Kindly Perfectionism

I have heard it said that the happiest person on the Olympic podium is usually the bronze medallist, and the saddest is usually the silver medallist.  The former is delighted with the medal he got, the latter distraught over the medal he missed (apparently the gold medallist is often just relieved!).  So attainment and happiness are not tightly linked.

The same can also be true in a school context.  I saw a student skipping around yesterday, looking absolutely delighted with herself.  She told me that she had just received a 7 (the highest grade in our system) in a test in her favourite subject, in which she has worked so hard.  I congratulated her, really pleased to see her hard-won delight.  Later on in the day I saw her again, and she looked rather miserable; I assumed something else had happened.  When I asked her, she told me that she had been thinking about the test, and was now upset because she realised that it was only a low 7!

I didn’t know what to make of this situation – on the one hand, I was delighted that the student was looking beyond the grade; she was seeking to be the best she could be and I sensed and admired her ambition.  On the other hand, seeking perfection can be a route to constant dissatisfaction and misery.   I fear for the perfectionists, but never want to discourage the right sort of self-drive.

How then do we help students learn to have high standards while still allowing them to enjoy their successes?  How do we ensure that those who make enormous progress are justifiably proud of their achievements, and do not feel overshadowed by those who do a little better?

There’s no simple answer here, and home and school both need to play their part.  We mustn’t always seek to be the best in everything – but nor must we accept low standards.  It’s a difficult balance, and ultimately, one that the students must make for themselves. For our parts, we can consciously and explicitly celebrate effort over achievement (of course the two usually go hand-in-hand), and we can ensure students experience a wide range of diverse areas, so that they all experience success and failure, and learn to deal with both.

So as as we approach reporting time later this term, we need to balance aspiration with realism, and to talk to our students about tempering ambition for themselves with kindness to themselves.  And it’s OK to be pleased, even completely delighted, with a low 7!


By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

AASSA GIN Conference 2016

So we just finished hosting the AASSA regional GIN conference at our school, and it was 3 days of amazing! To see student leaders from all over South America come together to dream, plan, educate, and collaborate was one of the most inspiring things that I have ever been a part of, and I’m super sad that it’s over. An event like this will transform our community in powerful and profound ways, and I couldn’t be more excited to continue the work that began with our students over 6 months ago. I am so proud of our kids, and our faculty and staff, and of our parent community for bringing this weekend of change to life, and because of the passion and hard work of all involved, we will never be the same…changed for the better.


It began on Thursday morning with our entire elementary school out in the courtyard welcoming the visiting schools…they held up their beautiful signs, they sang and danced and cheered, and the kids from 7 different countries poured off of the buses smiling and energized and excited to begin the conference. From that moment on the event just kept getting better and better as the students showcased their incredible projects, shared their passions, collaborated together, and built strong and lasting relationships that will last a lifetime.


There were several inspiring and thought provoking keynote presentations, many student led workshops, art projects, a coastal earthquake relief project, daily film festivals, and so much more. The incredible thing about all of it was that it was entirely student led, and watching it unfold made my heart want to burst. It never ceases to amaze me what young people can do when they are allowed to lead their own learning, and to find ways to bring their passions to life. It really made me wonder why we don’t do more of this in schools, and it made me think about how we can turn the last 3 days into an approach that lasts throughout the year.


I have to admit that when we agreed to take this event on back in May of last year I was feeling pretty nervous. Pulling off an event like this takes so much work from so many people, and it really brings to life what a community is made of. Well, the lesson I learned yet again is that when you empower your students to lead, they step up in remarkable ways and they can accomplish almost anything. With our students leading the way, and with the leadership of one of the best educators on the planet, Andrea Stadler, keeping it all together along the way, the conference was a tremendous success. It did just what we hoped it would do, which is to change our school and community in immeasurable ways, and to move us in a direction that leads to service, sustainability, student agency, innovation and change.


I cannot wait to see the kids tomorrow and to reflect on the past several days. Now it’s time to dig even deeper into our projects, and to use this conference as a jumping off point for many exciting initiatives. Thank you to Linda and Ashley Sills (Directors of GIN) for their support and confidence in us, and thank you to everyone involved…what an amazing 3 days at Academia Cotopaxi. If you are keen to see some pictures and videos from the conference, check out #ACGIN or #learnincommunity, or my twitter feed @DanKerr1. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.


