Thank You Monsieur Monet!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quote of the Week…

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

– William Wordsworth


Related Articles –

Mother Nature – The Greatest Teacher

Explorable Places

Teaching Outside the Classroom

The Atlantic – Students Learn on Field Trips

Edutopia – Absolutely Awesome

Interdisciplinary Study


Inspiring/Thought Provoking Videos –

On-Line Bullying

Community Based Learning

Place Based Learning

Gratitude on a Community

Monet’s Garden

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

We Are All Diplomats: The Politics of Being an Expat

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just wondering about our recent Week Without Walls programme.

A few weeks ago, we had our Week Without Walls programme that we call Discover Ecuador at our school. The 9th graders went to the jungle, the 10th graders went to the sierra (mountain/volcano area) and the 11th graders went to the coast. Our High School Principal, Garth Wyncoll, made tremendous changes to our Discover Ecuador programme and now all the trips are shaped around meaningful service opportunities that our students provide to different communities in Ecuador. Those trips happen during the third week of school and they are also about bonding and team building between students but also with our teachers.

Students were thrilled about their experiences. Beyond the typical stories of the uncomfortable bunk beds, the inconvenient bucket showers and the occasional stomach bugs, students shared beautiful stories with us and they made every minute of their trips a valuable experience. What I feel has worked the best is that our students have gained a certain understanding of how people live in Ecuador. After spending a week with no electricity in a camp and when sunset is pretty much time to go to bed, you get to relate to other people’s lives. I will continue to listen to our students and I cannot wait to read their reflections.

It is also important to note that teachers’ commitment was outstanding. Some came back with bug bites, most came back exhausted, and despite having put their personal lives between brackets for a week, all of them had a great time with our kids. Big shout out to our teachers who travelled this week. Students have been learning a lot with them and they will remember those moments. It was also great that teachers regularly shared photos and updates of what going on in each camp to keep us in the loop. Just fantastic!

The organisation that helped us organise those trips sent the Principal and I two updates daily. Those updates contained what the students had been working on and a list of students with small health issues. We sent those updates to parents but we did not send individual health issues to all the parents. So we made phone calls and the conversations with those parents were no longer between a High School Administrator and a High School parent, but conversations between parents. It is essential to take that time to let parents know about their kids and reassure them. Just the right thing to do, when one considers the trust that parents put in us by allowing us to take their kids away from home. This was even more obvious when, on the last day of the trip, I was woken up by several emails from parents worried about the earthquake that happened in Mexico and the tsunami alert on the coast when students were going to go… whale watching! While the tsunami alert was off a couple of hours later, we cancelled the boat trip: we are also parents!

While a vast majority of our students went on those trips, some others could not go with their peers for a variety of reasons and two of our long-time teachers have organised a week with a mix of service opportunities for our community and a day trip downtown Quito with an interactive visit of the water museum and a meal in a prestigious restaurant. Our teachers made this week valuable and have supported our kids all week. Thank you!

Meanwhile the seniors stayed at school for our annual Senior Retreat. This is something I revisited in my time here in the light of what we used to do back in my previous school in Istanbul. The idea is to create time and space for the seniors, who are crazy busy, to take care of what they need to do: IB tasks, college research and applications, SAT preparation etc. The schedule for the week was quite flexible but we had built in sessions for students to work with teachers on specific tasks as well as college visits and fairs, and time to blow off steam and do some sports. The last day of the week, we had planned a field trip to a local volcano to do a short hike at 4000 meters above sea level. And this year, seniors have proposed something new at AC: a senior lock-in, the night before the field trip. After considering what the students had a mind, we agreed that it was a great idea and we helped students organise this night: a variety of sport activities, movies and pizzas, hide and seek in the dark and a campfire with marshmallows. Boys slept in a classroom and girls in the library. It was a new experience for me and for the school but everything went really well and on the last day of the retreat, after the hike, I thanked students and teachers for the week. We all have developed stronger bonds and this set the tone for a great year.

