Just wondering about my first two weeks as Associate Principal

As I am starting to reflect upon my first two weeks as High School Associate Principal at Academia Cotopaxi, my thoughts are going in all sorts of directions. So, I feel that it is important for me to pause, shut my emails down and really think about what has already changed for me. Change. This concept has come up in several conversations about my new position. What has really changed? Humm, let’s see:


When after a thirty-minute meeting, twenty-five new emails pile up in your in-box and that those emails become your to-do list, you quickly realise that you are going to need a new system. That was me at the end day two. Last summer, while at a PTC course, I strongly considered changing my to-do list using Stephen Covey’s four quadrants. For this new academic year, it only took me a few days to realise that I should adopt the four quadrants to help me prioritize. The four quadrants have also helped me realise that I am spending too much time in Quadrant 1. One has to realise and understand a situation before being able to do address it. Next: try to clear up some of the Quadrant 1 elements and create some time for the Quadrant 2 ones.


I was expecting a more drastic change as far as my work rhythm is concerned. Last year, I was already out and about at break time and lunch time to talk to students, ask them to clear their tables, reminding them about this and that. So, I am continuing this. Furthermore, having no classes makes a big difference but since my stand-up desk is in the middle of the High School Learning Commons (where students work during their study blocks) I am constantly connecting with students, and this feels really good. Next, I am going to have to be more in classrooms to really see what teaching and learning looks like at Academia Cotopaxi.

Teacher supervision

I know this is my biggest challenge for this year. Last week, the High School Principal and I sat down and agreed on who would supervise who in the High School. Over the summer, I read Kim Marshall’s Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, took notes all over the book and prepared my spreadsheet to keep track of the mini-observations. I had the theory quite clear in my mind and I had to start and practice. When last Thursday I was decided to jump, I felt a little bit of anxiety before opening the door. But I followed the plan I had in mind (ten-minute observation, a face to face conversation in the teacher’s classroom within 24 hours and a written summary sent to the teacher afterwards) and it felt right. Not perfect, obviously, but the more you do it, the more you get better at it. Next: do a couple of these mini observations per day and keep the same system.

Connecting, connecting, connecting      

Without really thinking about it, I started going around the classrooms in the morning to say hi to students and teachers. Popped my head in, said hi to everyone and left for the next classroom. Nothing more. I felt it made sense, but that was it. So far, we have had eight school days and I probably managed to it on the first three days. On the fourth day, at break time, I had a hallway conversation with the teacher and at the end of it that teacher told “By the way, I did not get my good morning today!” with a smile. I just could not find any good reason for not having done it. Next: continue doing it with a minimum of four classrooms per day.

So, this is it. Two weeks of classes and so many things I have learned. I know that there are going to be some ups and downs, but I feel that I have learned so many things in such a small period of time that I know that this year is simply going to be amazing!

For what it’s worth…

Words of Wisdom about Change

“Stay the course.”

“Is this the hill you want to die on?”

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Three quotes, from three leaders, who I was fortunate to work with during my 28-year career as an educator to-date. Three quotes that have guided my actions, and become my mantras during challenging times leading and supporting change in Canadian and international schools.

“Stay the course.”

Change, even for enthusiastic, intrepid international teachers, is hard. Leading change in international schools can be a roller-coaster of emotions, responding to the needs and demands of the stakeholders involved. This quote, shared with me in my first international school, has helped me work with teacher teams to implement curriculum review cycles, develop assessment policies, analyse student work to guide instruction, and so much more.

On the hard days, it is my mantra. On the good days, it is my reward.

“Is this the hill you want to die on?”

Change should never be for the sake of change. Change should be based on the goal of implementing the school mission, addressing student needs, or ensuring continual growth and improvement. Even if change is based on these lofty ideals, however, there may be a negative impact on the relationships and culture of our schools. As an assistant principal, my principal constantly asked me this question, leading me to reflect on how important the change really was, and whether it was worth the cost. In some cases, it made me change direction. In others, it made me spend more time listening and talking to others. It always made me think.

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Knowing that all the thoughtful planning in the world can fall flat if the school culture is not ready to accept or embrace the change, was a huge lesson for me from one of my international school leaders. Working with all stakeholders to create a positive, learning-focused environment is the most important work that we do. I love this quote to ground me when we are doing strategic planning, or mapping out a three-year goal. It has led me to be far more collaborative and support greater distributive leadership in schools, knowing that the culture created, will improve and support any action plan for change.

These three leadership quotes have guided my career so far. I hope that at least one of them speaks to you. My plan is to share leadership quotes and stories from our PTC, TTC, and CTC trainers in an upcoming TIE blog. As an international community, we have so much to share and learn from eachother.




The Everyday Challenge of Being an Expat

Being an expat, especially long-term—for years at a time, instead of months or weeks—requires a fortitude and resilience that I think people who don’t engage in this lifestyle sometimes don’t easily recognize. Obviously, most people understand living abroad means you are not always comfortable, and everyone acknowledges the “language barrier,” as well as cultural difficulties that you might encounter. But I want to provide further definition of these. This is partly to be able to name and own my personal experience, and partly to answer the charge of “Oh, it must be so wonderful; you’re living such an adventure!” Yes, it is an adventure, which means it is indeed wonderful and exciting. But it’s also tough and isolating. My daily life is sometimes more of the latter, due to the simple reality of living in a foreign country.