Quote of the Week…

It is pointless to complain about the problems of the world as long as we continue contributing to them – Auliq Ice


Interesting Articles/Websites –



Inspirational Videos –

Jobs, Careers and Callings

Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness. Sigmund Freud

For most adults, work constitutes more than one-third of waking life, and the psychological study of work is a large academic field. We know that there is huge variation with job satisfaction, and furthermore, that work satisfaction seems to account for a substantial part of the subjective quality of life. Quality of life can, in turn, have a major effect on life stress and on health. So finding the right work is a major life decision.

The Difference is Important
The Difference is Important

We are, for better or worse, in an era where no decision that our students take in this respect is final. Most of us have worked, or will work, in many jobs, and perhaps several professions, and our students will be able to do the same – or perhaps even move to professions that don’t even exist at the moment. So there is, perhaps, less pressure to ‘get it right’ immediately, and there is some comfort there. Nevertheless, the choice is still a big one, and I think it’s important that students understand generally what we know about work, from the research literature.One particularly fascinating study (1) is based on three distinct relations people can have to their work: as Jobs, Careers, and Callings. The distinctions, drawn starkly, are these (I quote directly from the study here):

Jobs: People who have Jobs are only interested in the material benefits from work and do not seek or receive any other type of reward from it. The work is not an end in itself, but instead is a means that allows individuals to acquire the resources needed to enjoy their time away from the Job. The major interests and ambitions of Job holders are not expressed through their work.

Careers: In contrast, people who have Careers have a deeper personal investment in their work and mark their achievements not only through monetary gain, but through advancement within the occupational structure. This advancement often brings higher social standing, increased power within the scope of one’s occupation, and higher self- esteem for the worker.

Callings: Finally, people with Callings find that their work is inseparable from their life. A person with a Calling works not for financial gain or Career advancement, but instead for the fulfillment that doing the work brings to the individuals. While the modern sense of calling may have lost its original religious connections, work that people feel called to do is usually seen as socially valuable—an end in itself.

The Job–Career–Calling distinction does not map neatly onto any occupation. Within any occupation there may be individuals with all three kinds of relations to their work.

Now all this would be of passing academic interest were it not for the fact that we have evidence that there are significant differences between people who have each view. In survey and interview responses, the self-reported categories of Job, Career and Calling yielded important differences.

Compared with those who described themselves as Job and Career respondents, those who described themselves as Calling respondents were significantly better paid, better educated, and had occupations higher in both self-perceived status and objective prestige level. Callings were consistently associated with greater life, health, and job satisfaction and with better health. Calling respondents reported notably and significantly higher life and job satisfaction than Job and Career respondents. Calling respondents also ranked work satisfaction significantly higher (relative to hobbies and friends) than did Job and Career respondents

For me this is very positive news indeed. It tells us that we are absolutely right to be telling students to follow their passions, to find something they believe in and to which can commit . It means we can say this safe in the knowledge that it is not some vague platitude, but one that is more likely to lead to health, wealth (in all senses) and life satisfaction.

I am struck by the Zen-like parallel here; there are some things that are best sought indirectly, and that arise as by products of a life well-lived. And wealth is the obvious thing here – the understandable desire for financial security can loom large in all our minds. It is, therefore, interesting to read another fascinating piece of research (2) on precisely this topic. Researchers examined the aspirations of 12,000 college freshmen at elite universities and colleges in 1976, and then measured their life satisfaction nearly 20 years later. Those who had expressed materialistic aspirations as freshmen were less satisfied with their lives two decades later. Furthermore, the materialists were more likely than non-materialists to suffer from a variety of mental disorders.

All this adds up to the need to give a good deal of thought to what we want in our work. If we doing the right work, it won’t be something we leave behind when we step out of the workplace. I once told an extremely hard-working colleague of mine that he needs to learn to say ‘no’ – and was humbled by his reply when he said that he had tried that, but then he ended up sitting at home wishing he was doing whatever it was that he said ‘no’ to. If we find something we are committed to, that genuinely has value and that means something to us, then the work – that is, the calling – isn’t what we do, it’s what we are in some sense. So choosing the right line of work is part of the process of being the people we want to be.

