Category Archives: Barry Déquanne

One Resolution at a Time

The start of a new year also brings with it a deluge of advice and commitments to guide our resolutions. Mick Walsh, author and coach, believes that most new year resolutions are not fulfilled because they are too short-term in nature (i.e. knee-jerk remedies) and more focused on meeting the expectations of others rather than our own dreams.

To realize higher degrees of fulfillment, self actualization, and happiness, it can be argued that resolutions should be based only on long-term, life pattern behaviors. Walsh refers to a publication by Regina Brett, a journalist who celebrated her first fifty years of life by publishing an article listing the fifty lessons life taught her.  The following sample statements from Brett’s article speak to the ideals associated with resolutions that could serve to frame our long-term, life pattern behaviors.

  • Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
  • When in doubt, just take the next small step.
  • Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  • You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
  • Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
  • When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
  • Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
  • It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
  • Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  • Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
  • Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
  • It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
  • When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
  • Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
  • No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
  • Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
  • Forgive everyone everything.
  • Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
  • However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  • Your children get only one childhood.
  • All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
  • Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
  • If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
  • No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
  • Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

So how does this connect to the start of a new school semester? One of the many facets that I appreciate about our profession is the opportunity to begin each semester afresh as part of a continuous cycle of renewal. The new relationships, new challenges, and new learning and growth opportunities offered during the school year bring us another step forward towards the self-actualization aspirations we set for ourselves, both as individuals and as an institution.  The ongoing processes of setting goals and establishing resolutions, particularly those that are long-term life pattern behaviors that further our own and collective self-actualization and happiness, are directly linked to the ideals expressed through EAB’s mission: Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

Jack Layton’s words further articulate these thoughts and our work as educators:

“My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.”

So, let us work to change the world through education, one resolution at a time.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

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Bold in Vision

“Use your unique gifts and talents to make a difference in the world.” Lailah Gifty Akita.

After a yearlong review process, involving regular feedback and contributions from parents, students, and teachers through surveys, retreats, and focus group meetings, the American School of Brasilia’s new mission statement was officially introduced this year:

 Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As part of an ongoing analysis of EAB’s new mission statement, this week’s post looks at the fourth and final element of the mission: Bold in Vision.

Bold in Vision highlights the aspiration that our students and community members will make a positive difference in our community and the greater world around them. In one sense, Bold in Vision is the outcome that brings the other elements of the mission together towards a higher aim. While it is imperative to support and empower a community of learners to inspire each other and foster a lifelong love for learning (Inquisitive in Life), knowledge and learning can be further enhanced in the context of values systems (Principled in Character). Taking this progression a step further, it seems to be a loss if all of this learning and character development are not applied in some manner to improve, not only ourselves, but our communities and the lives of others.

To further the goal of making a positive difference, the Bold in Vision aspect of the mission also focuses on the strategic approaches to implementing effective change. These strategic changes and the ability to effectively address many of our current challenges will require creative and innovative approaches. To that end, our schools must assume the fundamental responsibility towards ensuring learning environments that support creativity, innovation, empowerment, and engaged learning.

In his book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, Will Richardson highlights this responsibility of schools, with a particular focus on the role of teachers:

“Our job as educators is to understand deeply what it means to be a modern learner more so than a modern teacher. Our goal should not be to learn new technologies in order to become better teachers in the traditional sense. Our goal is to develop expertise in powerful new technologies to become better learners for ourselves and for our students, who may lack other learning models.”

It is hoped that EAB’s new mission statement embodies the ideals associated with Richardson’s words.

As with any focus on a Bold in Vision statement, technology will play a key role in the future of education. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report in 2015 entitled, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection, which frames the role that technology will play in education. Specifically, the report stresses that, “information and communication technology (ICT) has revolutionized virtually every aspect of our life and work. Students unable to navigate through a complex digital landscape will no longer be able to participate fully in the economic, social, and cultural life around them.”

The work of teachers is key to leveraging the opportunities associated with ICT. However, the report cautions that, “technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.” This is an important quote in that it clarifies that technology is not driving our work nor replacing poor teaching but rather providing teachers with an additional, important, and ubiquitous resource to support the learning process.

Finally, when considering our commitment to the Bold in Vision aspect of our mission statement, the OECD report emphasis the role of schools and educators on the future of learning:

“We need to get this right in order to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialized materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints.”