Any act that requires exiting my apartment requires preparation and intention. What phrase I will use to request vegetables at the produce stand? What I will tell the bus driver when I am asked my destination? What I will say if I run into one of my neighbors in my building—especially the one that helped me call the landlord when I locked myself out of my flat just a few weeks ago? True, these are not difficult phrases (well, the last one, maybe a little awkward), and by now I don’t really have to so explicitly prepare or practice them, but the lack of ease and the inability to rely on instinct is real and can often be tiring.

When I walk around my neighborhood or anywhere in the city, more than 75 percent of the time I do not understand what people around me are saying. I might miss or misunderstand the audio message on the subway saying that there’s a service interruption. I don’t understand the explanation of the store owner when I ask for a different size dress. Whenever I go to a restaurant or a store, the polite exchange of requests or orders is not instinctual. There are too many dialogue scripts, and too often, both the waitstaff and I go off of them. This isn’t stressful per se, but it is certainly not easy. Every interaction requires energy and thoughtfulness. This is why going “home” to the U.S., even for just a few weeks, is such a relief.

Even when the dialogue works (which, generally, of course it does—people are usually patient and helpful, and I can be clever with my limited vocabulary), there are the dozens of other signifiers, verbal and nonverbal, that I might misperceive or miss completely. Body language, word choice, timing… what seems fine and natural to me may be rude to them, or vice versa.

Timing especially can be a good example of this. In restaurants and cafés in Buenos Aires, the waitstaff does not bring you the check until you ask for it. It is customary to hang out for great lengths of time over your meal (or drink, or whatever) and talk with friends. Socializing is a very much respected and assumed social norm. It would be rude for a restaurant, though it’s a business, to interrupt. So, to our norteamericano sensibilities, it may be annoying to have to flag down a waiter, but to an Argentine, it’s just how it’s done. An Argentine might consider it terrible that in the U.S. a server will often bring you the check just as you’re finishing. Even though he or she might say “Take your time, let me know when you’re ready,” to a foreigner, it could indicate that the restaurant wants you to leave. This is an illustration of how much our interpretation of a situation is reliant on our expectations and understanding.

There are so many possible social errors to be made. What message does it send if I give Christmas cookies to my encargado (apartment building maintenance man)? Why did my older neighbor (probably in his 60s) ask for my phone number? Really, how much should I be tipping in restaurants? Is it actually okay to ride my bike on the sidewalk? Could I really be the only one that is trying to recycle in my building? Should I be self-conscious about wearing athletic clothing in the supermarket?

This is in part why travel is so great: it can foster serious self-reflection and encourage us to admit to our own cultural biases and previously unacknowledged assumptions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cultural relativist. I still hold convictions about good food and polite behavior and respect and dialogue. Having multiple lenses to look through, instead, helps bring my own thinking into focus.


Seeking to Understand

So it’s been almost a month since we began the new school year, and for all of us I’m sure it’s felt exciting and incredibly busy and challenging and in many ways, super rewarding. We’ve had a great start as a team, and honestly I’m thrilled with how we’ve set ourselves up for success moving forward. For me personally however, coming to a new school in a new country, the learning curve has been steep, and the amount of information that I’ve had to process has been staggering. From trying to get my head around the culture, to figuring out all of the personal and group dynamics, to understanding the expectations of the community, and learning about the many, many strengths of our school (and areas for growth), it’s left me with a lot on my mind.

One of the things that I’ve been trying to do over the last several weeks to help sort through all of this has been to just simply listen…really, truly listen…and to seek to understand without bias or judgment. This strategy has been helpful for sure, but I have to say, it’s much harder than it sounds. True active listening is a skill that needs to be constantly worked on, and my recent transition has helped me to reconnect with the power of this intentional approach to all my interactions. I’ve caught myself on many occasions fighting the urge to interrupt, and desperate to chime in before someone has finished their thought, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been putting together my rebuttal or response without even pausing to process what someone else is trying to communicate. Active listening is tricky, and I think that we’re all guilty of listening with an intent to reply, instead of with an intent to understand (See Quote below).

In my experience, miscommunications and misunderstandings are often related to a simple lack of active and intentional listening, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this over the years…rushing to judgement without really taking the time to unpack the true intention behind someone else’s thoughts or opinions or feedback. It’s easy to take things personally and to jump to conclusions and to rush to judgement without first trying to understand another person’s point of view. I’ve been working hard on my active listening skills over the last few weeks, and I think it’s helped me in part to transition successfully.

I’m going to continue to work on this strategy in the months to come, and I want to challenge the rest of you to do the same. Watch yourself this week in meetings and in conversations and take note of how well you are really listening to another person. Are you interrupting, are you pausing to reflect, are you asking clarifying questions, are you seeking to understand? If not, then try to do better moving forward…I think this is something that all of us can get better at, and if we do, we’ll find that ultimately we’ll be communicating more effectively, and with more positive outcomes…let’s really listen to each other this year, and approach every interaction with an intent to understand. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.