I believe this was a great week for everyone: lots of team building and quality time spent together. Those experiences colour the start to the year in a very special way. Establishing those connections between teachers and students is a tremendous bonus on the learning journey. Principal Wyncoll shared at the beginning of the year that assessing is like sitting next to a student and coach them to improve. Before coaching them, however, we need to establish a trust-based relationship so that the coaching works and I would offer that those Weeks Without Walls represent that necessary step.

For what it’s worth…

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | 2 Comments

A Tribute to Two Hundred

Regular readers of the TIE blog will no doubt recognize Dan Kerr’s name. He has been sharing his thoughts and reflections about life and education for seven years, and just wrote his 200th post this week. That is quite an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone also balancing a job as principal and roles as a husband and father.

Dan’s voice and optimism are apparent in his writing. However, those who know him on a personal and professional level can attest that this voice is not added in for the benefit of the blog–it is completely, one hundred percent Dan Kerr.

In a profession where we often don’t get the recognition that we deserve or require, it’s easy to get bogged down and think negative thoughts. Enter Dan Kerr…the guy who always seems to see the glass as half-full, no matter what. He seeks meaning and lessons in the little things, and turns even the most difficult trials into positive learning opportunities. Those who have worked with Dan have witnessed this positive attitude and infectious enthusiasm day in and day out.

Dan’s 200th post was written and uploaded to the TIE blog just a few days ago. In it, he admits to “being so nervous when I hit send on my first blog post” and that he feels compelled to express his thoughts because, “We all have so much to share, and so much to say, and it’s not okay to keep it all to ourselves.” I couldn’t agree more. It is because we have so much to share that I decided to seek out some of the countless educators who have been impacted by Dan Kerr’s optimism, enthusiasm, and inspiration over the years. Whether reaching them as a blogger, colleague, lecturer or administrator, Dan no doubt leaves his mark on those he encounters. And so, in honor of his milestone post this week, here are some stories and anecdotes from those who have had the pleasure working and learning alongside a man several have referred to as “a legend”.

Dan Kerr is a true professional in every sense of the word. He strives to learn, grow, and reflect, and he inspires others with his thoughts and words of wisdom. This often leads to positive changes in their own level of professionalism. His work teaching Masters courses in Madrid made a lasting impact on Lee Parker, who said that Dan “did his homework before I arrived and knew of me due to JIS contacts. He has helped me with CVs, interviews etc. (feedback), and I am now at my dream school. As a lecturer, he was super positive and inspirational. I really enjoyed his course.”

Fellow TIE blogger Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle recalls a specific experience with Dan that changed the trajectory of his professional life. “On October 14th, 2015, during a Teachers Teaching Teachers session, Dan ran a presentation called Setting Yourself Up for Success. It was about getting ready to go and find a new job in a different school. It was an inspiring session, and I still remember it. Dan developed several points and the first one, personal and professional websites, is the one that stuck with me. Back then, having a website and using it to get one’s voice out there was a foreign concept to me. For a while, I even thought that I was probably missing on something, but I felt that having a website and blogging was not for me. But still, I highly respect Dan, and I wrestled with this idea. I eventually invited Dan over at home to discuss this further, and he changed my mind. Thanks to Dan, I started a website and a blog, I write a new post once or twice a month, and my voice is now also shared through TIE.”

Those who have had Dan Kerr as an administrator have nothing but positive things to share about their experiences. Jeff Lindstrom claims that, “One of the hardest things I ever did was when I had to choose to teach in the high school over the middle school at SCIS, since that meant that Dan was no longer my principal. The next year he went to bat for me and quickly helped me get an interview with a former colleague, and I know his reference really helped me secure the position. He is just awesome in every way, and I would work for him again, even in a crappy school, without hesitation.”

Dani DiPietro has worked at nine schools over the years and firmly states that, “Dan, by far, has been the kindest, most organized, caring administrator I have had the pleasure of working with.” She goes on to say that Dan “is supportive as an administrator, and I always felt that he ‘had my back’ with kids and their parents. We would always discuss situations to make sure all sides were heard, but it was nice to know someone supported you and what happened in most cases, unquestioningly.”

