Knowing Your Community

So an interesting thing happened to me at the end of last year, which really opened up my eyes to how critical it is to spend the time getting to know your community…deeply. Not just the students and parents and faculty, but everyone who works so hard to ensure that our kids have their best possible experience each and every day. 

You see, we had a fantastic science unit planned for our kids around the importance of honey bees in our natural world, and one of the ideas was to bring in a beekeeper to talk to the students about honeymaking and pollination and all of the other incredible facts about our little black and yellow friends. So we went out and found a couple of local bee advocates who spent a few days enthralling our students and leaving them wanting more…especially more of the yummy honey samples.

Anyway, It just so happened that later that evening one of our experienced maintenance workers, who I thought I knew pretty well, stopped me and let me know that next time, he would be more than happy to speak to the students, as he is actually a certified beekeeper and this is his absolute life’s passion! Well, at that moment I felt terrible, and rightly so, because I had missed the perfect opportunity to connect our students with one of our community members, who, like all of us, has so much more to offer than simply the jobs that we are employed to do.  

I started to reflect on the opportunities that pass us by each and every day that might leverage the expertise and knowledge and inspiration that is right at our fingertips…literally. I missed this chance because I didn’t know this man as well as I could have, or should have, and this experience absolutely woke me up to some necessary work that I have to do…that we all have to do perhaps. This incidentally, connects very nicely to our school-wide initiative around belonging, where we are making a huge effort to ensure that all community members are seen, heard, valued, and purposely engaged.

Since that experience at the end of last year, I have done a much better job of getting to know the people in our building, who I thought I knew already but really didn’t, and I have found out so much! We now have members of our maintenance and facilities team going out on field trips with our kids and sharing their local expertise, we have members of our cafeteria team speaking to our kids about healthy eating and composting and food waste, and we have many of our cleaning and security staff helping out with our daily lunch and recess duties so they can get to know our students even better…and vice versa! 

By developing these relationships across our community, and by taking the time to get to know everyone inside and outside of our building, we will only become a stronger school. A school where everyone truly feels a sense of belonging, and where we uncover as many opportunities and possibilities as we can to not only enhance student learning, but to strengthen our relationships with each other as well.  So my question for you to ponder this week is…how well do you know the people in the building? If the answer is, not well enough, then go out of your way to change that around. We are stronger together as you know, and we are all here to support our kids…so reach out and take the first step, you might just be surprised by what you find out…I sure was, but never again. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much

-Helen Keller

Related Articles – 

The Power of Being Seen

Strength Based Community 

School Culture 

Community in Your Classroom

Leveraging Support

Inspiring Videos-

Field of Dreams

Every Opportunity

Relationships in Schools

Peace Train 

My Community – Bus Driver

Surprise Assembly

100 Jokes in 100 Days

TEACH FOR PEACE: international day of peace

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

21st September is celebrated as the International Day of Peace. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.

Peace is the key to surviving the next decade. With pandemics, wars, natural disasters, conflicts, political power play and most importantly lack of education, observing peace even for 24 hours seems unimaginable. This is the state of the planet!

The UN celebrate international days and weeks to give us time to stop and think about issues that matter the most. This is also an opportunity to educate on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems. It is also a way of celebrating and reinforcing humanity.

As a teacher, I know that academic organizations go out of their way to celebrate UN International Days as at the core of the philosophy of education lies the betterment of the world and its people. Surprisingly it is not a pressing agenda for most organizations, corporates or governments.

Interestingly it does bother the young minds as they see and experience violence, discrimination and hatred every day, thanks to the media. Some questions that my senior students asked when discussing ways to celebrate International Day of Peace, come to my mind.

  1. Is it only the responsibility of academic organizations or organizations like the UN to care about world peace? Why do other organizations, who dominate the world markets, not take an initiative?
  2. Why does peace have to come at a cost, but violence is free?
  3. Why are women and children subjected to the most violent acts?
  4. What persuades humans to act likes animals? Or are we just animals persuaded to be humans?
  5. Can we teach peace? If yes, then where are we failing?

