to analyze decisions from an ethical and moral perspective to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. In this sense, he has been describe as, “the very conscience of the world.”

Wiesel was a prolific writer. Much of his work was based on his own experiences, or derived from those experiences. He is perhaps best known for his first piece of writing, Night. Described as autobiographical, this book is narrated by a boy living the horrors of the Holocaust. The narrator questions the reality he lives, the world around him, his faith, and his own very existence. While a powerful book with a meaningful message, this is not the book amongst Wiesel’s many works that had the greatest impact on me. That honor belongs to a later book, Dawn, the second in what became known as the Night trilogy. Dawn describes a single night in one young man’s life when he is tormented by a decision he must make at dawn. I first read this book when I was a senior in high school, and I remember being blown away by the power of what the book had to say. It was the first time I began to think about questions of ethics and morality as I wondered what choice I would have made if I had been in the same position as the protagonist in the story. I think it was probably the first time I recognized there can be more that one right answer to a question, and the line between what is right and what is wrong, or two rights, can be very blurred.

This question of the choice between two right decisions is one I’ve learned to grapple with over the years. While Wiesel was first to present me with the hypothetical reality, I have found the challenge to exist in a variety of circumstances, especially since moving into international school leadership. One of the things I enjoy most about leadership is the opportunity to engage in challenging questions and problems. Years ago, I told my wife that instead of director, my job title should be professional problem solver. Working with problems, whether they are people problems or infrastructure problems, can be described as the bulk of what we do as school leaders. And, the truth is, many of these problems have more than one right answer, and often contain an element of moral and / or ethical perspective.

Several years ago, I was introduced to the work of Rushworth Kidder, who explores the thinking around making tough decisions. Kidder talks about the “ethics of right vs. right,” (2009) and the challenge that exists when you are in a position of needing to make a decision where both sides of an issue appear to be right depending on the perspective one holds. He describes these challenges in terms of paradigms where we are forced to examine challenges from the perspective of conflicts within our core values. He proposes a decision making model based on looking at problems through ethical lenses in an effort to understand some of the deeper conflicts in a particular challenge. I remember the first time I read Kidder, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t have the answers, but I began to have way of looking at some of these difficult questions as I began to fit these challenges into the larger puzzle of my own beliefs. I often return to Kidder simply to ground me and reorient my thinking.

I believe international school leadership is confronted with a great deal of these right vs. right decisions. It is one of the things making our profession truly interesting. This past week, I read a study conducted by RSAcademics LTD (2016). This study describes some of the considerations that play a part in international school decision making. These include cultural influences, finances, change, growth, and a variety of other factors. Depending on the point of view of those involved in a particular challenge, there can often be many different right answers, and invariably someone not entirely happy with the final decision.

Right vs. right decision-making is one of those constancies that are a part of life for an international school leader. As I think over my own journey of questioning the ethics and morals around decisions, and the challenges of making decisions in our profession, I’ve come to realize everything is what we make of it. We can stress about the problems we face, or we can see them as challenges we can overcome. I’ve come to realize I am most effective at dealing with these challenges when I work from a strong sense of what I believe in, while also being willing to hear a variety of perspectives and looking at how they fit into those beliefs. Ultimately, I find it is about comfort – feeling comfortable in the belief I am doing what I believe to be best for students and in what is best for them in the long term.

As I reflect on the challenges of decision-making, and the making of ethical and moral choices, I feel a debt of gratitude to those I’ve learned from – rather it be through reading or through life experiences. In particular, I appreciate that one book that caused me to think for the first time about the abstract questions that can lead to right vs. right decisions. Thank you, Elie Wiesel.

 Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

References

The Art of International School Headship. RSAcademics Ltd, Web. 4 Sept. 2016.

Berger, Joseph. “Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 87.” New York Times 2 July 2016.

Kidder, Rushworth M. How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. New York: Harper, 2009.

Wiesel, Elie, and Marion Wiesel. Night. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, a Division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Wiesel, Elie. Dawn. Toronto: Bantam, 1982.

 

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The Tuition Issue

By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

I am often told that many of our students in High School are tutored in one or more subjects, and asked for a reaction. I rather have the impression that some parents expect dismay that students are filling their already busy time with more work, some expect shame that tutors are needed to provide what the school cannot (apparently), and some expect pride that students and families are striving for excellence. I find it hard to convey all these three feeling simultaneously, but I do my best.