Returning to EAB’s new mission statement, the last element of the mission – Bold in Vision – was purposely designed to be less prescriptive and focused as compared to the other elements of the mission. The reason for this design is to frame the American School of Brasilia’s future work in the context of dynamic and changing environments. Bold in Vision is an open-ended premise that challenges us to use our collective learning and development to make a positive difference in the world through personalized, innovative, and creative approaches.

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

 

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Principled in Character

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

After a yearlong review process, involving regular feedback and contributions from parents, students, and teachers through surveys, retreats, and focus group meetings, our school’s new mission statement was officially introduced this year.

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As part of an ongoing analysis of our school’s new mission statement, this week’s post looks at the third element of the mission: “Principled in Character”.

The American School of Brasilia (EAB) builds its educational program around the ideal of a whole child education that includes a focus on five pillars: academics, activities, arts, leadership, and service. Within this context, character education plays a critical role towards whole child development.

By way of example, EAB’s Character Counts! program has become a deeply integrated part of the Lower School, which also includes a monthly assembly led by students and regularly attended by over one hundred parents.  The program is framed by six ethical values – Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; and Citizenship – which are used to further develop a positive school culture where students feel safe in their learning environment. The program also works to develop a culture of kindness in addition to addressing issues associated with bullying.

The Upper School recently engaged in a collective process, led by students, to establish a student honor code, which was approved and is now a essential part of the school’s culture. EAB’s student honor code reads as follows:

We, as students of the American School of Brasilia, give our pledge to live by the guiding principles of responsibility and respect in all that we say and do, understand that these values carry far beyond the classroom environment, affecting not only our peers and the activities we participate in, but who we are and who we will become, we commit to treat all people with compassion, be engaged and collaborative in all aspects of our education, and in all cases act with honor and integrity. We will uphold these values as the core of our identity, hence becoming principled individuals and contributing citizens to society.

EAB’s efforts in the area of “Principled in Character” are guided by our school’s Student Learner Profile, which highlights how learners are Engaged, Collaborative, Contributing, and Principled. The Learner Profile further emphasizes the “principled” focus with the following statement: “As an EAB Learner, I am responsible for my learning, my actions, and their consequences.” This statement is then articulated with additional and more specific assertions:

  • I am responsible and do my best when assigned a task.
  • I persevere even when something is difficult.
  • I meet deadlines.
  • I come ready to learn with the materials and mindset needed for school each day.
  • I approach problems respectfully and ethically and work hard to solve them.
  • I know the difference between right and wrong and accept consequences for my actions.
  • I look for opportunities to learn and grow beyond what is expected of me by my teacher.

Perhaps the best way to summarize EAB’s work with respect to the “principled in character” aspect of the school’s mission statement is to refer to a comment made during a professional development session. Dr. Michael Thompson, a renowned child psychologist, was asked to define a “moral school”. He responded by quoting another author (whose name I cannot recall), who stated, “A moral school is a school that is always talking about what it means to be a moral school.”  This is a profound statement in how it highlights the importance of process and focus, rather than one definition that would inevitability lead to an oversimplification of a deeply complex issue.

It would be an act of hubris for EAB to claim, as a school, that it always has all of the right answers for all situations in relation to character and education. It certainly does not and nor does any school. However, what is important is to be always engaging in a collective conversation about character, in the context of programs such as Character Counts!, and working with guiding principles, as found in the Student Honor Code and Learner Profile.


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www.barrydequanne.com

Inquisitive in Life

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” ~Jiddu Krishnamurti

The old adage “the more I learn, the less I know” articulates how many of us feel as we continue to learn about the world within and around us. It is tantamount to accepting the premise of another adage: “I often don’t even know what I don’t know.” In an essay entitled, The Big Test, David Brooks coins a term that highlights these adages and may capture the the spirit associated with an “inquisitive in life” approach to our learning: epistemological modesty. Brooks uses the term in reference to the writings associated with important historical philosophers and their own sense of epistemological modesty:

“They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism.”

This concept can naturally be extended beyond ourselves and our society to the world and universe beyond us. It therefore seems appropriate for an individual to approach this branch of philosophy called epistemology – the theory of knowing that investigates the origins, nature, and limits of human knowledge – with at least some degree of modesty.

Question BoxWhile the “immeasurable complexity” associated with everything to learn can feel overwhelming, this is not the point. When considering our own learning and the role of schools, what is important is the degree to which a lifelong love of learning is instilled in students and modeled in our communities. Through an “inquisitive in life” approach to learning, it is hoped that our students will learn enough about the world around them to be in a position to identify their individual passions, which will further focus their lifelong learning.