(1) Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C. R., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.

(2) Nickerson, C., Schwarz, N., Diener, E., & Kahneman, D. (2003). Zeroing in on the dark side of the American Dream: A closer look at the negative consequences of the goal for financial success. Psychological Science, 14, 531-536.


By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

What is Important is Seldom Urgent


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Presidential Planning

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was an American politician and general who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. (Source:

In terms of project planning and time management, history yields few masters equal to that of President Eisenhower. There are many methods used for time and project management. President Eisenhower grouped things into simple categories so that he could efficiently and quickly prioritise his tasks/goals. Because of Eisenhower’s great success as a leader, a model was developed from his methods and applied to the business world. The model is known as The Eisenhower Matrix.

The original model is reflected in the four quadrants above. This is a model I personally use and advocate.

Although I am no Eisenhower, I did take it upon myself to alter the bottom right corner. Instead of using it to DELETE tasks or to categorize tasks as “useless”, I use to to track personal projects or 20% Time Projects. After all, if something is useless, it stays outside the box.

My box looks like this:


Reading the Matrix

The most important thing to remember is that everything cannot be urgent and important. If the majority of your day-to-day work-life is in the upper left quadrant, then something is wrong and out-of-balance.

Most tasks that fall into a person’s normal set of responsibilities should be in the upper right quadrant. Tasks or jobs in the lower left quadrant are often things assigned by a superior, that fall outside of the normal set of responsibilities or they are favours you might be doing for others.

Examples From My Personal Matrix
Important Not Urgent:

  • Develop a new class schedule before March 20th
  • Create a new html template for PowerSchool effort reports by March 18th
  • Review email branding process before April 15th

Notice all of the above have due dates that fall within a 7-30 day period. I have had them in the list for awhile. The deadline is approaching but these are all planned.

Important and Urgent:

  • Buy music software for upcoming performance
  • Develop new Sharepoint email workflow for Human Resources

These items are IT support items which have been assigned to me from other departments.
These need to be completed immediately. I am required to do these tasks, but they were not planned, and the notice was short.

Not Important but Urgent (Delegate):

  • Telescope delivery
  • Hand out ID cards
  • Document archive packaging for accreditation team

These are all jobs anyone in my department can do. All are very time consuming. I need to make certain they are finished, but I should not be doing these myself. Occasionally this quadrant contains a task I am required to do, but is outside of my job scope.

Not Important / Not Urgent /Ideas / 20% Time

  • Redesign interface for PowerSchool Parent Portal
  • Improve code for iTunes based video streaming

These are projects I enjoy doing. If they never get finished, the impact at this point in time will be minimal or nonexistent. The systems impacted are already fully functional. The skills learned from working on projects like these often transfer to other areas. 20% time projects are excellent for professional development and often lead to exciting random discoveries.

Tools for Getting Started

A simple way to apply the Eisenhower Matrix is to use Evernote or OneNote. Office software, such as Excel of LibreCalc, will also work. However, keeping a record of all the data and reflecting on it after the school year can be tricky. I recommended using software like Priority Matrix. The interface is simple, and the software links to Evernote.


Appfluence Priority Matrix

Last year I produced a list of all the scheduled items I had completed from January to June. I was amazed not only at the variety of projects and jobs I had been involved with, but also how many should have been placed in that lower left quadrant (Delegation). I have used that data to consciously delegate more tasks.

Before beginning, I recommend organising your team together to discuss what types of projects, jobs, etc. would fall into each quadrant. Have each member bring a list of everything they have been working on for the last thirty days. Use that data to fill in the box by reaching group consensus.

If nothing else, the Eisenhower Matrix makes the mind slow down and focus. The matrix forces reflection and constantly reminds users that most things are not urgent, nor important. Stress and circumstance can often cloud judgements and shift focus away from where it should be- Students & Learning.

And remember – Important is Seldom Urgent.

