A Lesson in Perspective (Happy Holidays)

So it’s a busy time of the year as we speed toward the holiday break, and it can seem a little overwhelming at times I know. With comment writing and reports, holiday concerts and performances, final summative assessments and feedback, end of semester parent and student meetings, recruiting conversations, and all the rest…it’s sometimes hard to keep the right perspective with regards to what’s really, truly important at this time of the year. When there is so much on our plates these days, it’s very easy to lose sight of how magical the month of December can be, and sometimes it takes something small to snap you back to the absolute beauty of this holiday season.

For me, that little something small came walking into my office on Thursday morning of this past week, and delivered to me a much needed lesson in perspective. I was standing at my desk, hammering through email, and lamenting the fact that there was no way that I was going to get through my to-do list for the rest of the week, when a smiley and spirited little girl came bouncing in through the door and asked, “Hey, Mr. Kerr, what are you doing, writing your list to Santa? I already wrote mine but my Mom says it’s too long but I don’t think so because I’ve been really good to my brothers and I sometimes clean my room and make my own breakfast…what are YOU asking for?” Well, the cuteness of that moment stopped me in my tracks, and literally made me laugh out loud with the quick realization that my perceived troubles and anxiety over work, and how seriously I was taking life and myself in the moment right before she walked in was borderline ridiculous. So I stepped out from behind my desk, and sat down at the conference table with her to go through my Santa list…it was the best 10 minutes that I have spent all semester.

As we were talking (mostly about her list as it turned out) I came to realize that what she was most excited about were the gifts and cards that she had made for her family. She very maturely told me that, “you know what Mr. Kerr, I love getting presents but I think that I like giving presents more…it makes me feel really good, like how Santa must feel when he gives presents, but his job must be so hard because there are a lot of people in the world who are good you know”. I agreed that Santa’s job must be hard, and yes, there are lots of good people in the world, and all the while I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. Anyway, she bounded away just as quickly as she arrived, and she left me there smiling and happy and very much re-calibrated for the day. A must needed lesson in perspective from one of our world’s greatest teachers…a child.

She reminded me of what I love most about this time of the year…the opportunities that we all have to give of ourselves to others, to reconnect with the people that we love, to reflect on the year that was, and to recharge and refocus for the upcoming year ahead. We also get a chance over the next couple of weeks to share a little holiday cheer with others, and to spread some of that holiday magic around to everyone we come in contact with, especially our students! I want to casually remind you all of the beauty of this time of the year, and with less than two weeks to go, I’m asking that you take some time over the next several days to slow down and to take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students, and from each other…..let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around!

Remember as well to keep your perspective everyone…it’s busy I know, and with what’s coming up it can feel a little overwhelming, but ultimately, we’ll get there together. Just like my little friend told me, there are a lot of good people out there you know, and over the next few weeks they all deserve a little bit extra joy and love and happiness. Please also remember that the holidays can be difficult for some people, so our extra joy and love and kindness is the best gift that we can give. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and magical for each other.

Holiday Videos – Take a break and watch these!

The Greatest Gift

The Fox and Mouse

The Wish Writer

Lily and the Snowman

The Snow Globe


My Favorite Holiday Poem – 

Holidays –
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

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Lessons from Starting a New School

New

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Since the summer of 2017 I have been working with some very committed administrators, staff, and of course teachers to start a new school in Jeju, South Korea.

Going through this process has been challenging, frustrating, disappointing, and at times confusing. The professional development is illimitable, and in a year I probably will not recognize myself (or most of my peers). We will be better in every aspect of our practice.

Without reference to anything other than this experience, and my life experience, I would like to list a few lessons that apply to school administrators, teachers, and even students. These lesson would apply to any new situation where the landscape, demographics, rules of engagement, and/or expectations are different to a person’s current status quo.

There’s No Oxygen on Mars

That is not exactly true. According to Space.Com the Martian atmosphere is about .13% oxygen. However, if you were planning a trip there and everything you needed to survive depended on the existence of oxygen then you will probably have a bad time.

As with anything, taking previous expectations, plans, schedules, curriculum, etc. to a brand new experience should be done with extreme caution. What anyone needs to thrive in a new challenge is what they learned from the previous experience, not the items they accumulated.

