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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Proserpina Dhlamini-Fisher | Leave a comment

Are we helping students get comfortable with change? Part 2

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

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

Practice with trial and error, mistakes, and deadends

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

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

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

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

Bill Gates [source]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This last requirement needs a little more explanation. 

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

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

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

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I Miss the Kids Like Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week…

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

Inspiring Videos – 

SGN Episode 8

Graduation Ceremonies

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Are we helping students get comfortable with change? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

Buy in through choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We clearly have work to do. 

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

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Bouncing Back!

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

Welcome back to school

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

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

Placeholders to keep one-meter distance during temperature checks

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

UV lights in every classroom

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

Cafeteria crisscross

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

Stage six: information overload

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

Virtual Teacher

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

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

Every classroom necessity

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

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

Posted in Shwetangna Chakrabarty | Leave a comment

Lockdown Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week…

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

Inspiring Videos –

The Great Realisation 

SGN Potluck

Lockdown Grievances 

The Opportunity of Adversity  (An all-time favourite)

Fox in Sox

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Like so many parents across the world, I’ve been watching, and occasionally helping, my 9-year old navigate online learning. I have it pretty easy, with all of the resources one needs, a fourth grade curriculum that isn’t too demanding, a spouse that is doing a greater share of the work than me, and a wonderful, progressive teacher. I’m also observing a child who is confident, self-motivated, eager to learn, and willing to go with the flow. 

So I’ve got it really easy.

I also had the unique chance to watch her move from face to face school, to an online version of that school, and into a two-week spring break. What an opportunity amidst all the uncertainty and suffering. A bit of a silver lining.

What I’ve noticed is that there is no clear difference in Chloé’s learning behaviors when school is in session and when it’s not. With online school, she is busy for perhaps an hour per day, on average. We print some materials, lend our phones for her to make videos, sometimes sit next to her. And when spring break came and there were no longer any school assignments, not too much really changed. 

One of those days during spring break went like this.

Chloé woke up late. She joined me in the living room and read Harry Potter for a good stretch of time. Then I made breakfast.

Because I was working from home, after breakfast she was able to join me at the table. She had recently started a touch typing tutorial (typingclub.com). Together we typed, side by side. In hindsight I was modeling by doing email and the usual sort of writing tasks one does. I didn’t give any instruction, but every now and then she told me of a success with a new letter or a new fastest speed. This went on well over an hour.

We took a break to play our newest sport: hacky sack. No soccer clubs will be calling, there are no YouTube videos in our future. But we laugh and celebrate small successes. 

She tinkers afterwards with a combination of hobbies, playing the piano and using a composition tool I’ve been experimenting with (noteflight.com). She doesn’t have regular piano lessons, but now and again my sister, a professional music teacher, listens to her play over Skype. Because I was writing some piano pieces, Chloé wrote one, too. A question about different keys had become a full on music theory lesson a few nights before. Now she wanted to use Noteflight to write down her original song. I gave her my computer. Chloé began writing and moving back and forth from the table to the piano. Together we learned more about how Noteflight works. (It’s pretty slick.) 

That evening she helped make dinner and set the table. We ate as a family (all too rare when life was “normal,” a sobering thought), and then we played a board game, as a family. The offline activities are a welcome balance to the various online options. Chloé has learned Settlers of Catan, adopting a preference for the ore and development card strategy, if you are familiar with the game. We cannot cut her any slack, she wins now a fair amount of time.

To fall asleep we read together, she more of Harry Potter, me something else. She filled me in on the latest plot twists. She shared a passage that she found funny. 

That day was not atypical. It was like all of them during that two-week break, though her focus moved between different activities. (Currently she’s been drawing with Art for Kids Hub, on YouTube). I didn’t homeschool. I didn’t monitor learning. There were no assessments, at least not in the way we think of school assessments. There wasn’t vertical or horizontal alignment of curriculum, classroom hours, balanced subjects, test preparation, none of that. There wasn’t teaching, at least how we commonly think of it with school. 

But there was learning. Not learning I could predict, at least not exactly. She reads. I figure she’ll read. When she wants to. She’s curious about the piano. Whether she plays or not is up to her. Learning about music composition – well that’s neat. We’ll share that interest as I prepare for a class I agreed to teach next school year. Touch typing? Great skill, why not!

And hacky sack? Not really part of the school curriculum. One could make it so by talking about physical coordination and number of required kicks and how to use the knee and top of the foot and then an assessment… no, let’s not go there.

This was Chloé’s Unschool. Yes, I recognize again all the affordances in her favor. But still … Weaned from several hours of school a day to just one hour, and then to none during spring break, did not stop learning. It opened learning up. What it stopped was school. Learning became more individual, more self-regulated, more pertinent, more enjoyable, more relaxed, more exploratory. 

Now just as I finish writing this, Chloé has completed a project for online school, which started again this week. She has prepared the traditional Swiss Birchermuesli, by herself. Compliments to her teacher for the assignment – and for Chloé for doing this activity just like all the others during her “break” – independently, joyfully.

There are lessons here for us that we don’t want to forget post-pandemic. I’m going to think about that – after I try the Birchermuesli. 