When Dan worked at Academia Cotopaxi in Ecuador, his office neighbored that of Paola Torres de Pereira, who was then the early childhood principal. She shared that Dan “graciously played along” for the Pete the Cat-themed Halloween costume, and that children still ask about him regularly. In thinking about Dan’s written contributions to the world of education, she says, “Mondays…of course Dan Kerr’s ‘musings’ had to be on that day. Around the world, educators get out of bed, get inspired, laugh, cry, ponder. Mondays are brightened, and his contagious attitude reaches thousands to help them through a week of many stories. I met Dan about 100 ‘musings’ ago at a PTC course, had the privilege of working with him for three years, and have been strengthened by his friendship and positivity, like so many others probably have been.”

Quite possibly what stands out the most about Dan Kerr is his genuine interest in others. “Dan’s smile when he met you the first time carried on throughout. He is warm, interested in you as a person and a teacher. Dan is awesome at making his staff feel valued and can laugh at himself,” remarked Lis Wilson, who worked with Dan in Shanghai.

Dani DiPietro added, “His interpersonal relationships with both adults and students is legendary. Not many administrators learn all of their students’ and all of the other students’ names in the entire school, to greet them in person every morning. I think that was the telling factor for me that I was working with a genuine, one-of-a-kind individual. He always asks about you, how you are, and how your family is, and seems to always have his finger on the pulse of each person he knows and works with. It is mind-boggling. ”

Gretchen Paul, who currently works with Dan at the American School of Paris, has only known him for two months. Still, her impressions mirror those who have known him much longer. “Dan is professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about education. What sets him apart from other educators are his passion for human relationships and his desire to be a lifelong learner. More than any other administrator, Dan greets adults and children in the morning with genuine enthusiasm for each hello. The children at our school look forward to seeing Dan each and every day and he appreciates each individual for who they are: asking about soccer matches and playdates. Dan invariably sees the best in each child! Dan is inspiring to work with and he makes everyone around him want to be their very best. I consider myself lucky to learn from him!”

Dan, from all of us to you…congratulations, and thank you. Thank you for inspiring us, teaching us, and lifting us up. Thank you for taking the risks, making yourself vulnerable, and “putting yourself out there”, two hundred times and counting.


Posted in Shannon Fehse | 10 Comments

Alternative Facts: Is Your Practice Really Data-Based?

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

So, I’ll start this piece with ‘so’, in a light-hearted tribute to Daniel Kerr’s signature blog-commencing line, and in honour of his 200th post for The International Educator.

 Student Preparedness

It is expected that educators train students to use data or research to inform their decisions and viewpoints. Many international schools’ mission statements pronounce that their students will think critically, marking this as a key skill that we value in our community. From literature to science classrooms, teachers are showing students how to identify credible sources and analyse large volumes of information to make sense of what is applicable in their work. But are we doing this in our own work?

Educator Training

You’d be hard-pressed to find an international school that overtly eschews research to inform policy and practice. “Data-based” and “research shows” are buzz phrases, guiding us through the tangle of options to best serve our students. However, many educator training programs do not prepare us to conduct – much less responsibly consume – academic research. It is not enough to assume that, because the study was conducted by an established institution, it will be applicable to your classroom. 

I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. CU’s college of education, at the time, required a statistics course as part of the teaching certificate program, but virtually nothing else in terms of research methods or design. Many graduate education programs also emphasize professional skills, offering practical rather than research-oriented coursework. I argue that understanding academic research is practical, and a critical skill for all professional educators.

Context Counts

When we cite a study as justification for a policy or practice we’re following, how often do we actually read the study? It may be that the project we’re referring to had significant findings, but they were never reproduced outside of one limited setting. A research team that measured positive results with a particular reading intervention in a small school in the Middle East, for example, may not yield the same findings at a large school in Asia. Much of the educational research published for international audiences is based in the United States or the U.K., limiting the relevance to international schools elsewhere.

The celebrated example of Finland leading the world in education has sparked global conversations about how to recreate these results elsewhere. It is unlikely, however, that anybody will be successful in this endeavour, given the numerous unique contextual elements that influence any educational system. That is not to say that we cannot learn from Finland, nor that we must look only for academic research strictly bound to our context. However, as we instruct our students to think critically about the data before drawing conclusions, so must we as educators carefully consider a study before deciding whether it is relevant to the policies and practices we employ for our students.

