MATTHEW PIERCY is a middle school social studies teacher at International School Bangkok. His experiences in the classroom include every grade from 3rd to 11th. He also enjoyed a stint as an instructional coach. Prior to living in Thailand, Matthew worked in international and boarding schools for over twenty years. Tunisia, Ecuador, Hungary, Hawaii, along with the states of Colorado and Georgia all at some point were called “home.” Matthew also enjoys leading summer expeditions for National Geographic, to destinations like Iceland and Cambodia. A diverse pathway in life has led to Matthew’s passion for global mindedness and he constantly is searching for ways to enhance learning, meaning, and transference. His blog explores interconnection and purpose.
A hybrid is something made by combining two different elements. My earliest understanding was that of the mule, the result of crossing a horse and a donkey. In the field of education, hybrid learning is best defined as some students participate in person, whereas others are online. Educators teaching virtual and in-person learners at the same time.
Though often used interchangeably, hybrid models are not the same as blended learning. Blended learning is resultant when educators combine in-person instruction with online learning activities, completing some components online and others in person. A hardly foreign approach in technology-rich schools.
In an article authored by Celisa Steele titled, “Hybrid vs Blended Learning: The Difference and Why It Matters,” further distinction is made. “Both types of learning involve a mix of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in the two scenarios. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different individuals. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in person and online.”
The pandemic ushered in a necessity for renewed flexibility and inversely spurred creativity to strategically design schedules to accommodate all learners wherever they may be, at whatever time. The terms synchronous and asynchronous more than mere buzzwords, were essential to take into account.
Amidst a background of more questions than answers, scheduling becomes anything but dichotomous. Dr. John Spencer illustrates five different models for structuring hybrid learning.
Differentiation Model: students at home and in-person engage synchronously on the same lesson. The two groups frequently interact with one another.
Multi-track Model: students work on the same lessons but they are divided into cohorts that exist in separate tracks. The cohorts rarely interact.
Split A/B Model: students alternate days between being at-home and being in-person. Most at-home learning is asynchronous with a few opportunities for video conferencing.
Virtual Accommodation Model: When the group at home is small (3-4 students) they can function as a virtual small group but use video chat to join the in-person classroom.
Independent Project Model: When a face-to-face lesson doesn’t work off-line and only 1-4 students need to work virtually, an independent model works best.
Spencer recognizes how every model has strengths and weaknesses. Further he comments, “As educators, we need to be strategic about which model we select based on the needs of our students.” Furthermore, Spencer attests to the importance of being intentional if hybrid learning is to work. A one-size fits all approach could not be justifiable, equally choices must be made instead of kidding ourselves that every model might be implemented with success.
Various Hybrid and Blended Models Mixed to Make a Jambalaya
Currently, we find ourselves ushering in a sort of Wild West. If nothing else, a spirit of innovation prevails and we must remain optimistic; to at least give things a try. Yet, upon first or even second glance, some ingenious scheduling options, might leave an educator wondering about their skill set and abilities to nimbly bounce between different modalities; designing lessons and supporting learners in-person, while at the same time virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously. A reality where some schedules may be a combination of hybrid and blended models. Possibly three of Spencer’s models, and an overlooked delineation of the difference between hybrid and blended learning. In effect, models proposing eighty minute lessons with a combination of physically distanced learners in-person and virtual synchronous but also asynchronous learners; cohorts on A/B days; and sixty minute entirely virtual synchronous and asynchronous lessons. One may tire reading about such a schedule, so the exhaustion in implementation is unimaginable. Further, some families may be weary of sending their child to school, resulting in some learners always virtual in real-time, whereas others remain in different time zones and always asynchronous. And to spare a bit more confusion in schedule design, we will not examine what it might mean when educators similarly do not feel safe to return to in-person instruction and remain entirely virtual.
Amidst the jambalaya, some educators as well as families may question the very nature of a school and its identity, especially if a variety of hybrid and blended models overlap. The motivation is apparent, complex scheduling for the sake of providing access to all learners. Though a noble hill to die upon, an analogy of diversification may not be so far-fetched. Would Nike ever expand to brand potato chips?
There is legitimacy in questioning, “Who are we?” Especially so, as educators tethered to the values of excellency constantly dedicate themselves to honing their craft. Some may be filled with intimidation, wondering if in our attempt to be everywhere, at all times, for everyone; might we be spread thin? The result is one of mediocrity, where some learners are served, in some places, some of the time?”
Time will only tell.
As we embark on what appears unchartered waters, a spirit of voyage hopefully seeps into our being. A focus on the potential and not the peril. One of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Ernest Shackleton attested to the “need to put footprint of courage into stirrup of patience.”
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~Epicurus
It was the first day of a new school year. At lunchtime a message appeared in my inbox with the subject line, “Where will you be teaching in 2022?” It would be errant to claim this to be the first wind I caught of peering into and “preparing” for the future. Days prior, colleagues shared how they already registered with international recruitment agencies. A part of me was left reeling, falling perfectly into the “trap” of the subject line. Wondering where might I be in a year’s time. Try as I might, I wrestled with reality, asking, “Was it really already time to begin thinking about recruitment?”
Regardless of the answer, any answer, I instead firmly plant myself in the present. Teachers and administrators who have had “skin in the international game” for years may have the a priori belief that it never is too early to begin thinking about next year. However, my experience in observing and listening to international educators for more than two decades, showcased how sometimes there was a sort of psychology of transition. One that confirmed the necessity to be in the moment.
Like it was yesterday, I can remember how my first two years played out teaching overseas. The initial few months seamlessly fit with what is often called the honeymoon stage. The newness exciting to the cohort of teachers I entered alongside. Differences such as conceptions of time, piqued our curiosity and were seen positively as stimulants. Later it would be these very items that would be irritants. We would settling in by winter break, still intrigued by cultural nuances and dedicated time to learn the language of the host nation. Friendships would continue to deepen. The first year was equal parts whirlwind and respite. Life being lived in the present moment.
Recruitment those days seemingly kicked into gear much later and so the start of year two was a continuation of positivity. But, by March the second year some teachers in the cohort made the decision to move on. Seemingly overnight, there was a shift in mindset. Certain friends became mere colleagues, ones I found myself no longer really wanting to even share conversation. Lightheartedness, laughter, and appreciation for any differences in culture were substituted for mockery and scorn.
I wanted no part.
It wasn’t until my second international post that I would be permitted a clearer window into what possibly was happening. Again, a similar trajectory of experience played out. From awe to contentment and then to frustration and even disdain. Were there forces at play? I was not sure. But what I did recognize as truth was how there appeared to be a sort of uncanny coping mechanism, where individuals unconsciously deceived themselves. As if darkness needed to exist to know light. Yet, it went beyond the paradoxical. Little was in flux but the individual themselves. The country was by and large the same. The inhabitants, students, and school too. Yet, ostensibly all that was celebrated the first year and a half, now was spoiled.
The aspirations of the “next place,” and far greener grass left some colleagues living in what might best be called purgatory. Arguably they were living in two places. Or possibly in no place at all. What was certain was they no longer were fully present and appeared stuck. Of course this was and is not the case for all people in transition. However, with each move I have witnessed a similar occurrence for some.
And here we are. Living in times where recruitment is no longer pegged to the seasons. This is fitting as a result of the ubiquitous nature of so much in life, as we grow increasingly connected. Teachers for hire anytime, anywhere. A truly globalized world. Kind of like feasting on asparagus in Iceland in December. Time and place no longer barriers. In the case of education; LinkedIn, Zoom and all the other platforms serve to displace the traditional recruitment fairs. Regardless, the subject line, “Where will you be in 2022” brought into focus for me, how there is a layering of beginnings. Beginning a new school year, while already considering a beginning somewhere else. Simply becoming more aware of this, brought more contentment. Yet, this “layering” does come with some risk.
The risk of living for today.
What if instead of getting caught up in where we might be in 2022, we dedicated ourselves to doing as Will Richardson suggests? “What if we committed to radical love, of one another and of the planet? It’s clear, I think, that anything less will prevent us from solving the problems we face. That and, of course, going out and jogging or walking or biking a few miles each week, turning off the narratives of strife and gloom, taking in the beauty that’s right in front of us, and honoring this current moment for all of its wonder and grace.”
Where will I be in 2022?
Hopefully still feeling grateful for my life, just like today.
Names to remember but moreover examples for our students to follow.
Qatar, United States, New Zealand, Italy, and Belarus. The athletes represent five different countries and five different events. Each individually could be envisaged as one of five olympic rings. Their stories, like the rings, intertwined and embodying hope. A heroism that supersedes athleticism, for they are harbingers of the dawning of a more humane future.
In 2012, the motto of the London Olympics was “Inspire a Generation.” In 2016 in Rio it was “A New World.” How befitting that this year in Tokyo the motto was “United by Emotion.” Originating in ancient Greece as many as 3,000 years ago, the games have not lost significance socially or culturally. Yet, there was a hiatus in the Olympics in 393AD under the reign of Emperor Theodosius as the ancient pagan Olympiad system was disbanded. Not until 1896 were they revived.
According to the International Olympic Committee, “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind… Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” A lofty goal if we think back to the original games where all all athletes competed naked and corporal punishment awaited those “guilty” of even a false start on the track. This summer 200 nations convened in Tokyo for the XXXII Olympics, competing in 339 events, or 33 sports, over the course of 16-days. Much more than victory or failure, the Olympics are unable to be distilled to a single element. They are a spirit. One in which may bear witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Generosity and Sharing Joy
Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi set an example of what is possible when we set ourselves aside, our maniacal egos, and consider that winning does not necessarily indicate someone must lose. The high-jumping duo have a history of competition but more importantly friendship. Each has battled hardships in their career and received support from the other. So, after both successfully cleared the 2.37m mark, a “marathon” two-hour attempt to outdo the other ensued. Until finally, an Olympic official offered them a jump off to see who would prevail. Time seemed to slow as Barshim questioned, “Can we have two golds?” Almost in perfect unison with the response, “It is possible,” Tamberi leapt into the arms of Barshim. Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics described how Tamberi then tore off on a hop and a skip across the track, before finishing up in a pile on the floor in floods of tears. The headlines would read, “High jumpers sharing gold medal dubbed ‘the greatest moment in Olympic history.” Watching the video leaves the viewer with warm feelings of just what is possible.
Biles Overcomes with Persistence
Simon Biles is so successful in gymnastics that we may even lose count of her eight National Championships, five World Championships, and 2016 Olympic All-Around Gold Medal. Yet, she is much more than her accomplishments. There may be apparent levity in the word “twisties.” Kind of like what you might think when you hear the words “twinkies” or “slinky.” Yet, the twisties are serious. When Biles’ 2016 Olympic teammate Laurie Hernandez was asked to explain them, she said “ twisties can set in when doing high level elements, typically on floor or vault, and it becomes difficult to compartmentalise the exact element a gymnast’s body is attempting. The rhythm is off, and your brain will like stutter step for half a second and that’s enough to throw off the whole skill.” So, for Biles to report having the twisties while on the world’s greatest athletic stage, without the comfort of falling into a foam pit, creates more than a sense of uneasiness. It was understandable how she would take herself out of four of the five individual events she qualified for. Yet, she could not be psyched out of the balance beam. Her courage to perform along with her extraordinary skill would result in winning the bronze. Biles shared, “It (the bronze) means more than all of the golds because I pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here.”
One Small Lift for a Woman, One Giant Leap for Humanity
It is a lot to snatch 133kg, a movement that requires pushing the weight overhead. Laurel Hubbard set the Oceania record in 202 for doing just this. Yet, what she has achieved usurps gravity. The focus of intense scrutiny, the 43-year-old never sought attention for being the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics. The last time she even gave a major interview was in 2017. Yet, who could deny the journey taken to arrive at the XXXII Olympiad.
Born Gavin Hubbard in 1978, she stopped weightlifting in 2001 due to personal issues. In 2012 she began the transition as a transgender woman. Then in 2015 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cleared the way for transgender athletes to compete in the Olympic women’s events. However, “the way” was not cleared completely in society. And still is not. Headlines reflect this; “Gender-Confused Male Athlete Takes Gold Medals in Women’s Weightlifting.” Yet, in a brief statement issued through the IOC, Hubbard remarked, “I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”Admitting that she was “overwhelmed,” Hubbard’s just showing up was a victory. D’Arcy Maine of ESPN recounted how as she made her way to the 120 kg weight in her first lift attempt someone in the crowd yelled, “Go, Laurel!” And another, “You got this, Laurel!” Unable to complete the first three lifts, Hubbard recognized the moment was much larger than herself. The contentiousness and debate leading all the way up to the event, were pleasantly replaced by what Maine reported as, “just applause and cheers inside the venue — and an audible buzz that has been nearly impossible to find elsewhere during these fanless Olympic Games.”
The Courage to Speak Up
Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was scheduled by team officials for the women’s 4×400-meter relay. She had never competed in the event before. Tsimanouskaya posted criticism on social media for how the team was being managed, “with negligence.” Tsimanouskaya would not complete the event. Instead she would be told to pack her bags. Further, that she would face punishment.
Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” was banned by the IOC from attending the Tokyo games. IOC president Thomas Bach said, “we have come to the conclusion that it appears that the current leadership has not appropriately protected the Belarussian athletes from political discrimination.” However, not only athletes. In May a prominent blogger critical of Lukashenko was on a flight that was diverted, forced to land, arrested, and jailed. But even more recently, one week after Tsimanouskaya’s Instagram post, an activist by the name of Vitaly Shishov was found hanged in a park in Kiev.
The threat was real.
Instead of boarding the plane back to Belarus, Tsimanouskaya was provided police protection. According to the Economist, “The next day, Poland granted her and her family asylum. She claims that the call to send her back came not from the sports ministry but from “a higher level”.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken summed it up best by, “denouncing Belarusian officials’ attempt to force Tsimanouskaya to return to Belarus for exercising free speech as ‘another act of transnational repression.’” Blinken would then ironically utilize a social media platform to express his views. Much like Tsimanouskaya did. “Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated.”
Roses Also Have Some Thorns
Vitalina Batsarashkina’s gold medal in the women’s 10 metre air pistol, an event I did not know even existed, triggered even more learning. What country was ROC? After being lost in a rabbit hole of sorts, I came out with one big understanding. There was a gaping loophole. ROC stands for Russian Olympic Committee, a team of 333 Russian athletes. Though banned as a country, Russian athletes still were able to compete in Tokyo. Just not under the name, flag, or anthem of Russia. However, the country’s colors for uniforms were permissible. “You don’t really need to have a strong imagination. In those uniforms that you saw, our national flag can be seen really really obviously,” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said.
ROC came about because in 2019, Russia was banned from international competition for four years. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President Witold Banka released in a statement, “The panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme.” The use of banned athletic performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids. The New York Times called it “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.” Even an Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus, of the doping scandal hit Netflix. Yet, even after the facts were revealed and the verdict conclusive, the Court of Arbitration for Sport would later reduce the penalty to just two years. Furthermore, they would plant the seeds for ROC, allowing Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag if they proved they had no link to the doping scheme.
Zooming out, what did this add to the rancor of many athletes? Lily King, gold medal and world record breaststroke swimmer, was quoted as saying, “I’m sure there were a lot of people competing this week from certain countries who probably shouldn’t have been here.” Certain countries? Hint. Hint. Cough. Cough. No prominent Russian swimmers were left home from the Games and Ryan Murphy, silver medalist in the 200 backstroke, did not mince words after coming in second. “At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming. That is what it is.” Again, a bit of an implication as the gold went to a swimmer from none other than, team ROC. An abbreviated version of a tweet on ROC’s page rebutted, “…Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive us those who are weaker. God is their judge. And for us – an assistant.”
An Explanation that Empowers
Some may say Tokyo 2020 (or is it 2021?) was a flop. That the pandemic wreaked havoc on the games. The spectator less event a nadir to the sporting world and that even the host country could not get behind the Olympiad. Yet, all over the walls and in the cracks is evidence of success. The sharing of a gold medal, overcoming fear and pressure, courage and the freedom of speech, and inclusivity. Each of these in addition to the spirit of the Olympics, mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Ubiquitous is whatever we look for, stories of encouragement or burden. Hopefully, the heroism and humanity of Barshim, Biles, Hubbard, Tamberi, and Tsimanouskaya is what we will choose to remember.
Technologies continue to outpace us. As a society we are often unable to keep up. Take for example the task of explaining the differences between cryptocurrency, blockchain, and a ledger? We may have heard of each but do we understand them well enough to teach? Or, on an even deeper level, are we able to comprehend the implications they likely will have not just in the financial world but also into education?
With 7,800 cryptocurrencies currently in existence, it is difficult to imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out they have all just disappeared Further, their establishing more than a foothold is evident in headlines such as Forbes March 31, 2021, “Goldman Sachs To Become Second Big Bank Offering Bitcoin To Wealthy Clients.” The ubiquity of crypto is becoming more and more apparent. Currently there are 38,460 Bitcoin ATMs in the United States. Or, on an even more prosaic level, the subject of an email I received from a local coffee company here in Thailand read, “NEW ROAST COFFEE BLENDS & SAVE 50% WITH CRYPTO PAYMENTS.”
A great deal of my learning about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the ledger resulted from listening to my nephew’s high school capstone project three years ago. I was quick to realize how much I did not know and have since, paddled hard to stay afloat in the current of change. True to what Sir Wiliam Haley suggested would be a much more effective education. “…if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”
It makes sense to define each before considering how they may serve education as an institution. First though, more important than crypto being a derivative of the ancient Greek κρυπτός (krúptō) which means, ‘I conceal,’is the linchpin or what it all really comes down to. In a word, de-centralization. Think internet. Or, another illustration might be, how workplaces and classrooms were forced to “flatten” during the pandemic. Everyone suddenly has more stake and more voice, working together instead of the more traditional top-down passive and reverence for power approach.
This explanation is contrary to a quote from the creator of Bitcoin. Using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto he quipped, “If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.”
Cryptocurrency: a form of digital money, called this because the consensus-keeping process is secured by strong cryptography. The “secret writing” is secured by math, instead of people, governments, or trusts. Like the example of coffee above, you can pay for items (or NFTs, as shared in an earlier post) electronically, similar to how you might with any other currency. Recently after Amazon posted how they were recruiting for a ‘Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead,’ much speculation followed regarding the company beginning to accept cryptocurrency. Also of prominence are recent reports of how some countries are adopting cryptocurrencies as national currency. “A step too far,” according to a recent IMF report. But, what are some of the “pulls” of moving in the direction of cryptocurrencies? As international teachers we either have first hand experience or peripheral knowledge of these two examples:
Wire transferring could be likened to travelers’ cheques in its being outdated. Wire transfers can take more than a few hours or sometimes even days. Plus the added cost. Currently, transfer fees from my bank in Thailand to the United States is more than USD $30. In the case of cryptocurrency, banks/brokers are not able to take “their cut.”
Financial inequality continues to grow globally. An outdated McKinsey & Company article titled, “Counting the world’s unbanked,” cites how 2.2 billion unbanked or underbanked adults live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. They do not have access to financial services.
Blockchain: According to Dummies, where complex concepts are made easy to understand, blockchains are distributed databases where groups of individuals control, store, and share information. This is done in blocks. The blocks are then linked, or chained, using cryptography. What makes this especially powerful is that any change is time stamped and visible to all. Ultimately this assures transparency but also authenticity.
Ledger: In business, ledgers are written or computerized records of completed transactions. In error, many people use “blockchain” and “ledger” interchangeably. One big difference is the distributed ledger is free from blocks or chains. Furthermore, blockchain data is publicly available in the form of a public key, along with a digital wallet address. This means no permission is necessary and anyone can view transaction histories and participate in a blockchain operation. Whereas, the distributed ledger requires permission to complete a transaction.
All tech talk aside, why ultimately should we care?
Past, Present, and Beyond
It is difficult for students today to comprehend the world many teachers grew up in. B.G (Before Google). Or, actually pre-Smartphones and even the Internet! “What, there was life before the Internet?” Equally I remember dreaming as a child, of a phone I might be able to see my aunt and uncle on, though the idea of portability and carrying the phone in my pocket evaded my imagination. Yet now, as fast and far as we have come, we seemingly accept the digitized world as commonplace. So too, will be the future of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and ledgers. In 10, 20, or 50 years it may be similar to the internet and it will be impossible to imagine a world without them.
We need not look far to recognize diminishing trust in institutions and governments. School as we traditionally have known it as well. Centralization is flailing. Best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin shared in a blog post, “Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.” In its place is what is being called, the shared economy. Peer-to-peer connections as evidenced through the use of Airbnb or Uber are examples of a cultural shift towards decentralization. A similar decentralization in how information and currency is stored and also shared. A movement that is expected to only get bigger in the coming years and appears here to stay.
Implications on Education
Currently there is no system for reliably recording a person’s educational achievement. In our accelerated world, alternatives to the traditional ways of education are likely to continue to bloom. Credentialing is quickly becoming the norm. One million, or to be exact, 967,734. That is how many unique credentials are in the U.S. alone. The beauty of this increase in degrees, certificates, and badges is that there are more options. Yet, according to Credential Engine,“There has never been an efficient system to collect, search, and compare credentials in a way that keeps pace with the speed of change in the 21st century and is universally understood.” Blockchain technology is an efficient and consistent way to keep track of a person’s entire educational history and is likely to be of increasing importance.
American Council on Education to lead the Education Blockchain Initiative (EBI) was launched in 2020 in effort to re-think our educational system and how to utilize technologies like the distributed ledger. For example, Blockchain protects against falsified credentials but also allows students to be in control of their own transcripts. One well-known university’s registrar outlined the process for a student to obtain their transcript as: “Between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. place your request at Registrar Services, first floor lobby. The transcript fee is $10.00 per copy for processing within three (3) business days.” To think a busy college student or graduate would have a thirty minute window to make a request and have to wait three days is archaic to say the least. EBI continues to evaluate ways that blockchain might improve the flow of data but also empower the individual. So transcripts are not under a lock and key or on a high hill. This flow seeks to decentralize information so communication is within and across institutions and into the workplace.
In the Midst a Shifting Culture
Nearly four years ago Tom Van der Ark of Getting Smart reported how Scott Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium. “The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.” In programs such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium a motivating force is students being empowered to drive their own authentic learning. This is purposeful for students but also to universities and employers. Manoj Kutty, CEO and founder of Greenlight Credentials remarked, “The big future opportunity is a marketplace where universities can search for applicants by category and credential and invite them to apply (or even offer acceptance based on verified credentials).” In an interview with Van der Ark, Kutty asserted, “In 20 years, students won’t be applying to colleges; colleges will be recruiting students.” However, we need not look into the future to comprehend the cultural shift clearly underway, as employers are becoming more interested in the trusted and verifiable skills a person possesses. At one of the most sought after job places in the world, Google, ‘college degree’ has no place in its official guide for hiring employees.
Decentralization will continue to gain traction. As freedom, transparency, transference, and a person’s competencies are valued more, Blockchain and similar technologies will be as vowels are to the alphabet. We are in the nascence of a new “language.” Blockchain is clearly a catalyst of change and already we are in the midst of a significant shift.
As the world attempts to reinstate “normalcy,” there are clearly different baselines or targets amongst countries. For the United States, Costco in the news provides but one example. Just before the start of summer, their plans included “beginning a phased return to full sampling,” after 14 long months without offering shoppers microwaved mini tacos for nourishment? Society definitely needs nourishment, though I’m not sure mini-tacos will do. Or, what about Lollapalooza, a three-day music event that drew 300,000 people in 2015, returning to Chicago from July 29 to August 1? Regardless of what is happening or is planned to happen, I have felt maybe more than ever before, a near mandate to reflect on where we have been.
As an educator, a sort of responsibility has enshrouded me. To do due diligence and attempt to make sense, as best I can, of the past school year. To draw out as much learning as possible from the many lessons the pandemic offered, or “forced” depending on how you might see things. Three immediate if not glaring points stood out: Change, flexibility, and rebirth. In this, humanity is in the midst of a quasi-phoenix moment; a rising from the “ashes.” As exciting as the past year was tiring, for some reason, reflecting as thoroughly as I may have liked, continued to be put off. Not one to procrastinate, this baffled me.
Then the other dayI happened upon a tweet. A teacher tiraded how educators should be left alone, nothing more expected, this is OUR summer and we have done enough to get through the past year. I understand this sentiment as for many, the past 18+ months maybe have felt like being held underwater and summer finally is a time to come to the surface. To breathe. The myriad of unforeseen and often uncompromising situations the force that held us under. Still, I harken back to an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “You Make a Difference~The Value of Summer Reflection.” Here I outlined the pivotal role of reflection and realigning ourselves to our purpose. Summer, the essential pause. Yet, also a time to reflect.
The day summer school teaching finished and summer “officially” began, I received an e-mail from a former student from another school. The message began, “Hey! Jennifer got stabbed in the leg by Wendell at the end of March which complicated the year..” Immediately, I was issued two parts opportunity to lend a consulatory response and one part the ability to gain greater perspective. The timing seemingly perfect, as I still had not done an “honest” job of reflecting on the 2020-21 academic year. I desperately wanted get to the bottom of the question, “What was that all about? Another year of jostling between on-line and in-person learning.”
And so here I am. There is a ripeness to the moment where the catalyst is space more than time.
Caught Up In The COVID Storm
Before the academic year came to a close, I did not entirely skip reflecting. Oddly enough, it was something I asked students to do and also something I did with a colleague. Just not alone and to a depth that would appease. In a final meeting over Zoom, a teaching partner and I met. We attempted to simultaneously add our thoughts to a straightforward end-of-year reflection template that looked like this:
Biggest success this year:
Biggest challenge this year:
Strengths data shows:
Areas of growth to focus on:
One thing I learned this year:
One thing I want to learn next year:
One change for next year:
One goal for next year:
Surprisingly, at least for me, was how off the cuff nothing immediately emerged as a goal for next year. This was the dawning moment of how I was both exhausted but also how I had been caught up in the COVID storm. My vision not quite 20/20. Ultimately I had not fully come to grips with the reality of the pandemic and one of the greatest lessons I learned. “The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” To remain flexible, adapt, and be forgiving.
Over the years, I felt feedback received from students is a gift. A window into their reality. A term I am coining here is “meta-reflection,” building off metacognition and thinking about thinking. Might we reflect on student reflections? It may even connect well with a strategy many educators may employ with students. Harvard Zero Thinking Strategy, “I used to think but now I think.” One question asked on the student reflection that led to more in-depth analysis was, “What are a few things in social studies class that I did to help you to learn?” A prevailing theme was evident, allowing for my own “I used to think but now I think.” I used to think I was limited in doing meaningful project-based learning because of an overabundance of standards, but now I know that more wisely designed curriculum implementation is possible. This I was able to deduce, as patterns emerged in student comments attesting to how they were reinvigorated in learning as a result of agency, authenticity, and purpose.
The student reflections led also to a more philosophical goal. To continually remind myself to be the teacher one student envisions me to be, “You taught us in a way where you knew we would understand. You put yourself in our shoes and every day it felt like it was a brand new day for every student to do better and have fun.” Comments are not all so glowing and when we model honesty in the feedback we provide students and invite students to do the same when giving us feedback, there is a necessity to embrace vulnerability. One student maturely commented in a way which resulted in pushing me to think more about a check-in routine I was using. Her points not only honest but absolutely valid, leading to my immediate plan to discontinue the routine..
As a learning community, giving and receiving feedback is a skill we routinely practice throughout the year. In reading student end-of-year reflections I can say with confidence how students in 2020-21 stands out for their high degree of insightfulness and graciousness. One individual’s honest yet humorous response is sure to not to be forgotten. The fill-in-the-bank question asked, “If I were a middle school social studies teacher I would _________________.” A common response for example attested to the role of collaboration. For example, “make more projects where students get to work together.” The particular student’s memorable response was but one word. “Quit!” Ironically he is also the son of two teachers.
A few years ago Rhonda Scharf was credited with posting on Facebook the following thought, “Teachers are not ‘off for the summer,’ they are ‘in recovery.’” And if I can add, “in reflection mode.”
Teaching internationally sometimes is like being inside a cocoon. School days typically in English. The comforts, routines, and rhythms in our new “homes” are similar; often little difference whether in Cairo, Shanghai, or Rio de Janeiro. Of course architecturally they may differ, yet our lives therein, not so changed. In most cases, it would be a long shot to claim it is a hardship to teach in accredited international schools. So comfortable, we may even have to go out of the way to feel vulnerable. Still, the fact remains that always outside the doors of home or school is “the different.” Or more apt, the reflection that we are the “outsider.” This possibly is the motivation behind our being abroad.
And we are lucky for this chance.
The fact being, we made the choice. We also have the option of how far we might “dive into” the host culture. Fathoms deep, we may break the surface, challenging ourselves to begin learning the language. Yet, regardless we will remain “the outsider.” A feeling sometimes that could even be distressing.
Yet, we are lucky for this chance (refrain).
For the Times, They Are a Changing
How many people truly have the choice to navigate into and out of a dominant culture? Few I would argue. Instead, so many are without this privilege. They simply nod their head, stand in line, and follow antiquated systems of organization and inequity. Forced to play by what some may call, “the rules of the game.”
Singer Bob Dylan probably said it best,
And the present now will soon be the past
The order is rapidly fading
The first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a changing
The times are definitely changing. So too are the “rules.”
International School Leadership Holds a Mirror Up to Themselves
Mind you this is pre-pandemic and more than a year before the murder of George Floyd. Even earlier, in 2017 The Diversity Collaborative was established, in effort to commit to creating and sustaining a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just international school community through our focus on leadership.
In an often myopic world bent on entropy, it is refreshing to have such good news.
According to McKinsey & Co, companies spend $8 billion a year on diversity training. Yet, this is just a start. Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific’s global chief diversity officer says it best. “Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.”
And isn’t this paradox seemingly woven into the fabric of 21st century life? Always connected but more disconnected than ever; an increasingly socially isolated world. The belonging Gilmore speaks of is almost tribal, a systemic need. It remains even more paramount when power structures are left unchecked; fraternal in their decisions of who allowed in the “room where it happens.” Or, who ultimately belongs.
But, as we have heard, “The times are a changing.”
In the school where I teach, a recent DEIJ statement was crafted to be used on the school’s website, admissions application, handbooks, etc. One part specifically attests to the importance of belongingness.
“Our community is actively engaged in reflection and action planning to ensure that our school is creating and maintaining an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong and where our students leave with the attitudes, values, and tools they need to enrich the world.”
The data from the 2019 survey helped form a baseline for The Diversity Collaborative’s work. This year another survey was launched (closing on May 30th) and is more detailed, requiring respondents to dig deeper into the roles of their leadership teams. The initial question is a declaration of the region of the school. Following this, nationality and race/ethnicity are defined so there is shared understanding and clarity. The survey then asks for the respondent to declare the gender, nationality based on passport, and ethnicity of the head of school. Then, questions are asked regarding the number, gender, and nationalities of members on the leadership team, as well as whether or not the leadership team has educators from the country where the school is located. The same questions are asked but this time about the school’s board members. Last, the 22-question survey repeats the questions but as they pertain to schools’ teachers.
International schools are definitely interested in keeping pace and walking alongside the global communities they serve. Data gathering is but one small step. Reflection, policies, professional development, partnerships, advocacy and action are all in process. Ralph Waldo Emerson attested to the gravitas of action. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” The Diversity Collaborative shared in a recent presentation a very clear statement of action in this regard.
“We recognize that the changes described will take time and resources, but that just adds to the urgency for all of us engaged with international schools to act without delay to start to dismantle the systems that have prevented some outstanding educators from becoming international school leaders and to build a more equitable and inclusive international school sector so that educators of all backgrounds thrive.”
Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development. And it is available to us all.
“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.” Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.
Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on. The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement. Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies. Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.
After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation. We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students. An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.
Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical. Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues. A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken. Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”
Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential. This means:
~Leadership team (head of school and principals)
~Building and Grounds
~Public Relations and Marketing
~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)
Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning. Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning. Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward. “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.
Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills. People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development. Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:
~Question development ~Interview strategies ~Formal writing
The visit I did was unique in several ways. The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process. One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.
At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged. Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included. The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails. A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.
The whole accreditation process is value added for all. Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself. To reflect. To be vulnerable. To speak but also listen. Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment. Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement. Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.
Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links:
What could be harder to turn around than a 220,000 ton ship measuring nearly a quarter of a mile long? The education system. The Evergreen however served as a fantastic metaphor.
For six days, the colossal three year-old was stuck. In a stretch of water narrower (985 feet) than the length of the boat (1,312 feet). Not even a 3-point Austin Powers maneuver back and forth was possible “baby.”
Not What It May Seem
Though the word “Evergreen” is painted on the ship’s side, on its back and bow in smaller letters is its official name, “Ever Given.” A Taiwanese company called Evergreen Marine is responsible for operating the vessel, though it is registered in Panama. Further, it is managed by a German ship company, but owned by a Japanese billionaire.
Education, more than a fifth of the way through the 21st century, is also not what it might seem.
Roots of Education and Where We Find Ourselves Today
Until Jean Piaget (1896-1980), pedagogical theory envisioned children as merely “empty vessels.” To be kept in line and “filled up.” A diametric opposite of the very meaning of education. Etymologically, the term “education” derived from the Latin word “educare,” meaning “to bring up, rise, or to nourish.” Or, even more fitting is to consider the Latin “educere,” and its meaning to “to draw out.”
Nourishing and Drawing Out. Are Schools Doing This Today?
More aptly, are schools whole-heartedly bent on settling for nothing less than a child’s best and allow for personalization? I would argue we still have many miles of road to pave. However, traction continues to be gained as educational systems move from compliance to empowerment. The narrow ideologies of the past may pervade, yet however steeped in “control” they may be, such views are being sabotaged by digitization and connectivity. Now, a teacher in the virtual world likely contends with YouTube, chat rooms, and possibly even Netflix, for a student’s attention. “Armed” with pre-determined and trite curriculum, it often feels like a losing battle. Vying for students’ attention and dumping curriculum on them was not the impetus most teachers got into the profession.
An alternative approach might instead based on respect and trust. Where the knowledge, skills, and standards checklists become more invitation than imposition. Or, what about the powers of collaboration? How many educators are trusted, willing, or daring enough to set out to build a sort of kinship with students, where curriculum might be co-created? A return to a more master and apprentice style; exploration as opposed to inculcation. For an example of how one middle school teacher does this, take a look at the basic structure for a unit design in a post written by Allison Zmuda titled, “A Play-By-Play Strategy for Co-Creating Curriculum with Students.”
The Suez Canal, a slit carved between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, took 10 years to build. An investment well spent because today it is the preferred path connecting east and west. Ten percent of the world’s trade purportedly flows through these waters. From the 23rd to the 29th of March, the world watched as more than 360 ships were forced to wait. A behemoth blocked the way. According to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence organization, a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo was held back each day. Not until April 3rd did the Suez Canal Authority declare the logjam over and that all waiting ships finally crossed through. Then, on April 13th, the Evergreen was seized and “Egyptian authorities said they wouldn’t release the massive ship… until its owners agreed to pay up to $1 billion in compensation.”
Are today’s schools similarly being held for ransom?
What is it going to cost to free our brittle, antiquated, and traditional system of education? Though there is a clinging on to a delivery of knowledge; something seemingly more ubiquitous than even clean water or air, I remind you how the duration of this model, is but a flash in time. A “new normal” if you will. Yet, cracks in the system, like the ones the pandemic is inducing, continue to create a sort of vacuum. The rays of light clear the space for teachers to be more daring and for learners to return to what is instinctual. Learning which is constructed, not consumed. Actively uploading, as opposed to passively downloading.
Nothing New or Particularly Earth-Shattering
The late Sir Ken Robinson was turning heads 14 years ago, claiming how schools actually squash creativity. Further, in a visit of over 200 schools, Ted Dintersmith shared his observations in a book called, “What Schools Could Be.” Further, for specific schools standing out in the field, you may want to take a look at Getting Smart’s list of “Middle and High Schools Worth Visiting.” Here you will see project-based learning, personalization, purpose, and a variety of other “ingredients” necessary to “unstuck” education.
The stuck container ship is in fact a fitting metaphor for the education system. A difficult system to turn. One that still is wedged. However, I like to think progress is being made, even if transformation has not freed the “ship.” Marketer and author Seth Godin says it best, “Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation.” The idea is there! Allies and advocates alike, we are tugboats. Please stay the course, because your pushing and pulling is critical.
You can sum up this school year in a variety of ways. However, please don’t use the word “unprecedented.” The challenge isn’t what to say about the past 7 or 8 months – the challenge is how will we end it. Punctuation marks might be the best way to frame this finish.
Over and done.We came, we saw, we conquered. Signed, sealed, and delivered.A year like none other and thank goodness it is finally over. Full stop.
I can’t breathe with this mask on! Hybrid model of education, I didn’t sign up for this! Two more months, you got this!Summer time!
A pause, however continuation as next year is not going to be much different, and this situation/sentence will just continue to go on.
How will we start in the Fall? But what about graduation ceremonies?How might we go about really getting closure to the year? What are the effects for children being in front of computer screens for so many hours?I never did understand, how is it sanitary for students to pass a football but not share a pencil? Do the footballs have an anti-bacterial coating?
A case can be made for the fittingness of each form of punctuation. Yet, a lesser known, unusual mark might top them all. The ellipsis. And maybe that is because ellipses do the opposite of what punctuation usually attempts; indicating relationship between ideas.
The “dot, dot, dot,” usually is used either for omitting text, for pausing or trailing off in speech or thought.
Perfect. Even more so, considering the advent of the ellipsis can be traced back to the drama of the 16th century. “Drama was ‘especially important’ in the evolution of the ellipsis,” says Dr. Anne Toner a Cambridge academic.
Our parents and grandparents may have profited or toiled from the Roaring 20s and Great Depression. Unarguably very dramatic times. But, in our own lives, what has caused more stir than COVID-19? No better punctuation mark seemingly lends itself to the drama of the past year (or year and a half!) more than an ellipsis.
How we end the 2020-21 academic year is of our choosing.
The “rain” has fallen. I only hope we subscribe to American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash’s optimism, “Look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies.”
Because bright, bright sun shiny days are surely ahead.
At the beginning stages of a project on innovation, I conference with students. My conversation with Anthony was staccato, more detached than cut short.
“Great, you want to see how gaming consoles have changed throughout time. As you begin to research, what are some questions you have? Or, if you find out anything about gaming consoles, what do you wonder most?”
The response a dead end.
A child void of wonder could be linked to a listless boat in harbor. Not only captainless but tethered. However, eternal optimism screams out, “The boat is still afloat!”
Unfortunately, the conversation with Anthony was not exclusive, others had played out over the years. Dejected tones imbued in learned compliance. Students comfortable with conforming to carousels of simple obedience and going through the motions traditionally called, school.
In quiet reflection I question the myriad factors which might contribute to what appears to be an inverted approach to learning. Specific to Anthony I wonder, “How often in middle school has Anthony been given free reign to wonder?” The normative approach possibly is one where teachers have over a hundred students and countless standards to “cover.” Systems of disempowerment where students are subjected to learning, as opposed to being agents of their own learning.
Further contemplation led me to take a deeper dive into what research says about the nature of wonder and curiosity. There is little if any scrutiny of the value of curiosity in learning. Yet, there is artistry behind designing approaches that truly listen to learners and provide the right conditions for revelling in wonder. To do so would not be noble but simply, humane. Intentionally fueling, as opposed to extinguishing this lifeblood. Curiosity, a hallmark of our human experience.
“My team and I at Recruiting Toolbox have worked with thousands of corporate recruiters and hiring managers inside many of the best known companies on earth. And as you uncover what makes a great recruiter great, you start to hear common themes across industries and geographies. Curiosity is not always explicitly called out, but it’s there — it’s like an underlying competency, that leads to the more visible competencies that talent leaders and business leaders tell us they want to see more of in their recruiters.”
But it does not stop with curiosity. So too is the need for context and razor sharp problem solving sets. Kurt Reusser’s 1986 study, is in effect sadder than it is humorous. How Old is the Shepherd posits, “There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd?” Though absurd, researchers reported that three quarters of schoolchildren were willing to offer a numerical answer to the shepherd problem. Conditioned to calculate and not question, there is little wonder how passive learners were not confused by the word problem. They just needed to come up with a number.
Good news! This study was more than 40 years ago. Or is this really “good” news. School curriculums have done anything but prune existing curriculums. The time and space to develop intuition, explore, and question most likely has become even more confined. The pace of the world continues to quicken and students are expected to know and be able to do more, but seemingly in even less time. Racing as if there is soe sort of finish line. Further, consider the wieldy role of AI and algorithms. Aimed at optimizing everything, algorithms increasingly are taking hold. Their grip tightening as can be seen in the case of the “all knowing,” Google. “People Also Ask,” (PAA), previously known as “Related Searches,” appears after any word is typed into Google. Only, no longer is this search all about knowledge and limited to generation of millions of results in less than a second. Google also proffers a list of questions (PAA). A list of what we might want to know. The pivotal role of wonder shortcutted. Users neither “have to” nor “get to” think of the questions. Though under my brow for several years, only now am I conscious of the implications this feature may have on the future. The approach so seemingly sleight of hand. I am left with one dominant feeling.
If you look up “gobsmacked” on Google, the first enquiry in “People Also Ask” reads, “Is gobsmacked a bad word?” Impulsively, I click on the question and find “…it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks.”
Exactly. I am speechless, stopped dead in my tracks.
This is because “Googling” is no longer solely about knowledge and answers. It is also about questions. Conditioned to still question I do not intend to hand over this privilege to Google. But how many busy learners will? Or, already do!
Will Google revisit their mission and even rebrand themselves? This seems to be a matter of subterfuge, as Google exceeds their interest in, “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.”
Warren Berger, self proclaimed questionologist and best selling author of A More Beautiful Question, references how today’s work environments are entrepreneurial and in need of educational systems which value questioning. Personally I plan to begin by truly nurturing curiosity and intentionally affording time to question in the classroom. I myself modeling inquisitiveness and improving the habit of verbalizing my questions. I also aim to take inventory of the types of questions students are asking. Thankfully, “Is this going to be on the test,” appears to have all but vanished. I plan to hold close to the following five steps by Berger to help my students become better questioners:
1. Make It Safe
2. Make It “Cool”
3. Make It Fun
4. Make It Rewarding
5. Make It Stick
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world