What a person knows in one environment could be completely useless in a new environment.  In fact, unless people are collaborating and tapping into one another’s ideas, success will consistently linger over the horizon.

Even The Rock Tapped Out

Dwayne Johnson, The Rock (aka The People’s Champion), may have seemed undefeatable in the ring, but he did tapp out on occasion. Any adult would critically explain that WWE ring action is scripted. I would agree, and then remind them that a superstar like The Rock had to agree to, and even help write, that script. Why? He wanted to succeed. He wanted to entertain. He wanted to be “human” to his younger fans. Whatever the reason, he knew when to go from doing one things (dominating everyone), to losing a few.

Knowing when things are not working, that comes fairly quickly. Developing the courage to tell a new team that your plans are failing, that comes much slower. It seems everyone’s initial reaction is to keep doing the same thing over and over. The sooner that cycle is broken, the better.

Good leaders adjust in chaos. Good team members read those adjustments and make their own. Having a preconceived plan that fails badly in a new environment is normal, and not, in itself, a failure. In any new situation perspective changes what is, and is not, success.

There’s No Need to Remind Everyone About the Apple Tree

Imagine taking a group of people to an orchard to pick apples from an old apple tree. Upon arrival the tree is gone. Cut down. The tree is no more. There are peaches, pears, and a few random cherries, but there are no apples. What do you do? You eat the other fruit.

When people move to another country or situation they initially try and replace their previous environment. Once informed that a thing or resource is not available, or impossibly expensive to obtain, the next step should be to look for a replacement.

If a replacement cannot be found, then a new solution has to be found. Asking over and over for the apple tree is not going to bring it back, but it will waste the time of the people who can help with the other fruit.

Do Not Search for Ice in Antarctica 

I have never been to Antarctica. I do have family and friends who have been. I have seen their photos. It seems fairly certain that finding ice in Antarctica is about as easy as finding a horse or cow in Kentucky.

In Antarctica I need to worry about food. I need to worry about staying warm. I do not need to worry about everything I can make from ice.

When people arrive at a new school, or any policy driven institution, they bring previous policies. Many of these policies address problems that do not exist in the new location.

Without noticing the things that do not apply, it is easy to slip into the habit of solving problems that do not exist.

This is another good reason to review everything with a group of people while spinning around in the chaotic process of starting something new. Implementing policy in a vacuum is risky business.

Celebrate the Small Wins

Starting a new journey with a group of mostly strangers is exhausting. Everyday, for many days, will be challenging. Waiting to celebrate until everything is perfect or finished would mean never celebrating when celebration is needed the most.

Plan times to take breaks (non-optional breaks) just as intensely as you would plan everything else. Give everyone those way-points to work towards. Allow people to look at the clock and realize that today they cannot work late, because at 6:00 PM there is a place they just gotta be.

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What a Beautiful Noise

So this week I want to talk about one of my favorite things about school…maybe my most, most favorite thing of all the things that I love about coming to work each and every day. It’s something that many of us fail to pay regular attention to I think, or even embrace, and maybe something that may be a little annoying or aggravating for some educators…something that traditionally we have tried to suppress, and something that kids sometimes get in trouble for. But if you take a step back, and drink in what it ultimately represents, then it might just become one of your favorite things too…I’m talking about the noise of a school. The beautiful noise that is the soundtrack to learning and of happiness and joy, and what a child’s life should really be all about. Creative, imaginative, messy, curious, and beautiful noise.

When is the last time that you took a few minutes and really listened to the noise of a school? Walking down the halls, or when doing recess duty, or being in a classroom when kids are working collaboratively, or just standing outside the gym when kids are at PE, or outside the music or art room…or even when they are simply spilling off of the buses ready to tackle another day with their friends…it’s something that will make your heart want to burst if you just take the time to listen. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a position to walk from one end of the Lower School to the other several times each day…visiting classrooms, discussing issues with teachers, catching up with specific students, and being a fly on the wall watching when kids don’t think I’m paying attention. Lately I’ve been soaking it up, this noise, and it fuels my soul everyday…the singing in French rooms, the songs from the early childhood kids as they transition down the corridors, the wild excitement in the discovery labs as kids work on experiments, the math talk lessons and the read alouds and the book clubs and the students sharing their writing…it’s so beautiful to listen to the learning that is everywhere, in every classroom and school space all the time.