The costs are not just financial. But the benefits can be considerable. How do we weigh these up?

Tuition: The costs are not just financial. But the benefits can be considerable. How do we weigh these up?

More seriously, my usual response is that of course parents have the right, no the duty, to do what they think is in the best interests of their children. That’s what I do for my children, and that’s what we hope all parents do for theirs. So then, the more sensible (overlapping) questions become Is the tuition worthwhile? How much is the student benefitting from tuition, overall, in the long run? and What are the financial, non-financial and opportunity costs of tuition? I cannot help be struck by the extremes which we sometimes find, but still, the questions are worth asking.

Is tuition worthwhile? There is no one answer here; it all clearly depends on the student, the teacher and the tutor. What seems obvious to me is that ‘everyone else is getting it’ is a bad reason to send children to tuition – firstly, because most people don’t, and secondly, because following the crowd unthinkingly is generally not a good idea. Teachers are generally willing to go the extra mile to explain a difficult idea, check over a problem or hear a student’s concern; does that suffice? The curriculum is meant to be challenging, so it would not be surprising to hear that not everything is immediately obvious. Is it worth getting tuition for every difficulty? Or might it be worth just letting time work its magic (some things just take a while to understand properly)? The answers will depend on the difficulty, the student and the stage in the school.

Some of my colleagues are very much against tuition, but it seems to me that if a student is benefiting a great deal overall, if the time needed does not exclude too much else, and tuition is within a family’s financial means, then tuition seems to have has a good deal going for it – but the ‘overall’ caveat is a significant one.

It seems to me to be likely that a maths tutor can help a student nail a specific technique, such as ‘using the cosine rule’. And over time, perhaps a tutor can address several such topics. But in the long term it would be a mistake to overlook the deeper conceptual understandings in favour of more specific – and more measurable – techniques. Indeed, constant tuition (of a closed and narrow drilling sort) might for any given topic mask conceptual difficulties from the regular classroom teacher – and thus end up with the teacher not giving the student the scaffolding and support he or she needs, to nobody’s benefit. And there is also the opportunity cost of tuition in terms of its effect on students’ overall motivation, energy levels, sense of independence and ability to get some relaxation during busy terms. Tuition has costs other than the financial ones – especially if it allows students to think that they can get difficulties solved by someone else; ultimately, they need to be taking responsibility for themselves.

You will see that I am skeptical about the value of tuition. But I am not entirely skeptical – and I confess to having done a fair bit of it myself in the past – which what effect, I honestly could not say (good value for hard working parents? Not sure!). So I end with a list of questions to ask parents who are considering tuition.

  • Have you discussed your child’s progress with his or her teacher?
  • Does your child know exactly what the classroom teacher, who best knows the situation, would advise?
  • Are you considering a programme of long-term tuition generally, or a specific intervention for a specific difficulty?
  • Is the purpose to work on basic knowledge, practice routines or to encourage higher order thinking? Or to develop time management skills, so that students are becoming independent learners?
  • Is one of your prime motivations worry that others are having tuition or worry that you are not doing all you might for your child?
  • Are you considering a tutor who is familiar with the sort of learning that your child is undertaking, and understands the nature of our curriculum and external examinations?
  • Does the tutor have a fixed system into which your child must fit, or is he or she willing to look at your child’s specific case, engage with him or her about his or her specific needs, conceptions and misconceptions, and adjust accordingly?
  • Will there be any knock-on effect on your child’s levels of enthusiasm for the subject, for learning and for school overall?

Doing the best for our students, individually, is a very difficult matter. Is tuition a good thing? I don’t know the answer, but these are the right questions to ask.

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Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile

bag

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.

