Category Archives: Barry Déquanne

Teacher Recruitment

A common and defining characteristic associated with international schools is that of transience. The ephemeral nature of many our community members’ tenures in international schools necessitates the ongoing management of change processes. The positive features of this constant change are the rich opportunities for personal growth, renewal, enrichment, and development of new relationships. However, this very same impermanence inevitably leads to our esteemed colleagues and beloved friends taking leave of our community as they seek to embrace new adventures and experiences. The reasons that some teachers take leave of our schools each year varies, from the need to return to their home country or the desire to work and live in a different part of the world, for example. While the inevitable departure of some colleagues will again be a reality at international schools around the world, we can take solace in the fact that personal and professional relationships will assuredly endure far beyond the end of this school year. Although there will be occasions to formally recognize those who will be leaving our schools, the focus of this note is on the present and the importance of appreciating and making the most of the time we have today and in the near future with our very special colleagues and friends. Teacher Recruitment Process:  The hiring of teachers is arguable the most important element of the work of a Head of School. To that end, one of the main focus areas during the month of October to February is the recruitment of teachers, which will include attendance at international recruitment fairs. In addition, it is not unusual for schools to receive over a thousand applications, in some cases, several thousand. I am often asked what we look for when hiring teachers at the American School of Brasilia. First and foremost, we are seeking to hire the best available teachers, regardless of nationality, who possess outstanding qualifications in their academic area, deep levels of relevant experience, leadership capacity, resilience, flexibility, and, of course, a passion for working with students and the learning process. An additional characteristic that is among the highest on our priority list is that of a positive disposition. The nature of effective teaching necessitates the ideal of teachers as eternal optimists, especially in terms of their belief that all students can reach their respective potentials. Furthermore, we owe it to our students to ensure a school setting that is comprised of people who are positive and optimistic, who see problems as opportunities, and who see the proverbial glass as always being half full. At the same, we cannot be Pollyannaish with respect to teaching and learning as teachers are challenged with directly addressing the inherent challenges associated with student growth and program development, in a professional, effective, and empathetic manner. Each year, our school continues to further articulate and refine EAB’s Teacher Profile, which is a document that outlines a set of guiding principles that are used to guide all hiring processes. In addition, EAB’s Leadership Team also examines the hiring, development, and retainment practices of highly successful organizations to determine what can be translated to a school setting. By way of example, we have closely studied Netflix’s human resource policy, called Freedom and Responsibility, which provides for engaging and reflective reading. Wishing everyone all the best with your respective search and hiring processes. _________________________________________________

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.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Dieter Drescher: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmosfan/14628522324

Social Media: A Dog’s Story

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~Isaac Newton

A friend of mine from Brasilia is known for habitually reposting to Facebook, on behalf of desperate dog owners, photos of missing dogs. Gisela’s hope is that neighborhood residents will recognize the dogs in the photos and reunite these beloved, missing canines with their owners.

As a fellow dog owner, I quietly grieve for owners each time I see one of these missing dog announcements. This feeling of grief was no different when a posting of a cute, elderly dog with a broken ear and a lazy eye appeared in my newsfeed. What was different about this posting, however, was that my name was linked to this posting with the following message: “The dog has a tag that appears to be from the United States. Barry, with your connection to the international community, could you reach out to your contacts?” I would of course reach out, but, as a busy workday was about to begin, I made a mental note to send messages in the early evening.

While the day did turn out to be very busy and productive, it was about to end on a high note as I made my way to visit the after-school chess activity. While watching two five-year-old students discover the nuances associated with the beautiful game of chess, I noticed one of the students was in a lackluster, almost despondent mood. When I asked the student if anything was wrong, he turned to me and lamented that his dog Crawford was missing and not been home for nearly a week.

It was then that I recalled the Facebook posting from the morning. While it seemed highly unlikely for there to be such a coincidence of circumstances, I went ahead and showed the student the Facebook posting of the missing dog with a broken ear and lazy eye. Upon seeing the photo, the student beamed an enormous smile and shouted, Crawford!!!”

