Tired: Celebrating Diversity / Wired: Antiracist Education

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

Talking about racism can be awfully uncomfortable, particularly for white people since we so rarely have to think about race in our daily lives, and we certainly do not consider ourselves part of the problem. Racist people use nasty slurs, they dress up in blackface/white hoods/swastikas, they refuse to be friends with people of color (POC). I don’t do any of those things, so I’m not racist… Right?

If we view ourselves through the lens of a Racist / Not Racist binary, most of us will confidently partition ourselves as Not Racist. But what if the options were Racist or Antiracist? What evidence can you provide that you are the latter?

Simply avoiding racial slurs, or “celebrating diversity” is insufficient. To be antiracist, we must actively seek out racism and correct it. If you benefit from racial privilege, it is incumbent upon you to fix it. As international educators, we have a magnificent opportunity (see: responsibility) to promote antiracism by teaching racial justice in schools.

But aren’t children too young to learn about race? No. Children of color learn about race early on – they have no option otherwise. White kids can and should learn about race (and racial justice), too.

Talking about racism seems awkward – what about celebrating diversity? It’s super awkward (and dangerous) for POC to live with systemic racism. If the most uncomfortable race-related incident that’s happened to you is having to acknowledge racism (or being called a racist), then you can count yourself amongst the privileged. With that privilege comes the responsibility to uncover racism and correct it. Bonus points if you teach your students to do the same.

Keep in mind that most racism is not as overt as the recent, highly-publicized events in the United States, so I am not suggesting we show young children the video of George Floyd’s killing. Covert racism is far more common and insidious – it does not look like what we think of as white supremacy, and takes a trained eye to spot. Think: racist school mascots, treating children of color as older than they are, denying children of color the opportunities that come from learning from a teacher that looks like them, prioritizing white voices in curriculum, and perpetuating the myth of the bootstrap theory.

I don’t live in the United States, and racism isn’t an issue where I work. It can be more comfortable to decry racism happening far away, as it allows us to believe that we are not part of the problem. However, racism exists everywhere, including at your school. In fact, that’s the racism you are likely best positioned to confront and influence.

Others have written about this before me and better than me (see resource bank below), but I use this particular platform to ensure that international educators understand that we are not exempt from confronting institutional racism.

But I’m just a math/science/PE/etc. teacher. What can I do? Racism is baked into schools – our curriculum, our policies, our hiring preferences, the overwhelmingly white voices we feature as experts and leaders, students’ hierarchical social experiences – it’s everywhere. Regardless of your role in the school, there is no shortage of material to examine under an antiracist lens, and to correct.

Antiracism resources to get you started:  

Culturally-Responsive Curriculum Scorecard

Tool For Selecting Anti-Biased Texts

Social Justice Standards

Antiracist Resources for Young Children

List of Anti-Racism Articles, Books, Movies, Podcasts, and More

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Anti-Racism Resources Curated for Language Arts Teachers

Life of ‘The International Educator’-the story of never leaving school.

A profession that inspires you to climb the highest peak in a continent; to dive into the depths of the ocean and swim along with the whale sharks; a workplace that lets you collaborate with people from all over the world; a classroom that exposes you to multiple languages and cultures; a cafeteria that has cuisine from across the world! This is the life of an international educator and I am blessed to be one.

My story of never leaving school took me on a journey of self-actualization where I learnt more than I taught. I would summarise my story in five takeaways which you can relate if you are teaching in an international school if not, you might start thinking about it! So let me try to inspire you…

LIFE IS A HOLIDAY

When you travel to new countries you experience a new environment; you get to taste new cuisine; indulge in local fashion; explore new markets; speak new languages; learn new etiquettes and discover new places. Life of an international educator is very much like this. It feels like a holiday always! To list a few, conquering Mt Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, diving with the dolphins and swimming with the whale sharks and feeding the Pandas are some achievements that don’t necessarily strengthen your CV but surely strengthen your soul.Experiences that you would have on a holiday becomes your lifestyle. An international teacher’s social media page is a true reflection of the adventures they have had. We have never left school and continue to enjoy our school days.