Quote of the Week…

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

– Stephen R. Covey


Related Articles – 

Hear What People are Really Saying

Listening to Understand

Tips for Effective Listening

Become a Better Listener

Listen Well – An Active Exercise


Interesting TED Talks –

Julian Treasure

Stanley McChrystal


Funny Clips (Listening) –

Everybody Loves Raymond

The Big Bang Theory

The Office

Intersex Students

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

“Alright, boys and girls!” It’s a common enough call by international educators to their charges. But it makes me cringe. This cry crystalizes a gender binary, implying that there are two categories that all children must fit into. Not only is the male/female dichotomy false from a gender identity perspective, it is biologically incorrect, and it leaves some students out.

Intersex 101
About one in 1,500 children are born with sex organs ambiguous enough that a specialist is called in to determine if they should be assigned as male or female[1]. Indeed, up to 1.7% of the global population is estimated to be intersex, meaning they do not meet the biological norms – in one way or another – of what we consider to be male or female[2]. Being intersex is about as common as having red hair[3]. This means that each of the past international schools I worked at are statistically likely to have about 3-5 intersex children in their student bodies (not counting faculty and staff) on any given year.

The ‘Nature’ of Sex
Biological sex is a common argument used to support ‘natural’ gender divisions. While the elements of what we consider to be biological sex are technically measurable, the concept of a strict male/female binary is scientifically unsupported. Though one’s external anatomy may suggest a certain set of sex chromosomes (do you know for sure what yours are?), there are variations they don’t tell you about in health class[4]. For example, some people have an extra X chromosome, and some an extra Y. Some people have only an X, and some carry XY in some cells and XX in others. Even those who have what we think of as the standard XX or XY chromosomes may respond to hormones in such a way that leads to the development of secondary sex characteristics and genitalia other than what we typically associate with that chromosome set. Some people find out that their chromosomes are not what they thought when they go through puberty, or if they try to conceive.

Consider the case of Maria Jose Martinez-Patino, the former Olympic athlete from Spain who, when she forgot to bring her birth certificate to the games and had to do a routine cheek swab to prove she was a woman, found out that she actually had the XY chromosomes typically linked to men. Martinez-Patino failed the ‘gender test’, and was disqualified from the games, though she had always lived and functioned as a woman, and had no reason to feel she wasn’t one. Biological sex is not black and white.

“Alright, Scholars”
Let us discontinue the archaic practice of segregating students into metaphorically pink and blue boxes. These are social constructs that restrict children from actualizing the nuanced individuals that they are. Rather than addressing a group as boys and girls, consider some inclusive alternatives: Students. Scholars. Class 2B. Dr. de Beauvoir’s class. Hufflepuff House. Dolphins (or your school’s mascot). Sophomores. Sixth graders. Learners. Leaders. Explorers. Investigators. Inventors. The reason I get out of bed every morning. Travelers. Readers. Writers. Scientists. Artists. Creators. Example-Setters. Collaborators. Our future.

How do you inclusively address a group of students?

[1] The Phall-O-Meter pokes fun at the serious practice of measuring infants’ genitals to determine their social acceptability, and possibly refer them for surgery

[2] Meyer-Bahlburg, H.L. (2005). Introduction: Gender dysphoria and gender change in persons with intersectionality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34(4), 371-373.

[3] Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[4] Dreger, A.D. (1998). A history of intersexuality: From the age of gonads to the age of consent. University Publishing Group: Hagerstown, MD.

Meanderings on Attachment


Meanderings on Attachment

“There are two seasons in Minnesota – winter and road construction.” I reminisce on this old phrase as I sit in traffic on 35W between Minneapolis and our home base in Duluth. This is a segment of highway that should be flying along at 70 mph, with nothing more than a possible deer running across the road to slow things down. Yet here I sit, staring at the line of green fir trees bordering the shoulder on a warm day in July, trying to exercise some level of patience. The summer is almost over for us. Soon we will be returning to the school we work at in Yangon. There is still so much we want to do before we return – people we want to see and experiences we want to have. Staring at that line of trees, I avoid thinking of what I could be doing if I weren’t sitting in traffic. That would be completely self-defeating.

One of the things we still plan to do before summer is over is take the family to see a production of Billy Elliot at the Duluth Playhouse. The whole family is together this summer, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to do things like this. With one daughter out of college, one in college, and another who is a senior, I’m not sure how many more summers we’ll all be together for things like this. This summer they are home though, I think partially because they want to get to know Max. He joined our family last fall, and we received legal guardianship of him in February. Our two older daughters had never met him other than through Skype. This summer, they were discovering what it meant to have a brother added to the family.

I had just purchased tickets to Billy Elliot while we were in Minneapolis. We were at a mall, where my wife was busy checking on sales of things that were a perfect bargain, whether we needed them or not. A bench at the entrance to the store seemed designed for waiting spouses. In fact, I wasn’t the only one sitting there. I pulled out my phone. After a quick check of email and news headlines, I browsed the website to purchase tickets to the musical. A number of evenings were sold out, so I exhaled loudly when I managed to snatch up five of six seats in one row for one of the final evening performances.

