What About Play?

Last week I wrote about balance, and I got quite a strong response from dozens of people who just like me, needed a wake up call to what’s really important in their lives. This week I’d like to talk about another necessary component of a happy life (in my opinion), and something that most educators in my experience tend to lose sight of as they struggle through the day to day grind of a school year………the importance play! Now I’m not talking about playing with our iPads, or the apps on our iPhones, or with the other tech toys that we use to fill up our spare time, I’m talking about really playing……like the kids at our school who literally cannot wait to get out on the playground and use their imaginations to create, explore, and escape. I spent much of last week just watching kids at recess and at lunch, and what I saw made me smile from ear to ear…..but it also made me a little sad because there wasn’t a single adult in sight taking part.

I watched kids playing tag, cops and robbers, hopscotch and hide and seek, not to mention all the great games of soccer and basketball and football where kids were pretending to be their favorite players from their favorite teams. I saw kids jumping in puddles and playing rock, paper, scissors, and every single one of them was smiling, free, and completely engaged. I started to wonder why as adults we don’t play more together? I thought about how maybe it’s actually the kids who’ve really got it right, and how maybe it’s time for us as educators to let the kids teach us an important lesson for once. Then I thought about the times in my life when I’m the happiest and it occurred to me that it’s when I’m playing. Either playing soccer with my boy, or dolls or moms and dads with my girl, or when I’m out for a run just letting my imagination and that dreamy state of mind take over. I also thought about the best teachers that I’ve ever had in my life and it struck me that it was the ones who played with us as students. The teachers who found ways to bring “play” into the classrooms, and the ones who found time to incorporate “play” into their lessons…..and the ones were out on the field at recess throwing footballs and playing horse. The teachers who hadn’t lost their inner child, and who knew the importance of having fun like a kid.

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. I think most of us tend to get saddled with the seriousness of work, and paying the bills, and the responsibility that we have to ourselves, our students, and our own kids…….and I think it’s the wrong approach. I think that finding time to play may just be one of the most important things that we can do as adults. I think it will make us better educators, better mentors, better colleagues, and better parents. Last Wednesday, instead of a regular faculty meeting, we took time in the Middle School to play together with a trivia competition. Obviously, spending one afternoon a semester isn’t going to transform us back into kids but it will allow us to take a step back, and to take a break from all of the “serious work”. Like balance, finding time to play in your life is hard, and maybe something that you haven’t put as a priority of late. I guess I’m asking you all this week to think about how much you play with your students throughout the school day, and how much time you set aside in your own lives to escape like those kids on the playground…….it might just change your life for the better.

Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. No Musings next week as I’ll be running another half marathon, and waiting for my beautiful wife to finish her first full marathon…..champagne and chocolate at the finish line!

Quote of the Week……
The opposite of play is not work……it’s depression!
– Stuart Brown

TED Talk – Stuart Brown on play (I am begging you all to watch this video!)
http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Article #1 – The importance of Play for Adults
https://firstthings.org/the-importance-of-play-for-adults

Article #2 – Adults at Play
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/

National Institute for Play
www.nifplay.org

 

 

8 Top Tips: Preparing for and Conducting a Successful Job Interview

Over the next three months, you will most likely be interviewed through Skype, or in person at a recruitment fair or private meeting. This is the period during which the leading international schools will recruit at least 80% of their new staff.

Exhaustive lists of criteria and strategies for creating successful applications and interviews abound, but here are some tips that can determine whether your first choice school makes you an offer. These are distilled from over 25 years of experience recruiting candidates for schools, working closely with international school recruiters, and interviewing over 5,000 candidates.

Most schools will want to interview you in person or via Skype, before they make you an offer, although this is not always the case. Your success then depends very much on how you prepare for the interview and how you conduct yourself. Here are a few vital tips for this process.

1) Recommendations from Supervisors

Very few recruiters will ever get to see you in the classroom before they make the hiring decision. They may need to rely on your recommendations from past and current supervisors, and the best schools will conduct extensive phone check-outs to get a better handle on the person they are considering. They also are aware of the chronic reluctance of US administrators to be forthcoming, so be sure to include any international school references in your experience.

Hence, you should inform your references about the different kind of schools you are applying to and let them know the factors you would like them to highlight. Their written and oral comments should include placing you in the top 3%, 10% or 20% of the faculty they have worked with, both in terms of teaching abilities and personal characteristics. It’s much better if they are prepared for these questions.