THIRD CULTURE PARENTS

There is so much literature on third culture kids(TCKs) that we can now relate to them very easily. But what is it like to be a parent to a third culture kid? I would like to coin a new term TCP(third culture parent). International teachers who are also parents can relate to the fact that it is different to raise kids outside their home countries or comfort zones. In a new country where no one speaks your language or your child’s favourite snack is not available, a complex skill-set is required to raise your child in a foreign place! But surprisingly it is one the best part of parenting too, to be a TCP. For example, my son speaks five languages, as many of the TCKs, in China where usually people complain of language barriers, I have my own personal translator who can have a basic conversation of how to buy something, how to order food in a restaurant and even how to bargain. Problem solved, I move with my 15-year-old personal translator everywhere.

VASUDEVA KUTUMBAKAM

This is a Sanskrit phrase which means the whole world is one big family! This is so true for any international school in the world! From Bhutan to India to Uganda to Tanzania to China, I have met a diverse range of people who speak different languages, eat different foods, think differently, have different beliefs and yet understand each other and break all silos created since generations to teach a diverse international community. The amazing people I met and the different languages I heard made me more respectful towards other people’s cultures and at the same time made me appreciate my own roots. It made me realize that the whole world is not only a big family but also a big home, I have homes in so many countries, I got to live, work and make lifetime friends with people from Japan to Jordan, from Mongolia to Malta, from Armenia to Argentina, hence I have a home everywhere. All international schools around the world celebrate diversity and plurality, for example, the International day celebrated in every international school is a true picture of how diverse and united we are at the same time, under a common objective of making the world a better place through education.

RELATIONSHIPS FOR LIFE

Rewind to my time in Uganda, my first day into the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Mathematics class. A bit nervous and anxious I was very prepared to face any math questions that might arise from a curious mind in the audience. I had gone over the lesson plan at least three times and got all resources in place. After explaining the objective of the lesson I opened up the floor for questions related to the topic and then came a question completely unrelated to the topic, a student asked me “ Ms? Are you qualified to teach us?” I froze for a moment and all my preparation for the “math” class went out of the window! Fast forward to now, the questions asked today are also very similar: “How did you learn in school?” “Why did you decide to teach?” and the list goes on…The takeaway for me, it is not just about the first impression it is about the relationships that you build as you teach. The most beautiful relationship of a learner and a mentor, student and a teacher, where one learns from the other only by forming a strong bond of knowing each other’s purpose. The ever inquiring mind of a young learner knows no boundaries, international schools across the world give the opportunity to the learners to be inquisitive inquirers who go on to achieve amazing feats on their own. And thanks to technology I am able to celebrate their achievements as they mature in age, experience and relationships. In this process of teaching and learning a beautiful relationship is established for a lifetime.

WE ARE THE CHANGE

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in this world”. This resonates with me every time I move from one country to another, one school to another and one home to another. International school teachers will agree with me that we love the change, we get tired of staying at one place for too long and that change is always for the better is now our personal mantra! The joy of shedding off all your inhibitions and learning new skills with every new attempt is an elixir for life, I personally wouldn’t trade my profession and lifestyle for anything out there. Nothing can be more satisfying than the ability to realise your potential by deconstructing, to reconstruct yourself every two to three years! In this process of metamorphosis, we also manage to transform students’ lives, as international educators bring along with them the change of perspective and ideas! We are ushering a change by teaching the skills and values and knowledge required to survive the future which is changing this very moment hence adapting to change is the most important skill to learn as well as to teach.

My decision to never leave school has paid off and I am so proud to be an international educator, I look forward to the next opportunity out there, maybe one close to you!

School leadership during Covid-19 – what does it actually mean?