The car inches forward. Music is playing, but is more background noise than anything. My wife has her seat laying all the way back. The rhythm of her breathing tells me she is asleep. I sit up straight, suddenly more focused. How many tickets did I buy? Five? I shake my head. I did it again. With Max added to the family, we are now six. This has happened on several occasions. We go to a restaurant, and I tell the host we need five seats, and then realize we need six. I count five lifejackets for the boat, and then as we pull away from shore realize another is needed. As traffic is still standing still, I pull out my phone and check the theatre website. Great! That sixth seat in the row is still available. I quickly purchase it before the car inches forward again.

The first time I forgot to include Max in our family numbers equation I felt terrible. I thought it somehow reflected a lack of attachment to him on my part, or subliminal lack of acceptance of him into our family. I don’t think that anymore. Instead, I’m clear in my own mind it is more a reflection of my age and where I am in life. We had never expected a “Max” in our lives. When he came to live with us, we were a fully established family of five, planning for lives as empty nesters in two years. Forgetting him wasn’t about a lack of attachment; it simply reflected the mind of someone whose life had been going in one direction before being knocked into another by a nine-year-old boy we hadn’t ever expected. It was simply a matter of getting used to something different. Attachment is something else entirely.

I’m not much of an athlete. Somehow, in my formative years I never developed the hand – eye coordination essential to most sports. In a related manner, I never learned how to put my body into it when throwing a ball, hitting with a bat, or connecting with a variety of pieces of sports equipment. As a youngster though, I discovered I had been blessed with one bit of athletic ability, I could run at a reasonably fast speed. This kernel of knowledge propelled me to pursue running as the singular sport I believed I could excel at. Over the years, I ran in a number of 10Ks, and even a couple of marathons. With time, running became the singular sport for which I developed some level of passion. It became the means for me to stay in shape, to focus my attention, a solace for me to escape and think things through in my own mind. One of the first things I did when moving to a new country was to find a route to run so I could develop the routine that had become a focus of my life over the years. It was on one of my first runs in Myanmar that I came across Max.

There is heaviness in the air in Yangon in August. It builds up throughout the day making it seem like you are maneuvering through a wall of water each time you step outside. At times, it will culminate in a refreshing rainfall leaving behind a few brief hours of clarity and free movement. At other times, it simply dissipates into the night, with the wall being built anew the falling day with each passing hour. Avoiding the wall becomes the goal of each daily run. This is accomplished by running early – as early as possible. First light is around 5:00 AM.

Leaving our home one of those first mornings, I pursued a slow, steady pace along our, narrow, pock marked asphalt road. Running by a gold domed monastery where the sound of brass gongs broke the morning silence, then downhill past elegant mansions and colonial homes, I finally crossed a major intersection to arrive at a park that bordered one of the city lakes. These parks live daily changes in purpose. Mid afternoon and early evening they play host to young lovers seeking some time alone under umbrellas and behind trees, while night is party time with young people playing music and drinking. Mornings though are a time of sport. A group of women gather in the parking lot to dance aerobically to pop music, and young men with muscular physics make use of the permanent exercise equipment. For my part, I joined in the line of people walking and / or running along the paved trail that snaked its way along the lake and through the park.

I was about ten minutes into my run when I noticed the runners and walkers taking brief steps off the trail ahead of me. It was unclear to me why they were doing this. Coming closer, I saw a small mound of flesh in the middle of the pavement. At first, I wasn’t clear what I was seeing, and then realized it was two small boys with arms and legs wrapped around each other in a knot, fast asleep on the cool ground. They were both dressed in worn discolored shorts. One had torn t-shirt on, while the other wore a collared button down shirt absent the buttons.   They were both filthy, and I found myself wondering what they were doing there. Did they live close by and had sought refuge from the summer heat of their home, or was their existence somehow a more permanent situation? Why were people simply stepping around them as though they were some sort of mild irritation? I slowed to a trot as I went past the boys, following the lead of those ahead of me. What I didn’t realize as I went past was one of the boys appearing before me was a street boy who would come to live in our home in a few short months, and in less than a year would join our family as the boy we would come to call Max.

The exact story of how Max came to live with us is one I’ll save for another time. I will say it was something unplanned and unexpected. A decision made on a whim, which has changed our lives, for the better, forever. The first several weeks he was with us were amazing, almost surreal. We weren’t exactly sure what we were doing with him at that point, or even what future we might have with him. He very quickly became a part of our lives though. He would get up early with me each morning and go running with me. Preparing breakfast followed this. During the day he would come by the school we worked at and hang out drawing pictures, talking to people, and helping out. Afternoons were filled with playing soccer, riding bikes, and helping out with various tasks, while evenings were filled with table games and watching television. Though we struggled with his inability to speak English, we found ways to communicate as he quickly fit into our family routines. As a result, it was a shock when this came to a sudden end.

Throughout these first weeks, Max had never asked us to visit the park where he had been living when we first met him. Out of the blue, one afternoon he asked, through an interpreter, if we could go for a walk in the park that evening. Sure, I said, though it would need to be late evening, as the school holiday concert was that evening.