I have to confess that the first thing that I do after a tough meeting, or a hard conversation, or an issue that I have to deal with that takes me away from being around kids, is to pop into the library to listen to a story, or head out to the playground or the cafeteria just to hear the noise of kids…it centers me and it snaps me back to what is the most important part of my job…the kids. Nothing is more joyful than the sound of a playground, with kids playing and making friends and taking risks and finding out about themselves and others…so good. It doesn’t stop there though, I also love the sound of teachers collaborating together around what’s best for kids and their learning…the creative ideas about how to extend students, and the concerns about how to intervene with struggling students…the sound of educators caring about kids is also music to my ears, and it blares loud at full volume every day…the beautiful sound of a school…how can you not love it?

This week, as we speed toward the holiday break, and with comments and concerts coming up, and with our lives getting busier and busier, I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, to take a few minutes to slow down and listen to the noise of a school. Take a second to listen to the kids at play, or just stand back in your classes and listen to the sounds of learning, or come down by my office in the morning and listen to the kids as they come in ready for another day with their teachers and friends…there is nothing more joyful or energizing and beautiful than the sound of a school in action. Take the time to listen everyone and it will fill your hearts like it does mine. It might just be the best thing that you can do with your days. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students, good to each other, and open to the beautiful noise of the school day.

 

Quote of the Week….

I think my happy is too loud  – 1st Grade student at ASP

 

Interesting Articles –

Because I’m Happy

Laughter and Learning

Happiness and Learning

Better Learners

Let them Talk

 

TED Talks –

Raising Brave Girls

Dangerous Things for Kids

Should School Start Later?

 

Inspiring Videos –

Traditional Schools

The Science of Empathy

5 minutes to Affect Learning

Design Your Own School (4 years old but still relevant)

Thinking About our new EC Playground

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

What is that Reggio thing?

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What is that Reggio thing?

The receding tide laps gently at our feet, while wet sand is left behind to caress with a coolness that contrasts sharply with the heat of the piercing sun reflecting off the Bay of Bengal. My ten year old son, Max, kneels beside a tidal pool formed next to a large rock jutting out from the earth. His hands move slowly through the water, attempting to grasp the tiny fish swimming there. He exclaims aloud with each miss, confidant a simple change in technique will bring greater success and then tries again. Eventually, his attention is diverted to a piece of Styrofoam bouncing atop the waves. He runs to it, picks it up, and quickly shapes it into a disk of sorts. He sends it gliding through the air and chases after it. I hear his laughter between crashes of the waves as he moves father down the beach.

Meanwhile, my seventeen-year-old daughter, Anna, slowly makes her way along the beach, stopping from time to time picking up shells and stones. She marvels at the designs and colors appearing on each one, comparing them in some cases to familiar scenes and objects. She discusses them with my wife, Kirstin, asking questions about what she sees more as something to think about rather than something she truly seeks a response to. At one point, she stops to watch a hermit crab in the sand. She pulls out her iPhone and takes a photograph of the patterns it leaves behind, maximizing this bit of technology to capture an image for later consideration. Kirstin keeps walking along the shoreline, occasionally picking up a piece of wood, some stones, or other items she wants to bring back with her for students to use in her Reggio inspired classroom.

Walking along, watching this, I find myself thinking about the ideals of Reggio Emilia. I was recently in a meeting where I was asked, “What is this Reggio thing?” The speaker continued, “I assume its Italian. Is it?” I had smiled. Yes, it is Italian, but in a sense, that is immaterial. Reggio Emilia is a town in Italy. Re-emerging from the ashes of World War Two, the citizens there committed themselves to the idea of community involvement in educating the child and an image of each child as having their own potential and resources that are stimulated by an environment that solicits the interests and curiosity of the child. The Reggio experience is not one that can be duplicated, rather it is a philosophy that inspires us to think differently about children, how they learn, how we interact with them, and their individual reality.