2) Your Personal Presentation

Many international schools exist in relatively conservative societies and serve a largely upper middle class constituency. This often means that, like it or not, your personal style in dress, accessories, hair style, etc. could be important factors in a hiring decision. It’s best to dress in a conservative fashion and refrain from showcasing things such as nose rings, inappropriate clothing, or even extravagant jewelry.

3) Listen Carefully to the Questions Asked

Many school heads are experienced interviewers and have distilled their approach to a number of vital questions. If you are not sure at any time what they are asking, be straightforward and ask for clarification. They will appreciate your desire to answer them with clarity.

Your own good questions are another major indicator of intelligence and understanding. See my last point on on key topics to consider when developing your own list of questions.

4) Learning Results

The best schools will focus sharply on learning results, rather than just teacher “inputs.” So your best strategy is to provide evidence of student work and accomplishments under your guidance. This may be written work, art projects, exam questions that challenge and promote thinking skills, videos of performances, and student presentations.

Don’t be afraid to bring these to the interview, or find a way to discuss and present them even if not requested. Most recruiters will be very interested and impressed and for highly desirable schools, this is the very best way to set yourself apart from the competition.

5)  Use of Video

Since recruiters won’t be able to see you teach in person, they will appreciate any capacity you have to create a filmed lesson that can be shared. This can make a major difference in selecting one candidate over another; But of course, only if it demonstrates effective teaching strategies. If you develop these clips, have a knowledgeable educational supervisor review them before sending them out. Don’t worry whether filming your lessons is appropriate. It is completely ethical and allows you to put your best foot forward and to show them your classroom skills.

6) After School Coaching and Teaching Skills

Most international schools attempt to mount substantial after school programs in sports, theater, games, IT, cooking and almost every other skill appropriate to K-12 students. Thus your ability to add something significant to these will make you a more attractive candidate. Good coaches are a primary quest of every school, but if you don’t have athletic expertise, you should be prepared to offer at least two types of activities that you would be willing to teach after school.

7) The Personal Factor

Your personal characteristics are even more important to international school recruiters than to your local school districts at home. In these schools you are expected to fit into and enhance a community of expatriates, and to be able to reassure anxious parents from many nations that you are not only be an effective teacher, but a positive role model for their children. Invariably you will be drawn into the broader school community; and your potential impact on the well-being, optimism and morale of other staff members is a matter of serious concern.

This means that very positive, engaging people, with excellent social skills and personal resilience will get the nod every time.

8) Ask Your Own Questions

Know that the best candidates, at a crucial point in the interview, turn the process around and ask thoughtful questions about the school. Inquiring about the school’s goals, concerns, the most difficult challenges the school and staff face, and other important topics show you’re seriously interested in the school.

The idea here is to remind the recruiter that in the same way they are evaluating you, you are carefully considering whether this is a school where you want to work. Probing, thoughtful questions, focused mainly on learning issues, (not benefits and remuneration), are clearly the most effective way to impress your prospective employer.

Finding Balance

So last week during a conversation with a respected mentor of mine, the topic of balance came up………. and it got me thinking. To be honest, I have personally struggled with this for a few years now, and it’s something that I’m just now starting to figure out. Balancing work, family, and all the other aspects of an educator’s life is one of the most difficult challenges that we all face, and I’d like to share a quick story with you (which I’ve embellished a little for effect) to try and help illustrate my point.  I shared this as a “pearl” at a PTC course in Miami last summer, and I think it might be pertinent for our environment since we’ve all been working so hard of late.

At the beginning of last year, my first grade son received an assignment from his teacher. Essentially, he had to take home a sheet of A3 paper and a box of crayons, and draw how he saw his father. He was to include all of my hobbies, my passions, what I did with my spare time, and all the rest…..and when I heard of this assignment I was super excited. The first thing that I thought was, “how could he possibly put everything that encapsulated me on to one small sheet of A3 paper?” but regardless, I was looking forward to the end result. It was an assignment that was to be done in class, so everyday for a week I rushed home to see if the finished product was in his school bag. Finally, after five agonizing days of waiting, I arrived home to see him holding the finished masterpiece in his little hands. I told him to sit down on the couch and wait for me while I poured a big drink (since I knew it would take a long time to go through all the amazing things that he had drawn), and then we’d go through the assignment together. Well, we sat down, he handed me the paper, and I opened it up with frenzied anticipation. There on the paper, much to my shock and surprise, was a simple black stick man holding a yellow computer………and I nearly collapsed to the floor.