“The whole family?” He asked.


“Even Joey?” Our dog.

“Yes, even Joey.”

Max floated through the rest of that day. He was constantly hugging us at every opportunity. We attended the concert that evening. The stars twinkled in the sky and a soft breeze waffled through the air as the sound of children singing permeated our schoolyard. At one point I looked around for Max. He was sitting quietly with his head leaned against my assistant. She had her arm around him. All seemed well in the world of Max.

As soon as the concert was over, Max reminded me of my promise to go to the park. We went home and gathered together the family – my wife, our youngest daughter, Joey, and my daughter’s boyfriend. We strolled down our block, crossed the road to the park, and then made our way along the lake. At one point, a dirty boy in clothes dotted with tears and stains, clearly a bit older than Max, approached us. Max spoke to him, then asked me in his few words of English if he could give this boy some money. I handed over some loose change. The boy left, and we continued on our way. We arrived back home. Max was smiling, chattering and constantly hugging us. The excursion to the park had been a success.

Max and I settled into a short television show before bed. At this point, I can’t remember what the show was, nor does it really matter. What I remember is a feeling of fulfillment. A sense that somehow this boy, who had become a part of our lives, belonged with us. Everything just seemed to fit. As the show came to a close, I told Max it was almost bedtime. This had become a time where we read simple picture books, and practiced English words he had been exposed to.

Max turned to me and spoke very aggressively. “No. No bed!”

Caught off guard, I said, “What? Say that again?’

“No! No bed! No happy here!”

Again, I questioned what he was saying. Suddenly, he began to hit at me with two fists. He became very tearful and started to say over and over he wasn’t happy. He wanted to return to the park. I didn’t understand and tried to question him. He became incoherent, hitting at me more, and more loudly saying he wanted to return to the park. He didn’t want to live with us any longer. I took Max into my arms and held him, trying to get him to calm down. Trying to understand what was happening. He struggled and resisted. Finally, I gave up trying to understand. I carried him to his room, where I laid with him, holding him, until he finally settled down and fell asleep.

Once Max was asleep, I sat down on the floor next to his bed. Exhausted from holding him, my arms resting on my knees, I tried to make sense of what had just happened. What had suddenly changed? Where had this come from? Max didn’t have to live with us. He wasn’t a prisoner. That had always been a clear message from us to him. Still, I wanted to understand what was suddenly happening, where this change had come from. I slowly fell off to sleep next to Max’s bed, not wanting to leave. Somehow, I felt this was a time he needed us, though I didn’t understand why.

We approached the morning with a bit of trepidation. Max awoke surlier than we had ever seen him. Our Toyota Land Cruiser was smaller than usual and the route to school was twice the distance with Max in the back seat. Every pothole was accentuated, as we seemed to inch along. At school, our head of security met us, and I asked him to translate as we tried to understand what was happening.

Max stated he wanted to return to the park to live. My memory at this moment is of him sitting in a large leather chair. His head hung forward, and there were tears running down his cheeks. A part of me wanted to simply hug him, though I held back not really sure what was happening. I said that was fine, if that was what he really wanted, but did he understand we cared about him? Yes, he understood. It didn’t matter. He wanted to go. This just didn’t seem real. What happened that had caused such a rapid change? We had clearly started to feel a sense of attachment to Max. Was it really possible he didn’t feel the same? I asked my assistant if she would talk to Max, and see if she could figure out where all of this was coming from.

Right from the beginning, my assistant seemed to connect with Max. When he stopped by school, he would usually stop and chat with her first. He drew pictures for her, and talked about her regularly. On this occasion, she pulled Max aside at her desk and talked with him. He squatted next to her chair, speaking animatedly. In a short period, she brought Max to my office and sat him down. She explained the issue wasn’t that Max wanted to leave. He actually wanted to stay with us. He was feeling torn though. When he saw his friend at the park the night before he had realized how much he missed his friends there. She explained for the past year and a half, these other boys had been like his family. He felt he was somehow letting them down by being with us instead of them.

I thought about this. It seemed completely reasonable Max would feel attached to these boys, and he would feel a need to be with them. Max could return to the streets if that were what he wanted. Perhaps there was a workable alternative though. I suggested that Max stay with us. He could invite one or two of his friends over whenever he was feeling a need to be with them. He would just need to let us know in advance. This was translated to Max. He asked a couple of questions. As I responded to each, a smile came to his face. He jumped out of his chair and wrapped his arms around my neck. In a way, I couldn’t believe this was what had caused the melt down of the night before. There it was though.

