All posts by Fred Bordaguibel-Labayle

Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle is the High School Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador. Fred was born and raised in the southwest of France; he finished his studies and started teaching in the UK, then went on to Istanbul and he is currently in Quito. Fred likes to pause, reflect, and share his experience as an international educator and administrator.

Just wondering about why we do not need empathy, thank you very much.

According the Oxford dictionary, we can define empathy as « the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc ». In the same dictionary, sympathy is defined as « the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody’s problems ». This already sounds more like what we need right now. And finally, the word compassion is defined in those terms: « a strong feeling of sympathy for people or animals who are suffering and a desire to help them ». Help. There you go.

I have been reflecting quite a bit regarding how we manoeuvre through those troubled times as parents, educators, teachers, administrators, friends, colleagues, spouses, etc. Since many of us are confined in our homes, the boundaries between those roles and responsibilities are becoming blurrier than ever. Since March 13th, in Ecuador, school and life is happening at home and I am noticing a growing number of people attempting to showing empathy, sympathy and even compassion. But sometimes, the loud voices are somewhere else. Some teachers might consider that their load is more challenging now than ever, (this is absolutely accurate) and that kids and parents could or should do a bit more or differently. Some parents, however, are considering that they are doing quite a bit of extra work at home to support their children’s education (this is also absolutely accurate), and that teachers are working less than before. Some teachers might forget that many parents have to juggle with their own professional responsibilities and all the stress related to perspectives of lower revenues. Other parents do not always realise that many teachers are also parents and they are also juggling between continuing education for their students in a different environment that they may or may not be ready for and supporting their own children at home with their school learning.

In those times of doubts and where death has been knocking on so many doors around the world, we need more than empathy. We need more than understanding the feeling of others. While being empathetic might still be a challenge (see above) for a handful, we actually need to be compassionate and think about ways that we can help others. From an educator’s perspective, here are some things that we are doing at Academia Cotopaxi to support our community at home.

-we have noticed that some students have struggled a lot to attend synchronous sessions and we are making a point to set up virtual meetings with students and parents to discuss strategies to engage students more.

-we have realised that some students have legitimate issues with their internet connections at home and we work on individualised approaches to support students through those complications.

-some teachers have connected with me to tell me that Little Johnny is getting behind with their work. Even more than before, we are asking teachers, learning support and EAL specialists, to personally reach out to Little Johnny to establish a plan to move forward.

-some teachers are more comfortable than others in covering their curriculum through distance learning and our Tech team and instructional coaches are providing tech sessions on specific tools. 

-with my fellow Principals, we agreed that in the first weeks, we would not join the synchronous lessons to avoid adding pressure to an already stressful reality. But now that we are in our 4th week of distance learning, I feel that being compassionate is to also go and visit « virtual » classrooms and support teachers through the Marshall’s rubric.

-our CAS coordinators have created and shared resources to help students and parents understand that not only CAS should continue at home, but it is also the sane and healthy way to go.

-our athletic coaches are still in contact with their teams to encourage motivation and share ideas of workouts, recipes etc.

-our student council (Associated Student Body-ASB) is launching the ASB Challenges this week for students to get involved, be more active, spend less on their screens and win points for their houses. Our ASB President and Vice President are going to introduce those during our first virtual assembly. 

-our counselling team is running countless one on one connections with students to support them through those times with limited social opportunities.

The list is obviously not complete and we will continue to learn how to best support our learning community through conversations with colleagues and workshops with PTC, NEASC, ISS, AAIE etc. So, this is the challenge that COVID-19 is offering us, educators and beyond: being empathetic is not enough and we must strive for compassion and therefore grow our desire and multiply our actions to help others in a meaningful manner. And since we do this, let’s celebrate this and make this voice the louder one.

I hope that you are healthy and safe and that you can continue support others.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about concluding my hiring journey.