How do you know when a piece of research is appropriate to guide your school?   


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

Linear Progression

Team moving through the ice fall on the way to camp 2

This story is dedicated to Dan Kerr, a master blogger, friend, and educator.

I was at a baby shower recently in the East Coast section of Singapore for an Indian friend of mine. It was a pleasant evening, and the event took place in an old colonial house built by a British mercantile family in the 1800s. Sitting back to enjoy a paper plate of tandoori chicken and basmati rice, I began to reflect on how my life got me to this point, when a sharply dressed fellow in a white untucked shirt and expensive looking jeans started to chat. “You are the only white person in the room,” he said, interrupting my reflection. “Yes, I know,” I said. “But it’s okay, I’m used to it.” He laughed.

After a few minutes, he began telling me his story. (I think it was after I told him I was a Principal). In social situations, I usually make up some career so that people don’t feel the need to describe their personal opinions, experiences with school, or in this case, pain. Being a helicopter pilot, large animal vet, underwater welder, and sparkling water tester has served me well on other occasions. But not today, when I foolishly decided to tell him what I did.

So, while I stared at my half eaten tandoori, trying to politely listen, he proceeded to embark on a detailed account of his demise. “It all started when I made it to the top of the class,” he said. “That ruined me.”

“Oh?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Yes, it was all too easy. I made the best scores in one of the best schools in India, got a scholarship, made it to New York to work for Price Waterhouse.”

“Yeah?” I said, waiting for the tragic ending. He didn’t disappoint.

“I couldn’t take the failure. It was a really high pressure job and they threw a lot of stuff at me that I was expected to do and I just completely botched it. I started drinking too much, things got worse, and I tried to kill myself at one point.”

I looked over at a group of the Indian women, giggling together as they played one of those shower games with paper cutouts, and tried to maintain my focus on the conversation that was so out of context. He looked at me with pleading eyes. I think I said something like “I don’t know what to say, man.” After he finished his story about how he lost his job but was trying to get his life back in order and had stopped drinking, I asked him what he thought of the whole thing looking back.

“I don’t know man. Maybe it was that I got into this pattern at school that if I just worked hard I’d get the grades and everything seemed to work out. It all just kept moving forward.”

“Linear progression,” I said, smiling with familiarity at the phenomenon. “What?”

“Linear progression. It’s a school affliction. We talk about things like embracing failure and overcoming obstacles, but the margin of error is so small and the setbacks so short lived (especially when angry parents complain), that it’s hardly a pin prick on your arm. You don’t even notice it.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “That was it. I never had a challenge I couldn’t overcome with a little extra work. Then this job really kicked my ass and I thought I was worthless.”

“You’re not worthless,” I told him. “You just went to school. I was going to tell you I was a helicopter pilot but I’m glad we talked. It will be okay,” I said. “I’m glad you stopped drinking and I hope you realize that you have something important to contribute to the world.”

He smiled. “Yeah. Linear progression.”

I put my hand on his knee, took a bite out of the chicken, and got up to rejoin the festivities.

Posted in Stephen Dexter | Leave a comment

200 Down, A Lifetime to Go!

​So this week I’m celebrating a bit of a milestone of sorts, as this is my 200th Monday Musings post. This blogging journey began over 7 years ago, and has followed me through three schools, in five different countries, across four continents, and it has literally changed my personal and professional life in immeasurable ways. Honestly, the decision to begin sharing my thoughts about all things education with my faculty, and then eventually out to the world (thank you TIE) has been the best decision I have ever made, and now It’s such a part of my routine that I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to.

Since I began back in August of 2010, I have changed and grown and learned so, so much. I enjoy looking back at my older posts and reflecting on the things that I wanted to dig deeper into at the time, and seeing now how in some cases my thoughts around a certain issue have evolved and even in some cases, changed. If I’m being truthful though, these posts were, and still are, a selfish way of staying current with the ever changing educational landscape, and when I began as new (green and overwhelmed) Assistant Principal in Shanghai, I felt like I had so much to learn, and so much to prove. It was scary at first, and I remember being so nervous when I hit send on my first blog post to faculty, scared that people were going to disagree with me, or push back on how I viewed a particular topic in education…putting yourself out there can be scary for sure, but here’s the thing…you’re not growing if you’re not opening yourself up to critical feedback, or sharing your thoughts about your philosophy, your approach, your expertise, and your practice.