It was as though he had hit me across the jaw with a sledge hammer, and I honestly didn’t really know what to think. After I put him to bed that night, I went into the spare room for a few hours and sulked. It finally occurred to me that in my attempt to become the world’s greatest Middle School principal, I had lost myself (and all that was important to me) along the way. I was going in to work every morning at six, and not coming home until after five…….. I had become addicted to my iPhone, and checked for messages every chance I got………I wasn’t exercising hardly at all and I hit the 200 pound mark for the first time in my life……..I was having a large drink every night at dinner because I had convinced myself that I deserved it after such a long, hard day at work………and I was giving more time to the kids at my school then I was to my own. I finally realized that I had no balance at all in my life, and that I was losing all the best parts of who I was….the parts that got me to my current position in the first place!

That night I set my alarm for four in the morning, and I got up and went for a run……….and I’ve barely missed a day in the last eight months. I made a pact with myself that night that my family, as well as my physical and mental health would be my top priorities from now on, and I haven’t looked back. It feels good to have lost the twenty pounds, and it feels good to be present for my family again…..but here’s the thing……by finding balance in my life, I’ve actually become a better Principal! I have more energy, I smile more often, I deal with frustration better, and I’m more able to practice what I preach with my faculty and students. There’s a great quote (told to me by an incredibly wise mentor of mine named Al Adams) that I use quite often, which states, “if you’re solely committed to an institution…..you should be”. Listen, I know that I haven’t found my perfect work-life balance yet, and I realize that I still check my iPhone way, way too much for messages…….. but I’m getting there……..and I KNOW that I’m doing better because I got my son to re-do the assignment at the beginning of this year, and the result was markedly different. This time on the paper there was a man smiling, there was a basketball, and an eagle, and a guitar, and a rainbow, and lots of other things that I love in my life……..and instead of the man holding a yellow computer, he was holding Roald Dahl’s, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is our favorite author to read every night before bed.

We all work hard to be the best educators that we can be, and sometimes we feel guilty for taking time for ourselves…….I get it. Don’t lose yourself in the process everyone, and be sure to put yourself first. It’s my feeling that without the proper balance in your life, you’ll never be the educator that your students really need. We still have five weeks to go until the Holiday break, so take care of yourselves! You’ll be all the better for it, and your students will feed off of your new found energy. Have a great week everyone, and remember to be balanced for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……….
Work, love, and play are the great balance wheels of man’s being.
– Orison Swett Marden

Article #1
http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/2011/dec/07/teachers-work-life-balance
Article #2 – Small Steps to Bringing Your Life into Balance Small Steps to Bringing Your Life into Balance
Article #3 – 10 Simple Ways to Find Balance 10 Simple Ways to Find Balance and Get Your Life Back

Great Book on Teacher Balance
http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111004.aspx

TED Talk on Balance – Nigel Marsh
http://www.ted.com/talks/nigel_marsh_how_to_make_work_life_balance_work.html

International Recruitment Fairs: the Pros and Cons

As you know, over the next few months a number of leading recruitment agencies will host fairs throughout the world, which are designed to produce direct contact and hiring decisions for hundreds of international schools and thousands of candidates. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it may be difficult to gauge the benefits of participating, and to weigh the drawbacks.

I will assume here that the typical candidate has had some positive contact with at least one school that has shown interest in interviewing her/him. It is certainly wise for all candidates to seek the specific interest of a few schools well before December. And it is increasingly the case that schools are offering jobs and filling positions well before the recruitment fairs even begin.

Nevertheless, taking part in a recruitment fair conducted by ISS, Search Associates, Council of International Schools (CIS), the University of Northern Iowa, Queens College and others has these distinct advantages:

1) You get to meet the school head, and often a principal, in person, and the chance to make your case as a desirable candidate.

2) There are anywhere from 70 to 220 international schools at these fairs, so your chances of landing at least one solid offer are very good. (Check out carefully which schools will attend.)

3) You can also meet many experienced international school teachers, and learn about the challenges and benefits of an international teaching career.

4) You can and should engage any prospective employer about the school’s mission and focus, the major qualities they are seeking in candidates, and the benefits and drawbacks in working in their schools and living in their environments.

5) You will, through this process, attract interest and even offers from schools in countries you had never considered. Many of those hired end up in places they had never anticipated.