After a series of phone calls and messages, Crawford was finally reunited with his owners later that evening.

The events of the day served as an important reminder of the inherent power associated with social networks, particularly when used in an ethical, meaningful, and purposeful manner. It is clear that the way we communicate, connect, problem solve, and learn has been forever changed. While we need to continue addressing the challenges of social media, the potential for creative and positive change derived from the harnessing and application of seemingly endless resources offers a unique set of tools to solve problems and ensure a better future.

Isaac Newton’s iconic quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” refers to Newton’s gratitude for the contributions of those who have preceded him. In today’s context, I wonder if Newton would have considered the “shoulders of giants” to also include the learning and understanding resulting from the use of technology to exponentially increase levels of collaboration, networking, and sharing?

If social networks can be used to rally a community’s resources towards reuniting Crawford with his family, it is exciting to imagine how these same networks and associated resources will continue to redefine not only our daily lives but the paradigm of traditional education and learning. It is the challenge of educators to determine how these new technologies will be employed to improve the learning process.

There is no doubt we are living through a fascinating inflection point in the history of educational development in addition to our understanding of how we learn. Nevertheless, through all of this change, we must never lose sight of the “why?” and “to what end?” questions. I am confident that Crawford would approve of this guiding principle as he again basks in the warmth of his home and loving family.

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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.

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Featured image: cc licensed ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Tarek Harbi: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53813549@N08/15090632281

Serendipitous Connections

We all experience those days when our schedules seem to demand more of our time than hours are available in the day. It is often these same days when we feel most focused, effective, and efficient, especially in terms of completing our “to do” lists. It is also common during these times to engage in seemingly countless brief conversations with friends, families, colleagues, and strangers. While these ephemeral conversations may be lost and forgotten in the shuffle of a frenetic day, it is these same conversations that may represent, for example, a critically important moment for an individual, the idea for a transformative project, or a fundamental change in personal circumstances. While it is easy to dismiss these brief conversations while in the process of fulfilling a busy agenda, these same conversations may result in being the most important outcome of our day.

In his book, Triumph of the City, Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh refers to the brief meetings with others that lead to significant outcomes as “serendipitous encounters.” Hsieh extends this idea with the statement:

Research has shown that most innovation actually happens from something outside your industry being applied to your own. And those are the results of random conversations at …coffee shops or just when you have collisions with other people.

Hsieh’s thoughts were not on my mind during a typical busy day when I was quickly introduced to the conductor of the National Theater Symphonic Orchestra. While this chance encounter lasted no more than forty-five seconds, it would lead to one of the most memorable evenings in our community’s recent history. Through the work of our leadership team, it was only a few weeks later when one of Brazil’s top orchestras spent a full day at our school educating and rehearsing with students. The evening performance took place in our auditorium in front of a capacity audience that was fully representative of our diverse community. The performance was moving and inspirational. Brazil’s Rede Globo network covered the performance and shared the following video clip during the station’s news broadcast.

On another occasion, a member of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) briefly shared, in passing, the idea to host at our school a public display of one of Brasilia’s most famous artists. This brief encounter led to a very special community evening vernissage to celebrate the work of Athos Bulcão, which included several original works displayed at our school for several weeks (Link to Virtual GalleryLink to Virtual Gallery).

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Artista eu era. Pioneiro eu fiz-me. Devo a Brasília esse sofrido privilégio. Realmente um privilégio: ser pioneiro. Dureza que gera espírito. Um prêmio moral“.
~ Athos Bulcão

A third brief encounter led to the University of Brasilia’s Opera Studio presenting at our school an outstanding performance of Gaetano Donizetti ‘s opera Don Pasquale. Two EAB students were invited to perform with the orchestra, representing a special and unique experience for our student musicians.