It took me a long time to open myself up in this way, and to become vulnerable and exposed on a weekly basis, but you know what, as a educator, it’s the only way forward in my opinion. We all have so much to share, and so much to say, and it’s not okay to keep it all to ourselves. We can only get better as a profession if we share with one another, and ask questions, and continually learn and try and push the envelope, and celebrate what’s working, and fixing what’s not. We talk so much about providing meaningful and timely feedback to kids, we see the benefits of self and peer assessments, and we think so much about students leading their own learning, but what about us? How much are we taking those risks like we ask of our students? Putting yourself out there is scary…sharing parts of your practice and expertise is scary…asking for feedback and opening yourself up to being uncomfortable and vulnerable is tough…but the reward so, so, so outweighs the risk.

You see, the best part of my week is not the time spent on my topic research, or the writing on Sunday mornings, it’s the responses and comments and feedback that I receive after I hit send. What I send out is nothing compared to what I get back…counter arguments, disagreements, related articles and videos, and saw sharpening feedback that always leaves me learning, and questioning, and seeing a topic from all sorts of perspectives. Sharing my thoughts over the years has made me a better leader, and it’s given me the courage to admit that there is so much in education that I still need to learn…and get better at.

Anyway, 200 posts down and so many more left to go. It still amazes me how much there is to talk about in education…I just can’t seem to find the end, and when I think do it all changes right out from under me! Maybe I’ll eventually put these into a book, or turn them into a doctoral dissertation, or maybe I’ll find a new way of sharing…who knows. What I do know however, is that sharing your thoughts, and opening yourself up to feedback, and embracing a little bit of vulnerability in your practice will only make you a better educator…I know that for a fact! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing – Elbert Hubbard


Related Videos –

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No One Eats Alone
Bucket List Adventure


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25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently

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Exceptional Things That Great Teachers Do

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Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Kids: All Joy and No Fun

The title of this book is too good not to borrow for this blog post. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, by Jennifer Senior, is firstly a social history of parenting, secondly an examination of the effects of children on parents (we usually think about the reverse), and thirdly a prompt to reconsider our roles. I was struck by the title; I know it’s an exaggeration, but it seems to make most parents laugh and wince at the same time. Of course, Senior’s remarks are based on USA, and may not be transferrable. Nevertheless, they are thought provoking and I can also recommend her terrific TED talk.

As a child, I know I had little sense of my parents’ fallibility. I assumed they were following generations of wisdom and finely honed practices. My faith in a single absolute method was shaken when I saw the very different ways my friends’ families operated, and I can pinpoint the end of my faith as the time I looked at the starkly contradictory books on the shelves in bookshops. My own parenthood has certainly confirmed my skepticism about the possibility of getting it right, as I frequently tell my children, to their horror.

The truth is that for child-raising there is no folk wisdom in a multicultural, fast moving and rapidly evolving world, because the very meaning of the word parent has changed. Senior points out that for most of history, the parent-child relation was based on fair-exchange ‘with parents sheltering and feeding their children and children in return kicking something back into the family till’. Even until the late nineteenth century, children were more likely to work than the mothers, and boys often earned more than fathers. Post WWII the family system ‘became asymmetrical. Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to being our bosses.’ [1] The mixing of the vocabularies of family and work may be jarring for us, but that’s only because we live in the last 70 years, when modern childhood was invented.

What might this mean for us? In 1977 Jerome Kagan remarked that the modern child cannot ‘point to a plowed field or full woodpile as a sign of his utility’. Hence Kagan predicted (with uncanny prescience) that children are ‘at risk of becoming overly dependent on praise and repeated declaration of love to build their confidence’ [2]. This seems to resonate with much modern research that suggests that parents and teachers who build children’s confidence by declaration, rather than by creating opportunities for achievement, are doing children no service. We need to give children demanding tasks, and support them to success, rather than give them empty praise for who they are. So, while love might be unconditional, praise should be tied to specific named things (in fact we need to tread very carefully with praise at all, but that’s a topic for another day).