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Wellness and Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz

It was a morning filled with everything you hoped to see at a wellness event. Students, parents, and teachers were actively engaging in activities that included CrossFit, judo, Muay Thai, and yoga, all capped with the development of a few circus-related skills at the end of the day. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the wellness activities and their time with friends and family while the problems of the past week quietly drifted away. It is this characteristic that I particularly admire in Brazilians – the ability to fully live in the moment while temporarily letting go of their anxieties. I believe this is what the Persian poet Rumi refers to as surrender or, in more recent times, mindfulness, which does not necessarily come naturally to someone like me, who has a cultural bias towards a more future-orientated view of the world. This is probably why the photo from the wellness event of the two students enjoying a humorous moment with the orange traffic cones brought such a smile to my face.

wellness1

One of our school-wide goals this year is a focus on wellness: To ensure a secure learning environment in which all stakeholders are physically and emotionally safe to learn and grow as individuals and members of the EAB community. 
The Sábado Legal, or Cool Saturdays program, has regularly provided our community with opportunities to realize key aspects of this wellness goal, not only for students but also for faculty, staff, and parents. As adults, we also have the responsibility of modeling wellness and mindfulness for our students and ourselves. We are only able to best serve our communities when each of us is at our best through our own foci on wellness. This fact is highlighted by our teachers who regularly lead yoga, dance, mindfulness, and running activities with students and adults at our school, which has clearly made a difference in the health of our community.

In the spirit of our mission statement focus on “learners inspiring learners”, I am grateful to our two wonderful students in the photo for reminding the adults about the importance of mindfulness and how to enjoy a moment.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne


Portuguese Version / Versão em Português

Bem-Estar e Conscientização do Momento

“Ser Mindfulness é simplesmente estar consciente do que está acontecendo agora sem desejar que fosse diferente; apreciar o agradável sem se prender as mudanças (elas ocorrerão); passar pelo desagradável temendo que não haja mudança (pois haverá).” – James Baraz

Foi uma manhã com tudo o que se esperava encontrar em um evento voltado ao bem-estar. Alunos, pais e professores estavam envolvidos em atividades como CrossFit, Judô, Muay Thai e Yoga, além de algumas atividades circenses no final do dia. Todos pareciam estar se divertindo com as atividades e com o tempo passado com os amigos e familiares, enquanto os problemas do passado eram deixados de lado. Essa é uma característica que eu, particularmente, admiro nos brasileiros – a capacidade de viver plenamente o momento deixando temporariamente de lado as suas ansiedades. Eu acredito que é isso que o poeta persa Rumi se refere como Surrender (entregar-se), ou recentemente como, Mindfulness (Consciência do Momento), o que não necessariamente é algo natural para uma pessoa como eu, que tem uma visão voltada para o futuro do mundo. Talvez por isso que a foto do evento, onde dois alunos se divertem com um cone de trânsito, trouxe um sorriso para o meu rosto.

wellness1

Um dos nossos objetivos esse ano é focar no bem-estar: Garantir um ambiente de aprendizado seguro, onde todas as partes interessadas estejam fisicamente e emocionalmente seguras para aprender e crescer como indivíduos e membros da comunidade da EAB. O Sábado Legal traz, regularmente, oportunidades para a nossa comunidade participar dos pontos chaves do nosso objetivo de bem-estar, não somente para os alunos, mas para o nosso corpo docente, funcionários e pais. Como adultos nós também temos a responsabilidade de molda o bem-estar e consciência, para nossos alunos e para nós mesmos. Nós só poderemos servir a nossa comunidade da melhor forma possível quando cada um de nós focarmos, da melhor maneira, no nosso bem-estar. Isso é destacado pelos nossos professores que, regularmente fazem atividades com os alunos e com os adultos em nossa escola como Yoga, dança, atividades de conscientização e corridas, o que claramente faz a diferença na saúde da nossa comunidade.

Com foco na nossa Missão “aprendizes inspirando aprendizes”, eu sou grato aos dois alunos maravilhosos da nossa comunidade que aparecem nessa foto e lembram a nós adultos da importância da conscientização do seu estado de espírito e sobre como aproveitar cada momento.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

 