There is indeed no end to education and the process of learning and it is this process that can enrich our lives in immeasurable ways.


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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

More Than Words

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

A little over a year ago, our community embarked on a journey of reflection and self-examination as we conducted a review of our school’s mission statement and associated core documents. As with most meaningful endeavors, it was recognized at the start that the learning from this process was arguably as important, if not more important, than the final product. To that end, the yearlong review included the involvement of parents, students, and teachers through surveys, focus group discussions, retreats, review committees, and a school improvement team. At the end of this process, the American School of Brasilia’s (EAB) Board of Directors, who were also active participants, were presented with a proposed new mission statement, which was approved. As we look to the current year and years ahead, there is excitement surrounding the opportunity and challenge to make the new mission statement come alive.


Process

To avoid lengthy discussions and potential misunderstands regarding terminology, our School Improvement Team (SIT) agreed to not let the strict definitions and debates associated with the words mission and vision take way from the review process. SIT agreed on a basic definition of mission as “who we are” and vision, with an emphasis on the future, as “where we are going” and, more subtly, “how we will get there”. While not perfect, this was enough to move us forward.

As part of the reflection process, we literally reviewed hundreds of mission statements from schools around the world, fortune 500 companies, and internationally recognized not-for-profit organizations, with the goal of establishing criteria associated with an ideal mission statement structure. This process was helpful and led us to the following criteria:

  1. Accurately reflect our community and school
  2. Be short and concise, such that it could be easily memorized
  3. Avoid lofty language that sounds impressive but has little practicality
  4. Avoid a statement that encompasses everything but says very little
  5. Provide a framework to clarify who we are and what we value
  6. A blend of realism and optimism
  7. Strive for language that is accessible to all student ages in addition to community members whose first language is not English.

It was also agreed that the descriptor statement about the school would be removed from the mission and listed as a separate statement called “Our School”.

Our School: We are a diverse community that provides an English-language based pre-K through Grade 12 education. We are an International Baccalaureate World School with U.S. and Brazilian accreditation.

The remainder of the process focused on identifying and articulating the key components associated with our school’s identity. As those who have participated in similar processes, this is not an easy task but is at the very heart of establishing a new mission statement.

Looking back on the process, a key moment in the discussions occurred during the review of mission statements from other organizations, when someone highlighted the Ritz-Carlton motto:

We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

This statement is not only elegant in its simplicity and content and easy to remember, but also acts as an effective and inspiring guide for everyone who works at the Ritz-Carlton.


New Mission Statement

There is no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton motto influenced the key aspect of EAB’s new mission statement, which articulates that we are a community of learners, adults and students alike, working together on an educational journey. It is EAB’s conviction that student learning is only maximized when all members of our community are also engaged in the learning process. It is this focus which led to the first words in EAB’s new mission and also serves as the new motto:

Learners inspiring learners

Education has fundamentally changed and continues to change, specifically in terms of who controls the flow of information. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance that schools be designed in an adaptable manner, such that they are positioned to take advantage of the current and future changes associated with learning. It was hoped that the concept of “learners inspiring learners” would capture these concepts in terms of how everyone in our community is always learning, adapting, and growing. Given that the control of information has shifted from teachers to students, we must then expect that parents, teachers, and school communities must also be continuous learners or we risk becoming irrelevant in the learning process.

With the first three words of the new mission statement established, the remaining parts of the mission emerged quickly, with the following result:

PREVIOUS Mission Statement:

The American School of Brasilia serves the International and Brazilian communities by providing a U.S. and Brazilian accredited pre-K through 12th grade program and International Baccalaureate Diploma in a culturally diverse atmosphere. Our English- language school develops and supports the whole child in achieving his or her own potential. Through a differentiated, innovative learning experience, we cultivate responsible and contributing citizens, leaders, and environmental stewards with a strong foundation of academic excellence.

NEW Mission Statement:

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As stated, “Learners Inspiring Learners” highlights that we are all life long learners, learning together. “Inquisitive in Life” is about a focus on academic learning. However, learning should always take pace within the framework of character, ethics, and acceptable values. It is this belief in a whole child approach to learning that resulted in an emphasis on character: “Principled in Character” is about being a good person and making good decisions. Yet, it can then be argued that we have a moral imperative to use our learning and character to make a positive difference: “Bold in Vision” is focused on channeling our creative and innovative energies towards making a positive difference in the world.

