Just wondering about the concept of citizenship in our world of international education

We just had Juramento a la bandera, our annual ceremony where students of our Senior class pledge allegiance or pay respect to the Ecuadorian flag. This is a major event for Ecuador, for our school, for our Seniors and their families. It has the formality and flavour of graduation. To prepare for my speech for this ceremony, I watched again writer Taiye Selasi’s TED talk. Her words resonate so much with our lives of international educators and they got me thinking.

In my 17 years as an international educator, I have learned a lot about citizenship. In the United Kingdom, the first country where I lived and worked, I quickly found out that people are very proud of their flag. They often wear the jersey of the national sport teams, flags are hanging from different buildings and houses in town and so forth. The concept of citizenship was fascinating. A country that was not mine gave me a free education, my first job, a social security number and I could have applied for a UK passport while I was there. What an open way to look at citizenship! Mind you, this might all evolve with Brexit, but it is a different story. But it goes beyond a passport as I felt more at home in London, Brighton or Lancaster than in Paris or Bordeaux. In Turkey, the second country where we lived and worked, we got to a different level. In public schools, there is a flag raising ceremony every Monday and İstiklal Marşı, the national anthem, is often played during school events. Typically there is also a framed version of the national anthem framed and displayed in classroom walls.. Our son, Dorian, was born in Istanbul but he was not granted the Turkish nationality as my wife and I are not Turks. Fine, Dorian was not going to be Turk, but he was born there, Turkish was his first language (with French), his friends in preschool were Turks and in our neighbourhood everyone knew Dorian as the blond kid with blue eyes and fluent Turkish speaker. We felt at home in many parts of Istanbul and Turkey and we feel like foreigners in Toulouse or Montpellier. In France, my native country, the flag tends to be associated with certain political parties and the blue, white and red colours are not easily found except on official buildings. With a second star on the jersey of our national football team, maybe more people will wear the French colours. The French national anthem is quite often criticised for being a violent war song-some people even say it is racist and some politicians have event refused to sing it. And foreigners can apply for the French citizenship after passing a test on questions that I might not be able to answer. 

As international educators, we all carry and can share our concepts on citizenship. On Thursday, we were proud to celebrate an important ceremony for Ecuadorians and non-Ecuadorians students in their Senior year. Ecuador is a very welcoming country and we all know of non-Ecuadorian families who had children, here in Quito, who received an Ecuadorian ID and as a consequence parents could also receive it. My family has spent more time and feels more comfortable in the Cotopaxi National park or in the Quilotoa area than in the French Alps. On Thursday, our beautiful and diverse class of 2020, with Ecuadorians and non-Ecuadorians, with a Canadian Director, a Principal from Euskadi, (Basque country) an Associate Principal from Minnesota and a faculty that comes from several parts of the world, this class of 2020 swore allegiance  or paid respect to the Ecuadorian flag.

The writer Taiye Selasi raised this important question and shared it with us: « have you ever been asked the question “where are you from?” and you were not sure what to say?» In our globalised world, with vibrant and mobile communities, Academia Cotopaxi being a microcosm of this world,  the concept of citizenship may be very complex. But we need roots and this is why I am particularly honoured to have taken part in this ceremony that formally roots students’ entire lives, or part of them, in this beautiful country that is Ecuador.

For what it’s worth…

The honking of the horn: a tale of cultural differences


The honking of the horn: a tale of cultural differences

I had an interesting experience this past summer while home in Minnesota.  I was parked at a Caribou Coffee – the northern Midwest’s attempt to ward off the cultural dominance of Starbucks.  I happened to look in my rearview mirror and noticed another car quickly backing up on a track that would lead to a collision with my rear end in a matter of seconds.  It seemed clear the other driver had no idea I was there.  I quickly honked my car horn to give warning, and watched his break lights come on, avoiding a collision by mere centimeters.  At that moment, the driver of the car turned in his seat, glared at me, and flipped me the bird, shaking his fist aggressively.  I looked at him in shock.  What was that all about?  Hadn’t I just saved him from damaging my car and his, not to mention the probable increase in auto insurance rates he would have acquired had he hit me?  He pulled his car forward, and reversed again on a track that avoided my car.  Then, to add insult to injury, as he now moved forward to exit the parking lot, the woman in the passenger seat turned toward me and also flipped me the bird.  What the heck was going on?