What stood out in this fine book, however, was the way it made me re-consider my own beliefs regarding parenting. Sometimes, when I am at a loss to know what to do, it’s comforting to see that at one stage ‘parent’ was just a noun. We could just be parents. Then in 1970 it became a verb, and we now have to do it. For me that’s a problem (how I envy my parents!), because I can just about manage to be, but as I suggested above, I’m not always sure what I should be doing.

One thing, though, that I am sure about is that our children make us do different things. And that’s a wonder. Senior hits the nail on the head: ‘The dirty secret of adulthood is the sameness of it; its tireless adherence to routines and customs and norms. Small children may intensify this by virtue of the new routines, but they may also liberate.’ There’s truth there, and while we sometimes grumble about the demands of an intense parenting life, it probably overlooks the really profound effect that children have. That is, it’s easy to talk about the many, many practical daily demands of parenthood; far harder too remember that, new verb aside, parenthood has likely changed the very people we are; and probably for the better.

Senior again: ‘The vocabulary for aggravation is large; [that for gratitude smaller, and] the vocabulary for transcendence is elusive’. Children give us chances to be better than our daily selves; they create opportunities for us to be our best selves. That resonates with me, and I hope with you too.

[1] Senior, Jennifer (2014) All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting: Eco Press: 131

[2] Kagan, Jerome et al (1980): Infancy, Its Place in Human Development: Harvard University Press:

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | Leave a comment

aesthetics and ethics

One of my colleagues and I have been having a long-running conversation about ethics and aesthetics. Her assertion is that aesthetics = ethics– not necessarily that this is the way it should be, but that it is how most people operate:  people have strong aesthetic preferences and they express them as (and often believe them to be) their ethics. My rants about Uber and celebration of public transportation are an excellent example. My colleague’s reactions to others’ photography and the way they explain their work is another. But I think living abroad also affects our aesthetic/ethical experiences, then shapes our reasoning, then broadens (or narrows) both our aesthetic and ethical convictions.

I remember moving back in with my dad after years of living away at college. Again taking showers in the bathroom that had been mine in my four years at high school, I was struck (displeased, alienated, discomfited) by its aesthetics: the dull tan ceramic fittings of the sink and toilet; the K-mart (or equivalent) bathmat; and especially the mass-produced and flowery-scented pink bar of soap. It needled me so much to have shifted back to this pre-college aesthetic that when I first had the opportunity to go to the natural foods store and buy what I thought of as better (‘natural’, brandless, herb-smelling) soap, I immediately felt calmer and more in touch with myself. In hindsight I definitely judge my own snobbery, but I also understand it more since living abroad.

There are so many ways to experience disconnection when you live outside your home country. Most obviously, the language of passers-by on signs and in the street. A newfound geographic orientation and a need to be more aware of where you are so as not to get lost. A need to learn the local habits (restaurant opening times, places to buy vegetables, how to recharge your subway card) and access bureaucratic and logistical systems. But for me, the deeper disconnection is aesthetic. I visited a friend in Sweden in 2011 and was amused and sometimes flustered by the differences in fixtures on faucets, the presence of a sauna in every apartment building basement, and the cleanliness and orderliness of the trains. The baked goods used cardamom instead of cinnamon. The door keys were a different shape of metal. My summer in China in 2008 is still a blur of specific food smells and tastes (lots of soup; red bean buns for breakfast), silk fabric, humidity, and construction-zone dust. Jordan was the home of red dirt creeping in under the doorsill, meat dishes made with lamb and yogurt, and signs written in flowing curly and incomprehensible script. You could say experiencing these is just the adjustment to a new geographic and cultural location and the resulting need to accommodate, but I experienced it as a sometimes aggressive new reality that I needed to sometimes protect myself from or defend myself against. Because who am I if I switch to using lever 2000 or irish spring instead of my vermont-sourced, handmade, sandalwood-scented soap? How can I recognize myself if I start wearing sports-name-brand clothes, or using hairspray, or eating spam? Does my name written in arabic script still signify the same me?

Living abroad can seem like an onslaught against personal identity. Holding tight to aesthetic values is one way to reply to this. Of course, I am exercising my (expat, moneyed) privilege in holding onto these. My ability to shop and pay for the things I want in my home and my ability to choose my method of transportation exists because I am well-paid and can take the time to indulge myself. And in this, I understand my colleague’s assertion that aesthetics equals ethics– the preferences I have become almost sacred to me, because they represent the choices I am making about how to live.



Posted in Forrest Broman | Leave a comment

Inverse Relationships: Project Based Subjects and Class Size

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A classroom containing 18–24 students appears to be the ideal number. Anything less and you lose the unique excitement that comes from a critical mass of engaged students. ~A Commentary and Review of Malcom Gladwell’s research on small class sizes; David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

The Hattie Research

I was introduced to Visible Learning by John Hattie   a few years ago. After studying the data, and doing a course that focused on the data, I was forced to reflect on my beliefs and practices as an educator.

As an IT professional that actually uses meta data to make decisions, I knew the power of data about data.

I think the one point that must be made is that the data and analysis used by Hattie is what is known as long-tail data. Hattie did not find a “smoking gun” or a “big reveal”. He found a collection of things, that when working in combination, make a difference in learning out comes.

This data, when studied, must be studied as a collection. Focusing on a single point, and believing doing “that one thing” will make a difference, is a mistake.

The Hattie data can be viewed here. 

The following image focuses on the areas addressed in this post.


The Class Size Issue in Project Based Subjects

The relationship between class size and project based subjects is inverse compared to studies that look at traditional courses where instruction is rote, and the differentiation needs to be very focused.

Of the top 22 Hattie indicators, 10 connect directly to courses that at project based:

  • Self Report Grades
  • Piagetian Programs
  • Response to Intervention
  • Cognitive Task Analysis
  • Classroom Discussion
  • Teacher Clarity (Students Questioning Teacher Instruction)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (6 Facets of Understanding)
  • Feedback
  • Formative Evaluation
  • Self Questioning

Class size has been a central focus in nearly every school improvement plan I have been connect with. In fact, I recently helped build a schedule that was nearly solely dictated by class size.

As some one who solely works in project based subjects, team driven contests, and peer reviewed assessment I can attest that small classes are detrimental to learning in these environments.

When a class falls below 12 students, the student input, instances of serendipitous discoveries, the diversity of teams, and the needed conflict to fuel trial and error scenarios  all diminish. To be clear: the class becomes boring and stagnant.

Students need to be formed and re-formed into teams and groups in a project based environment. They need variety of opinion. They need to take the lead and be the teacher; they need to lead their peers; and they need their peers to explain “what went wrong” when failure happens. And failure will happen more often than trophies are presented.

If a class size is too small, this process (learning spiral) becomes repetitive and predictable. In my experience, small classes can be a stimulus for groupthink.

As a teacher, I can entertain and keep the energy going. As a believer in a student-centered environment where there is no “front of the room”, being the center of attention undermines that belief.

Successful Projects are Busy and Messy

I recently visited three MIT powered Fablabs. All the labs were busy, messy, and had learners ranging in age from 16-60.

These people were working on entrepreneurial projects, or science projects. The work is difficult at every turn, and the skills are interdisciplinary. In fact, I doubt it is possible for a single person to do their entire project alone. There is collaboration, and exchange of work and ideas, and a general consensus that failure is going to be very common.

These labs run programs and open work days based on simple metrics:

  1. The capacity of the room
  2. The availability of the staff/instructors to help people with specialized equipment

They do not balance sessions to keep the number of people to an optimal level of learning, because they know that having a variety of people means having a variety of talents and ideas.

Project based subjects are not about giving everyone an opinion or platform for an idea. These subjects revolve around taking an idea and making it a reality. Students not only have a variety of known talents, they also have a hidden talents.

Engaging students with a group of people they may not socialize with; allowing them to team up to offset each other’s weaknesses; and scaffolding peer/self criticism into every project is the secret to unlocking a students potential. New potential will lead students to see new opportunities.

Creating opportunity for students should always supersede creating small classes for the sake of creating small classes.



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