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These serendipitous encounters led to innovative enhancements associated with the appreciation of the arts and a better understanding of Brasilia’s cultural heritage. Reflecting on key events and the innovative changes implemented at our school in recent years, many of these outcomes can be traced back to a serendipitous encounter that could have easily been missed if those involved were not paying attention or took the time to genuinely listen to others.

As educators, we tend to fiercely protect our schools and domains as teachers and school leaders. However, we may be guilty, at times, of responding in a seemingly defensive manner to different ideas and perspectives offered by those not associated with education. There is much to learn from others, especially those who see schools through a different lens, and it is our responsibility to not only embrace and explore new ideas, but to model for our students the ideals related to the process of continuous growth and development.

Serendipitous encounters are not limited to institutional events but also include those daily encounters with friends, family, colleagues and students. While a thirty-second encounter with a student, for example, may seem to carry little weight from an adult’s perspective, to the student, the encounter may represent a significant moment that will be internalized for years to come.

Whether our brief meetings with others lead to the innovative institutional changes highlighted by Tony Hsieh or make a real difference in the life of a student, we have a responsibility to remind ourselves of the importance of our interactions with others and the possible far-reaching implications that may result from these brief encounters.

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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.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NA 2.0) flickr photo by Marcos Molina – Tocando el violín https://www.flickr.com/photos/larou/3462594915

Digital Fluency Project

During a recent school governance conference, the attendees, who include school directors and board members, reflected on how schools of the future will be different from what we know today. Our facilitator, Lee Crockett, invoked the often used but, at times, little understood concept of a “21st Century School” to challenge our current thinking (If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, Lee Crockett overviews his book, “Literacy is not Enough,” in an informative video interview).

While I was interested in the substance of the discussion, I was also intrigued by our collective reactions and discomfort as we struggled to predict the future of education. Given the rate of technological change, few people, if any, are likely able to accurately predict how technology will ultimately influence the traditional nature of schools. What we do know is that schools and learning will look very different from what we experienced as children.

So, how do we move forward? Fortunately, educational and technological theorists are thinking deeply about the future of education and the result is the emergence of several frameworks. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation and its 21st Century Fluency Project represent one such framework that articulates an educational focus on ensuring that learning continues to be meaningful. While there are indeed other helpful models, the 21st Century Fluency Project presents a framework that will challenge all of us to reflect on the role technology plays in the learning process, both at home and at school. In summary, the model complements traditional learning with a concentration on attaining five related digital fluencies: creativity, collaboration, solution, media, and information.

The future of booksEAB is strategically addressing these changes in several different manners, ranging from the implementation of a 1-to-1 program, to a shift from one traditional library to three iCommons (Information Commons), to weekly technology training workshops for teachers, to a change in instructional practices and collaboration expectations. On a personal note, I am teaching a high school Leadership class this year, which includes experimenting with a blended learning model, meaning that learning is taking place both in person and through an online setting. We are using an infrastructure called Haiku, which is a digital K-12 online platform. An exciting element of the course is that this platform enables us to learn, in collaboration, with students from two other international schools, one in the U.S.A, and one in Mumbai. Through the power of the Internet and technology, our class has been expanded and enriched through the inclusion of students from other parts of the world. This has taken the learning experience of our students to a higher level of interest, diversity, and engagement.

A question: If you were asked to highlight the most important skills students will need for future success, what skills would you list? How does your list compare with the following list of the most important skills generated by professional educators and researchers?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, Action, Accountability

Now, let’s examine these skills in the context of Bloom’s taxonomy:

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The list of skills generated by professional educators and researchers correspond directly with the higher level thinking skills of Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating associated with Bloom’s taxonomy, rather than the lower level skills of Remembering, Understanding, and Applying. It is these higher-level thinking skills that guide the ongoing development of EAB’s educational program.

As EAB continues its work towards the continued implementation of effective and relevant teaching and learning practices, we will also continue to be guided by the approaches presented above in conjunction with Lee Crockett’s guiding concepts of relevance, creativity, and real-world application.