In summary, after a yearlong review process, it is believed that the new mission meets the criteria set at the start of the process. The statement accurately reflects our community’s beliefs, is sufficiently short and concise such that it can be memorized, and avoids lofty language and jargon. It is also believed that the statement further articulates our values within the context of a blend of realism and optimism for the future.

We are excited to officially introduce EAB’s new mission statement. The next step is to ensure that the mission guides everything we do in addition to finding ways to make the mission come alive at our school.


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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Culture and Learning

Imagine being part of a large family whose members are from fifty different countries and with each member’s unique experiences, norms, and value systems contributing to form a rich cultural tapestry. While there is no doubt that this family will likely face some significant challenges and conflicts due to their inherent differences, a diverse family of this nature also represents a special opportunity to learn from other cultures and expand our understanding of ourselves, our communities, and the world around us. How fortunate we are then to be part of an extended family like the American School of Brasilia where this hypothetical family structure is a reality.Our globe

In the landmark book, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, culture is defined as the, “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 6). A less academic definition may be to view culture as consisting of the, “unwritten rules of the social game” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 6). In what is arguably one of the most comprehensive studies of culture ever conducted, the authors go on to highlight the statistical analysis of responses to questions in the GLOBE project about values, which revealed how countries used different solutions to address similar problems. Specifically, the data revealed differences in the areas of social inequality and authority (power distance), the relationship between the individual and the group (individualism vs. collectivism), the social implications of having been born as a boy or a girl (femininity and masculinity), and how people deal with uncertainty (uncertainty avoidance) (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010).
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The statistical data from the study resulted in a set of indices for each country linking the focus areas mentioned above. This data has since been proven to be statistically valid and, perhaps more importantly, to be very helpful in understanding differences among cultures. By way of example, we can examine Uncertainty Avoidance in more detail. The authors of Cultures and Organization define Uncertainty Avoidance as, “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations and try to avoid such situations. This feeling is, among other things, expressed through nervous stress and in a need for predictability: a need for written and unwritten rules” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 191). The indices associated with Uncertainty Avoidance range from a rating of 112 for Greece, where uncertainty is more of an accepted part of life, to a rating of 8 for Singapore, where uncertainty is a cause of stress and subjective feelings of anxiety. The rating for Brazil is 76 while the USA received a rating of 46, representing a fairly significant difference in how the two countries view uncertainty. Translating this into education, the study implies that teachers in countries with a high uncertainty rating are more likely to feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” in response to student questions, as compared to a low uncertainty rating country where teachers are expected to have all of the answers.

The data for individualism and collectivism was particularly interesting. Again, the authors define Individualism as pertaining to, “societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. Collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 92).

On the scale of indices associated with individualism ranging from a high of 91 to a low of 6, Brazil has a rating of 38, while the USA has the highest rating of all participating countries at 91. Translating this data back to schools, the authors state that students in a collectivist tend to learn to think more in terms of “we”, as compared to students in an individualist society who tend to learn to think more in terms of “I”. This may be a little contentious but is, nevertheless, an important focus for debate and reflection.

So, what should parents and educators take away from this research? If culture is learned from our social environment and is not inherited, then what is the impact on the cultural development of students who are raised in an American-international school environment? Values, which are directly linked to culture, are among the first things children implicitly learn. If it is true that most children have their value systems firmly in place by the age of ten, as is the belief of development psychologists, then how does living in a multicultural environment influence the values of children (recognizing that values are usually primarily established in the home)? While these are, undoubtedly, difficult questions to answer, though there does seem to be agreement that living in an international, multicultural setting offers students substantial and important developmental benefits.

As we reflect on the American School of Brasilia’s Character Counts week and this Saturday’s culminating Sábado Legal eventi, it is important to consider EAB’s core values. Specifically, it is essential to remind ourselves of how we – students, faculty, staff, and parents – are all responsible for doing our best to live up to the ideals associated with EAB’s core values of caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness. It is also important to remember how cultural norms, such as individualism and uncertainty avoidance, represent important factors, which are connected to these values, and that it is normal to experience some level of culture shock when encountering other cultures. The authors of Cultures and Organizations state that, “studying culture without experiencing culture shock is like practicing swimming without water” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. XIV).