Reggio inspired learning is something that resonates with Kirstin and I. Before we had every actually heard of Reggio Emilia, our thinking had begun to align with it, and the way we raised our own children was something that would fall into Reggio inspired thinking. Early on, as parents, we realized we didn’t help our children if we did everything for them, or solved their problems for them. This was a difficult concept to accept. When our children were small there was a real desire to protect them from the big bad world. At some point, we realized this was a disservice, and we began to step back, encouraging them to solve things on their own. We would watch as they sometimes failed, or made mistakes, but then respect these attempts at their search for more successful approaches. Similarly, we encouraged them to ask questions and challenge ideas, not as a way to find fault, but as a way to seek deeper understanding and to look for ways to contribute and make a difference. We also encouraged them to interact with their environment and learn from it, whether that environment was a city street, or the woods around our cabin. There is something to explore and opportunities to learn in the world around us. When we first came across the philosophy of Reggio Emilia, it was a natural fit for us. It was a framework that gave coherence to many of the things we believed in.

My friend and colleague, Mike Simpson, speaks passionately about the Reggio Emilia inspired experience. He describes it as being about the rights of the child, and specifically the right of each child to explore and to learn. He says when you begin to think about learning in these terms, it changes the way you approach education. You no longer ask the question, “Why do we have to do this?” and begin to instead ask, “How can we best support the learning for this child?” It isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it does speak to a climate that places more value on the individual subjectivity of each student and the idea of supporting their learning rather than emphasizing conformity as the means to a successful learning experience.

In many ways, when I think about the Reggio inspired experience, I think about our youngest students when they first come to school. They seem full of awe and wonder. They constantly interact with their environment, inventing play in everything they do. As author George Couros says, “learning happens at any time, and all the time.” The Reggio inspired experience is one that capitalizes on this, pursues it, and promotes it. Students become aware of their own well-being and it becomes our role to support them in taking responsibility for it.

Continuing our way down the beach, Max has moved on from his Styrofoam disk. He collects a variety of different lengths of bamboo. He draws a line in the sand. Standing behind it, he begins throwing the bamboo, as though they are spears, watching as they glide through the air and plant themselves in the sand. I ask what he is dong, and he explains he is trying to figure out which length of bamboo flies better. He asks me to try. As my results differ from his, we begin to question the impact of weight, as well as characteristics of the thrower. We continue on like this until again, the environment provides another distraction, and Max heads off to pursue something new.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

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Just wondering about our conference and workshops with Kristen Pelletier

I started writing this post a long time ago, but after this week it feels right to finalize it. At Academia Cotopaxi, we are an inclusive learning community and we accept children with a variety of learning needs. Last week, we hosted a two-day conference called Journey Toward Inclusion for schools in the region and then we had three days of workshops for our community members. To support our learning, we invited Kristen Pelletier, one of the founding Directors and Design Team Members of the Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) collaborative. Kristen has us reflect upon inclusion, our learning support model and the importance of executive functions. Lots of thoughts and ideas have been going through my mind and I need to put them down.

Accessibility of learning

I have always worked in inclusive schools and I feel privileged to have been trained in the UK about fifteen years ago as a lot of those current conversations about accessibility of learning happened back then too. And every time I tried, as a teacher, different teaching strategies for make learning accessible to all learners, every time I hear about them in meetings when reviewing Individual Learning Plans (ILP) or in conferences/workshops I inevitably think: teaching strategies that should be implemented for particular students are effective for all students. Quality educators use a wide variety of teaching tools to make sure that address their students’ needs. That’s it. And thinking that there is too much content to cover, like it may happen at High School level, to take time to vary teaching strategies is to be on a path where content will be eventually internalized by a small proportion of students, whether they have ILP’s or not. The conversation may not be about specific students’ need, but it is about all students.

Co-teaching and co-planning

Through a meaningful protocol, Kristen Pelletier had us realise that our next step at Academia Cotopaxi is to focus more on the collaboration (co-planning and co-teaching) as a model of our learning service delivery. This is big. And it starts now as it means being creative with the resources that we have and purposefully scheduling for collaborative meeting time with the learning support specialists. Research is showing that this is the best model to support students with learning needs, but a tendency has been to have learning support specialists pushing-in in classrooms. A lot to continue thinking about and to plan for.