It seemed we had achieved a livable solution to this problem. That afternoon, Max and I went to the park. He sought out his friend, who came to our home the next day and stayed for dinner. The experience we had the night of the holiday concert turned out to be only the beginning though. It seemed to trigger some sort of inner struggle for Max. For the next several months, he would have days when he was the most fantastic boy in the world. Then, suddenly, he would erupt into verbal and physical struggles where I would again have to hold him until he went to sleep, and often spend the night by his bed. At these times, we would find ourselves wondering what we had involved ourselves with, and questioned if it was something we could continue with. At times we felt we were walking on eggshells, wondering when the next episode would occur. When I was younger, before I went into teaching, I had worked in a residential facility with emotionally disturbed children. Many of these children struggled with issues related to abandonment and a lack of attachment. They regularly acted out physically, especially if they began to feel close to someone, out of fear of the relationship. After each episode with Max, we would take him the next day to someone to translate. Invariably, there was some reasonable reason for his behavior that was often frustrated by a lack of ability to communicate with us. Still, his behavior was reminding me more and more of the children I had worked with many years ago. When I was younger, I could deal with that type of behavior. I even appreciated the challenge of it. I’m much older now though, and both my wife and I began to wonder how much we could handle. That said, we were also starting to feel torn. With each episode we felt we were beginning to understand Max more. His protective layers were slowly peeling away and we were slowing finding ourselves more emotionally tied into him. We reached a point where we began to feel we needed to either be all in with this boy, or we needed to find an alternative solution for him.

We gradually came to know Max’s mother. She lives in the north of the country, and was clear she was unable to take Max back and care for him. With this knowledge, and given how much we had come to care for him, we made a decision to seek legal guardianship of Max. We were still struggling with some of his behavior, and still had questions about his ability to completely attach to us, but we began to believe we could make it work. We had to appear in court on three separate occasions. The first time both Max and his mother had to attend. This was one of the first interactions Max had with his mom in approximately two years. He sat and talked with her, but didn’t show any real emotion. When the judge questioned his mother, she described how her husband had passed away and she had found herself alone with five sons – Max being the youngest. Blind in one eye, she had struggled to support her sons, and gradually had sent each off to work in different labor arrangements. She no longer knew where her two oldest sons were, and had lost knowledge of where Max was when he ran away from his work situation over a year and a half ago. She acknowledged she loved her son, but couldn’t care for him. He had already been dead to her until we found him, and she was happy to have him live with us. Max listened to all of this. He wrapped my wife’s arm around himself and moved closely to her, holding her hand tightly. I remember watching him as all of this was going on. I was happy to see him seeking solace from my wife, but again I wondered about his ability to attach. His detachment from his mother didn’t fit with my worldview of mother / child relationships.

A funny thing happened after we went to court. We don’t know why, but Max changed. It was like a switch went off inside of him and he realized this situation was for good. We weren’t turning back. We watched him suddenly become more content, and the behavior challenges gradually diminished. Starting school meant the creation of routines and development of relationships with other kids other than street kids. This also seemed to settle him, and we saw him become more comfortable in being a part of our family. This doesn’t mean our questions regarding his level of attachment changed. In the months that followed, we still experienced occasional issues that made us wonder about this, but the behavior challenges seemed to go away.

This summer has been fantastic! Why? English! Max is in the U.S. with us, and the exposure to constant English has caused his language skills to take off. For me, the most important aspect of this has been the ability to begin exploring different issues with him, like attachment. Max has a real affinity for fishing. He loves to go fishing for trout and through the summer we have spent hours at different fishing holes along the north shore of Minnesota. During these times we talk. The other day I asked him about his mom and how he felt when he saw her in court. He was initially reticent to talk about it, asking me why I want to talk about these things. Finally he said, “You know, I love my mom. I know she loves me. But, I don’t like her. I can’t explain it. Maybe when I’m twenty I can explain it.”

We’ve also talked about some of the issues he had during the months before we went to court. He has explained to me that he loves us, but he was also angry with us for a while. He said that if we hadn’t come along, he would have stayed with his friends on the streets. Now, they are gone and he wonders about them and worries about what has happened to them. He tells me he is no longer angry, but he still thinks about his friends.

Having the ability to communicate with Max has made a big difference. We are now able to communicate our thoughts and feelings. He is able to do the same. We still have issues with him, like any parent. We are also beginning to understand attachment from his perspective is a more difficult concept than it is for us. He’s had many different types of relationships in his life, and it seems he is trying to fit them all together and make sense of them. What is important for us right now is we love him. We know he loves us. And we are all working very hard to be successful.

I just need to remember to think of six now instead of five.

 Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Tell Me a Story

So I spent some time last week pushing into a few classrooms to tell stories to our kids, and it was easily the best part of my week. I love telling stories and I love listening to stories (who doesn’t), and I’ve come to believe that engaging students through storytelling can be a powerful strategy that all educators should have in their toolbox. Since I began my teaching career all those years ago, telling stories has always been my favorite thing to do, and in my opinion it’s one of the best ways to get learning to “stick”. Think about your own experience with stories, whether it’s with a great book or movie, or even with a simple anecdote from a friend, storytelling engages not only our minds but our emotions as well, and that’s where learning really takes hold.


The great thing about telling stories is that they always find a way to access a personal connection or experience with the listener, which ultimately makes it partly their own. How may times have you read or told a story to someone and the immediate response is, “that reminds me of when”, or “I can relate to that”. I’ve been reading a lot about the science behind storytelling lately, and the research around how our brains become more active when we tell and listen to stories is really interesting. I think that we have an opportunity as educators to tap into the power of storytelling with our students even more than we already do, to better engage them in their learning. I know that teachers are already natural storytellers but I think we can be more purposeful in how we deliver our curriculum, and how we approach our lesson and unit planning with this in mind.