I am always fascinated by the interpretation of this role across the world, and what different school boards identify as priority when they are recruiting a new head. I say this because I have experienced serving with several school heads who were totally different in role and personality and influenced the school in diverse ways. This got me thinking about the reality of the expectations of this role and the pressure put on some heads to produce totally unrealistic outcomes. My father was a school head in several schools and he always told me that his role consisted of 80% of skills he did not train for but embraced. I am told he was successful, and have heard that results in his school were excellent. Over the years, I have come across people my father taught (he was also a teaching head) who say thank you because he believed in them and pushed them to do great things and that is why they were what they had become professionally today. I have never spoken to any of the teachers who worked in his schools, but at least I do have anecdotal stories from his students. One of his dearest students spoke at his funeral, representing many generations of students he had taught and led, which was touching, especially as I was by then an educator myself.

I do enjoy reading about school leadership and what it means to the different authors that write about it, but I have always found that it is much more telling to speak with the students, staff and the parents about what their expectations are of a head of school, and many a time, we realise that these expectations are attainable if sometimes unreasonable, but usually very different from what the board expects. Bravo to the schools that have finally separated the role of the Operations Director and that of the school Director/Head, allowing the latter to focus on all things truly educational.
We all know that not all heads of school are business minded, get excited about building projects, are fundraisers and quite a few are not even the best recruiters. But for some reason, in this wonderful world of ours in international education, we seem to expect these people to be at the door to meet the students every morning, inspire the teachers with the latest educational best practice, visit classrooms frequently, hire excellent teachers who never complain and smile all the time, hold coffee mornings with parents and reassure them that their children are in good hands and well behaved, make important financial decisions that save the board of governors loads of money, ensure successful accreditations and inspections and still know all the students, parents, teaching and non teaching staff by their first names, no matter how big the school.
We also have very high standards for these leaders, and want them to be able to inspire, communicate, collaborate, ooze positive energy, be resilient, be great listeners, be willing to be lifelong learners, empathetic, be servant leaders, highly intelligent, finance savvy and of course think on their feet when an emergency lands on their feet.

Although different school leaders and boards reacted differently to our current situation with Covid-19, the most reassuring action I saw was that our school leaders were able to accept that they did not have to know everything and they did not have all the answers. They were working on solutions and focusing on students and teachers to ensure a continuity of learning for their students, and over and over again, we saw them sharing ideas, supporting each other, listening, encouraging, reacting, being risk takers and basically entering the unknown and trusting that the educators in their schools would do the right thing by their students, they had to let go. This I believe was the toughest test yet for our international school leadership and even though we do not know what the future truly holds, we have students, teachers and parents who got on with the new reality.

Life did continue and what happened to the role was a big reset and paradigm shift into understanding that in school leadership it is important to be informed, curious, aware, flexible, appreciative and be ready for the unknown because even the best risk management policy won’t prepare you fully for what you have never seen. I have already started seeing offers of new School Leadership courses as a reaction to the pandemic and all I can say is, school leadership is definitely not for the light hearted soul. Praise also to our school leaders’ leadership! I look forward to learning and reading more about school leadership during and after Covid-19 and possibly seeing some new traits and styles in that leadership.

Home schooling, virtual learning, blended learning… what are we actually doing?

The reality of the past few months is that we were all propelled into a new world and forced to react and act all at the same time. Governments made decisions about schools and schooling with assumptions that many schools were already operating in the 21st century, so would be ready for what we have been saying for many years, …’the unknown.’ But the reality was that in our educational space, we needed very strong and calm leaders who were going to take school leadership to the next level by changing the one ‘modus operandi’ we have all known since our very own experiences at school.

As schools closed across the globe, we spoke of virtual learning, and as this started unfolding, we realised that depending on where the school was, what resources it had, the demographics of the stakeholders, this virtual learning was definitely not going to be a similar experience for all students forced to stay at home, and definitely not all age groups . Our reality was that we were on the cusp of entering true 21st century style learning where we were using the 21st century skills on a daily basis, or we could have been a disaster waiting to happen.

SEN educators were forced to definitely think out of the box about supporting those students remotely at home who struggle to concentrate in class, never mind on their own in front of a screen. Schools had to have solid plans to improve on and yet consider the fact that there are still many children who do not have gadgets at home, have to share them, and might just not have a space to actually work constructively. In some developing countries, lessons were conducted over the radio and on TV.

