New Beginnings

So this past Friday I had the opportunity to meet dozens of new students and their families who have just recently arrived from all over the world to our amazing school, and it got me thinking about new beginnings. There is not much in the world that I love more than a fresh start and a clean slate, as they always come dripping with opportunity, possibility, excitement, and promise. That said, a new beginning is also in many cases steeped in apprehension, anxiety, and a huge fear of the unknown, which can be nerve-wracking regardless of your attitude or perspective. I spent Friday morning talking about this with the new students, and assuring them that over time they will settle into a routine, find some wonderful friends, and eventually find their way…of course, as I was promising them all of this I was really trying to reassure myself because I’m new too, and I’m feeling exactly the same way as they are.

The thing about new beginnings is that they are everywhere, all around us, all the time. From the moment we step out of bed in the morning to the time we pull the covers over us at night we are given an opportunity to make a fresh start, and if you microscope it down and get philosophical about it you could say that each passing moment is a clean slate, and a chance to do things better. Anyway, for all of our students this year, regardless of whether they are new to the school or not, there is a new beginning at their doorstep, and an opportunity to make this year the best one of their lives…a chance to be the students and the people that they have the potential to become, and when I stop and think about it, that’s where we as educators come in. We have the ability to alter the lives and experiences of each and every one of our kids, and to give them the start that they are all dreaming about and hoping for. Every interaction that we have with our students over the next few weeks will shape their attitudes toward the year, and it is our responsibility to go out of our way to ensure that their new beginnings are  incredibly positive ones, so that the time that it takes to find their way shrinks down to hours and days instead of weeks and months.

I know that we are all working hard to plan the upcoming weeks, and I know that lesson plans, curriculum, and schedules are at the forefront of our minds but if I’m being honest, it’s not about us come Monday morning…it’s about our kids and THEIR new beginnings. Inevitably we will all encounter some frustrations over the next few weeks with things that we cannot control like technology, maintenance issues, and the possible changing of class lists, but we all need to manage this in such a way that it doesn’t distract us from what’s really important…our students and their learning and their emotional well-being. I’m asking you all to be completely invested in developing solid relationships with our kids as we begin the year, and in being the role models, mentors, and change agents that you are for the young people who are desperate for a positive new beginning. Remember, this is a new beginning for all of us as well…a chance to put the past behind us and to become the best educators we can be in 2014-15. People say that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and you only get one chance to embrace a new beginning, so how will you embrace it starting tomorrow? Think about that as the students arrive on Monday and be your best self…your new self for our community, our students, and each other. I’m honored, proud, and excited to start this new journey with all of you and I know it’s going to be an amazing year. With the quality of people and educators that we have here at Academia Cotopaxi, how can it not be? Our students are about to find out how truly blessed that they are!

Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. If you’re new to these weekly posts, and keen to see how they have developed over the past 4 years then please go to the following blog site to see what’s been on my mind ( I love new beginnings!

 Quote of the Week…

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Anonymous

 Inspiring TED Talk – Clint Smith (The Danger of Silence)

 The Science of Happiness – Thanks Bret Olson!

 Articles – (Starting the year strong)

A Year of Full Buckets

One of the most personally influential books I’ve read in recent years is How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath. It is a short, simple read with a powerful and useful message. While I get it, believe it, and try to practice it, this week as we started school, it was a message I was reminded of over and over again.

First and foremost, “bucket-filling” is a about happiness. It is also about communication and general understanding of human nature. The basic idea is this: Each one of us carries around an invisible bucket of water. Throughout our interactions with other people our bucket can either lose water or be filled up. For example, when I make someone feel good, I fill her bucket. When I make someone feel badly, I dip into her bucket and she loses water. In addition, when people are feeling sad or mad, their buckets can lose water. Finally, if you are dipping into other people’s buckets and taking their water, your own bucket actually is affected and causes you to lose water yourself. In other words, a negative interaction affects both of you.

A key idea with Mr. Rath’s work is that we can never really know another person’s bucket level. Therefore, we always need to be aware of our own actions as we might be dipping into an already low bucket.

In schools, this is a key idea worth teaching students. With our young ones it is an easy way to frame our discussions about how our actions and feelings can affect others and ourselves. When you are happy and nice others feel good- and you do too. The image of an invisible bucket and each of us having a “dipper” is one kids love and can use to explain how they themselves are feeling.

Not only is it a cry for treating others well, there is also merit in considering the responsibility each of us has in protecting our own buckets. For older students, recognizing that you have some control over whether or not you allow someone to deplete your bucket is an important lesson. While you can’t control their actions, you can realize what they are doing and choose to remove your bucket from their reach. As I’ve said to my own daughter recently: “You don’t have to hang out with people who make you feel bad. Move away from them. Limit your interactions. Take control of it. You don’t have to be mean, but you can move on.”

For the adults in my days, I try to focus on the fact that I can’t see their buckets. I have no idea what else is going on in their lifes when they come into school upset or angry. While they have something to complain about which seems to involve me- there is a good chance they have had some dipping from another source. Maybe they have a sick child at home. Maybe they have worries and pressures at work. Maybe they are new to this country and are struggling with the move and relocation. Regardless, my goal must be to try and fill the bucket of a disgruntled parent, peer or friend, even if they are acting in ways that threaten my own pail.