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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.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Johan Larsson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/6966883093

Teachers’ Day

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” ~ Carl Jung

In Brasilia, Teachers’ Day is commemorated each with year with a designated holiday on October 15. In the spirit of this special day on conjunction with the October 5 World Teachers’ Day, it is fitting to celebrate and recognize the inspiring work of those passionate individuals who have chosen education as not only a career, but also a calling. A sincere thank you to all teachers for their efforts, day in and day out, to continuously seek ways to make a difference in the lives of students through deep levels of care, professionalism, commitment, and hope.

Teachday1Teaching, at its essence, is about the ideals intrinsically associated with developmental relationships, which are, in turn, based on a profound belief and optimism for the future. It is the moral imperative of an educator to commit to an unwavering belief that all students are capable of reaching their potential and to an insuppressible hope for a better future. While these are indeed lofty goals, an educator’s prerogative is to accept nothing less than these ideals. Borrowing from Robert Browning, a student’s reach should exceed his or her grasp, or what’s education for? Thank you, once again, to all teachers for inspiring students to reach beyond their grasp and for making a difference in the lives of others, recognizing it make take years, or even decades, for these differences to be fully realized. Is it too much to conclude that the ideals of teaching and learning, embodied through a hope for the future and belief in others, contribute to defining the very essence of our humanity?

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token to save it from that ruin, which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. An education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their choice of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” ~ Hannah Arendt

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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.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Philippe Put: https://www.flickr.com/photos/34547181@N00/7035269431/in/photostream/

Mission-Driven Learning

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

The ‘why’ highlighted by Nietzsche is equated, in schools, to foundational documents, such as mission statements. These essential documents act as guiding principles for all facets of education, ranging from day-to-day instructional approaches, to business office and human resource decisions, to the building of new facilities, to educational program implementation, to co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and to long-term, strategic planning.

By way of example, I had the privilege of receiving an invitation to work with our Grade 3 classes on the development of a class mission statement. Once my introduction was completed, the outstanding Grade 3 teaching team led the students through a process to create a unique mission statement for their class. Through an effective and collaborative process, the students worked diligently to arrive at a consensus, which resulted in the following mission statement:

In third grade, it is our mission to explore new things, to make new friends, and improve ourselves so that we can solve problems and become responsible citizens of the world.

This statement will guide the learning and development of all Grade 3 students throughout the remainder of the year. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the student mission statement expands on the tenets of our school’s overall mission. By design, everything at the American School of Brasilia (EAB) is framed and guided by the school’s key foundational documents.

EAB’s ability to provide our students with the best holistic education possible will be achieved through a partnership between students, parents, and the school, towards the realization of the ideals presented in the mission, vision, core values, and motto.

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EAB’s Foundational Documents

MISSION
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.

VISION
At the American School of Brasilia, each student pursues an excellent academic program in a supportive and nurturing learning environment, whose rigor and relevance is evident through the five pillars of academics, arts, leadership, service learning, and activities. In an EAB education, our students are:
…provided a differentiated education, that optimizes academic potential;
…exposed to the arts, achieving proficiency in at least one area;
…provided the opportunity and support to develop as citizen-leaders;
…engaged in meaningful and sustainable service learning experiences;
…involved in co-curricular activities or sports.

CORE VALUES
Trustworthiness – Respect – Responsibility – Fairness – Caring – Citizenship

MOTTO
Celebrating Diversity and Cultivating Citizenship

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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.

Photo Credit: Matt Hajdun / Caira Franklin

We Teach Who We Are

One of the many facets I appreciate about the education profession is the opportunity to begin each year 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 institutions. Serving a school community in this capacity in conjunction with the corresponding privilege of working with students is indeed a wondrous and meaningful experience for all involved.

To celebrate the return to the learning process and to frame our work for the year ahead, I shared the following quote with the American School of Brasilia’s faculty and staff:

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“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.” ~Jack Layton

The essential human qualities of love, hope, and optimism underscore the fundamental characteristics of what it means to be an educator, whether in the capacity of a teacher, family member, friend, or supporter. Students need role models who value deep and empowering relationships, who inspire hope for the future, and who are eternal optimists. Schools must be a place where students can achieve their potential in a safe and supportive learning environment that enables them to hope and dream.