Driving home, I thought about what I had just experienced, and compared it to our home overseas in Myanmar.  It seemed that in the experience I just had, the driver of the other car interpreted my use of the car horn as some sort of a hostile act.  While I presumed I was providing a service by helping him avoid a collision, he seemed to see the horn as some sort of affront, as though I was using it to point out how wrong he was or some discrepancy in his character.  In Myanmar, the use of a car horn is interpreted entirely different, if interpreted at all.  By this I mean, people make use of the horn so much, it often goes unnoticed.  It wasn’t too many years ago there was hardly a car on the streets on Myanmar.  People could drive from one end of the city to the other without hindrance.  Overnight, it seems everyone has acquired a car.  The infrastructure has not been able to keep up.  There are constant traffic jams and little fender benders.  The sound of a car horn honking has become so common it blends into the background.  I think I even fall asleep at night on occasion to the sound of car horns in the distance.  The honking of car horns has become so common that I find if I am driving down the road, see a friend walking or driving, and honk to greet them, they don’t even look up.  My horn isn’t even acknowledged with a simple nod of the head, let alone a greeting in response.

I began to think how different the car horn is perceived in different locations or cultures.  Another place we lived – was it the Cayman Islands or the oil camp on Sumatra – you hardly ever heard a car horn.  Really, the only time it was ever used for was in greeting.  If you heard one, you knew it was likely someone you knew saying hello and your hand immediately went up in a wave before you even identified the driver.  In contrast was the highways of Romania where people would lay on the horn as they sped into one side of the village and didn’t let up until they exited the other side, letting people on foot know to beware.  This eventually led to signs at the entrance to some of these villages with an X over a horn.  Clearly, the expectation was the cars needed to slow down, rather than use the horn, to maintain safety.  I’m not sure how successful this endeavor was.

So, I guess we could formulate a question around these experiences asking what does the honking of the car horn tell us about behavior within different culture?  Can any statement be made, or assumptions about the way different cultures are perceived?  I once read an ethnographic study about Myanmar called, The Traffic in Hierarchy by Ward Keeler.  In this study, Keeler observes the perceived relational hierarchy in Myanmar and how it plays out in everything from societal norms to traffic patterns and in how people drive cars and cross the street.  As I reflect on this study, I think one can easily assume that in Myanmar hierarchy may also play a cultural role in when people do, or do not use the car horn.  This led me to wonder what it is that plays a role in the honking of a horn in other countries, and how this simple act reflects our own perceptions of who we are and how we see ourselves within our own culture? 

Recently, my friend and colleague, Cameron Janzen, led a workshop on cultural understanding.  In this workshop, he discussed core cultural values, or those values that are a part of our cultural perspective we are unwilling, or unable to change.  An example of this would be someone who’s religion forbids them from drinking alcohol.  For that person, this might be a core value.  On the other hand are flex values.  These are values we are willing to change to help us be more understanding and accepting of another culture.  As I applied this to the honking of the horn in different countries, I realized that in some places, the horn itself may be symbolic of deeper core values.  For example, in Myanmar, it may reflect some deeper core values around hierarchy.  At the same time, for me, the honking of the horn is a flex value, something I’m willing to change and adapt to from culture to culture, or country to country.  I guess, the honking of the horn could be a truly symbolic reflection of our cultural differences and our willingness to understand others.  At the same time, I guess it is also possible I’m just reading too much into it.  Perhaps, the honking of the horn is really nothing more than an obnoxious loud noise eliciting an abrasive response no matter where we happen to be…..

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Partnering for the Win!

So last Thursday evening we had our Lower School back to school Open House event for parents. It was inspiring for me to watch this partnership so beautifully on display, and honestly it was a little emotional for me too. There is something truly magical about watching teachers and parents partnering together in the educational experience of their child, and to see our community come together around the learning of OUR kids. 