While the book and the research behind How Full Is Your Bucket? isn’t new or even revolutionary, the start of school is a timely moment to pull out those ideas, dust them off and recommit to them. Whether with students, with colleagues, or simply- as I’m doing- with yourself, deciding to be a bucket-filler is a conscious action worth the time, energy and effort.

Sometimes the easiest things can have the most impact.

Photo Credit:


Jive Talkin’

On August 16, 1975, Jive Talkin’ was the top hit on Billboard’s 100 (USA). You know when something is so good, it stands the test of time. Almost forty years later, it’s just as fresh as it was then. I cannot say the same for the managing structures of many of our schools.

So, we’re off and running on another year. In spite of the world’s horrific problems at the moment, international schools are expanding at a rate that is making them one of the fastest growing business sectors in the world. Venture capitalists, investment groups, philanthropists, and multinationals are buying up schools like hotcakes. Many of these have clear business models for governance which generate profits. Some are more innovative than others.

What are the implications of this? We talk a lot about innovation and design within teaching practice but little about how schools are being managed and who is doing it. This will have a huge impact on the direction and vision for international education. Does this phenomenon enhance the type of innovations we are talking about in our industry? Does it promote the type of creativity, risk-taking, and new thinking that drive the passions of 21st century learning or is this becoming a multi-national business venture that is conservative and controlled somewhere far away?

I have to hope that private investment in schools is innovative and good. I have to hope that this will nourish the type of changes our schools need to meet the complex demands of a world that so desperately needs innovation and leadership. I have to hope that the business model for schools supports the risk-taking and possible profit losing propositions that come with new designs and new thinking.

Otherwise, what we’re doing is just…You guessed it.

Against the Wind

This past summer, while international schools across the world were on vacation, the one thing that did not take time off were the unreal numbers of conflicts and disasters that are displacing people. According to the UNHCR, the number of refugees worldwide surpassed the fifty million mark; the highest number since World War II. Fifty million. That’s unreal.

If international schools are the best hope for our future (which I strongly believe), then what are we doing about this? How many scholarships has your school given to refugee students? How many I.B. students are dedicating their CAS to helping refugees? How many of you have connected with UNHCR? If you have, congratulations. If not, I’m willing to bet that your school is not too far away from a refugee zone. Even in Switzerland (my current residence and of course home to the UNHCR), the impact of refugees from Syria, the Ukraine and parts of Africa is present.

Fifty million. That’s crazy. I know how busy we are. I’ve been in education for twenty years. I get it. But busy for what? Have you read your mission statement lately? Are you living it or just talking about it at a few beginning of the year meetings as you prepare for accreditation.

Fifty million people. That’s the entire country of Italy without a home. Imagine that?

So while all those orientation activities are going on in the coming weeks about the new pool that was finished over the summer, the increase in enrollment, the introductions of all the new staff, etc. etc., take a moment to think of all those students living in tents, somewhere, some without parents, wondering if they’re ever going to go to a school again.

There’s so much to do to start the year. Well, there’s always a lot to do. I challenge us to do something against the wind by reaching out to make a difference for those 50 million, especially the kids who won’t be starting school this Fall.

I think vintage Bob Seger should play this one out.

Against the Wind


I don’t believe there is a more apt comparison to returning to school than a sharknado. I saw this disaster-satire movie when I was visiting home, trying to absorb as much American culture as possible and thinking there had to be a way to tie this ridiculousness into a blog entry.

Here goes. It’s back to school time and our stomachs are in knots. (Except for those taking sabbatical). Let’s call those knots sharknadoes.

For administrators, your sharknado might be;

the counselor who quit in July
the teacher who is going on maternity leave next week
the gymnasium construction that is way behind schedule
the local government hassling us over visas
the parent on the board who is already making life difficult
the last minute budget changes

For teachers, your sharknado might be

the new job in a new school in a new country
the new apartment that is much smaller than the one you had last year
the incoming new Head who you’ve heard is going to make a lot of changes
the new classes you have to teach with a new schedule
the angst of leaving extended family or sick relatives after summer break
the uncertainty of wondering whether this will be your last year overseas

For students, their sharknado might be

anger at parents for taking him/her to the third new school in five years because of another job transfer
fear at having to make new friends yet again
sadness at leaving a country that he/she understood the language
uncertainty at entering a new grade in a new school
anxiety at wondering if he/she is going to graduate this year

We all walk around in the same buildings with our own personal sharknados swirling around our heads, the gnashing jaws just missing us as they fly by (you have to watch the trailer to get a visual). Sometimes it seems all a bit silly and sometimes very real and scary. But what I do know is that it is our job as adults to put aside our sharknados during the first delicate days of school and to help fight off the ones swirling around our students.

It will make you a hero.
It will give you perspective.
It will remind you why your work is important and that maybe there really is no such thing as a bunch of predators flying around in a storm.

Have a good start.