As I am about to embark on my last semester full of opportunities and exciting challenges here at Academia Cotopaxi, and since I went through an intense and rich process to look for a new position, I am now taking a step back to reflect on what I have learned from the fantastic educators, faculty, staff and board members, students and parents from the different school communities who took the time to chat with me throughout my hiring journey. 

Since my last job search I have developed my motto (Care, Connect, Commit) that encapsulates my philosophy quite well. This time around, I had a chance to go deeper into those three key terms and here are my thoughts at the end of this journey.

CARE

Care about student-learning

This is the bottom line, the beginning and the end. I, we want students to grow. Academically, of course, but many other skills are also important since, as I wrote once before, what we really want and need in this world is good people who can support others, act ethically, and balance their lives. And as educators, we need to encourage and model that growth to support students getting there.

Care about social emotional well-being

We all know that student learning can happen when students feel safe and supported. During my recruitment process, I particularly enjoyed talking to counsellors to discuss their pivotal role in schools. In a presentation I did for one school, I even read this extract from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead that summarises quite well what I believe in:

Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life (Brown) .

Care about teacher support

For students to feel encouraged to grow, teachers need to feel supported too. And this support needs to be differentiated. From regular classroom visits to improvement plans, from one-on-one regular meetings to targeted conversations to help gather work for some graduate research. Depending on strengths and areas of need.

As I am doing my classroom visits following Kim Marshall’s approach, I like to provide actionable feedback. How wonderful it is when a teacher invites me back to their classroom to show me the implementation of an idea that emerged from our follow-up conversation after a classroom visit. And I have also learned that to be able to do this well, I need to block my schedule with those unannounced visits and follow-up conversations so that they are part of my daily practice.

I also really enjoy when I invite a teacher to share a cool idea or strategy in a meeting for others to learn from it. « Instead of showing up to let everyone know how great we are, show up to find out how great everyone else is » (Sinek).

Care about relationships

A previous colleague used to say that « students don’t care how much you know until they know that you care ». This has been accredited to many people including Theodore Roosevelt and to American author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell. I truly believe in this statement and I  witness its accuracy everyday. Educators who do the best are the ones who establish meaningful connections with students. There is no real recipe but students quickly notice and appreciate this caring attitude from their teachers and administrators.


CONNECT

Connect to lead curriculum

I see curriculum as a big puzzle and through its intricacies it is essential to often come back to basic but strong questions:

  • What do we teach?
  • How do we teach it?
  • How do we know that students learned it?

As we all review our curriculum on a regular basis in our schools, I really enjoy using the tool and protocol that we collaboratively created at Academia Cotopaxi to assess our assessment tasks. And now teachers use this tool and protocol in departments meetings. It is fun to take part and listen to those conversations and see how teachers are committed to constantly improve their assessment.

Connect to use data

When I was appointed IB Diploma Coordinator in Istanbul, about a decade ago, I was told that using data was becoming more and more important in education. This is obviously totally accurate as using data is crucial to set goals, plan, evaluate and review learning. And using data to advise students and parents is also powerful. For instance, a student with a 230 RIT score in the Math MAP test at the end of Grade 10 may very well struggle if they choose the IB MAA HL course. But I also believe that everyone can grow with the appropriate feedback and mindset and as educators we need to manoeuvre through this to maintain high and realistic expectations.

Connect to communicate

As we know that communication is often the root of many concerns, I strive to communicate with my teams as effectively as possible, with a weekly note for teachers, another one for students and another one for High School parents. Together with ad hoc, as needed emails and WhatsApp messages to parent reps. And I attempt to communicate with the external communities through some professional platforms and this blog. What did Barry Dequanne say at one of my Principal Training Center courses? Oh, that’s right: «communicate, communicate, communicate ».

Connect to collaborate

As Diane Sweeney and Ann T. Mausbach wrote in their book Leading Student-Centered Coaching some of the strongest athletes, politicians or leaders work with coaches. Everyone needs others to continue to get better, including educators. And when I talk about collaboration with my team, I love referring to this very clever Ted Talk by Matt Ridley, When ideas have sex. While collaboration may happen randomly, I feel it as a duty to create the time and space to allow colleagues to work with one other.

COMMIT

Committed to inclusivity

Since my first day as a student teacher in a state school in the United Kingdom, I have always worked with students with a variety of learning needs and I truly believe in the need to meet students where they are in order to support their growth. Furthermore, through my different interviews and conversations in my current school, I have found myself developing this idea that I really like since it not only reinforces inclusivity and but it also brings the idea of the school/parent partnership: there is a path for everyone and we will figure it out together. And using data to find this path is useful too (see above, Connect to use data)

Committed to community building

It is crucial to build a solid school community. One important element is to pause and celebrate students’ and teachers’ achievement in assemblies and staff meetings. And baking for the team from time to time to congratulate folks is never a bad idea.

Listening is also an essential part of community building and it is the first step towards understanding and, inshallah, resolving situations.

Committed to collaborative decision-making

In one site visits, I heard a candidate say that she believes that others often have better ideas than her. Not only does that shows humility, even vulnerability as Brene Brown puts it, but this also builds a community. Bringing others in the decision-making process, either formally through meetings or surveys, or less formally through conversations, will help bring more people onboard towards a possibly new idea generated by the team. And obviously, the decision will support student learning and the school’s mission, which are the final, key criteria.

Committed to quality hiring

This is also essential. In a highly competitive market, with more and more schools, I find myself hiring earlier and earlier. I use my connections with educators around the world, I spend time to listen, ask questions, seek to understand the candidate’s qualities and the possible fit and I check references. And when I hear from a reference check « if you don’t offer, I will do very soon », like I did recently, then this is a good sign to offer a position.

These are some conclusions I can draw from this hiring season. Verbalising and writing them down feels like an important step to get better. And, as I keep saying, I am learning everyday and those ideas will continue to mature with time.
For what’s worth…

I wish you all a fantastic new year.

Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. Random House Large Print Publishing, 2019.

Ridley, Matt, director. TED. TED, www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex?language=en#t-506126.

Sinek, Simon. “Notes to Inspire.” Notes to Inspire, 16 Dec. 2019.

Sweeney, Diane, and Ann T. Mausbach. Leading Student-Centered Coaching. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2018.

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…

Just wondering about Turning the Tide

Unlike many of my colleagues, I discovered the US college admissions process as an educator and not as a student. As a French native, the process to go to university was painless back in the 90’s. You had to obtain your baccalaureate and you could go to pretty much any university, except maybe some elite schools where a little more than a baccalaureate was needed. In the UK, I discovered the process to apply to post-secondary programmes as an educator working in a state school. Some students went to university and they needed certain grades in their final exams (A levels) to attend this or that programme in this or that university. So I started feeling students’ exam-related distress and how we, as educators, had to support students through these difficult times. 

In Istanbul, I really started experiencing the US college admissions process and all its ramifications: transcripts, GPA, challenging curriculum, extra curricular activities, SAT/ACT, recommendation letters, key dates and so forth. I have always admired our students trying to do two things at the same time: continue and finish their High School education and apply to colleges. For most students, doing both is very hard as the admissions process is usually quite time-consuming. At times, I wonder what is the main focus for some students: finishing strong or getting into college. So we support our students going through this absurd dichotomy: students can be so focussed on the admission process that, at times, their studies may be put on the back burner for a while. But, at the same time, students need good grades to be accepted into college. Exposing young adults to so much contradiction and so much stress is indeed puzzling.

Back in 2016, our college counsellor talked to me about a report released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education called Turning the Tide. The report pointed out that colleges could change their admissions process by focussing on applicants’ meaningful community service and on reducing test-related stress. This report was endorsed by 50 colleges including MIT, Yale, Harvard of course and others. We felt that it was a step in the right direction and the beginning of something new. 

In March 2019 the same Harvard Graduate School of Education released Turning the Tide 2, endorsed by 159 colleges and universities. It focuses on « the critical role of high schools and parents in supporting teens in developing core ethical capacities, including a sense of responsibility for others and their communities and reducing achievement-related stress. » 

The report outlines seven main points to guide parents and seven others to support High Schools. The audience is not exactly the same but those recommendations for parents and for schools are quite similar: the words ethic and authentic, and their derivatives, are all over the report. Meaningful also comes back quite a lot. There is a lot about contributing to communities and about reducing academic stress. This focus on character building is refreshing and gives me hope at the beginning of this school year. This message aligns very nicely with what we strive for in international schools: doing meaningful community service and choosing the right track to keep a balanced life between academics, sports, social life, community contributions and so on. To me, this sounds like US colleges are rolling up their sleeves and they are telling us: « look, what we really want and need in this world is good people who can support others, act ethically, and balance their lives ». And I also applaud the reality check that the report offers us: if those students and their parents are going though the US application process, they are part of a tiny proportion of lucky ones and there are so many options out there that they will find the right one for them. So all the report reinforces our message and I can’t wait to talk about it with students and parents this year. Finally, I will end this entry by this quote from the report:

« Despite persuasive research suggesting that certain cognitive, social, and ethical capacities—including the ability to take multiple perspectives, empathy, self-awareness, gratitude, curiosity, and a sense of responsibility for one’s communities—are at the heart of both doing good and doing well in college and beyond (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Felton, 2016; Sansone & Sansone, 2010; Syvertsen, Metzger, & Wray-Lake, 2013; Taylor,] Oberle, Durlak, & Weissberg, 2017), many parents also fail to be ethical role models during the admissions process by allowing teens to mislead on applications, letting their own voice intrude in application essays, hiring expensive tutors and coaches without any sense of equity or fairness, treating their teen’s peers simply as competitors for college spots, and failing to nurture in their teen any sense of gratitude for the privilege of attending a four-year college. College admissions may well be a test for parents, but it’s not a test of status or even achievement—it’s a test of character. (Weissbourd, 2019) »

Have a great start to the year everyone and enjoy the beginning of the   year madness!

For what it’s worth…

Weissbourd, R. (2019). Turning the tide II: How parents and high schools can cultivate ethical character and reduce distress in the college admissions process.

Just wondering about my Graduation speech to wrap up the year.

As we are finishing up with our academic year, that we have students, teachers, colleagues and friends moving on to different countries, that some of us are ready to jump on a flight to go back home for some time, I have mixed feelings. But the strongest one I have is gratefulness for an awesome year. So I have decided to share my Graduation speech for the class of 2019. This class embodies everything that I believe in and I feel that thanking this class is good way to wrap up 2018-2019. Have a great summer everyone!

June 7th

Fred’s Graduation speech for the class of 2019
While I did not ask for the French National Anthem to be played at the beginning of this ceremony, and I will spare your ears and shall not sign it, I would like to bring a different perspective on graduation. Let me tell you about graduation in France and more specifically let me share the one vivid memory. (Play I will survive). This is one of the only memories that I have from when I graduated from high school. NOT the original 1978 version, come on! But this song has nothing to do with school-it is the song chosen by the French football team when they won the Fifa World Cup. I will let you figure up the year. In fact, I don’t have memories related to graduation at all, because in France, there is no graduation. Nothing. Nada. Rien. One takes their French Baccalaureate examinations, waits for the results that are graciously displayed outside the walls of the school-gates are closed. You have to imagine a gathering of Seniors, often with their parents, outside their school waiting for the results to be posted up. If you passed the Baccalaureate, kaboom! If not, people tend to lose a lot of dignity, they cry, shout and share how the world is unfair as they know that they have to repeat 12th grade. If you have a certain grade, not good, but not so bad, they give you a chance to take a few oral examinations to make up the missing points. Those oral examinations are within the next two days and students don’t have time to really prepare, but they have time to really stress out. And results for this session are given orally in front of the entire assistance: Charbonnier: passed, Dupont: failed, Durant: passed.


(Pretend phone is ringing) Wait, sorry about this. I am just going to check, you never know. Well, this is very timely. Let’s listen to this together, I believe you will like it- (listen to Garth’s voice mail)


Class of 2019: THANK you, thank YOU, and THANK YOU! What a privilege it has been to be with you. So much so that I solemnly declare that, because of all the following reasons, the class of 2019 will not graduate and stay with us for at least one more year because we just love them so much. This non-graduation ceremony is due to following reasons:

  • reason number 1: for being a class with not only a strong GPA but also solid Approaches to Learning, those skills needed to succeed in life: thinking skills, communication skills, social skills, self-management skills and research skills. This class, beyond academic grades, has them all.
  • reason number 2: through the Empower and Educate for Equality group, for the class contributions to a new contemporary, less sexist dress code and content warnings for class material. Students have been educating educators.
  • reason number 3: for changing our Thankshaving to thanksgiving, for changing a nice tradition to a meaningful, impactful school wide campaign to support people in need around us.
  • reason number 4: for an amazing Associated Student Body and beautiful, thoughtful and fun games and activities (I will always remember Jorge eating the skittle off a plate full of whipped creme). From the very first event they organized, the throwback Thursday for the class of 2018, until the very end. Lots of learning happened with ASB including the challenges of leading.
  • reason number 5: for their brilliant musical taste included but not limited to the libertines, ska-p and some great electronic music.
  • reason number 6: For their parents’ effort, spirit and collaboration with decorations of the senior area for Valentine’s Day, for the carnival celebrations and more.
  • reason number 7: for the class resilience in some of the most difficult situations young adults can go through in life.
  • reason number 8: for the smiles, the hand shakes, the good spirit that will make this class impossible to forget. Well, we won’t have to since they are not graduating yet and they will be back next year
  • reason number 9: for the pride and genuine pleasure that all of us, AC faculty and staff had with the class of 2019.
  • reason number 10: for the many dinners that we had together, virtually, when Dorian, my son, was talking about you, Jake’s jump shots, Antonio’s defence, Santi’s 3 pointers, this Basketball team made him dream; and for that, as well as encouraging him when he was playing in front of you, I thank you.
  • Well done Class of 2019! The Academia Cotopaxi High School experience is a rigorous educational experience and has prepared you well. You are equipped with the skills that you will need to be successful in a world that is changing exponentially, in a world that may not have created the professional careers that you will embrace. You are ready!

I would like to thank our AC Faculty: it is an honour to work with such professionals who support our students, everyday. You are responsible for the success of the graduates in front of you. You have spend lots of hours coaching, teaching, mentoring, giving feedback, sometimes having tough conversations. You support each High School student to be present, to do their best and to get involved. Thank you High School Faculty! I am extremely privileged to work alongside you. 
Let me also take a moment to thank families: you are here tonight with mixed feelings. It is the end of something and the beginning of something else. C’est la vie.
Let me thank Ms Monica Jacome, who has helped so much throughout the process of graduation.

Just wondering about PD booster shots

As we are planning for professional development opportunities for next year, here is one of my big take-aways. Sorry if it is too basic, but I am a firm believer that sometimes simple solutions can bring some meaningful changes. Schools spend lots of money on professional development and we constantly think of what are the best options to make the learning stick. Of course, schools may have some external requirements. For instance, IB schools have to train their Diploma teachers when the courses change. This is fair enough and schools have learned how to plan for those required costs that can represent a good chunk of their budget. But schools may also have the options to do some professional development with external consultants and with their in-house specialists. While those two ways of offering professional development represent drastic financial differences, we can note that both types need something absolutely crucial: the booster shots. When we work with consultants or in-house specialists, the one shot experience is usually not the best use of time and money. Schools who can afford it have modified their approach working with consultants for a few years now. They have internalised that flying in an external consultant for a few days to work with the learning community has limited long term learning impacts but it represents big sums of money. So, schools and consultants have developed long-term partnerships for more durable learning impacts. The financial and time commitment is usually bigger but the results are more long-lasting. Now that we have tools that allow us to connect with people everywhere in the world, the partnerships may include not only physical visits to schools but also video-conferencing, webinars and so forth.

For in-house professional development, it needs to be the same. In High School, this year, our goals are connected to three main concepts: collaboration, communication and instruction. Some of our targeted in-house professional development opportunities are about developing strategies to support our learners with specific needs and our English language learners. Of course, we started the year with professional development offered by our awesome in-house specialists, but it was crucial for us to think about ways for us to give them some more time. Some booster shots. To maintain the sense of urgency. To keep working together. To model this idea that we all learn every day. To confirm that, together, we are simply better than on our own. And, in fine, for all our learners to keep growing with our support. Therefore, this concept of booster shots is essential for all kinds of professional development and time must be allocated to do this regularly. Otherwise the good intentions and the benefits one time workshops may just get lost in the day-to-day school life.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about a life-changing encounter.

As I am flying out to a recruitment fair, I would like to share a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, when I attended my first job fair as candidate in London. I have been sitting on this story for a while and I feel that it is a good moment to share it now.

Back then, in 2004, I lived and worked in London and after four years it was time to go and discover the world a bit more. I knew very little about the international school circuit and I attended a late fair in London. It was very convenient for a first time as it was a train ride away from home. As I often say, job fairs have a very special flavour. There is actually something quite unreal about them: such a concentration of people looking for the best fit for their schools or for their lives is quite incredible. Some people love it, others don’t. I really do like this atmosphere but thirteen years ago I had no idea what I was going to experience. On my first day, the fair buzz hit me and on that first morning, after different interviews, I had three strong options. And as I was going to take a break and ring my wife to talk about the options  ahead us, I got into this elevator. An English teacher was already there and as we were going down to the hotel lobby and he looked at me and he said to me with a big smile:

“So, what do you have?”

It was probably obvious than I was very excited. Then started a conversation about international schools in the hotel lobby. He had been in the circuit for a while and he had a genuine interest to give me some hints. What an opportunity for me since I was so green! To his first question about what I had, I told him about the three schools: school A, school B and IICS in Istanbul. Right away, he told me to not jump on anything but he shared that according to him school A was not necessarily a great choice for me (he shared very detailed reasons), that school B was a good IB school, but that it could be difficult for my wife to get a job in the local French school as it was very small. And he finished by saying that IICS was a great choice, that it was also an IB school and that I would learn a lot there. In my memory, the conversation ended at that moment, I have no recollection of other discussion points and the English teacher somehow vanished. I was left with my three schools on different continents and I was just given some critical advice. The research that I did confirmed all of the English teacher’s  sayings and I signed with IICS the next day. I started as a French and Spanish teacher, learned about the MYP and DP and left after eight fantastic years with a five year experience as IB DP coordinator. That was indeed a great choice and as years go by I still thank this English teacher who gave me so valuable advice. I can’t remember his name (did we even exchange names?) or where he was from, but I remember that he was an experienced English teacher well versed in the international teaching circuit. If he is out there reading this post, then I want him to know that he changed my life after this five minute conversation. 

I have since then worked with many more colleagues who gave me fantastic advice and I am now humbly trying to support and give tips to colleagues as much as I can. I am convinced that our lives are intrinsically collaborative : for teachers and recruiters to have a good fit we need to exchange to make informed decisions that involve not only us, but our families and our communities.

For those of us going to fairs over the next couple of months, let’s not forget to re-connect with former colleagues, PTC instructors, TIE folks  etc obviously, but I encourage all of us to talk to people we don’t know. You might encounter an English teacher in an elevator who will change your life.

Wishing you all a fantastic new year. 

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering how we went from Thankshaving to Thanksgiving.

For me Thanksgiving has little meaning. Being French, Thanksgiving is not something that I have grown up with. While I studied it at school, from a civilisation point of view, it really is not something that resonates with me. However, what we experienced as a community a few weeks ago and for the second year in a row, is powerful especially when we look at what it used to be until two years ago.

Until 2016-Thankshaving

Before November 2017, thanksgiving at Academia Cotopaxi was the occasion for the whole school community to have a lovely meal together on a half day and then everyone would go home at midday. We would have a typical Thanksgiving meal at school with some turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes etc. Students, teachers, administrators, support, maintenance and security staff, we were all eating together. Administrators would serve food to the rest of the community, we were thanking one another and it was lovely indeed!

But, wait!

A team of educators starting questioning what we were doing. Eating turkey in the morning before sending people home to eat some more. So we used  some critical thinking and applied it to this community practice. Did we really need this? Did our community need to dedicate a whole morning to have a giant meal together? Were there some other communities out there who could benefit from our support during Thanksgiving time?

From 2017-thanksgiving

In 2017, a National Honor Society student shacked things around. She started working with a local organisation to support families in need in Quito and Ibarra areas and then began a whole community effort. A school wide holiday drive to collect food and toys. All donations were centralised in the different divisional offices in the school and on Thanksgiving day, in the morning, students and teachers all worked together to organise the donations for each family. According to how many family members and how many children per family we made boxes with food, toys and added holiday cards that our younger students designed.

This year, we got even bigger as we supported some Venezuelan communities and an Ecuadorian community in the Andes. Several families took part in the delivery of the food and of the toys. On Saturday, my family and I took part in the delivery about 3 hours from Quito. The local, Italian priest and Olga welcomed us in the community center and explained to us that the truck that we finished loading with food and toys the day before had not arrived due to a technical issue. However, a previous toy and food delivery from our school had arrived the week before so we were able to give every child a gift. But what was the most amazing is when the children arrived at the community center, they all came to shake our hands and they even had prepared a dance and a couple of songs for us. It was beautiful and very touching indeed.

Next steps

While Academia Cotopaxi will continue the Holiday drive for food and toys next year, I also hope that we can sustain some strong links with the communities that we are helping. That we can organise more trips like those. That we can also continue to reflect upon what we do. That we develop more meaningful service learning opportunities. 

It really feels that we have gone from Thankshaving to Thanksgiving and that is Thanksgiving that resonates with me.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about the end of the honeymoon.

The beginning of the school year has a lot to do with the end of the year. It’s mad. But the difference is that there is a certain level of excitement due to the fact that lots of things are different: new schedules, new courses, new teachers, new students, new families, new facilities. Moreover, at Academia Cotopaxi, we run our Week without Wallsprogramme and our Senior Retreat in the second week of school. Lots of novelty or at least many ingredients that give to the beginning of the year this distinct flavour and this keeps everyone on their toes. Also, academically, students rarely get a lot of summative tasks, so things remain quiet. I like to refer to this period as the honeymoon. But it is coming to an end. Now, Back to School night is over. Now, I did my first formal, weekly grade check with written follow-up to students and parents. Now, I have received the first applications for students who are planning to retake summative assessments. Now, our lunchtimes are busy with college visits. Now, I am dealing with the first discipline issues.  Now, this is all becoming more real, so we need to start that next chapter and be ready for it.

While everyone is still perfecting their goals for the year, I learned from last year that I need to get in classrooms as much as possible, as early as possible. First of all, I feel that staying in the office may give this impression, not always true, that I am not available. We also know that we could spend an entire day locked inside, in front of our screens dealing with electronic communication. Not exactly why I am doing this job. But it is also evident that our schedules can build up quickly with a variety of imperatives. So, I asked my awesome secretary to carve some time out and block my calendar with thirty-minute slots for mini-observations. By doing this, it actively reminds me to go out and spend some quality time in class. And every time I do this, I feel so refreshed and pumped up. Observing and then talking to teachers about student learning and about their craft is what really makes sense. Not only am I learning a lot (probably a cliché but so true) but isn’t it rewarding to have a teacher who wants you back in their class to show you how they acted on the post-observation conversation? On top of all the other pieces that announce the end of the honeymoon, this is my favourite one because I feel this is the best way for me to feel prepared for the next chapter. I hope everyone had a great honeymoon and that you will all enjoy that next chapter.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about this sixteenth year

Alright, this is September 2002 and I am starting teaching French at Cheam High School, Surrey, London, UK. I am green, eager and feel not ready, I come back home very late but I keep trying new things every day. Young, creative and overwhelmed. Sixteen years later, a few schools and job descriptions later, I was about to start a new school year with similar, mixed impressions. First year as High School Principal. Committed to make a difference and constantly wondering if I was ready. At least I have felt like this until now. Throughout the first couple of weeks, a big change has been happening thanks to the following:
Connecting with new teachers 
While picking up new teachers at the airport, sharing a pizza dinner with them, chatting away and running a first interview with one of them, the first weeks have built up my confidence. It is fantastic to connect with new faculty and talk about their background, their hobbies and their families. Also, I feel privileged to be working with them: they are experienced, experts in their fields and many of them speak Spanish, which will help them tremendously.
Orientation weeks
Planning for the orientation sessions for new and returning faculty has been pumping me up. As I am trying the balance out the heavy content with nuts and bolts and protocol-based activities, I am putting myself in the shoes of the teacher I was yesterday and I am planning to share the essential. Of course, there is always quite a lot but  I am planning my sessions in the way I was planning my lessons. Keeping a balance, making people move, having fun, reflecting and learning.
Communicating new things
Well, in fact, the best is not to share too many new things and hopefully they were discussed at the end of the previous year. Surprises can be overwhelming for teachers who are thinking of teaching their students. I remember Steve Druggan, one of my PTC course facilitators and Head of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Philadelphia, who told us that during orientation there is always someone that comes and says: “I only need five minutes with your team”. His suggested response was: “no you don’t!”. So true and powerful. We know it so well. Teachers are eager to be in their rooms, get their first lessons organised and set everything up. But we all know that this balance is hard to find and I should get better with time. Also, I will be able review teacher’s feedback at the end of the orientation weeks to make some improvements for next year.
Setting the tone
At the end of last year, the idea of having some High School pillars that would drive the whole year slowly developed into those:
Be present                                        Do your best                                  Get involved
Those are linked to our school mission and will frame our High School experience. The main idea is that success at High School is not rocket science:
-students have to come to school and be mentally present in class.
-students must be committed to do their best, all the time.
-students have to find ways to get involved in the school community and other communities through service learning, arts, sports, student council etc.
Furthermore, when I was interviewed for the position, I organised my vision around my three C’s:
Care                                                   Connect                                           Commit
As an educator those three C’s are crucial to me and not just an interview strategy. So, I am planning to link my three C’s to the High School Pillars and share those links to the High School faculty.
Finally, I am currently developing the High School goals that not only will be connected to the School Strategic Plan but also to the High School pillars and my three C’s. Those High School goals will be around:
Communication                              Instruction                                     Collaboration
Back to reality
I feel fortunate to work with a fantastic High School Admin team and together we have been working on new students’ schedules, the High School calendar, our Week Without Wall coming up very soon, reorganising and renaming the new senior area, hiring a learning support assistant, and more. The one thing that is a great lesson to me is the following: before the summer, we had some small scheduling conflicts for some students. It is just amazing how we can solve those issues after the summer break. Looking at the scheduling board with a fresh mind and some solutions come straight at you.
Those are my thoughts for the beginning of the year. I know that for some of you, school has already started, for others it will start in a few weeks. Regardless, I wish everyone a great new school year-let’s dive in!
For what it’s worth…