As we reacted as educators, we did not really consider our own well being and that of our teachers who were also in a state of shock, wherever they were, and how this change would also affect them; how they work, discover their flexibility, creativity, strengths and confidence, using IT to teach on a daily basis and how they were going to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Overnight, home, work and school became one bog blended blur.

Most parents interpreted this whole process as ‘home schooling’, and were petrified that they were not prepared, were they expected to teach the children or just to set up a space for them to communicate with their teachers. They now had their children home 24/7, no real breaks and had to be both ‘good cop and bad cop’, just to try and keep the peace in the house. They were now parents, teachers, principal, playground monitors, cafeteria staff, extra curricula supervisors and much more. Worries about delivering work for some from the non existent home-office, keeping kids on the straight and narrow, remembering to remove your pyjama tops before a Zoom call and carrying on like a ‘normal ‘human being seemed to get more and more remote with each passing day. Yet we all had to continue in our new norm and do the best we could with what we had.

Pamoja, an online learning platform in partnership with the IB has been offering IBDP courses online for several years now. One thing that was obvious from the onset was that not all students in the IBDP were eligible candidates for an independent online course, so schools had to create eligibility plans so that those students who studied a course through Pamoja would be successful. This has definitely worked in most cases, but the reality of it is that not all students and teachers actually enjoy this virtual learning and are able to stay focused, creative, engaged and excited for the duration.

Most schools have had to use blended learning and the diverse tools and times available to enable contact time ( with time differences to be considered for international schools), independent learning and discovery, as well as some interaction by students in smaller groups. Applications such as Kahoot and others have probably played a more prominent role than in the past. The actual classroom this time has been the gadget being used and monitoring continues to be sketchy.

A mother from my previous school reached out to me last week to say she needed to talk urgently. We arranged a Zoom meeting with her and her 3 children aged between 12 and 17 years old, and they all confused to being frustrated and bored. What started out as maybe an interesting adventure was now monotonous and the children were missing socialising with their friends and that human interaction. I asked about the lessons, and the students said they were ok, but they still missed their friends. I realised that this was surely more about the ‘cabin fever’ rather than the quality of lessons offered. They were going through the slump like the rest of us and were tired. They wanted their routine back, and this new life was creating frustration and anger. I was honoured that she felt that I could change the world from my little corner in Surrey, but I did remind them all that they were doing great and had responded to the unknown very well and that there will still be changes and challenges in the next year and probably more. I did emphasize that none of us have experienced this before and we are all doing the best we can, but it was important to take care of each other, ensure that everyone is responsible for each other’s wellness and that there will be good and bad days. I ended by telling them that they needed to remember that the whole world is going through the same thing and it is an unknown enemy that we are fighting and change was inevitable, and will continue to be so for many years to come. We are making history!

For some strange reason, they all seemed reassured and actually waved goodbye enthusiastically at the end of the call.

Are we helping students get comfortable with change? Part 2

with Bill Tihen, Software Developer at Garaio, Bern, and former teacher and IT director at LAS 

See Part 1 with this same title, in which Bill and I point out the irony that our busy academic schedules, created and driven by our push to cover lots of material efficiently, squeeze out exploration and making mistakes. If our argument is correct – that not having space for exploration may contribute to lower quality learning – well, we have a problem. Maybe we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot for so long that we don’t even notice the pain we’re causing.

Practice with trial and error, mistakes, and deadends

To address the lack of exposure to setbacks and mistakes that characterize many traditional classrooms, I, Bill, adopted a routine that is both manageable (i.e. not so new to students that it throws them for a serious loop) and likely to create a culture that can start changing their school-created aversion to mistakes.

For example, in a STEAM class, I like to check-in with student groups in the first five to ten minutes of class by asking them about their next steps. I don’t want to tell them what to do next, but I do want to know what they are planning to do next so I can plan whereI might be needed most during class.