Teachers gave parents an authentic look into the day to day experience of a student at ASP, and engaged them in many of the daily routines and community and culture building activities that we embrace as a Lower School. The energy in the building was positive and palpable, and we all left at the end of the night committed to doing our part in support of our children…what better way to begin our school year?

Leveraging the parent community to the fullest extent is something that schools talk about all the time but rarely do all that well. Schools have their usual parent-teacher conference days, and parent coffees, and communication mechanisms and all the rest, but how well do schools really partner with parents as teachers and as professionals and as change agents? Think of the expertise that parents have that we rarely tap into, and think of the missed opportunity that is right there for the taking.

It’s true that kids can’t be what they can’t see so to speak, meaning that the parent community can and should be a portal into unlocking a child’s passion and curiosity and view of a possible future. Doctors and Engineers and Artists and Authors and FilmMakers and Interior Designers and Entrepreneurs and Athletes and Activists and so, so much more…just waiting there to inspire our young people around the endless exciting possibilities, many of which are unknown by our kids at this young age. 

We often talk about giving our students “real life, real world” experiences, and if we really mean that, then let’s look at creative ways to get kids out into the real world. Internships and classroom career days and school future fairs and day trips to check out real life in action…what are we waiting for? As part of our strategic plan initiative, embedded in the idea of “Going Beyond”, we are focused as a school on leveraging these partnerships this year and in the future. My challenge to you is to look for ways in your own departments and grade levels and classrooms to go beyond the usual and traditional way that we partner with parents…and get creative. I’ve shared the poem below a few times before but it is worth sharing again in my opinion. These truly are OUR kids, and the more we partner with each other the better and brighter their future will be.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the climate change protests and marches that happened over the past two days around the world, and I’ve included some important messages from Greta Thunberg for you to act on and absorb. Talk about real life, real world passions for kids…positive change-making across the globe. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Whose Child is This?

Whose child is this? ‘ I asked one day
Seeing a little one out at play
‘Mine’, said the parent with a tender smile
‘Mine to keep a little while
To bathe her hands and comb her hair
To tell her what she is to wear
To prepare her that she may always be good
And each day do the things she should’

‘Whose child is this? ‘ I asked again
As the door opened and someone came in
‘Mine’, said the teacher with the same tender smile
‘Mine, to keep just for a little while
To teach her how to be gentle and kind
To train and direct her dear little mind
To help her live by every rule
And get the best she can from school’

‘Whose child is this? ‘ I ask once more
Just as the little one entered the door
‘Ours’ said the parent and the teacher as they smiled
And each took the hand of the little child
‘Ours to love and train together
Ours this blessed task forever.’

– Jessie Rivera

Quote of the Week…

Everything ​counts…what you do counts! – Greta Thunberg
Inspiring Videos – 


A Dream Come True

Step Up as a Person

What Does Inclusion Look Like?

Greta Thunberg TED
Related Articles –

Inclusive Schools

Two Way Partnership

Parents as Partners

Community Collaboration

Parents as Teachers

The Happiness Advantage

So I managed to read a number of truly inspiring and thought provoking books over the summer, which I will talk about in future posts, but none of them resonated with me as much as The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. I had read it before, about 7 or 8 years ago after watching his popular TED Talk, but reading it again this time around felt a little different.

You see, I have been thinking a lot about the field of positive psychology lately and how it relates to education and student learning, and his research around the 7 principles of lasting positive change helped shape and focus my approach to this school year. I’ve always been a firm believer that the foundation of any great school begins with the culture and relationships that are present in the building, and if you can get the culture and relationships right then the really important work of schools can begin. So, with that firmly in mind, and with two years of culture and collaboration work behind us as a faculty, we have started the year with a focus on the importance and power of things like gratitude and optimism and happiness, and how we can begin cultivating these mindsets with our kids…and with each other.

To go hand in hand with this, we have also intensified our focus on the social curriculum, and ramped up our commitment to giving weight to the social and emotional learning of our students each and every day. We’ve made a commitment as a team to hold on to the people around us…each other…and to individually “being the weather” so to speak when approaching all our conversations and interactions with adults and students. We’ve committed to presuming positive intent, finding the educational courage to have the conversations that we need to have, and going to the source when we have issues or miscommunications. We’ve committed to being grateful for the opportunity that we have as educators and as change agents, and we are modeling this approach to life and learning for our kids and community.

It’s no surprise that this has been a truly amazing start to the school year, with this focus playing out palpably already in the hallways and classrooms, and the positive energy of our lower school humming at a fever pitch. Changing our own mindsets as adults has had a profound effect on how we come to school each day, and my challenge for all of us is to keep it up…and to turn this wonderful start into just “the way we do things around here”. If you haven’t read Achor’s book yet, then do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s an easy read but a very powerful one, and a book that can truly help you leverage that happiness advantage.

Anyway, being a world class educator begins with who you are as a person for the people that you meet throughout the day, and what mindset you bring to school with you when you enter the building…so keep those smiles burning bright, cultivate that joy, and be grateful. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week….Everywhere you go, take a smile with you – Sasha Azevedo

Inspiring Videos – 

Earning your Parent Stripes

Holding Doors

The Happiness Advantage for Children

Addicted Handyman

TED Talks – 

Shawn Achor

Malcolm Gladwell

Related Articles –

Why is Positive Psychology Important?

The Pursuit of Happiness

In the Classroom

Happy Teachers, Happy Students

Happy Classrooms

School is My favorite Time of the Year

So when you enter the front gate of our school this year you’ll notice a large photo of a beautiful little boy in our early childhood program. His smile is wide and he’s bursting with joy and the caption below is a quote of his from last year when he had just turned four…it reads, “school is my favorite time of the year!”, and you know what, I absolutely agree with him. 

I don’t know about you but I couldn’t wait for the school year to begin and for the kids to arrive. I couldn’t sleep the night before and when that first bus arrived in the parking lot last Wednesday, I could barely contain myself…actually, I didn’t as I danced and sang and high-fived and hugged everyone in sight. There’s something about the start of a new school year that makes my heart want to burst, and in my opinion it is absolutely the most beautiful day of the calendar year. 

From an educator’s perspective that first day of the year represents so much hope and promise…it’s such an opportunity, and a perfect clean slate waiting for us to make this year the best year of our teaching lives. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, or what role you play within the school, the level of excitement that is mixed with that little bit of nervousness is magical and unique to that first day. From a student’s perspective it’s kind of the same I think…excitement and nervousness and hope and promise. It’s all there, rolled out in front of us all and ready for the taking…that first day of the year, a perfect white canvas…it doesn’t get any better than that. 

I love standing back at times throughout that first day and watching the teachers interact with the kids and the kids interacting with each other. I love the noise and the smiles and awkwardness and all the connections, new and old. Everyone is trying so hard to make the first day go smoothly…perfectly…and when it does, like it did for us this year, you leave at the end of the day inspired and feeling on top of the world, and eager for day two. 

My challenge to you, and the challenge that I’m giving to myself this year, is to find ways to bottle up that first day feeling, that magic, and keep that level of joy and excitement rolling throughout the year. Finding ways to treat everyday like the first day, and to bring our best selves to work each and every morning. We might not sing and dance and jump up and down like I did last week, but the focus, the purpose, and the commitment that we all brought to that first day of school can become a daily occurrence if we pay attention to it. I love coming to school, I always have, and like another little kid said to us on the first day this year, “school is my favorite place in town”, and you know what, it’s mine too.  

I want to wish you all a fantastic beginning to the year, and I want to thank you for making the first few days so amazing for our kids…keep it up and open that bottle of magic each and every day. There’s something special in the air this year, and there is no reason why this year can’t be our best year ever…treat every day like the first day of school and there’s no way that it won’t be. Have a wonderful week two everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…First day of school! Wake up! Come on. First day of school! – Finding Nemo

Inspirational Videos –

 The Mighty Quinn

Female Army Soldiers

First day of School

Back to School Gratitude

Related Articles – 

Strategies for Teachers

Building Relationships

Kicking Off the School Year

Inside and Outside the Classroom