Stories I think, can truly help reshape knowledge into something personal and meaningful, and ultimately, stories can make kids really care about what they are learning and motivate them into doing. There’s a great example out there by Hans Rosling, of how information can be brought to life when it’s presented in the context of a story. Take a look. Anyway, I guess my challenge to you this week is to see if you can find more ways to engage our kids through storytelling. I also want to thank you in advance for allowing me to take a few minutes of your time to tell a story or two to our kids…it’s a great way to help them get to know me, and a great way to model this idea for them early on in the year.


If we take this idea even further, I want to empower you all to tell your own story with your students, and to find ways to get them to tell theirs. The story of who you are and where you’re going as a person and educator, and the story of your classroom and the journey that you’ll be on together this year. Like us, kids have incredible storytelling tools at their disposal these days, and so many opportunities to tell their learning story through digital tools. What a way to use technology as well to enhance student learning, and what a way to bring their learning and imagination to life.Telling our story as a division and as a school is also something that is very much on our radar, and together we can make our Lower School come alive even more than it already is…let’s start with our kids and watch our collective story unfold from there. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.


Quote of the Week…

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories – Muriel Ruykeser


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TED Talk – Andrew Stanton (Excuse the language at the beginning) –



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A Whiteboard History of Storytelling –



Visual Storytelling on the Web –


Negative Effects of App Attachment

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I was speaking to a friend recently about an argument he had with a teacher. The teacher was adamant that if they could not use one particular app, their classes would come to a halt, and learning would immediately be suspended until further notice.

Obviously, I cannot think of a single application or subscription that is that critical to learning. I am not referring to a complete environment like Google Apps for Education. I am referring to people getting angry, and going into a panic, over a single application or service.

More and more I see these conflicts among teachers and schools (similar to the Curriculum in a Suitcase problem).

Schools and teachers need to be aware that being a fanboy or fangirl will not be rewarded. In fact, the odds are that being too connected to a particular solution will more than likely lead to a lack of resources and very real disappointment.

Cancelled Without Notice

This is an excellent page to look at: Cancelled Google Services

There are 43 services listed that have been cancelled, even though many were used by numerous people. Google Wave was hugely popular with schools, and then one day, Google closed it down with very little notice.

In 2017, the popular library service RefMe was bought by a competitor and shutdown. This service had a popular paid version, and customers still lost access to the product they wanted.

The fact is many of these companies are funded by venture capital. If they do not meet their required metrics, they lose their funding and are quickly shutdown or sold. Often when companies are sold, the services they provide are shutdown. The intellectual property and user data is more valuable than the actual application.

Where does all this leave a person who has built their entire practice around a single service or product? Desperate and angry.

A Basket of Solutions

A basket of currencies is an interesting model to reflect on when setting asset management policies. A basket of currencies helps set a value, so that if one currency happens to plummet in value, the value of the target currency is not impacted significantly.

Applying this to educational technology asset management, schools would:

  • Make a requirement that departments have a defined set of resources they are using
  • Complete a regular review of those resources
  • Develop a process to allow teachers to regularly propose and pilot new resources

The influx of a few new solutions will buffer the school against big changes made by products and services they are using. Thus, not allowing a single company’s decisions to shift the learning, purchasing, or culture of the school.

In addition, there must be an annual expectation that technology will change and training will happen. Having a culture where people expect stagnation is dangerous in a technology driven environment that is based on companies constantly cannibalizing one another.

Brands Do Not Care About Learning

I have been recommending Apple laptops for many years. However, after the recent round of Apple changes to their base laptops, I am no longer recommending Apple without a discussion about the current downside of the new designs; and a review of the briefly held negative status of the Macbook Pro published by Consumer Reports.

The truth is, there are many options now that are better for many types of schools and users. Apple changed. They changed to meet their market. They did not make decisions to improve learning at K-12 organizations. Apple chose to make more money.

This holds true for all the big players in educational technology. Their decisions are focused on growth and profit. They want to take as much of the market as possible. Sometimes that means creating innovative new features, and sometimes it means making a cheaper product to increase margins.

Hardware is normally purchased in cycles of 3-5 years. That means, every year 2 or year 4, a platform review should occur. The practice of always buying the same brand without a critical analysis of that brand is the equivalent of letting the brand dictate the options available for teachers and students.

Schools should make good choices and be able to adjust to the market. Teachers should be aware that change is always on the horizon, and using technology is an agnostic endeavor.

Buy into the school. Buy into the curriculum. Buy into people and ideas. Do not sellout to software, services, and nicely branded machines.


First Things First

So we made it through the first three days of school, and what a first week it was! For me, there’s nothing more exciting and heart warming than watching our kids spill off of the buses on the first few days of school. They are excited, and nervous, and full of hopes and dreams for the upcoming year ahead. They are wondering what their teachers will be like and who their friends will be, and they are all desperately hoping that their experience will be everything that they are silently wishing for…If you’re like me, you can’t help but to love this time of the year.