Executive functions

Kristen Pelletier also took a good chunk of time with a team of educators and students to help us deepen our understanding and develop good practices regarding executive functions. The focus was on Margaret Searle’s big 6:

-planning and problem-solving

-memory

-organization

-attention

-impulse control

-self-monitoring

While this sounds obvious since these are crucial for a robust learning journey, the big 6 need to be explicitly taught. Since we have started a school wide curriculum review, it may be time to develop a scope and sequence for executive functions so that we build those over the years.

 Impact on recruitment

As the recruiting season unfolds, our work with Kristen Pelletier made me even more aware of the importance of strong hiring practices aligned with our inclusion policy. I am currently updating my bank of questions for interviews with all of the above. Prospective new educators need to know what we do and we need to make sure that their teaching philosophy and practices match what we believe in.

So, we had a fantastic five-day experience at Academia Cotopaxi with Kristen Pelletier. We can’t wait to put in place many of the ideas that have come out of the work we did together and we hope that we can continue our collaboration. Merci Kirsten!

For what it’s worth…

Searle, Margaret. Causes & Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems. ASCD, 2013.

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | Leave a comment

An Autumn Re-Set

So I got home this past Friday evening feeling a little more tired than usual. I wasn’t physically sick or anything, it was just that my mental energy was dragging a bit and I wasn’t sure why. I poured a glass of wine, turned on the barbecue and some music, and as I was reflecting on the week it hit me…it’s the Autumn chill. For me, the Autumn chill refers to (in my opinion) the toughest stretch of time in the school year for educators. It’s a time when energy can sag, morale can dip, fatigue can set in, and we can ultimately start to lose focus. We’ve all worked so hard over the past two and a half months to give our students an amazing start to the school year, and now that the routines and expectations are set, and we’ve become comfortable with our schedules and the approach to our days, it can become very easy to start running on autopilot. This post is a call for an Autumn re-set…a chance to think about how you’re feeling, to intentionally recognize how you are putting yourself out there for your colleagues and for our kids, and a chance to think about the steps that you can take to re-discover that passion and energy that you brought with you on the first day of school back in August.

Think back to the start of the school year for a minute…the excitement around the new facility build, the energy around some new divisional imperatives, the addition of fantastic new students and faculty, and the overall buzz and energy of a year that was bursting with promise and possibility. In those early weeks It wasn’t hard to want to sprint to work everyday and to soak up all the positive vibes. For us this year, we have had a wonderful beginning in so, so many ways, and we seem to have now come up for air after that much needed October holiday. It’s fair to say that we’ve settled into the year that lies ahead, with a clear focus on our collective and individual expectations for ourselves and for our students…and now here comes a long, demanding stretch that is bound to test our resolve. The weather has changed, the daylight is disappearing, the skies are a little grayer, and the next holiday break seems like miles away. Like I said, it can be a tough stretch of the year.

I guess what I really want to say about this time of the year, or this “Autumn Chill”, is that we need to take care of each other, and be a tremendous source of support for one another. Let’s talk openly about how we’re feeling, let’s rally around each other when the weeks seem to drag on, and let’s go out of our way to lift each other up. I’m asking all of you to please take care of yourselves physically and mentally over the next five weeks, and to find a balance in your lives that keeps you healthy and energized. It’s going to be a relatively long stretch, the weather is going to get cold and damp, the days are going to get shorter and the nights are going to get longer, so let’s prepare and ready ourselves, and re-commit to one another to find our joy and energy again for the benefit of our students.

Don’t forget, this upcoming five week stretch is brimming with opportunity for our kids, as the uninterrupted student learning time is as good as it gets. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and I’m honestly looking forward to the weeks ahead. I’m excited about all that is coming our way, and together we can make it an incredible second quarter. We have American Thanksgiving, holiday concerts, fun field trips, the school musical, winter fest, and don’t forget we get to feed off of the smiles of our kids each and every day…let’s feed off of each other’s as well. Be good to yourselves everyone, and please be good to each other…and remember, I’d love to help and support if you ever need an ear to bend. I’ll show up Monday morning energized and ready to roll…feed off of my energy and I’ll feed off of yours. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and supportive of one another throughout the Autumn Chill!

 

Quote of the Week…

Winter is an etching, Spring is a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.