Similarly, I like students to finish their self-guided work five to ten minutes before the end of class so they have time to tell me what they discovered and what they are planning to do next class period. I do this by talking with each student work group. We focus on talking about mistakes as learning opportunities, because they are part of the discovery. Mistakes are expected. We learn from them. That message has to get across.

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Bill Gates [source]

Students need to stop and reflect regularly in order to adjust their plans. Although this seems obvious, it is crazy rare among students. They have very little practice making their own plans, let alone refining their plans as they work. Like we’ve argued above, students have internalized an expectation that the teacher should provide all the guidance. We shouldn’t wonder too long why students focus on being right and being efficient instead of learning and improving. The way we do school has taught them over and over that right and efficient equals success.

Bill tries to counter this “follower” mindset by encouraging students to identify (and act) on these things: 

  • their most important success and their most important problem;
  • the conditions that are supporting their progress;
  • the conditions that are creating a current problem or a likely future problem; and
  • the things that will help them the most, e.g. what is their plan to make current good work better and to deal with challenges.

I mentioned that as students leave class they share with me their action plan for the next class. In this manner they can arrive at the next class with their plan in mind so they can start without direction from me. 

They tell me what they will do during the next class. This might be about their group dynamics, but it should also touch on the next small step of their work. Since it doesn’t come naturally to students who are used to waiting for the teacher to direct their work, students need practice. 

I set up their practice with three guidelines for an action plan: 

  • it should be an experiment. Students should be able to say what they will do, and for how long – preferably in a short cycle;
  • it should be a small bet (meaning it is no a big deal if it doesn’t work); and
  • It should pass the “live” test and fail the “dead” test.

This last requirement needs a little more explanation. 

The live person test means that whatever their action plan is, it must be something that a live – a real – person can actually do, without superhero powers. It must be something reasonable to do.

At the same time, their plan must fail the dead person test, meaning it must be something that a dead person cannot do! For example, a group of middle schoolers might say that their action plan is to fight less. But that isn’t valid, because it fails the dead person test. While it’s a good idea, dead people don’t fight either, so they need to reframe their action plan into what they will actually do when they disagree.

Do this with a regular rhythm, with a visual checklist that both teachers and students readily see, and the students will get quite good at learning the basics of self-regulation.

I Miss the Kids Like Crazy

So as we inch closer to our third month of distance learning, and continue to find creative ways to engage students from home each and every day, I have to admit something…I miss the kids like crazy. There is so much about this new normal that is challenging, and sustaining the emotional energy can be difficult at times for sure, but nothing compares to how hard it has been to be away from the kids for this long. 

When we initially closed the campus and went to distance learning I knew it would be really tough for the first couple of weeks until we found our routines, but then I thought that it would get better, and easier once we settled in…well, I was wrong. For me at least, the longer we meander through this experience, the harder it is getting, and honestly, it’s because the most joyful part of my job as an educator has been taken away. Those day to day, minute by minute, face to face interactions with children that feed my soul, and infuse my heart with joy, and keep my smile burning bright…those interactions are gone, and honestly, I don’t like it. I miss the kids like crazy. 

Do you know what else I miss these days…the noise of the school. I come in every day now to an almost empty building, and the silence has been deafening. The noise of a school in session, with kids bustling all around is the most beautiful sound that you’ll ever hear. That constant hum of laughing and learning, and failure and success, and teaching and determination and vulnerability and love…it’s so good. Before the campus closure, one of the best parts of my day was walking down a hallway and listening from outside the door to the sounds of kids engaged, or standing off in the corner of the playground during recess time and listening to the shouts and squeals of happiness, as kids play and make new friends and learn how to fit in…that noise is definitely music to my ears, and without a doubt, it’s the soundtrack to a beautiful and perfect day, and I miss it!

I miss the belly laughs that I used get every morning when I welcomed the kids to school, I miss being able to change my mood in an instant just by walking into a classroom and seeing the smiling faces, I miss the joyful enthusiasm that literally oozes out of kids when they see their friends or learn something new, I miss being able to change a child’s day for the better with a simple word of encouragement or a high five, and I absolutely miss the hugs. Children are the gifts that all educators have been given and not much compares to the beauty of a child engaged in school.