To promote global solidarity for a peaceful and sustainable world we need to change our ways every day, not just one day. How do we do this?

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children.”

A goal to educate all people in the world is truly global peace. The ability to coexist needs to be taught, hence investing in schools should be a priority for every country, every organization, every human. That would be a concrete step towards world peace. Teach for Peace should become the mantra.

In international schools, there are many innovative projects happening to instil the value of a shared planet and to take care of the shared space. For example, privileged schools supporting the underprivileged, Model United Nation (MUN) conferences, mandated community service programmes, celebrating diversity, raising voice against discrimination, building resilience against change and most importantly valuing global peace or delivering education to make the world a better place.

If we don’t act urgently and immediately, we will continue creating humans with no humanity, orphans with no countries, and a planet with no peace. This will be our apocalypse, so let’s celebrate International Peace Day every day. Let’s be soldiers but soldiers of peace to protect our planet. Teach for Peace.

A Quest to Serve All Learners, Everywhere, Anytime

A hybrid is something made by combining two different elements.  My earliest understanding was that of the mule, the result of crossing a horse and a donkey. In the field of education, hybrid learning is best defined as some students participate in person, whereas others are online. Educators teaching virtual and in-person learners at the same time.  

Though often used interchangeably, hybrid models are not the same as blended learning.  Blended learning is resultant when educators combine in-person instruction with online learning activities, completing some components online and others in person.  A hardly foreign approach in technology-rich schools.  

In an article authored by Celisa Steele titled, “Hybrid vs Blended Learning: The Difference and Why It Matters,” further distinction is made.  “Both types of learning involve a mix of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in the two scenarios. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different individuals. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in person and online.”

360° Accommodation

The pandemic ushered in a necessity for renewed flexibility and inversely spurred creativity to strategically design schedules to accommodate all learners wherever they may be, at whatever time.  The terms synchronous and asynchronous more than mere buzzwords, were essential to take into account.  

Amidst a background of more questions than answers, scheduling becomes anything but dichotomous. Dr. John Spencer illustrates five different models for structuring hybrid learning.  

Differentiation Model:  students at home and in-person engage synchronously on the same lesson.  The two groups frequently interact with one another.
Multi-track Model: students work on the same lessons but they are divided into cohorts that exist in separate tracks. The cohorts rarely interact.
Split A/B Model: students alternate days between being at-home and being in-person.  Most at-home learning is asynchronous with a few opportunities for video conferencing.
Virtual Accommodation Model: When the group at home is small (3-4 students) they can function as a virtual small group but use video chat to join the in-person classroom.
Independent Project Model: When a face-to-face lesson doesn’t work off-line and only 1-4 students need to work virtually, an independent model works best.

Spencer recognizes how every model has strengths and weaknesses.  Further he comments, “As educators, we need to be strategic about which model we select based on the needs of our students.” Furthermore, Spencer attests to the importance of being intentional if hybrid learning is to work. A one-size fits all approach could not be justifiable, equally choices must be made instead of kidding ourselves that every model might be implemented with success.

Various Hybrid and Blended Models Mixed to Make a Jambalaya 

Currently, we find ourselves ushering in a sort of Wild West.  If nothing else, a spirit of innovation prevails and we must remain optimistic; to at least give things a try.  Yet, upon first or even second glance, some ingenious scheduling options, might leave an educator wondering about their skill set and abilities to nimbly bounce between different modalities; designing lessons and supporting learners in-person, while at the same time virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously.  A reality where some schedules may be a combination of hybrid and blended models.  Possibly three of Spencer’s models, and an overlooked delineation of the difference between hybrid and blended learning.  In effect, models proposing eighty minute lessons with a combination of physically distanced learners in-person and virtual synchronous but also asynchronous learners; cohorts on A/B days; and sixty minute entirely virtual synchronous and asynchronous lessons.  One may tire reading about such a schedule, so the exhaustion in implementation is unimaginable. Further, some families may be weary of sending their child to school, resulting in some learners always virtual in real-time, whereas others remain in different time zones and always asynchronous.  And to spare a bit more confusion in schedule design, we will not examine what it might mean when educators similarly do not feel safe to return to in-person instruction and remain entirely virtual.  