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5 Things I Love…

        So we’re two weeks into the new school year and I feel really good. The first couple of weeks sets the tone for the year in so many ways, and getting off to a positive start is so important when framing the attitude and experience of both teachers and students as the weeks begin to roll on. I spent a lot of time over the past 10 days thinking about what it is that I truly love about the beginning of a new year, and I came up with a quick top 5 list that I would like to share. Feel free to add to this list from your own perspective, so together we can celebrate the beauty and opportunity that a new school year brings to us all…here we go.
        1. The Arrival – I’m not sure there is a better day in the year than the first day of school. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer holidays as much as the rest of you but there comes a time when I really start to miss the kids. Standing there in the courtyard and waiting for the buses to arrive is so exciting for me, and when I see them spill out of the doors my heart almost bursts with excitement. I love watching them re-connect with their friends, and I love how eager, nervous, excited, and anxious they all are to begin this new chapter in their lives. There’s no better feeling in the world than when a student runs up and embraces you in a hug and starts telling you all about their summer adventures. It always brings me back to why I love teaching so much, and it makes me wonder how and why other people choose to do something else with their lives. I don’t understand how someone would want to do something else besides spending their days with kids…strange.
        2. The Relationships – I love walking around during recess and lunch and watching our kids interact with each other. It’s amazing to watch the new friendships form, and the old friendships deepen, and to witness those courageous interactions when kids put themselves out there to try and fit in. I love popping into classrooms and watching how hard our teachers are working to give our kids the start that they deserve, and the effort that they are making to build that ever so important relationship foundation which will carry them through the year. Finally, what is more inspiring than watching a student walk over to a new kid who is nervously sitting alone, and sit down next to them with a smile…or to ask them to join their table group. I’ve seen this a lot over the past two weeks at our school and it makes me ridiculously proud. I’ve seen teachers do the same as well, and it brings me back to what is really important in education…the relationships.
        3. The Collaboration – In many ways, the start of a new year brings out the best in educators. I find so much joy in watching (and taking part) in the collaborative conversations that happen throughout the school days all around how to set up the best possible situations for student learning to blossom. I listen to conversations around formative assessments, and peer and self assessments, and learning targets, and data analysis, and around finding ways for students to own their own learning, and around inquiry, and personalized learning and extensions/interventions for kids, and all the rest…and it’s awesome. We are so much stronger as a school when we work together for the betterment of OUR kids, and watching these collaborative sessions truly makes me smile. I love how open we all are to push in to each other’s rooms, and to team teach, and to work together to find ways to engage students…and to inspire them to learn.
        4. The Struggle – I love watching kids struggle a little bit, and get pushed out of their comfort zones. I love watching the messiness of adolescence and the growth that happens when kids make mistakes. I love watching kids take risks and fail…and succeed, and I love how a new school year brings all of that out in kids in very profound ways. The beginning of a new school year is hard for kids as they transition to new grade levels and encounter new and scary situations. New teachers, new expectations, new classmates, new learning, and new developmental curiosities. The beauty of school, and being young and growing, is this struggle and watching it unfold before our eyes is a gift that never stops giving. A young person’s life burns so bright, and this burning is on display every second of every day…it’s beautiful if you take the time to become a part of it. Real learning often happens outside of the classroom with kids, and as educators we have the incredible opportunity to teach, to learn, and to be role models as our kids struggle to find out who they can be for our world.
        5. Turning the Corner – There comes a time when the “start of the year” is officially over, and we fall into our daily routines. Kids and teachers turn the corner so to speak, and we find a certain level of comfort with our days. Relationships have been formed, schedules have been memorized, expectations have been set, and we move on to the work that lies ahead. We begin to dig deep into the curriculum, we have accessed prior knowledge, we have a sense of where to go with each student, and we begin to settle into the year. This often happens after the second or third week in my experience, and it’s a good feeling…especially if the first two weeks have gone according to plan. It feels good to be in this place honestly, and for us it finishes with the Back to School night with our parents this week. We get to showcase our programs and celebrate the work that we’ve done to make this our best year yet. There is such a positive feeling when you turn the corner successfully, and I’m proud to say that we’re almost there. Now it’s just a matter of keeping that positive feeling going, and sustaining that outstanding effort as we speed toward autumn…that’s certainly a lot easier when the first two or three weeks of the year have been amazing…and for us they definitively have been that!
Have a wonderful week everyone and send me a few more reasons why you love the start of a new school year…I’d love to hear them. Remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows – Sydney J. Harris
Inspiring Videos – 
Great TED Talk – 
Good Articles to Frame Your Year – 
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