Honestly, I’ve been pretty good at finding and celebrating the silver linings that have come out of this distance learning experience, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the new learning and the new skills that I’ve acquired over the last ten or eleven weeks. In many ways this experience has made me more resilient, more adaptable and certainly more flexible…but…as much as I try to spin it, and as much as I try to turn this lemon into lemonade so to speak, there is simply no way around it, and I want to shout it out loud for all to hear…I miss the kids like crazy and I want them back! 

Anyway, we’re on the homestretch with only a few weeks to go, and of course we will absolutely get through this together. Keep being incredible for our community and hang in there…we’ll hopefully get the kids back soon. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

A child is a gift whose worth cannot be measured except by the heart. – Theresa Ann Hunt

Inspiring Videos – 

SGN Episode 8

Graduation Ceremonies

Are we helping students get comfortable with change? Part 1

with Bill Tihen, Software Developer at Garaio, Bern, and former teacher and IT director at LAS 

We want – or we should want – to give our students safe experiences to deal with change, whether it is changing their approach, changing the way they perceive things, or changing themselves. Because if there is one thing we can predict they are going to have to be good at, it’s dealing with change. 

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden [source]

If you aren’t sure that you agree, think about the last time you were working with colleagues who have difficulty changing their approach, their perception, or themselves. When we think of  recent examples in our own work lives, our  shoulders stiffen and feelings of stress well up inside. You probably have a similar reaction. But then ask yourself: how often did our schooling focus on getting comfortable with change?

The message to students we have historically sent – and continue to send – is to “get it right the first time,” not because we don’t believe in teaching about change, but because the curriculum is a list of things to learn. It’s a checklist of content for a particular subject (multiplied by 6 or 7 to cover the traditional subject areas). This checklist approach to content crowds out a focus on skills, e.g. learning to deal with change, to grow from change, and to accept that change is constant. 

Buy in through choice

Students will get practice dealing with change if we build the need for change into our instruction. Instead of trying to be efficient, which tends to make us avoid student exploration, we might be well served to ease up a bit and give them time for discovery.

But they won’t just start doing this without our help. 

First, with our focus on speed, coverage, quantity, right answers, assessment, and rankings, we’ve trained students not to explore. Mistakes = bad, right answer = good. In perhaps one of the biggest educational ironies imaginable, what we might include in best practice might actually reduce student thinking. Imagine if that’s really the case.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison [source]

Second, we will have to work on school culture, not just content goals, to build a safe environment in which to explore. Exploration means making mistakes, which means freedom to make those mistakes, which comes with safety and trust.

And third, we’ll have to include in that culture a desire to persevere, to work through setbacks. Mistakes need to be motivating, not demotivating.

To do this, students must be engaged, which is often easiest if students have a real and significant choice in setting their own goals. We have unfortunately made choice difficult, what with our long list of adult-determined goals. Where is there room for students to learn to set their own goals, relevant to their own drive?

We clearly have work to do. 

Some thoughts on what that might look like in the next blog …

Bouncing Back!

Schools in China are back in business! With the Covid19 curve flattening in China almost all schoolsincluding international schools have reopened. What does it look like on the ground? Let us take a brief tour of how staff and students are trying to bounce back on their feet after the pandemic.

Welcome back to school

Stage one: reopening(suddenly)
The Chinese education board is advising and monitoring the reopening process of schools in their respective districts and provinces. While they have put together a process of inspecting the facilities and preparing for the first day back to school, they have also somehow managed to decide at the very last moment when each school should reopen. So stage one is getting over the shock that you have to be in school tomorrow, on time and on-site with 10-12 nours of notice! Stage one hurdle is the most challenging one; to get over 15 weeks of inactivity and inertia can be very challenging especially when you need to get up on the morning alarm and not just snooze it.

Stage two:extensive monitoring
Every morning when I come into the school I can see a few community members (not our staff) quietly observing the entire procedure and even taking notes. We have been advised that there might be surprise inspections to ensure we are following all safety measure. This makes everyone more safety compliant as there are legal implications for non-compliance. Also the requirement is-‘Early Detection, Early Isolation, Early Reporting and Early Treatment’. The funny thing is everyone’s monitoring everyone!

Placeholders to keep one-meter distance during temperature checks

Stage three: action series
A lot of action is required, the first action, take the nucleic acid test, second, test negative, the next set of action steps are very simple just a bit tedious: check temperature before entering the school bus; leave a seat in between while travelling in the bus; arrive at school and go through a temperature scanner; while walking and queueing for checks follow the one-meter markers on the path in order to maintain distance; sanitise hands before entering the building and after entering the classroom; do not use air conditioners; make sure rooms are well ventilated and sanitise everything in your workspace/office.

UV lights in every classroom

Stage four: inside the classroom
In the classroom, make sure no two chairs face each other, all students are separated from each other at least by a meter from all sides, accommodating a class of ten students seemed like a gigantic task. Students should not share stationery or any other types of equipment, books etc. Each room has an ultra-violet(UV) light installed in them in order to kill germs when rooms are not in use. The UV lights should not be switched on accidentally by anyone, there are enough notices to warn students but of course, the warnings sometimes excite the students to do just the thing they are asked not to do!

Cafeteria crisscross

Stage five: outside the classroom
Lunch area looks like a matrix of crisscrossing lines, students are not allowed to sit with each other or in front of each other as a result everyone is looking towards the wall and sitting behind each other in long queues. Students and staff need their temperatures checked before entering the cafeteria. Entry and exit gates are far away so if you have to go for second helping you need to exit the cafeteria and enter again, get in the queue and stand on placeholders to maintain one-meter distance. The next challenge is PE, playing sports with one-meter distance! The head of athletics has come up with creative ideas to engage students in sports in spite of so many restrictions, it is fun to watch students adapt and enjoy the new changes. Use of lockers have been restricted as it is a popular hangout for students, they are asked to keep their bags in the homeroom or common room and go back and forth in order to get their necessities; wash hands every time they go outside; gym and library spaces are no longer accessible due to fear of transmission through contaminated objects.

Stage six: information overload

The closest I have come to an emergency situation is the PPP or pandemic prevention precautions. Every stakeholder of the school has to read pages and pages of information regarding pandemic prevention. After reading all information when you arrive on campus there is more information awaiting you. Once you have digested all information you need to remember all of it. Register on a health monitoring app and update it every day, always wear a mask (of course), maintain one-meter distance from everyone, do not speak in public transportation, wash hand and maintain hygiene. A whole list of dos and don’ts and again another list of what-ifs

Virtual Teacher

Stage seven: onsite and online
With many students and teachers outside China even though we are back on-site, online teaching and learning continues, so in some classes we have the virtual teacher connecting remotely and in others we have students joining in from different parts of the world. As a teacher, I am sometimes talking and communicating with a device in the middle of a lesson also my colleagues are streaming live to join us from remote locations. It is a new experience and a great one for blended learning. Even assessments are happening parallel both onsite and online. Though I must warn teachers that students at the back of a device sometimes come up with requests like can I go to the toilet? In the middle of an exam! Teachers need to decide the purpose of an exam or even the purpose of having an online exam. Time to ponder: do we really need exams?

Stage eight: meetings
A regular school day or week is punctuated by meetings, department meetings, student council meetings, pedagogical meetings, club meetings, leadership meetings and the list goes on…
Now with the current requirement of social distancing, not facing each other in a closed space, has led to many comic situations in meetings. Meetings with colleagues sitting next door are via online platforms. Outdoor meetings, meetings with laptops connecting teachers outside China and meetings with people sitting behind you or far from you, it is the funniest experience ever, talking to peers and students a meter away with masks on. In case I forgot to mention, talking with masks on is another level of challenge as you cannot see the lip movement, hence to understand simplest verbal communication in a diverse community with people speaking in different accents is a major challenge!