Inspiration Projects

So last year we got rid of traditional homework in our upper elementary grades, and we replaced it with inspiration projects instead, as a way for kids to bring their passions and learning to life. We still ask kids to read every night with their families, and we still personalize some home learning for students who may need a little extra support in one area or another, but other than that it’s all about passions, sparks, and inspirations…and it’s been awesome! With this structure, we wanted to create an opportunity for students to lead their own learning, and to engage in experiences that truly get them excited about school. It’s been super successful so far, and after a few tweaks and some thoughtful reflection at the end of last year, we are starting to see some incredible results.


One of the pleasant surprises that we’ve seen out of this switch has been the involvement of parents in the learning process. In many ways, these inspiration projects have brought families closer together as mothers and fathers spend quality time with their kids as they research, create, design, and dig deep into their passions. It’s also beautiful to see the parents arrive at school with their child when it’s time to present, and to see how proud and impressed they are with the level of rigor that often accompanies the presentations. So far I’ve been blown away with many of the projects that have been showcased, and here are a few examples that quickly come to mind of what’s been on display.


Students have…

  • Written their own books
  • Written code to create functioning robots
  • Baked amazing meals and pastries
  • Designed small hydraulic machines
  • Built lego aircraft carriers 
  • Written their own songs
  • Painted beautiful works of art
  • Designed their own clothes
  • Built a working volcano entirely out of chocolate (with hot chocolate lava)
  • Directed a short film with movie maker
  • Built and set off a mini rocket
  • Come up with inspiring gymnastic and hip hop routines
  • Learned how to play a new instrument
  • Built an entire city out of lego
  • Designed a futuristic community using Minecraft


I’m really excited as I write this because this week we have our first inspiration project fair for our community on Tuesday morning, where students will bring in their projects and showcase them for their peers, as well as for the parents during our student goal setting conferences this Wednesday. It’s going to be thrilling to walk around and to listen to our kids talk about the passions in their lives, and to see them get excited about learning. It’s also very cool to see their faces light up when they realize that they are also inspiring others!


It is a remarkable thing to see young people so engaged in their learning, and they never fail to impress me beyond measure…these projects always seem to exceed my expectations, which is arguably the best part…kids always inspire when they are given a chance to bring a passion of theirs to life. We are now thinking creatively about how we can bring this kind of approach into the Middle School through our iLEARN initiative (Professional Learning Communities for students), and it’s all very exciting. Let students loose and watch them blow you away! Anyway, this week is going to be so much fun, and I’ll be sure to send out some photos for you all to see what the kids have come up with this time around. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.


Quote of the Week – 

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein


Video About Bringing Passion to Life –


Student Passion Projects –


These are Great –

Students Helping Students

What does it feel like to be mentored by a national champion who is ranked among the best in the world? To find out, you are invited to visit the American School of Brasilia’s afterschool chess club.

Meilin Hoshino (Grade 6) and her sister Karen (Grade 10) are considered to be elite chess players on the world stage, with Karen recently recognized as the top female chess player in Japan. It is the juxtaposition of a student competing in the 14-day World Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan and the same student offering a chess activity for lower school students that highlights an international school’s sense of community, the wide range of learning opportunities, and the value of diversity.


During my afternoon walk around campus today, I observed several other instances of students learning from other students. Some of these examples included cooking classes, guitar lessons, art projects, talent show preparations, Jiu Jitsu practice, reading program, robotics, and an after school running club. These are some of the many ways in which a school offering a pre-kindergarten to grade 12 educational program benefits from the wide range of student ages. The younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students while older students have the opportunity (and challenge!) to serve as positive role models and mentors while also learning more about their own abilities and strengths.


It is this building of community through mentoring, coaching, and collaboration that personifies the American School of Brasilia’s motto of “Learners Inspiring Learners.” The basis of all schools should be that of a community of learners and, for this reason, we are committed to further developing peer mentoring programs such that all students are benefiting from “students helping students” opportunities. To that end, I would like to thank Meilin and Karen for sharing their impressive talents and experiences with other students and for exemplifying the ideals associated with our school’s mission in which learners are inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.


Twitter: @dequanne


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Peter Miller: