The Philippines – From Tropical Paradise to Tropical Depression

The Philippines before
Before: The Philippines – a tropical paradise
After: Typhoon Yolanda – a tropical disaster

When Disaster Strikes Near, But Not at You 

By Kailie Nagrath

I have been getting a lot of inquires from friends and family members who have been hearing about the devastating super typhoon Yolanda.  “I am perfectly fine and safe,” I assure the people back home.  But I can’t help but feel sad, and even a bit guilty, about all the thousands of people who are not so lucky.

Manila and the surrounding metro area seemed to escape the wrath of this violent typhoon, but the ‘eye’ of the storm struck hard on the southern part of the Philippines.  So hard, that Filipinos are calling this the worst typhoon in the island nation’s history.  Filipinos are not ones to sensationalize their weather as they have grown accustomed to these powerful tropical storms, living in a land where almost half of the year is considered typhoon season.

Yet many of the southern islands could not have known or prepared for the stormy uproar that struck their land late Friday night into early Saturday morning.

Eastern Islands Hit Hard

The area of the Philippines most affected is the Visayas provinces. Tacloban City in Leyte caught the full force of the typhoon with winds of up to 310kmph (195mph) completely decimating the city.  Exact figures are still unavailable but the death toll in that city alone is expected to reach the 10,000 mark.  Countless others are suffering from injuries, loss of shelter, food, electricity and clean drinking water. The actual destruction of this storm is so massive it is still being mapped out and the damage and human toll has yet to be fully calculated, but one thing is for sure, this is a disaster on a massive scale.

President Benigno Aquino III declared a “state of national calamity” in a plea to the international community to offer relief efforts.

Manila not Hit but Hurt

Seeing my host country going through this disaster is so heartbreaking.  Although Manila was largely unaffected by the storm, the emotional and psychological effects are plainly visible.  In a small island nation almost anyone living in the capital has friends, family or relatives in the outlying islands, so everyone is affected.  In a culture that is as family-oriented and giving to friends and loved ones as the Filipino culture is, everyone feels personally connected to this tragedy.

The current mood of the city is contrasted sharply to the city I landed in just a few short months ago.  A city where I could always find a welcoming smile, a helpful hand to assist me, a friendly face eager to say hello, or a warm smile sent my way.  The typhoon has left such sadness in the air that it seems to have washed all the smiles away.  I wish I could give back more to the people who have welcomed me to this country, because I have seen first-hand that these are a people who do not think twice to help out someone else in need.

Images Don’t Capture the Devastation

They say a picture speaks more than a thousand words… but none of the images you see can fully capture the magnitude and level of devastation that has hit this country.  Nor are there enough words, or even the right words, to explain the wreckage this storm has caused.  Lives were lost, families torn apart, and countless people have been left homeless with nowhere to go.  Survivors are desperately looking for loved-ones and searching for food and clean water to drink.  One can only imagine the desperation these people are feeling.

This morning when I went into the convenience store across the street from me, the man at the counter asked me to donate all of my old clothing.  It’s the least I can do, but of course I want to do more.  I know there are many people who feel the same way, but need to know how or where they can best help. 

How to Help

I would like to pass along this message from the International School of Manila on how best to help at this time.  ISM would normally send teams from the school to help assist first-hand but due to the level of devastation and the health risks that is not currently possible.

The best form of aid is financial assistance.  If you would like to help out with a donation you can either give directly to ISM’s Disaster Relief Fund or to UNICEF Philippines.  Please click on the link to ISM’s fundraising page to see details on how to make your donation:

Donate Through ISM

The people of this country have welcomed me with smiles on their faces everyday and I have learned to love and care for this country and its people.  As a guest in this very special land, I know they really need our help right now.  It is my hope that anyone who can make a contribution of any kind would do so now in this hour of dire need.


Self Promotion is Good Practice

So it’s that time of year again when international educators start to think about the possibility of moving on to a new adventure. Contracts will be coming out soon if they haven’t been offered already, and many of us will have a life changing decision to make. With that in mind I gave a presentation last week titled, “Shameless Promotion is Good Practice”, and essentially it was a discussion around how imperative it is for all of us to be current, prepared, and able to have the necessary conversations that will come our way when we look for our new school and community. Even if it’s not this year, the time will come I will suggest when you’ll decide to move on (such is the nature of international school education), and I’m wondering how ready are you to put yourself out there, and to separate yourself from the others who are also on the look out?

It’s interesting to me, as I sift through the dozens and dozens of resumes and application packages that we receive for our potentially vacant positions, how generic and unremarkable the majority of them are. I find it a little disheartening honestly that the majority of applicants are still sending in the usual and stock standard black and white CV, with a brief overview of their experience and less than inspiring cover letter. I’m going to say that this is no longer good enough (in my opinion), and with the access that we now have to technology and the many other engaging forms of media, we need to be promoting ourselves in a more creative and compelling way. If you don’t already have a professional blog or website showcasing your educational thinking, expertise, and awesomeness…..with videos of you teaching or presenting or collaborating…… and with colleague, student, and parent testimonials then you might already be behind the eight ball. Often times it’s getting that initial interview with an intriguing school which is the hardest and most difficult step, and because of that we need to do everything we can to showcase our expertise, our experience, and our personal and professional qualities so that schools are chomping at the bit to dig deeper and reach out. I bet everyone out there thinks that if they can just get an interview then they can get that job…….so do everything that you can to get that interview!

It may seem like a daunting and overwhelming task to set up a blog or website, or to read and follow the countless books and educational blogs that are popping up all around, so I’d like to help you get started. I think you’ll find that it’s not as daunting as you think, and with a tip here and there, and a push in the right direction you’ll soon be on your way to shamelessly self promoting yourself out to the world. You are all doing amazing things in your classrooms and with our kids….I see it everyday. Let me help you get that expertise out to not only your colleagues and prospective employers, but to the educational world in general. You all have way to much to offer to keep it in isolation and to yourself, so pop by over the next few weeks and let me prep you for your upcoming interviews……let me videotape some of your outstanding lessons…..let me read through your educational philosophies…..let me take a look at your CV……..and ask me anything you want about the process. This goes for all of you, even the ones who are staying on next year…….the time to start showcasing your teaching talents and separating yourself out from others is now. I’ve listed some good resources below off the top of my head to give you a start, so take some time to look through them. Also, if you have some others that you’d like to add to the lists below then please, please send them our way. Let’s help each other stay current, engaged, and prepared! Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

websites that will help to keep you current:

Educational Thinkers who are worth a look:
Kath Murdoch
Lynn Erickson
Rick Wormelli
Ken O’connor
John Hattie
Mike Schmoker
Thomas Guskey
Bill Powell
Ron Ritchhart
Alan November
Judy Willis
Dylan Wiliam

Book Suggestions
A Whole New Mind/Drive/To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Powerful Learning by Ron Brandt
Education and Ecstasy by George Leonard
Fish by Steven Lundin
Tribes/Linchpin by Seth Godin
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Where Good Ideas Come From by Stephen Johnson
John Hattie – Visible Learning for Teachers
Focus – Mike Schmoker
The Truth about Educational Leadership – Kouzes and Posner
The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle
How to Succeed with Thinking – Kath Murdoch
Making Thinking Visible – Ron Ritchhart

Connected Educators, Connected Education

8210762750_7642b21e39_nAre you a connected educator? I am. Or I thought I was. Who knew there was a real, formal club out there? Welcome to, a site where you can become more connected and engaged with online content and the vast network of people out there thinking and talking about education. I might be late to this party, but I’m absolutely feeling the groove.