Every classroom necessity

Stage nine: what happens if…
What happens if a student shows signs of being unwell in a classroom? The teacher will take the entire class in an outside open space; contact the nurse without making physical contact; allow the nurse to suit up into a full biohazard prevention suit or the hazmat suit; the nurse will then check the students if symptoms are similar to Covid19 the nurse will trigger the emergency procedure which has multiple steps; in short, the student/s with symptoms will be taken to the hospital and the rest in contact with the student/s will be isolated inside the gym for further checks. The gym has been set up as isolation space for at least a whole class of 10-15 people. But parent, guardians or family members will not have any contact with anyone in this group. Hence the biggest worry right now is if a student/s shows symptoms- a little cough or sneeze sets out panic reactions and forces the nurse to gear up in the hazmat!

Stage ten: bouncing back
Bouncing back hasn’t been easy! Nevertheless, it has been entertaining and educating. Entertaining because the new normal makes us laugh; educating because it has taught everyone the need for dealing with it together. Its like being on a trampoline, one moment you fall and the next moment you are standing up again. It still feels bouncy and unsettling to get back to school but it feels good to bounce back!

Lockdown Learning

So I was on a Zoom call with some old friends the other day, all of us in very different lines of work, and someone asked what was the most significant “new” learning that we have each experienced since the lockdown began. At the time we all answered flippantly and had a few laughs at each other’s expense, but after the call ended, I went away and thought about that question a little more critically. What I realised is that I have probably learned more personally and professionally over the past two months than I have at any point in recent memory, and as I look hard for silver linings that shine out of this lockdown experience, this absolutely has to be one of them.


Like most of us who do the same job for a few years in a row, we tend to get comfortable and confident with many aspects of the position, and ultimately feel like, “I got this”. Of course, we all get thrown once in awhile into a new experience or a new situation that expands our skillset, and helps us to grow and get better, and often times we even go seeking these experiences out on purpose, but when we get thrust into what we’ve all experienced lately, it’s a whole new ballgame. 


Recently, I haven’t gone a day without having to learn something completely new, and it feels like I’m constantly out of my comfort zone looking for ways to be successful in this new reality. I’m learning new technology platforms and skills at a staggering rate, I’m learning new and creative ways to engage my students, my community, and even my family at home, and I’m having to learn new ways to keep my balance and peace of mind and positive spirit in tact while I’m away from all that I am familiar with. I’m sure you all hear and can relate to what I’m saying, as I know this is the reality for all of us these days…it’s hard for sure, and can be deflating at times trying to keep up, but here’s the thing, I’m starting to embrace it. 


I’ve started to make a list of all the new skills that I’ve acquired since the campus closed and the lockdown began, as well as everything new that I’ve learned that has pushed me to do things differently, and when I stare down at the list it’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown as a person and as a professional. It’s empowering and energising and rewarding to see the level of resilience, and adaptability, and even confidence that has exploded out of this time in our lives, and for me at least, it has put a smile on my face. Like I said before, I’m constantly looking for a silver lining or two that will eventually come out of this difficult experience, and I think I have found an important one…we’re all growing and learning and succeeding in the face of adversity and uncertainty, and we will emerge at the end of this in many ways, better. 


Anyway, it’s a great question to ask yourselves this week, and it’s a wonderful exercise to go through. It’s even a wonderful question and exercise to pose to our students at some point, as you know that they’ve been seriously pushed out of their comfort zones as well, and their new learning has surely been profound. It’s been a tough time for families and schools and educators lately I know, and it’s about to get even more uncertain as we think about what reopening might look like in the not so distant future, so find a way to focus on the positives, and all the new lockdown learning that you’ve acquired…there is a silver lining in there somewhere I know. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors” – African Proverb


Inspiring Videos –

The Great Realisation 

SGN Potluck

Lockdown Grievances 

The Opportunity of Adversity  (An all-time favourite)

Fox in Sox