– Stanley Horowitz

 

Related Articles –

Teacher Inspiration

Re-charging Professional Batteries

The Best Things about Teaching

The Best Job in the World

Autumn Awesomeness 

 

Interesting Videos –

TED Talk – Laughter

TED Talk – A Good Night’s Sleep

The Science of Empathy

The Book Thing

Autumn Season

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Please Don’t…

In one of my finer moments as an educational leader, I stood in front of an assembly of 400 students and stuck a microphone in front of a 10th grader, asking him to tell us what the mission statement meant to him (cue the mic squeaking). His eyes widened as his friends leaned back away from him as though something terrible was about to happen (which it was).

“Please don’t” he mumbled into the mic. The entire assembly cracked up. I think I recall offering to pay for the boy’s therapy later. Or at least a few rounds of medication. It was pretty bad. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It has been fun to witness the sea change taking place in education, particularly around innovation and designs around learning rather than testing. But one thing is starting to really scare me.

I saw my first “creativity rubric.” Now, ever since I saw Sir Ken’s famous talk about schools killing creativity back in 2007, I have been somewhat obsessed with learning environments that are relevant to what students need to know and be able to do in the next generation. I’ve seen the concept of ‘design’ turned into a curriculum, coding and STEAM, robotics, maker spaces and some pretty good attempts at personalized learning. It’s all good-intentioned stuff and seems to tinker (pun intended) around the edges of the type of skills students need.

Then I went to a workshop on innovation and saw a creativity ‘rubric’ and thought. Oh….My….God. There are so many things that schools take responsibility for in the lives of people, everything from socio-emotional development to music to math to ways of thinking, etc. etc. and for the most part they do a pretty good job. But teaching creativity is the one domain that is going to possibly destroy the very thing it is trying to….create.

I can see it now; Creative Academy. Creative Tutoring. Creative Communities. Creative Commons. Creative Classes. Creativity Labs. Creative Conferences. Creative Rubrics.

I consider myself to be fairly creative. None of it I learned in school. I learned it from hiking in the mountains, praying in Buddhist temples, snorkeling in crystal lakes, lying under majestic palm trees, reading magical pieces of literature, and talking to cab drivers, lots and lots of cab drivers. My life has been open to opportunities that have made me feel very lucky to have had such opportunities to nurture my creativity. I am filled with “what ifs” and “why nots” (which often get me in trouble). I really don’t know if we can teach this.

A creativity rubric is going to formulize the process of being creative. It may even end up with a grade. Can you imagine getting a grade in creativity? (I have no idea how art teachers manage).

What I do know about creativity is that it is deeply rooted in being curious. It is rooted in that ability to transcend your present experience, put yourself into something new, and have all of your senses absorb everything that it can. One of the most creative days I ever had in my life was after climbing the ancient rickety steps of a crumbling castle in Ireland that was traced back to my ancestors. I wrote a story non-stop for six hours after that day and I’ll never forget it.

You cannot teach that.

If you can teach a child to be curious about the world around him or her, then so be it. If you can teach a young person how to strike up a conversation in another language with a man fixing shoes on a side street in Bangkok then so be it. If you can develop in young people the mindset to write a poem in the pew of an ancient church in Lisbon on a rainy day, then all the more power to you.

But whatever you do, please, please don’t turn creativity into a rubric.

Posted in Forrest Broman, Stephen Dexter | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Invisible Knapsack of Privilege Part II: Heterosexual & Cisgender Privilege

 

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Almost three decades ago, Peggy McIntosh published her now-legendary piece on White Privilege[1]. McIntosh likened white privilege to an invisible knapsack of advantages that white people carry with them, listing a selection from the abundance of everyday rights withheld from people of colour. This post is the second of two parts, in honour of McIntosh’s birthday this month. The first addresses the ethnic privilege I carried as a student growing up in international schools. This piece considers a few of the many ways that I benefitted from my invisible knapsack of heterosexual and cisgender privilege as a student in international schools:

  1. I was free from concern that a teacher or classmate would misgender
  2. I never had to worry that a teacher would deadname me while taking attendance.
  3. The standardized tests that pre-entered our personal information always checked the box that corresponded with my gender identity.
  4. I could be certain that both anatomy and relationships similar to mine would be discussed in sexual education lessons.
  5. I could enjoy the playground and other common campus spaces without worry that I would be the target of verbal or physical harassment because of my sexual orientation or gender identity.
  6. My parents were able to attend school functions without concern that their relationship would be an uninvited topic of discussion.
  7. If a classmate turned down an invitation to visit my home, I never suspected that it had to do with my parents’ relationship.
  8. I could audition for a part in a play or try out for an athletic team without being asked to discuss my gender.
  9. I was able to use the school bathroom that corresponded with my gender identity.
  10. I was never assigned entire reading lists with characters and plots that completely ignored or invalidated romantic relationships like mine.