You must bear in mind, however, that your chances of success at a fair are greatly enhanced if you have had positive contact with at least a few of the schools that will be there; this can best be accomplished by seeking positions through agencies, such as TIE and tieonline.com, well before the fairs begin.

Now for some of the discouraging issues in attending one of these fairs:

1) The travel, lodging and fees can add up to a considerable expense, coupled with days off from your current school.

2) There is usually some fervor, intensity and often-long lines in getting signed up for an interview with the schools of your choice.

3) More than ever, schools are asking for decisions and commitments almost immediately after the initial interview. This can be disconcerting if you have not been reviewing the information about that school before attending the fair.

4) You may be a very effective teacher, but not strong in the interview, or there may be physical or stylistic handicaps that detract from your presentation.

5) If you are a strong candidate and get more than one offer, the pressure to make a decision without adequate time to consider all the ramifications can be very disconcerting.

6) It may be that a desired vacancy was filled at an earlier fair, which often happens towards the end of the cycle. And at best, roughly half of the candidates attending can expect to be offered a position as a result of the fair.

So the choice of whether to attend an international school recruitment fair is complicated, and highly individual. You should at least ask schools you are in touch with if they require your attendance there: will Skype or some other alternative enable them to make an equally informed decision?

There is some excitement to these events though, and they are well organized. You may meet many interesting people, and learn first-hand what it means to be part of an international school staff.

Inspiration

I’ve been incredibly inspired lately by a number of different things, and it has opened up my eyes yet again to one of life’s undeniable truths……..which is that inspiration is all around us, in every moment of every day, just waiting to be found. The truly challenging thing however, is to have your eyes, heart, and mind open to all of life’s beauty, and to the inspiring moments that continually present themselves to us. More often than not, we get so busy as educators with our report writing, our lesson planning, our weekly meetings, and all the rest that these special and simple moments can quite easily sneak by sadly without notice……and that’s a shame. So with that in mind I’d like to talk this week about inspiration.

Since I began thinking about this a few weeks ago, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by how easy it is to gain strength, energy, enthusiasm, and hope just by stopping for a moment and taking a look around. I’ve been inspired by so many things over the past few weeks that I don’t really know where to begin honestly. First off, there’s the inspiration that can be found in the moments of adversity that so many people struggle with on a personal level. My brother for example, who has been recovering from a stroke with an incredible amount of determination and optimism, and our dear friend and colleague who’s struggling with cancer but doing so with such unbelievable strength, poise, and courage.  It’s not hard to be inspired when you see this kind of fight in people….it makes you want to do all the things that you’ve been putting off, and it makes you want to say all the things that you’ve been meaning to say…….inspiring.

I also recently came back from an EARCOS leadership conference, which literally made my head spin with excitement, and inspired the hell out of me. Living in this day and age of education is amazing, as we’re in the midst of some long overdue transformational change. What schools are doing right now with technology, project based and experiential learning, authentic assessment, and non-traditional timetabling is astounding in my opinion. Schools around the globe are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in education, and it has inspired me to think hard about how we can do better for our students and community here at SCIS. The opportunity to hear a few of the world’s visionary leaders in education talk about how they’re bringing educational change to their schools has made me want to work harder, and think bigger for the future of our kids……inspiring.

I want you all to think about what has happened in our own environment over the past several weeks. The UN Day and International Food Fair, the Zombie Love performances, and this past weekend’s Dynamix music festival have all been ridiculously inspiring for our students and our community. Think about the experiences that our kids are receiving that are not only transforming who they are as performers, but who they are as young adults. It’s not hard to be inspired by all that our students have access to, and by all the wonderful, future shaping work that you (their teachers) are contributing to their young lives. If you take it down to more of a micro-level, look at what’s happening in your own individual classrooms on a daily basis, or down the hall in a colleague’s classroom, or out on the soccer field or up in the gym……..inspiration is happening everywhere, all the time, and it’s there for all of us to feed off of…….take a moment and take a look around.

I’ve been inspired lately and I wanted to share this with you…….I also want to encourage you all to slow down and open your eyes. It’s as easy as meeting the kids first thing in the morning and being inspired by the energy, innocence, eagerness, and joy that they bring to school each and every day. I meet them every morning coming off the buses, and it’s rare that I don’t have a belly laugh due to the pure beauty of who they are and what they say as they high five me on their way to first block. Inspiration is all around us….everywhere….in everything that we do……..don’t get caught with your head down and your eyes closed everyone. You’ll miss out on what’s really important in life and education, which is us……the kids, your colleagues, and the natural world around us. Take it all in and be inspired!

Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for your students and inspired by each other.

Quotes of Week……..
Remember that life’s most treasured and inspired moments often come unannounced
– Anonymous

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working
-Pablo Picasso

Inspiring TED Talk – Chip Conley
http://www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile.html

Thought Provoking TED Talk- Matt Killingsworth
http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment.html

A few inspiring Websites and Projects…..there are so many!
http://www.ligercambodia.org/liger-learning-center/

www.edibleschoolyard.org

 

www.achievement.org


 

 

Teachers teaching Teachers

Less than two weeks ago we rolled out our new “SIPS” initiative in the Middle School, as part of our attempt to take advantage of the incredible amount of educational expertise that we currently have on staff. We set up a situation where monthly, we carve out some time to allow teachers to teach other teachers, and to infuse some internal professional development into our working lives. I’ve heard it many times before (and I tend to agree) that the most powerful form of professional development is the utilization of the amazing talents and skills that a faculty brings to an organization, coupled with a format that sets it up in a way that is relevant, regular, and sustainable. I had a chance to sit in on and videotape two of the first four sessions, and to be honest, they were outstanding. The feedback that we received from teachers was extremely positive with the only real criticism being that they were too short!  I’m very excited to showcase the next four sessions in a few weeks time, and I believe that this initiative could quickly become part of the fabric of our Middle School…….

If you’re looking for an acronym for SIPS, it’s “School Improvement Program”, although we’ve been using the following analogy to get the idea across to our community. Essentially, if you view all of the Professional Development opportunities that are open to us as educators each school year as a big jug of PD water, we are looking to drink from this jug one “sip” at a time. A once a month showcase during our sacrosanct Wednesday Faculty meeting schedule, where we set up either half hour or hour long mini PD sessions that are led by faculty members with something to share. Like I said, the first four were fantastic with Joel presenting Garage Band as a assessment tool, Ross presenting on the effective use of Smart Boards, Bret presenting on Power School, Grade book, and our new engagement rubric, and finally, Jason and Dominic presenting on the educational value of SAS Curriculum pathways.

We’re also in the process of setting up a collaboration blog of sorts, which can house many of these videos and podcasts (with teacher permission of course) so that we all have access to each session, because unfortunately you can only view one or two of your choices on the actual day. The call is out already for the next set of presenters, and I’m excited to lead a session myself during the next round on November 14th. I’m encouraging you all to think about a possible “sip” that you could deliver at some point throughout the year. I’ve been into each one of your classrooms and I see the wonderful things that are taking place…….please try to find the courage to share one part of your teaching talents for the betterment of us all! It’s a powerful and empowering thing to sit and watch a colleague present, but another thing altogether to get up there and present yourself. Talk about professional development! Here’s a brief list off the top of my head as suggestions and examples of potential upcoming “SIPS”…….

6 traits writing and rubrics
Reading comprehension strategies
Intervention strategies
ESOL in the mainstream
Differentiation
Anything Technology focused (prezi, word press, podcasting, iMovie, ect)
Classroom management techniques
Collaboration techniques
How to have hard conversations
Inquiry based learning
Proper Research and citation procedures
Experimental learning
Literature circles
Interactive read alouds
Setting up a professional blog/portfolio
Assessment strategies
Using Drama/Dance to aid in student understanding
Service learning
Curriculum development
Rubicon Atlas
Teaching non fiction writing/different genre writing
Balancing your school life and personal life

As you can see, the possibilities are immense, and after looking at this quick list it’s not hard to recognize how much we could potentially learn from one another. Thank you to those of you who have already presented, and thank you in advance to those of you who are about to step up….I cannot wait. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the week…
Ultimately, we hope teachers will not only retain what they learn in professional development encounters, but also transfer that new knowledge into action.
– David Sousa

The following articles are taken from Kim Marshall’s weekly roundup, which can be found at www.marshallmemo.com
Article #1 – Seven Keys to Effective Professional Development Seven Keys to Effective Professional Development
Article #2 – How to Make Professional Development Stick  How to Make Professional Development Stick

Teachers Teaching Teachers Article
http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin459.shtml
Professional Development Website
http://www.teachervision.fen.com/pro-dev/resource/5778.html
Professional Development Conversation
http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2007/10/25/01chat.h01.html