Amidst the jambalaya, some educators as well as families may question the very nature of a school and its identity, especially if a variety of hybrid and blended models overlap.  The motivation is apparent, complex scheduling for the sake of providing access to all learners. Though a noble hill to die upon, an analogy of diversification may not be so far-fetched.  Would Nike ever expand to brand potato chips?

There is legitimacy in questioning, “Who are we?”  Especially so, as educators tethered to the values of excellency constantly dedicate themselves to honing their craft.  Some may be filled with intimidation, wondering if in our attempt to be everywhere, at all times, for everyone; might we be spread thin?  The result is one of mediocrity, where some learners are served, in some places, some of the time?”

Time will only tell.

As we embark on what appears unchartered waters, a spirit of voyage hopefully seeps into our being.  A focus on the potential and not the peril.  One of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Ernest Shackleton attested to the “need to put footprint of courage into stirrup of patience.”

Poised and positive we set sail.

Global Books

In this column I share my favourite books to read aloud, curl up with and put into the hands of young readers. This week, a look at books about libraries and books.

The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is perhaps my all-time favorite book about libraries. I can’t decide what I like more – the words by Carla Morris or the pictures by Brad Sneed; but the result of this combination is a heartwarming love song to librarians. Melvin grows up surrounded by books. The librarians encourage him to be curious and to look for answers in books and online. Their investment pays off in a perfect ending that I won’t give away. You will have to read this book for yourself.. or better yet, to your students. ISBN 978-1-56145-391-7, Peachtree

Library Lion

The Library Lion by Michelle Knudson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, looks and feels like a classic. It’s the wonderful story of rules made to be broken, of a librarian who is not easily ruffled and of a lion who loves listening to story. A must-share with young readers in a school library! ISBN 978-0-7636-3784-2, Candlewick

Lady with the Books, The: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman

The Lady With The Books, Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance is based on the true story of Jella Lepman, a German Jewish journalist who believed in building global friendship and understanding through children’s books. She traveled around war-torn Germany with a display of international books, and initiated the International Youth Library as well as IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, a global organization that still promotes children’s books around the world today. A wonderful fictional read complemented by nonfiction details in the back matter. SBN 978-1-5253-0154-4, Kids Can Press

It's a Book

It’s A Book, Lane Smith. A book doesn’t need a mouse, it doesn’t need to be charged. A book may not need wifi or be able to tweet, but a book can draw you right in. For hours… You may like a book so much that you don’t want to give it back. And even then you won’t need to charge it. Because it’s a book. A hilarious story to share out loud. ISBN 978-1-59643-606-0, Roaring Brook Press

A Child of Books

A Child of Books byJeff Oliver and Sam Winston is a fabulous ode to stories. The art is made of papers and typeset words. “I come from a world of stories, and upon my imagination I float…” shows a child on a raft floating on a sea of words that a reader will recognize from many classics. The book shows a world made from stories and lends itself to be read to children of all ages as well as used with high school art students. A great gift for booklovers of any age. ISBN 978-1-4063-5831-5, WALKER

The Undercover Book List

The Undercover Book List, Colleen Nelson is a fabulous middle grade novel. It’s a story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship. Jane loves to read but misses her best friend who moved away. Tyson is into video games and does not like to read. But through the secret messages left in books in their school library, both main characters change and make new friends. A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friend. Also perfect for the teacher to read aloud.  ISBN 978-1-77278-187-8, Pajama Press

Rebel in the Library of Ever

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander is a fictional novel about Lenora who is curious. In magical, fantastical adventures she travels through the ages and around the globe, all entering a library. Hired as the Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian, Lenora climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading. In the sequel – Rebel of the Library of Ever – Lenore has to free knowledge from the shadows. Your upper elementary students will love these smart, sci-fi page turners. ISBN 978-1250169174, Imprint.