There are indeed challenging but important issues for schools and communities. While clear answers may not be readily available, Dr. Michael Thompson once shared some helpful advice. During a professional development session, Dr. Thompson was asked to define a “moral school”. He responded by quoting another author (whose name I cannot recall) who stated something to the effect of, “a moral school is a school that is always talking about what it means to be a moral school.” It is an accepted fact that we do not have all of the answers all of the time but what we do have is the opportunity to always engage in deep and meaningful conversations about key issues that will hopefully make a difference in the lives of our students, our families, and our communities.


Bibliography:
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind : Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Kindness

During my morning arrival to campus earlier this week, I noticed the presence of a woman standing in front of the school carefully scrutinizing everyone entering EAB. Since I did not recognize the woman and with an obvious concern for security, I approached her and inquired about her presence at the school’s entrance. The woman’s response was not what I expected to hear. Her name was Edith and before sharing her response to my question, we need to first rewind to the start of this school year.

It was a typical beautiful and sunny August morning in Brasilia when two EAB teachers were crossing the street making their way to school to prepare for classes and the day ahead. The peacefulness of the morning was abruptly shattered when they witnessed a gruesome pedestrian accident that left a lone woman seriously injured and in desperate need of immediate medical attention. The two EAB teachers dropped everything and rushed to the aid of the injured woman doing everything possible to comfort and assist her through what could only be described as a traumatic experience for all involved. Our teachers continued to provide support until professional assistance arrived and rushed her to a hospital. Since that fateful moment, we have not received any news about the woman’s status. That is, until this week.Shadow-Holding-Hands1

The woman who had the life-threating accident back in August was the same woman who was standing in front of EAB early one morning this week. When I spoke with Edith, she explained that it took several months of rehabilitation and healing before she could walk again. Now that Edith had recovered from her accident, she had come to EAB in the early morning to personally express her profound gratitude with the two teachers who helped her at the time of the accident. Since Edith did not know the teachers’ names, she was standing in front of school endeavoring to identify the teachers who demonstrated such high degrees of compassion and kindness.

There are many important reminders and lessons to highlight from this inspiring event, including the connection to several of EAB’s guiding principles. On that fateful day in August, Edith and EAB’s teachers exemplified our school’s mission to “cultivate responsible and contributing citizens”, modeled the core values of “caring” and “responsibility”, and embodied the ideal of our school’s motto to “cultivate citizenship.” Perhaps the one summative word to best describe the actions of both EAB’s teachers and Edith’s effort to express her gratitude is “kindness.”

Given the prominence of kindness in our society, it is important to reflect on the role that the parent-school partnership plays with respect to developing kindness in students. While there is much debate about the teaching of kindness, I am a firm believer that the characteristics associated with kindness can be taught through our own modeling in conjunction with deliberate instructional practices. The BBC recently published an article titled, “Making Time: Can We Teach Kindness?”, which overviews several experiments that demonstrate how external factors and influences, such as modeling, affects a person’s degree of kindness. This research clearly supports the belief that kindness can be developed in youth and, given the paramount importance of our collective work towards “cultivating responsible and contributing citizens”, the school-parent partnership to both model and instruct has never been more essential.

An apparently simple act by two EAB teachers has left an indelible impression on Edith that will last a lifetime. Through our own modeling and instruction, we hope, nay, expect, that our students will continue to exemplify EAB’s ideals through their own acts of kindness and gratitude. Moreover, it is through these seemingly simple acts that we not only improve the quality of our own lives but also make a positive difference in the lives of others and, expectantly, in our greater community. Thank you to Edith for modeling gratitude and thank you to EAB’s teachers for modeling an essential element of our school’s mission and purpose.

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

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Success in School and Life

How would you answer the following question: What are the factors that most influence how children achieve success in school and life?

Several EAB teachers are currently attending the annual AASSA teachers’ conference with a focus, in part, on answering this essential question. To that end, our teachers are spending three days engaging with professional colleagues and internationally renowned educational specialists. Two of the specialists, Dr. Michael Thompson and Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, both highly recommended authors, have offered insights towards answering this question.9580068088_02ced873c8_o1

The psychologist, Michael Thompson, challenges adults to remember what school is actually like to better understand the psychological journey that students experience during their K3-12 school years. Thompson argues that children are constantly searching for three things: connection, recognition, and a sense of power and highlights that children are able to find these three needs in a variety of ways within the life of a school.