Connected Educators Month is in October. So, I’ve pretty much missed it. However what’s best about the web is that there is no set-in-stone start and finish to things. I’m planning to use the links they have provided on the site to continue my own learning both now, and in the future. The whole idea behind Connected Educators is interesting because they are helping schools and school districts in the US ensure teachers are able to develop their connectedness and learning at a pace and in a community which suits them. It really is differentiated for each learner. It’s also updated constantly during the CEM (Connected Educators Month) by all of those folks out on the web generating content. I love this idea. So much so that I’ve been considering ways to use their system in other contexts. For example:

The site allows learners to move through the different themes for the year (learning goals) at their own pace, but as they do, the learner earns badges to demonstrate they have participated. Those badges are important to earn because:

“Your badges can provide a digital “transcript” of your participation in Connected Educator Month. They can show:

  • How much time you’ve invested in participating in professional learning and collaboration activities throughout the month,
  • The actions you’ve taken to sharpen your connected learning skills, and
  • The impact you’ve had on your peers’ practice.”


How useful would this be for educators in the context of other professional development? At this very moment, I’m searching for a program that would let me design my own learning to best suit my needs both as an administrator/leader and someone who is interested in 21st Century teaching. (Notice I didn’t use the word Doctorate- the programs I’m finding are so… stiff.) If I only I could earn badges based on reading, discussing, and creating content in this same way, on topics which could be updated and made ever more relevant to me and my needs. THAT would actually interest and encourage me. Instead I feel like my only choice is to go through the motions of traditional schooling- even “traditional” online schooling: me in a room or in front of my computer with the teacher telling me what to learn and testing me on how well I’ve done. Sigh.

What about our students? Couldn’t this type of system be used in current courses to allow flexibility, ownership of learning, and creativity? Khan Academy uses badges. I’m wondering if a badge-system might be used in a more traditional classroom? Say 4th or 7th grade, where the curriculum is designated into a series of badges that students navigate and earn by doing online research/work, or even activities from the textbook. They could even design their own badges.

I can easily envision a high school student for example, moving through badges on biology concepts, reading, participating, and questioning the most up-to-date content on the web, and then creating and contributing her own information. Imagine the engagement!

Thank you You’ve “connected me” to much more than what you intended. Or maybe, that was the point all along?

PS- Right before hitting the publish button on this post, I came across this blog which demonstrates some of what I was thinking about. Check it out!

Photo credit:

We Have a Sub Today! (P-A-R-T-Y!)

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher leave them kids alone!
Lyrics from “Another Brick in the Wall part 2” – Pink Floyd 

Somehow the lyrics from the classic Pink Floyd song seem to sum up the attitude of students from all around the world when it comes to having a substitute teacher.  The other prevailing mood among students from just about every grade level is the teacher’s away it’s time to PARTY!!!

 Sub Means No Work Today!

I remember back to my own school years — throughout elementary, middle school and even into high school, the attitude of students when walking into the classroom to find a substitute teacher waiting there can be summed-up simply: “It’s a day off!”

I remember in middle school seeing the boys give each other high -fives and the girls excitedly planning social excursions to the ladies room.  I had one friend whose tradition on sub days was to go to the nurse and get sent home sick.  Her key strategy was to effectively persuade her mom that it was OK to miss a day because it was only a sub!  Her mom agreed and off she went for a day at home in front of the TV!

 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Somehow the Ferris Bueller’s day off mentality has stuck within school culture throughout the ages.  I am not sure how this all started, or why it’s so ingrained among students, but it is as real today as when I was going to school and was even prevalent in my parents’ school days, and their parents before them.

I remember the feeling myself, but now there’s a big difference . . . I am the substitute teacher!  It’s a whole different story when you’re suddenly viewed as the ticket out of the daily routine and a free pass to a classroom PARTY!

 Good morning class, I’m your substitute teacher today!

As an intern at a large international school one of my primary responsibilities is to be the ‘go-to’ substitute teacher from Preschool to grade 4.  As the designated pinch hitter, I have some theories on why this free-for-all attitude takes over even among very young students.  Understanding it holds some of the keys to dealing with it.

Tricks of the Trade

I have also learned some tricks of the trade for managing a class that’s expecting “a day off” which I intend to share in my next blog!  Be advised these strategies are being crafted on a daily basis and much of substitute teaching involves learning “on the fly!”

Till next time! 

Gearing up for Parent Teacher Conferences in the Expat Classroom

“Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.”
Marcelene Cox


“Raising you kids was the best time of my life…I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Jean Mernin (my mom)

Photo on 2012-07-19 at 22.06


Parent Teacher Conferences are coming up again at my school. It is a make or break time in year of a teacher. Living overseas can add an altogether different cultural dynamic to the scene.

The following is my latest body of thoughts on parent-teacher conferences in the international school classroom. If you are overseas or thinking about becoming an expat teacher, I sincerely wish you luck. I hope this is helpful:


1.    Parents are evaluating you as much as their child’s academic work.Be organized, present and relaxed. Be yourself. Your professionalism is your selling point. Be ever-professional.

2.    Listen to parents’ fears. The older I get, the more I truly listen to parental fears. Parenthood is an overwhelmingly emotional experience. Allow time for your parent to share what scares them.

3.    Focus on emotional, academic and social growth. I try to balance my discussions equally among these three areas. This helps in keeping the talks positive.

4.    Take notes and quickly respond, through email or telephone, to questions to which you do not have immediate answers. It is more than all right to not have an immediate answer to a parent question. Write it down and get back in due time. This makes for excellent public relations.

5.    Offer tea and crackers. Helps keeps the moment moving forward. Every culture appreciates tea!

6.    Dress well and tidy up your deskI habitually have a stack of papers on my desk. There is no problem in that. However, make sure that your desk is as organized as possible. Judgement is happening whether you like it or not. Might as well accept this fact.

7.    Be ready to speak about anything but do not overwhelm the parents with a checklist of items on which to talk.  If I can get each parent to recognize, accept and acknowledge one area of specific improvement, then I have made a true accomplishment. Be realistic and make sure that your student goals are attainable.

8.    Differentiate your conference with individualized goal setting. Truly, your yearlong goals are well-instilled by now. Use the conference time to discuss what success will look like.

9.    Offer more time at a later date. This is crucial. Regardless of how well I think the conference has gone; I always offer to spend more time to meet during specific office hours. This helps me develop a solid reputation as a professional educator.

10. Be honest, always. Obvious advice but not always heeded.

11. Over communicate before and after the conference: One of my teaching partners always writes an email to his parents explaining his philosophy and his plans for the conference. This is good practice. I always write personal thank you emails to each parent.

12.  Be ready for little onesToddlers always find their way into the conferences. Welcome them and have crayons and paper ready. It helps put the parents at ease and focused on the matter at hand.

13.  Enjoy the moment. I happen to love chatting up parents. Tell them all the good things that you see and reassure them that they are on the right track.

Project Based Learning

So this week I’d like to talk about project based learning…….this is not a new concept in teaching I know, but one that seems to be at the forefront of every professional conversation that I’ve been having lately. I’ve been inspired recently by a few different organizations (see links below) who are currently doing some amazing things in their communities using this approach to learning, and I’m excited to continue to dig deep into our own initiatives and conversations around this idea here at SCIS. With the pervasive and ubiquitous use of technology in education over the past few years, project based learning has truly been taken to new heights, and the opportunities now to share, assess, and collaborate have increased dramatically. Giving students the opportunity to transfer their conceptual understanding to real life experiences is what authentic learning is all about, and with a well thought out and delivered focus on project based learning the world truly becomes the classroom for our kids.

Here’s how the educational organization ASCD describes the idea….. “The core idea of project-based learning is that real-world problems capture students’ interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context. The teacher plays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience. Advocates assert that project-based learning helps prepare students for the thinking and collaboration skills required in the workplace.” I know that many of you have been using this approach to teaching in your classrooms, and I’ve lately been inspired when visiting our MS social studies and technology classes. I see engaged students who are asking complex questions, and thinking critically about their topics, and collaborating effectively, and using different forms of media to research their project and to present their findings. I see that transfer of knowledge come to life as they connect and unpack their conceptual understanding, and put it all together in a real world and real life context. The learning is rich and deep and enduring, and it sparks of love of learning that will follow them throughout their lives. The tricky thing about project based learning however, in my opinion, is that it really does need to be carefully planned out and diligently supervised/directed in order for it to be used effectively. It takes a great deal of teacher expertise to manage and facilitate project based learning in a meaningful way I think, and if it isn’t done properly then I fear educators can run into issues with classroom management, time, issues with technology, and an inability to assess students in a meaningful and authentic way.

Anyway, I’m excited about the idea honestly, and I’m really enjoying researching and exploring the many instances where it is paying huge learning dividends for students around the world. I encourage you to sift through the many links and articles below, and to try and get a better sense of whether this is something that you’d be keen to explore. We’ll be talking about it in our upcoming curriculum meetings, and I’d love to see one of you present in an upcoming SIPS if you are keen to share how you’re using this approach successfully with our students. I think we have a great opportunity here within our community to bring this to life in a meaningful way……. but we’ll take it slow. Come and talk to me about it if you have some ideas and information to share, and we’ll look to take this further. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow – John Dewey

Project Based Learning Websites and Videos

Project Based Learning Articles

Must watch video (thank you Laurie Williams) – Shane Koyczan and Hannah Epperson

Professional Underdevelopment (and its Inverse)

Scenario #1:

4 o’clock in the afternoon. People shuffle in with the countenance of weary commuters. There is not a piece of food or drink in sight. Some people have furtively packed student papers they will review. Another has folded a newspaper on the inside of their notebook. The level of enthusiasm is equivalent to passengers on a transatlantic flight with a six hour layover who have just been told of delays. For 45 minutes a principal or Head of School or both will efficiently read from the weekly bulletin reminding teachers of upcoming events, due dates and contributions to the annual fund. Some people keep yawning and checking their watches. Some do email or text. Others have the vacant, glassy look in their eyes that tell you they are someplace else. The meeting ends on the familiar refrain:  Does anyone have any questions or wish to make an announcement?

Scenario #2:

The third session on the Common Core or Backwards Design or Differentiation. The school has spent a sizable amount of money to bring in a specialist whose book and accompanying DVD are on sale in the lobby. He has never visited anyone in their classes nor will he. The power point slides have the glossy look of a magazine and the presenter even has an infra-red pointer to go with it. Teachers stay moored to their seats with the exception of handing out the PowerPoint print outs. “No need to take notes,” says the facilitator, “it’s all in the Handouts I’ll be passing out.” When a question is posed, the answer is “that will be covered in the last workshop. ”

The problem with the old model of professional development is its inertia and disconnection from the ways we want our students to learn. It takes itself too seriously and eschews everything we know about adult learning. It doesn’t belong to teachers. It reproduces the passivity and compliance of the teacher centered classroom. There is no activity, no collaborating, and no contextualizing. And like a stuffy room, there is no fluid circulation of ideas except those that emanate from the front of the room.

Scenario #3

As part of a commitment to creative scheduling every 3rd day of the month is a half day. All teachers convene in a large room where the Head welcomes everyone, acknowledges an exciting project she witnessed in someone’s classroom the other day and outlines the course of the afternoon. Three rooms have been assigned to faculty. The three themes, identified by teachers over the summer include:  using iMovie to document and examine student learning; global exchanges across content areas and how to organize one, and a reading circle that has been reviewing Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed.”

At the completion of each mini workshop an evaluation form is handed out. At the end of the day, teachers convene again in the auditorium. There is food and drinks. Once assembled the Head asks for feedback and questions that might have emerged from the workshops. After 15 minutes she thanks everyone for the participation and reminds them, that this is what a professional community does: collaborate, share and inquire together. People stay around to talk to each other. No one hurries out or rolls their eyes. There is the palpable energy of inquiry and unity in the space. Everyone knows where they are going. And those who are not quite sure don’t get left behind. On a whiteboard in bold letters is written:

Learning is not what is done to you. It is something you choose to do.