How do you see heterosexual and cisgender privilege playing out in international schools today?

[1] McIntosh, P. (1998). Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In P.S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race, class, and gender in the United States, p. 165-169. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Your Brain on Childhood

So I just finished reading a ridiculously good book titled, Your Brain on Childhood, by Gabrielle Principe, and it has my head spinning with ideas, questions, concerns and wonderings about the kinds of experiences that we regularly give to our kids in school and at home. I find it super interesting to read books like this, which through research address the kinds of things that we do with children, and the kinds of things that we’ve seemingly always done with our students, that simply don’t make a whole lot of sense. We do these things because we’ve always done them, but just because we’ve always done them doesn’t make them right. The small print title on the front cover reads, “The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan”, and honestly, if you’re an educator, a parent, or at all interested in brain development, this book is a must read in my opinion…order it now for your next birthday present to yourself.

It’s tough for me to know how to organize my thoughts around the chapters, as I just put the book down a couple of days ago, and I need more time to digest the information. There seems to be a blog post screaming out to be written on every second page, but there are a few topics that really caught my attention, which speak directly to some changes that we can be making in our traditional school environments that would enhance learning with our students immediately.

The first chapter that I want to quickly discuss talks about our need and want as educators and as parents to prepare our young learners for the future…focusing on the adults that our children will eventually become instead of on the children that they are NOW. She calls the chapter the Butterfly Effect, and illustrates her point with an example of a colleague of hers who won’t take his children to Disney World until they are old enough to remember it. He tells her, “why would I spend thousands of dollars on a trip that they won’t even remember?” Her concern is that as parents and educators, we often choose experiences and make choices for our kids that we think will make a positive difference later in their lives, which may or may not be true, and we then ultimately forget about the experiences that will make our kids feel good now, and make them happy now. She also points out the unintended pressure that adults often put on kids through extra “enrichment” activities, over scheduling children (excessive activities and homework) in the belief that this will somehow be the golden ticket to getting into Harvard. She ends the chapter suggesting that there is no basis for belief that speeding up a child’s development, or delaying enriching experiences (like going to Disney World) will do any good…if anything, these adult choices are often counterintuitive.

Another interesting chapter is called Organized Crime, and it deals with the difference between self-esteem and self-respect in children, and which one we should be focusing on in classrooms and on the sports fields…it’s self-respect by the way. It reminds me of much of Carol Dweck’s research around Mindset and grit and praise, where effort and failing forward and mistake making are the skill sets that we should be developing in our kids. She also tackles the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems, and the research around how extrinsic reward systems in classrooms don’t actually work as a way to change behavior in the long term. She states that, ‘it’s better to develop intrinsic self-respect, and to acknowledge that failure can provide harmless but valuable life lessons”. This has me wondering about how we speak to our kids in school, and what we are actually praising them for, and the language that we use to do so…the final part of the chapter deals again with how as adults we love to schedule and manage and supervise every aspect of our kids’ and students’ lives…she begs us to let go of our inner helicopter and stop spending so much time hovering over the lives of our kids. She implores us to give our kids plenty of time to do “nothing – to indulge in pretense, create their own fantasy worlds, and to foster their own happiness”.

The final chapter that I want to talk about (believe me I could write about them all, especially the chapter about nature as a classroom) is called Old School, and it touches on the importance of student brain breaks, recess, and how we view homework or home learning…things that I’m personally passionate about. With regards to recess, Principe believes that it (unstructured play time) should be seen as a vital part of the curriculum, just like math or science. Children need this time, just like with regular brain breaks throughout the academic day, to be best able to sustain attention on tasks and to help reduce fidgeting and increase attention. With regards to traditional homework, and the research which shows next to no link to academic achievement in the elementary grades, she asks the question, isn’t there a better use of a child’s time after the school day is over? My answer is yes, and I’m excited to continue this conversation at our school about what that may look like. Anyway, it’s things like this (limited recess, lack of brain breaks and traditional homework) that many, many schools continue to embrace when in actual fact it’s the absolute wrong approach to helping our students grow and learn and achieve…interesting to think about for sure, and I encourage you to do so, and to do your own research around these topics…read this book too.