Thompson further describes the different student needs by elaborating on the “three types of children in school:
I. those whose journeys are characterized mostly by success,
II. those whose journeys are characterized by a chronic but manageable struggle,
III. those whose journeys are characterized by fury and despair.
Each journey has its own different pressures. Every child is constantly developing strategies for coping with the pressures that he or she feels.”

Thompson uses the metaphor of a person preparing for a long hike and the importance of finding just the right shoe “fit” to facilitate the hike and avoid painful blisters. While there is an important element of resilience and persistence associated with the learning process, the shoe metaphor challenges schools to find the right educational program to “fit” student needs so that the three types of children in schools are not subject to unnecessary “blisters” and are able to achieve personal success.

Returning to the need of children for connection, recognition, and a sense of power, Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, addresses the impact technology has on the relationships between children and adults. While Steiner-Adair advocates for the use of technology and the benefits to be gained, she also shares research findings that highlight how the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives can result in serious negative implications for our relationships. Steiner-Adair offers insights and advice that can help parents and educators to determine how best to integrate technology in our daily lives without diminishing our personal connections. She asks us to question how we interact with technology when engaging with children (e.g. Do we give children our undivided attention when they are speaking with us or are we continuously looking at our cell phones?) and how our need to access technological devices frames our days and lives.

If we are to respond to each child’s need for connection, recognition, and a sense of power, then we must not only question how well our educational program is addressing these needs, but also review the degree to which technology may be adversely affecting our relationships with students and adults alike. The further integration of technology into our lives is a reality that will not go away. Therefore, it is our responsibility to control how technology affects our lives to ensure that we are taking advantage of the tremendous benefits and available opportunities that technology provides, while also addressing the inherent challenges to our relationships and overall wellbeing.

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Matt https://www.flickr.com/photos/d35ign/9580068088

The Hero’s Journey

Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.” ~ Jodi Picoult

It was a typical beautiful and sunny morning in Brasilia. Teachers from the American School of Brasilia were preparing a churrasco, a Brazilian barbecue, to show their appreciation to the maintenance, cleaning, security, and support staffs for their daily contributions in support of the work of teachers, students, and our school’s educational program. This special day was filled with family activities, games of futebal, food, conversation, laughter, and relationship building.

It is days like this that we are reminded of the importance of community and the difference a positive and supportive culture can make in the lives of all members, particularly students and their education. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, perhaps we can redefine the meaning of the Hero’s Journey to one more representative of Jodi Picoult’s vision where heroes are everyday people making a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether it is an act of kindness, a sacrifice for a stranger, a demonstration of empathy, or to simply listen, the seemingly small gestures of everyday heroes often lead to significant and meaningful differences in the lives of others.

Each morning, I see our guards welcoming every student by name, personalizing the start of their day and making our students feel special. I see the cleaning staff cleaning the walkway in the courtyard, seeing to every detail and taking pride in the appearance of the school. A few weeks ago, members of the maintenance department and support staff were on their way home after a long day when they heard that a water pipe had burst in the chemistry class and, without hesitation, dropped everything to return to school to spent three hours of their evening to ensure class could resume as normal the next day. Schools the world over can share similar stories about those special people whose daily actions, which often go unnoticed, make a difference in the lives of others. It is this ideal of daily contributions towards community building and the development of relationships that makes a school special.

The French existentialist, Simone de Beauvior, touches on this subject in her book, All Men are Mortal. In the 13th century, the main character of the novel, Fosca, attains the status of immortality. For several centuries, he travels the world, reads countless books, meets fascinating people and falls in love many times. Fosca has a life that a mortal human could only dream of. He has the opportunity to achieve anything a person could wish to attain.

But, there is a problem. Fosca’s immortality becomes burdensome as he is unable to find happiness, an idea further explored by Derek de Lint in his film about the novel: “Fosca is haunted by events from past centuries, living with the same mistakes over and over again, with war, cruelty and injustice. He must question whether immortality and love can exist at the same time or whether true love and commitment are only possible through the limitations of life. He eventually begins to desire mortality as a basic necessity for human happiness.”

Fosca desperately searches for meaning in his life but his immortality robs him of it. What he finally understands is that it is the finiteness of the human condition that forces us to embrace our lives and to live each moment with passion. And where is meaning to be found? This is a seemingly difficult question to answer. Fosca does not find meaning through power, studying, reading, position in society, travel, or the accumulation of wealth. Madame Beauvoir leaves the reader with the notion that everything in our lives, everything we strive for, everything we accumulate is meaningless with one exception: the relationships we have with others, the lives we touch and the lives we are touched by.