In my humble and, albeit, biased opinion, I fully believe that the American School of Brasilia (EAB) is emblematic and embracing of Mr. Layton’s guiding principles. During the first week of school, I was reminded of how much our faculty members not only love their profession and the subject they teach, but also the deep level of care they exhibit for the wellbeing and the learning of our students. I was reminded of how much hope for the future is inspired by teachers, students, and parents, particularly through the positive energy exhibited through their relationships and mutual support. Finally, I was reminded that teaching and learning is an inherently optimistic endeavor. It is comforting to know that EAB’s faculty and staff are eternal optimists when it comes to teaching, learning, and the wondrous potential that can be achieved by all.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer highlights the complexities associated with teaching, which extend beyond curricula, philosophies, and teaching resources, through his statement, “[teachers] teach who they are.” If this is true, then our students are most fortunate to be members of a community filled with talented and passionate people who are, “loving, hopeful, and optimistic”, and fully committed, through education, to changing the world to make it a better place.

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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.

Image Credit: Patrick Corrigan


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Sebastião Salgado: Genesis Project

I was grateful for today’s opportunity to visit Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis exhibition at Centro Cultural Banco de Brasil (CCCB). The legendary Brazilian photographer worked on the Genesis project from 2004 to 2011, engaging with the most remote locations on Earth. He describes his project as “my love letter to the planet,” with the goal of raising awareness about the beauty and majesty of remote regions of the world and the communities who still live according to ancient traditions. The following is a sampling of Sebastião Salgado’s photo exhibition.

Genesis Overview
From http://www.amazonasimages.com

Genesis is a long-term photographic project, in line with the main bodies of work carried out previously by Sebastião Salgado; for example, the series of reportages presented in Workers or the series on the theme of the population movements around the world, that appeared in Migrations. This new project is about our planet earth, nature and its beauty, and what remains of it today despite the manifold destruction caused by human activity. Genesis is an attempt to portray the beauty and the majesty of regions that are still in a pristine condition, areas where landscapes and wildlife are still unspoiled, places where human communities continue to live according to their ancient culture and traditions. Genesis is about seeing and marvelling, about understanding the necessity for the protection of all this; and finally it is about inspiring action for this preservation. The shooting of this series of photographic reportages began in 2004 and is due for completion in 2012.

Sebastião Salgado Biography
From http://www.amazonasimages.com

Sebastião Salgado was born on February 8th, 1944 in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. He lives in Paris. Having studied economics, Salgado began his career as a professional photographer in 1973 in Paris, working with the photo agencies Sygma, Gamma, and Magnum Photos until 1994, when he and Lélia Wanick Salgado formed Amazonas images, an agency created exclusively for his work. He has travelled in over 100 countries for his photographic projects. Most of these, besides appearing in numerous press publications, have also been presented in books such as Other Americas (1986), Sahel: l’homme en détresse (1986), Sahel: el fin del camino (1988), Workers (1993), Terra (1997), Migrations and Portraits (2000), and Africa (2007). Touring exhibitions of this work have been, and continue to be, presented throughout the world.

Sebastião Salgado has been awarded numerous major photographic prizes in recognition of his accomplishments. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and an honorary member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States. In 2004, Sebastião Salgado began a project named Genesis, aiming at the presentation of the unblemished faces of nature and humanity. It consists of a series of photographs of landscapes and wildlife, as well as of human communities that continue to live in accordance with their ancestral traditions and cultures. This body of work is conceived as a potential path to humanity’s rediscovery of itself in nature.

Together, Lélia and Sebastião have worked since the 1990’s on the restoration of a small part of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. In 1998 they succeeded in turning this land into a nature reserve and created the Instituto Terra. The Instituto is dedicated to a mission of reforestation, conservation and environmental education.

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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.