Principe says it best very early on in the book when she says, “The problem is, despite parents’ and teachers’ real desire to help young brains grow into smart and successful adult brains, most know remarkably little about how brains really develop. Anyway, as you can tell I enjoyed this book very much, and it really got me thinking. Although we’re making great strides in moving away from our many traditional approaches to educating children, there is still work to be done. The first step is to understand what really works with kids, and to learn the truth around how they develop. It’s also important to be able to identify, and to step away from the urban myths around what we think is the best approach to helping kids learn…remember, just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The more you and I learn about how the brain develops, the better we can care for and educate our children, and the better we can raise old brains in a new world – Gabrielle Principe

 

Interesting Articles –

Brain Development – New Insights

Early Childhood Development

Why Play is Important

Learning With Nature

Student Brain Breaks

 

Ted Talks and Videos –

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Read Montague

Forest Kindergarten

Alternative Education

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

does living abroad accentuate or obliterate class? yes to both.

In recent years, I’ve found myself in a position that sometimes seems to transcend class and yet is so much an explicit embodiment of it.

In Jordan, I had the experience of being assumed to be rich. This makes sense, because how would you get to Jordan (and how would you choose to come) if you didn’t have the money to spend on the plane ticket at least? Also, I worked at a boarding school that enrolled royal princes from both Jordan and elsewhere. What was interesting to me was that the normal signifiers of class status that I was familiar with from the US- the size of houses, the type of clothing, the accent, the car, etc.-  were invisible here; the people I was meeting had no idea what my background was other than what I presented. They couldn’t see my house or my car or my parents or my neighborhood. They could make guesses based on my accent and my clothes, but they didn’t seem to need to- I was a foreigner (and an American) in Jordan, and that meant high class. Maybe this was due to the golden glow working at a prestigious boarding school founded by the king gave me, but I saw it more as just a function of being American. “Oh, you’re American,” they seemed to say, “you must have three cars and a house and a pool and six golden retrievers and three TVs.” (Actually, my dad’s life is somewhat like this, minus the golden retrievers….Hmmm.) I felt disingenuous sometimes, like when parents assumed I would be familiar with the names and reputations of all the colleges their son wanted to apply to, or when I was invited to swanky embassy events. I still have a hard time navigating my relationship to some of my ex-colleagues and ex-students from that school.

And what about now, now that I’m in Argentina? I still don’t understand the signifiers here. My colleagues and friends who are local can instantly do so– name an neighborhood, and they’ll tell you a connotation; describe an accent or a speech pattern (as if I could) and they can name a reference. Of course, we do the same at home. Here I, as a foreigner, can only accurately perceive the most obvious and blatant markers- someone asking for money in the subway versus someone whose parents are paying 40 grand a year to attend a private school. Besides noting who lives in a house in the suburbs and who lives in an apartment downtown, I don’t have much knowledge about class variances amongst Argentines. And what about the other way? How do people in Argentina perceive my class status? How does class work in an international context?

My thinking now is that although I take great pride in deciding to travel abroad, having come from parents who have never left the country (except to Canada) and a town where many stayed close by, I don’t think that my experience is really about class, but that it’s more about opportunity and education and interest. I am also not that interested anymore in how I am perceived by the locals- what they think of my self-cut hair, my foreign-looking outfit and the fact that I’m reading the New Yorker on the train to work. I know that the fact that I’m here is a sign of privilege. They know that too. We may think we’ve transcended signifiers of class: no one can see the house I grew up in, no one bullies me for wearing the wrong brand of sneakers, people don’t judge me for where I went to college. When I first meet an Argentine they don’t immediately ask where I live or what I do. But the very fact of our expat existence, and the fact that most of us can choose where to go next (back home, continuing abroad, or whatever) means that our class is one of privilege. Our access to local culture will always be through that lens.

 

 

 

Posted in Allison Poirot | Leave a comment