If a meaningful life is defined through relationships and our efforts to make a even a small and positive difference in the lives of others, then it is fitting to confer the title of “hero” to those dedicated support staff members working in all schools. Through small acts of kindness, our colleagues attain what Fosca desperately failed to achieve through immortality. Through their commitment to support the work of teachers, students, and parents each and every day, those individuals who oversee security, maintenance, cleaning, technology, business and secretarial affairs, contribute to building community and enhancing the lives of others in essential and significant ways. They are our everyday heroes.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Soccer

Innovation and Creativity

I am writing this week’s posting from 44G, my assigned seat on the plane returning me to Brasilia. It has been nearly two weeks since I departed from Brazil to attend a series of international teacher recruitment fairs, planning meetings, conferences, professional development workshops, and school visits. As with any professional trip of this nature, the challenge with the follow-up is to determine how best to consolidate and apply the essential outcomes within the context of our school’s ongoing growth and development strategies. To that end, the concepts of creativity and innovation, among several other resulting focus areas, emerged as one of the dominant themes of this trip.

During a retreat hosted by the Academy for International School Heads, the school directors in attendance agreed to the American School of Bombay’s proposed working definition for the word innovation:

Innovation: an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, team, organization, or community.

Equipped with this definition, the directors were then asked to rank the following industries from the most innovative and relevant to the least:

Agriculture, Communications, Education, Entertainment, Medicine, and Military.

While a debate about the ranking order ensued, there was a general consensus that education was the least innovative among this list of industries. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, it is clear that inhibitors to innovation in education can be attributed to two key areas: (i) the challenge of teaching in a manner that is different from how teachers were taught; (ii) overcoming the adult expectation for children to learn in a manner that is similar to how these same adults learned as students.

David Burkus’ book, The Myths of Creativity, presents the metaphor of a mousetrap, which may be used to better understand the challenge of innovation in schools. While the catchphrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” may be widely believed as a fact, is not necessarily true. Our initial reaction to an innovative idea is usually to reject or ignore the idea. Burkus emphasizes, “Creative ideas, by their very nature, invite judgment. People need to know if the value promised by the new idea is worth the abandonment of the old.”

Since the original and current version of the spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in 1899, over forty-four hundred new versions of a mousetrap have been patented, with several identified as more effective than the original. Yet, it is the original model that continues to be the most popular. Why? Burkus highlights several other examples of resistance to key innovative ideas, such as Kodak’s rejection of their own digital camera invention in 1975, as Kodak did not believe people would prefer digital to film pictures. Sony, in contrast, is now a digital photography industry leader, and has been a key benefactor of Kodak’s inability to embrace its own innovation.

According to Burkus, our natural tendency is to inherently reject innovation, resist change, and act with bias against new ideas, the later of which has been established through validated psychological research. Based on these arguments and the deep, personal nature of education, it is easy to see why education is ranked as one of the least innovative industries. So, how do we move forward in the face of these challenges? Burkus again provides us with helpful advice:

“It’s not enough to merely generate great ideas. Though we live in a world of complex challenges and our organizations need innovative solutions, we also live in a world biased against creative ideas. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face.”

I am not alone in my belief that education is currently undergoing a transformative change process representative of an inflection point in the history of educational reform. While we can speculate, no one can be certain about where this change process will eventually lead us. Only time will determine which of the current innovations in the world of education will prove to be highly effective and become standard practice. EAB is no exception to facing this challenge. However, there are innovative approaches, such as EAB’s new assessment policy, the focus on collaborative learning and associated learning spaces, like the iCommons, that educational research has established and validated as best practices.

Like other industries, education will continue to face challenges associated with establishing and embracing an effective culture of creativity and innovation. Based on Burkus’ work, it is probable that several key innovations, which would likely lead to significant improvements in education, may not come to fruition in the near future. However, we also know that some innovative ideas will be accepted and will soon be recognized as standard practice. By way of example, it is predicted that, in the near future, the pervasive use of technology in learning environments will be second nature, rather than new and innovative.

As I submit this note for publication from seat 44G, I can’t help but reflect on Burkus’ theories about our inherent nature to reject innovation in the context of my current travels. How outlandish it must have seemed when someone first proposed the idea of passengers sending email messages from their airplane seats while jetting across the sky.

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Reference: Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Morten F
Flying from Copenhagen to Oslo https://www.flickr.com/photos/glimt1916/15506061634

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.