Ban This Book: A Novel

Ban This Book, Alan Gratz. No column about school libraries would be complete without this title which deals skillfully with the difficult topic of censorship of books in an elementary school library. While showing both  sides of the issue, Gratz leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. The book also manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life.   A great read, even for teachers. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1

Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian is a Camel, a nonfiction book about unique mobile libraries around the world. She conducts author presentations at international schools.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World

Duolingo teaches language – and perhaps a bit more

In January 2013 I started my first language course on Duolingo. Little did I know just how many hours I would spend over the next eight years! Right up to this morning, in fact, during my walk with Gilligan, our koiru … chien … Hund … cachorro … perro …

Along the way I’ve used Duolingo with high school students in language classes, with graduate students in courses about language classes, and as support for forays into language, by using Klingon, High Valyrian, and Esperanto as examples of constructed languages. It’s a fantastic hobby.

Every now and then it strikes me that something or other that Duolingo is doing with its app leads to a good thought about how education works. And why not? Duolingo has a huge database of user experience, coupled with their inspiring mission statement: to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available. Here’s a few examples of some recent insights.

Motivation. Duolingo uses gamification to keep me doing Duolingo. This morning I was reviewing Italian with the standard short quizzes on the platform. I kept failing to complete the lesson I was working on, but I kept trying to redo it. Why? Because I failed to finish (by making four mistakes) only after I had done enough of the lesson to earn 20 points. Silly? Maybe. But the fact that my fail – as low as just over 50% correct – still earned me positive feedback (20 more points added to my total XP) was enough to get me to try again.

How often is 50% right rewarded in our classrooms? How often does 50% right get communicated as 50% wrong? What does that do to motivation?

There are many other clever tricks to motivate Duolingo learners. I’ll mention one. The podcasts Duolingo has produced in Spanish and French are on a par with shows from National Public Radio in the US. They are really well done. I’ve listened to them all. With a recent platform update you can now earn points for listening to a podcast. So, yes, I listened to them all again. I’m essentially putty in their gamified hands. But I’m getting a whole lot of language practice.

Does this mean that education should be based more on points? No. The lesson for me is that education should be more about value-add and less about how far students are from getting 100% on their work. The podcasts don’t grade me for misunderstanding 30% of what was said (oh, a C!). My work does not become a result on a rubric (Student understood 70% of the information; oh, a 3!) The podcasts simply reward me for listening to them.

Short and often … and choice. The language learning on Duolingo is broken into very short segments. The podcasts are arguably the longest single learning exercises, running around 20 minutes. The other exercises are generally very short. Learn a little, get some feedback, learn a little, get some feedback. Tight iterations of learning, with feedback, under my control. 

You can choose to do a successful lesson again, which is arguably a bit harder because the next level will use harder skills, e.g. asking you to produce more language instead of reacting to language the lesson produces. But it’s your choice. You can also move ahead to a new set of exercises at the easier level. Or you can review lessons you’ve already completed at all levels. Or you can switch the activity type … or even the language. Or you can quit because you’ve used up your energy for language learning. What are the parallels here we could explore with the way students all over the world are doing school right now? Even more interesting, what about the way we do school is not parallel with Duolingo’s user experience and what can we learn from that?

I’d share more, but that’s enough for now. I’m feeling the need for a little time with the silly green owl … and all those wonderful words and interesting grammatical moves I discover along the way. And of course some pretty darn good insights for my personal philosophy of teaching as well.

Breaking Boundaries

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on Canva.com

This September, it will be one and half years since I crossed any international border. Being an international school teacher, one of the much-awaited times of the year is the summer or winter holidays, when expats like me cross many boundaries to reach our destinations. I remember a time when I took 14 flights in 40 days to cross some rustic, some familiar and some sought after boundaries. Many a time I was asked uncomfortable questions, like “How did you get the visa?” or ”Why are you travelling alone?”. There was even one time when my son and I were detained by the airport immigration authorities for 2 hours as they wanted to verify our details! Privileges I have enjoyed being a person of colour. Yet it still didn’t deter me or my family from crossing or I would say Breaking Boundaries

Incidentally, Breaking Boundaries is a Netflix series on safeguarding the future of the planet. I would like to use it as an analogy for safeguarding the present state of the planet. Boundaries were created to bring peace and order to the world, but have they? Boundaries have created weaponised armies, infantry and artillery, discrimination, xenophobia and genocide. This imaginary line has only severed the umbilical cord of humans from humanity.  It’s high time we consider Breaking Boundaries, literally and metaphorically.