Photo Credit: Sebastião Salgado

The Promise of Life

To commemorate the September 7 Independence of Brazil, the American School of Brasilia (EAB) held a celebratory assembly today with teachers, parents, and all of EAB’s students, ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. The auditorium was abuzz with anticipation and the attendees were not disappointed by the presentations, which were mostly led by students. It was an impressive display and homage to our host country, Brazil. Brazil Independence EAB’s mission and motto highlight the importance of a culturally diverse school that cultivates citizenship and celebrates diversity. Of paramount importance are the inclusion, study, and celebration of Brazil’s culture as a key element of Brazil’s educational program. In fact, for the countries we have the privilege to call “home,” it is our responsibility to learn as much as we can about the local languages and customs of our hosts. EAB’s mission underscores how our school takes this responsibility very seriously. In the spirit of celebrating September 7, the following is a brief personal narrative about my own relationship with Brazil. I have had the honor of living in Brazil since the year 2000 and am deeply grateful for the opportunity to both learn from Brazilians and experience the richness and diversity associated with Brazilian culture. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, I committed to learning more about Brazilian culture, in addition to overcoming a personal inhibition, through a decision to take ballroom dance lessons with Espaço de Dança Andrei Udiloff. The process of learning to dance Samba de Gafieira, which I can assure you was not an easy assignment for my instructor, was both profound and rewarding. The classes opened a unique window into Brazilian culture, language, history, art, and music. Among the rich array of traditional Brazilian music, I was struck by Tom Jobim’s Águas de Março, which has continued to be my favorite Brazilian song to this day. If you are not familiar with the song, the following is a captivating rendition by Elis Regina. In addition to a stirring musical production, Águas de Março’s lyrics also resonate with the challenges of our daily lives. Based on my very amateur interpretation, the metaphor of Águas de Março represents a seemingly endless march forward, requiring us to overcome both the minor and significant challenges associated with daily lives. This metaphor seems apropos when applied to the onward progression of the student learning process and educational program development at EAB, in addition to the macro challenge of overall school improvement and the imperative to continue advancing education for all in Brazil and around the world. Águas de Março also reflects the eternal optimism often found in Brazilian culture through the repeated reference to the “promise of life.” As educators and parents, it is this “promise of life” that motivates and inspires us to be the very best parents and educators we can be for our children and students. It is also one of the many reasons why I am so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to live in Brasilia and to call Brazil my home.

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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.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Antonio Thomas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/antoniothomas/4676898983

Promise of Life

Trapeze Bars

The end of each school year is marked by a series of celebrations designed to highlight and appreciate individual and collective achievements while also honoring the unique nature of our communities. The end-of-year celebrations also represent a period of key student celebrations and transitions, such as kindergarten to Lower School, Grade 5 students to Middle School, and Grade 8 students to High School. The end of May will also be highlighted by the graduation of our senior class, which represents a culminating experience for EAB students as they prepare to move beyond high school to seek new challenges and growth opportunities. While we are still a few weeks away from these important events in our lives, it is also important to prepare for these periods of transition.

It is often easy to overlook the transition phases of our lives and, in our future-orientated approaches, focus only on the next stages. However, what if it is during these periods of transition that we are presented with the most profound and enlightening experiences associated with who we are and what we value? In our rush to move through transitions as quickly as possible, we may be missing the most important experiences of our lives. Author Danaan Parry has articulated these thoughts through the use of a trapeze bar metaphor:


Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily), swinging along, I look ahead of me, and what do I see? I see another bar swinging towards me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must totally release my grip on the present, well-known bar and move to a new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab a new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of knowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto the old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place where real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time old my buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “nothing”, “a no-place” between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real to. But the void in-between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorientating “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where real change and real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell on the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we may just learn to fly.

As we collectively plan for the end of the school year and prepare for each of our personal transitions, it is hoped that we will have the opportunity to savor the transition itself. If we follow Danaan’s advice about the importance of embracing transitions, then we may just experience, “the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.”

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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.