Inevitably, the first few days of school always get me thinking about my own grade school experience, and all of those special memories that I still cling to all these years later. Funny enough, the memories that continuously pop up for me have very little to do with what I learned in any particular grade, but rather with the people that I met and the relationships that I developed over the years, which ultimately impacted me in very profound ways as I grew into an adult.


It’s no coincidence that my favorite years as an elementary school student were directly related to the relationship that I had with my teachers that year, and the effort that they made to get to know me as a young person. The years that I had those “relationship first” kind of teachers are the years that have stood the test of time for me, and funny enough, when I think back, also the years where I just happened to learn the most. It’s funny how when you feel safe as a child, and trusted, and loved, and appreciated, you actually end up tying harder and taking risks and opening yourself up to learning…In my opinion, there is nothing more important than the student-teacher relationship to inspire learning, and to get kids literally sprinting off those buses to get to class in the morning.


So, with all that said, I bet that if you think about the teachers that made the biggest impact in your own lives, it will be the ones who were at the time like second mothers and fathers to you…the ones who knew what you loved and how you best learned, and the ones who knew your strengths and your areas of growth that they helped you to identify and to work on…the ones who loved you and the ones who you loved back. The longer I remain in education, the more convinced I am that it’s the relationships that drive everything positive around student learning. If we can get these relationships right, then we can truly inspire our kids to exceed expectations, and to truly maximize their potential. I’m asking you all to take the time over the first couple of weeks of school to put relationships first. Get to know your kids, get them to know each other, and let them into your lives as well…I guarantee that it will pay tremendous dividends as the year moves forward. The curriculum is important I know, and we’re all excited to dive into that, but first things first…the relationships with your kids is your biggest priority.


So when thinking about the opportunity that we all have this year, to develop the kind of strong and lasting relationships with our kids that will be remembered for a lifetime, think about these lines from a beautiful James Russell Lowell poem…think about these when considering how you’ll spend the first few weeks of school with your kids and with your colleagues…giving a little bit of yourself positively impacts everyone around you, and it boosts your own spirits too!


It’s not what we give, but what we share-

For the gift without the giver is bare;

Who gives himself with his alms feeds three

Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.


Have a fantastic first full week of school everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.


Quote of the week…

Who the teacher is, is more important than what they teach

– Karl A. Menninger


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Start the School Year : What is our ‘why’? 

Last week we spoke with students and parents new to our school, many of whom were new to Singapore.  We started with the why – our school’s Mission:
The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.

This may seem obvious,  but schools differ a lot in the ‘why’

For those who were understandably wondering about new classes, friends, uniform and timetables, this may have seemed a lofty, distant ideal. But with so many very good schools available in Singapore, this lofty goal remains our defining characteristic. Or more precisely – because lofty goals are easy to write – how we put this into practice remains our defining characteristic, and I hope why families have chosen us.

I am very pleased, however, that it is no longer a very special goal – at least, not if we take special to mean rare. Go back fifty years and this kind of thinking was marginal, outlier, considered naïve and well off the mainstream. Today the idea that we should not settle for less for our children is absolutely mainstream, almost banal. The notion that education should narrowly focus on academics, without recognizing that children deserve more and need a higher purpose, is clinging on here and there, but it’s on its way out. There are two reasons behind this; they may seem to be quite different, but ultimately, they are mutually supportive.

Our ‘why’, the reason we do what we do, has twin tracks but unlike a road, they both head in the same direction

Firstly, there’s the realization that academics are not enough even for the world of work. In truth they never really were, but the changing nature of work means we are increasingly focused on what skills students possess, and what they can actually do. In the past, these may have been very tightly linked to what students know – but in the disrupted, AI-influenced economy we face, knowledge alone will be far from enough.  To be ready for tomorrow, today’s students will have to be increasingly adept in human skills and qualities, and ready to use them in real-world contexts on difficult and complex human problems  It’s not just educators saying this, but governments, businesses, NGOs, the OECD and others.  So the contexts provided by our focus on the peoples, nations and cultures part of our Mission is exactly how to prepare students for an uncertain future; because these are the areas that are the pressing challenges we face and that will not be automated,

Secondly, it’s important to place schools in a much broader social context.  And that context may be startling. Because despite the horrific events going on around the world, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been, in many significant ways.  Extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.  Now let’s not be naïve here – tragedy, atrocity and grinding poverty are still real today. But the current trajectory is astonishingly positive, and where there is injustice, we are beginning to see outrage and social activism to address it – not consistently, but increasingly so. In the past where issues may have been ignored, we’re also seeing thought leaders take a lead.  That includes CEOs, and the US –  admittedly under extreme provocation from its administration – is leading the way here. CEOs have publicly come out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and most recently, against the extreme right. At the same time, we’re seeing many high profile billionaires – including two of the most famous in Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – pledge half their wealth to philanthropic causes.  So there is a broader social move towards widening moral circles; and schools both reflect this and importantly, prepare students to continue down this path.  That’s where the peace and a sustainable future part of our Mission comes in, and why we weave the Mission so carefully throughout our Learning Programme.

There is no tension between the pragmatic necessity to prepare students for their future, and the idealistic opportunity to make whatever small contribution we can to the historic trend.   We intend, this year and forever, to do both to the best of our capacities.