Whilst we cannot get rid of this imaginary line, we can make it less rigid and easy to break through, and this has to start in our early years, as early as possible. Most of our formative knowledge is constructed in school, therefore, action needs to be taken in educating children for Breaking Boundaries. 

Language – Learning different languages is a great way of breaking boundaries, it teaches compassion, tolerance and a perspective to understand the world. We can never have one language for all and we can never learn all languages to understand all, but we can have one way of understanding all languages-empathy. The fact that at the core of every conversation is a need to be understood. Teach children to communicate and listen to other people, teach them to collaborate across boundaries to blur the lines.

Sports – The recent Tokyo Olympics has been exemplary in reminding us how team sports helps in breaking boundaries. It reminded us that borders cannot define us even though we are segregated, grouped and claimed by borders. The team spirit and the spirit of camaraderie wins the overall differences created by borders. Sports teaches us the value of sacrifice, the contentment in celebrating other people’s achievements and recognising the empathetic side of the human spirit.

Interdisciplinary teaching – Training the brain to bring in separate ideas is the main objective of interdisciplinary learning. It is the type of learning that breaks the subject boundaries to bring together separate disciplines around common themes, issues, or problems. If we train our students to learn from an interdisciplinary point of view, they will look beyond boundaries and come together to work around issues plaguing humanity. They will not hesitate in breaking borders for the better.

At the core of Breaking Boundaries lies a key message of action – come together for breaking boundaries that limit, discriminate and determine human identity. Don’t scar the Earth with ugly boundaries, blur the imaginary line to imagine new frontiers of friendship, collaboration, empathy and above all survival.

To Be A Kid

So I have been spending a lot of time this week trying to get to know the names of our new students, which incidentally might just be the most critical aspect of my job as we begin the new school year. I have been eating lunch with them and hanging out with them at recess, and tracking kids down on the playground before school, and you know what, it’s given me plenty of time to reconnect with an undeniable and absolute truth, which is…kids are awesome! 

In my opinion, It is next to impossible to interact with a bunch of kids and not have your heart be filled with joy and love and hope. The other cool consequence is that you can’t help but to be transported back to when you were once a kid yourself, as you start to feel that sense of wonder, imagination, creativity, and playfulness that we all sometimes struggle to connect with as adults. 

This past week I’ve been playing tag, and playing school, and telling jokes. I’ve been in the mud kitchen and on the swings and on the slide, and I’ve been making up imaginary communities on the moon…so fun! I even had a chance to jump in a shallow puddle outside the early childhood area much to the delight of the little ones, as well as to the delight of my own inner child. It’s been one of the best weeks that I’ve had in quite some time, certainly since the pandemic began, and the takeaway for me is that obviously my inner kid has been bursting to come out, and I bet yours has been too.

We are so fortunate as educators to have the opportunity to be around young people each and everyday, and I know that collectively we are much better than most at letting our inner kid flags fly, but over the past 18 months or so it’s been very easy to be in constant adult mode as we all deal with the world as it is. Spending this past week purposely engaging with kids at play, and finding a way to become a part of their world, has been refreshing and in many ways therapeutic. Honestly, I actually think that I needed this past week as I jumped and sang and splashed around, and with how I’m feeling now, I’m going to keep it up next week too! 

Anyway, I highly recommend finding some time over the next couple of weeks to head down to the mud kitchen, or to take part in an Art lesson, or to even take a swing on the swings with kids daring you to go higher and higher. We all need to reignite that beautiful little kid spirit that is still deep down inside, and to reconnect with the beauty and joy of children…we have so much to learn from their approach to life, and from their ability to find inspiration in life’s simplest and smallest of pleasures. How lucky are we to have the opportunity to learn from children for a living…don’t take it for granted. So, get out there and play! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week….

The most sophisticated people I have ever known had just one thing in common: they were all in touch with their inner child – Jim Hensen

Related Articles – 

Be a Kid Again Day!

Finding Your Inner Child

Live Like a Kid Again

Why You Should

Doing Childish Things More Often

TED Talks – 

Talks for Your Inner Child

Take The Time To Play

Inspiring Videos – 

Clean Slate

TheThank You Letter

Best Friends

Another Pep Talk

The Notion of a Growth Heartset

So last week at our new family orientation event, I ran into a joyfully bright eyed and eager second grade girl who could not have been more excited about starting her new school life at ASP. She was mostly excited about the idea of making new friends, and she went on to tell me at length all about her foolproof strategy, which made me tear up and burst out laughing all at the same time. She said, “making friends is easy for me because I just show them my heart, and that’s all you need to do!” 

Of course I thanked her for sharing that, and mentioned that I was absolutely sure that her strategy would indeed work well for her this year. Sure enough, on the first day of school this week I saw her buzzing around the playground spreading joy and love and positive energy everywhere she went, with kids completely and helplessly drawn to her and following along, as she left rainbows and sunbeams all around them in her wake. 

That interaction with my new student inspiration got me thinking about the notion of a growth “heartset”…which is ultimately a kindness of the heart approach to life and school. This approach is something that we could all use a little more of these days as we begin another school year. I found a wonderful definition of heartset in one of the articles that I’ve included below, and it defines it as, “an energy field of self-awareness, non-judgment (acceptance), peace, caring, positivity, giving, forgiving, and compassion that allows us to more freely and proactively be a force for good. A growth heartset creates an emotional environment in which we and the young people we teach can flourish in spite of the uncertainties and challenges that are so prevalent today.” 

Well, this notion aligns perfectly with the commitments that we have made as a faculty and as a school over the past few years, and in my opinion, having a growth heartset is what quality teaching and great schools are all about. I know we’ve done incredible work with our kids over the past several years around the importance of having a growth mindset, which is a frame of mind, and now I think it’s time to extend that work to include this important notion of a growth heartset, which is a frame of the heart, and to start using the term heartset with our community.

It really is a fantastic word to use with our kids, as it encompasses so much of what we are trying to do in our approach to teaching, learning, and school. Having a growth heartset ties in so nicely with our motto of, “You Are the Weather”, and even though the culture and climate of our lower school is super solid, there is always more that we can do to enhance our daily interactions with our kids and with each other. So, my challenge to you as we begin a new year, a year that is full of promise and possibility, is to be even more like our new ray of sunshine in second grade and simply… show them your heart…that’s all you have to do! It really is a foolproof strategy. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

When you lead with your heart, love and connection will follow

-Unknown

Related Articles – 

Transforming Teaching and Learning

Lead With your Heart

The Heart of Teaching

A Mindshift for Teachers

Starting the Year Off With Joy

Community Building Ideas

Inspiring Videos – 

Hokey Pokey

No Plans To Retire

Made Us Smile This Week

Opening Doors 

Find Your Voice

You Belong Here

@emilymeadowsorg www.EmilyMeadows.org

Safe Space signs are used to signal that the room they adorn is, well, a “safe space” for all people, particularly including LGBTQ+ folks. These signals are important because, while many organizations and institutions claim to welcome everyone, this too often means that they welcome everyone except openly LGBTQ+ people. A Safe Space sign that explicitly names LGBTQ+ people as included can make a significant difference in signaling to gender and sexual minority students that they are part of the ‘everyone’ schools refer to[1].

While these signs are valuable, the wording of ‘safe space’ can be misleading. We, as educators, cannot guarantee that any space will be safe for LGBTQ+ children, who have a long-documented record of being targeted for bullying and harassment in schools[2]. Indeed, to claim that a learning space is safe for all children when the curriculum, for example, does not reflect positive representations of any LGBTQ+ people, can come across as disingenuous or even gaslighting. Indeed, while our intentions may be fervently inclusive, intent and impact do not always align. As we work to build real equity, safety, and inclusion in international schools, we can also, always, affirm a child’s right to belong.

With a new year upon us, I have created a collection of fresh posters for international educators to welcome students with a message of belonging. The posters, free to download, print, and share, feature the classic rainbow flag (updated to include transgender people and people of color), with translations in several languages. I designed this poster collection initially to offer educators options for inclusive signage in their international schools. Once I published it for my Twitter contacts, it became a heart-warming community project, with educators chiming in from around the world to offer additional translations for their local context, or to gift translations to others, and the language options have continued to grow. Further, I have enjoyed the way collaborators overcame linguistic challenges that come with translation, working together to nail down interpretations for ‘belonging’ to capture the sense of the meaning, even if a direct equivalent does not exist in their language. 

In addition to these welcoming posters, I encourage LGBTQ+ educators and allies to seek training and resources to make their schools more equitable and inclusive (call me for ideas). A poster is a brilliant start, but it is only the beginning.

*Link to download and share the free You Belong Here poster collection

*I’d be delighted to tailor-make a poster in any language that’s missing from the collection; please send the translation of ‘You Belong Here’ with your request to: EmilyMeadows@gmail.com


[1] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective  School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[2] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

Are You a Reflective Practitioner?

Image created on canva.com by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner?

A reflective practitioner reflects on practice in order to improve their performance. A teacher who develops a habit of reflection to get more knowledge and experience and apply it to classroom planning and instruction is a reflective practitioner. This includes critically reflecting upon their teaching practice to develop practical instructional strategies.

Why should teachers be reflective practitioners?

Teachers have a job of planning instructions and delivering them in the classroom. John Dewey explained this as theory and practice in education, he focused primarily on experiential and reflective learning. He explained that a theory cannot be understood unless it is practised hence experience is very valuable in practice (Dewey, 1923). Long before John Dewey, many educational theorists and philosophers like Lev Vygotsky and Confucius have written about the benefits of reflective teaching and experiential learning as the best strategy to attain knowledge and understanding.

Teachers get an opportunity to improve their teaching if they can look into their successes and challenges to make necessary amendments. This process is reflection. Since experience and reflection are interlinked, reflection denotes an experience as a reflective experience. “Reflection is a way of converting ready-structured experience into the newly structured actions we call the professional practice” (Silcock, 1994, p. 278).

Teachers should be reflective practitioners as they will be able to combine knowledge and expertise empowering themselves to be change-makers and thought leaders in education. Teachers need to be reflective for professional growth as well as for the growth of pedagogy.

How can teachers be reflective practitioners? 

Teachers can be reflective practitioners if they have developed a habit of documenting the teaching and learning process in three simple stages:

  1. Reflections before teaching a concept, content or competency
  2. Reflections while teaching a concept, content or competency
  3. Reflections after teaching a concept, content or competency

One of the tools that I use is Kolb’s Model of Reflection (1984). This model requires teachers to follow four simple steps to reflect on their practices:

  1. Concrete Experience: to answer the question what you did?
  2. Reflective Observations:  to answer the question what do you wonder?
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: to answer the question what you learned/so what?
  4. Application: to answer the question now what? 

The process of reflection helps in creating focused learning strategies for differentiation, addressing student needs, planning collaborative tasks, creating authentic assessments and selecting meaningful content. As practitioners of pedagogy, we need to reflect on our practice to ascertain if we are informing our pedagogy with our practical experiences in the classroom. In many ways, this is a design thinking routine that teachers should implement in their instructional planning.

The big advantage of being a reflective practitioner is the idea that the habit of reflecting on practice makes the teacher a lifelong learner.

References

Dewey J., (1973), Lectures in China 1919-1920, Honolulu, The University Press of Hawaii.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Silcock, P. (1994). The Process of Reflective Teaching. British Journal of Educational Studies, 42(3), 273-285. doi:10.2307/3121886