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Reaching Out

So just about a week ago I woke up to the news of the mass shooting in my home province of Nova Scotia, Canada. With each new tragic update and gutting confirmation that what had happened was actually real, my heart shrunk and my mind went numb. That first day was dark indeed, and my joyful spirit felt dislocated as I thought of all those so deeply affected and forever changed…I felt hopeless and a little stuck in place honestly, until I received a short text message from a faculty member and friend of mine, who reached out and simply thought about me, and in that moment, the darkness of the day got a just little bit lighter. It’s funny the power that a simple act of kindness can have, and how the small gesture of reaching out to someone can have such a huge impact. I needed that text message at that moment, and it kickstarted my journey from despair back to hope. 

I don’t know what the world is trying to tell us these days, and it’s hard to make sense of it all honestly. With the tension and isolation of the global lockdown growing, and a tragedy in the unlikeliest of places in the unlikeliest of times…it’s certainly been quite a week. I do know one thing however as I struggle to make sense of it all, we need each other during these days, and we need to reach out. 

I’ve been trying hard this week to reach out to as many people as I can…people in my life who need to know that someone is thinking about them, and there for them if they need support, and I’ve done this for two reasons. I want to be a light in someone’s life who may need a kind voice right about now, and I need to find some support and light for me as well. Reaching out to others not only helps them, it helps you too, and a kind voice or an unexpected connection has tremendous healing power. 

It’s been a difficult week trying to process it all, and like everyone who has been affected by this, I’ve gone through a range of emotions including sadness, anger, confusion, and ultimately…hope. My hope is that my hometown community, as well as our global community will find strength through these difficult times, and emerge stronger together. Just like that simple text message helped to snap my dislocated spirit back into place last week, reaching out to others will make a huge difference, and we’re all capable of being that sunshine for others. Reach out this week to the people that you love, and people who you haven’t spoken to in a while, and let them know that you are thinking about them. Send an email, make a phone call, set up a Zoom call, whatever…just make that connection. I guarantee it will change your day for the better, and it will certainly impact theirs as well.

Teachers, check in with each other this week and share some joy. Reach out to your students and their families too and check in on them, as we’re all struggling in one way or another in this new reality. To my Nova Scotia community, know that the world is wrapping its arms around you virtually and squeezing tight. Rally around each other and find strength in community, and support each other. We will eventually emerge through these difficult times, and when we do, we will be stronger together. Reach out everyone…it’s what we all need. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

We rise by lifting others – Robert Ingersoll

Inspiring Videos –

 Prom 2020 – SGN

Times Like These

For Nova Scotia

California Restaurant

Thank a Hero


Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Ubuntu: “I am because we are” 

The Covid19 pandemic has been a turning point in the history of education, industry and technology. It has also ushered the best and worst in humanity. The worst being, instead of looking for a solution to conquer the fierce enemy-the Coronavirus, countries are engaged in finding a scapegoat for their own lack of combatting this issue, politicians are busy playing the blame game for vested personal interests, and people are displaying increasingly disturbing xenophobia. Is this humanity’s new avatar revealed by an invisible enemy?

When I think of humanity, the African philosophy of Ubuntuism or the word Ubuntu echoes into my conscience and makes me ponder what should have been the true face of humanity in the time of this crisis. Having lived in Africa for a long time, I came to use and relate to the word Ubuntu which means, ‘I am because we are’. In many sense, it explains the purpose of humanity that is to coexist and define each other by discovering the interconnectedness and relationship between humans and that between humans and the world around them. I would like to interpret Ubuntu in the context of Covid19 to talk about the need to educate with the purpose of achieving Ubuntuism.

Let us envisage Ubuntuism as the educational philosophy for the future. This means education will aim at inculcating the ideologies of Ubuntuism. Here is my interpretation of Ubuntuism integrated into educational values. This will serve the future generation by preparing them better to deal with any crisis at a global scale.

Consensus over conflict
Ubutuism explains the interconnectedness of one human with the other, the reason of existence of one because of the other, with this aim the first thing to do is abolish the root of all conflicts: unhealthy competitions, ranking, grading, constant need to be the best. Students should compete with their own abilities to improve and become a better version of themselves and not compete with others to become clones of each other. Competition kills creativity and harnesses jealousy, anger and a constant desire to prove oneself. This gives rise to conflict, while the need of the hour is consensus. Curbing competition and the constant need to be the best will have a solid positive impact on the decisions students make when faced with challenges, they will seek to find a solution and not find a scapegoat. They will seek consensus over conflict.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing an unhealthy conflict globally to prove that one country is better than the other, one religion, race even profession is better than the other; there are even tests and research being conducted for racial profiling of Covid19, a pandemic. An unhealthy response to a health issue.

Altruism over Egotism
Altruism is the ability to think of others before self and it can be linked to Ubuntuism as in the later the definition of self is in relation to others so you think of others first in order to think about yourself. When faced with a global crisis the only redeemer is the ability to think of others before self, that is how the health care workers would have powered on in spite of the looming danger of getting infected and possibly dying. The need to care for others first can be taught and this will be our biggest saviour against an invincible enemy. Egotism the very opposite of altruism is leading to the delay of developing a cure for the Covid19 pandemic. Countries need to come together to fight the global threat, fighting alone is not the answer neither the right response to the situation. This reminds me of the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ which means the whole world is one family and truly it is. Altruism can help us align to the idea of one world hence it needs to be an educational value.

Social equality over equity
Since Ubuntuism is about bringing together everyone to see each other as equal, it would demand educational aims and values to be directed towards equality and not equity. Equality in terms of opportunity is the need to give equal opportunity to all citizens of the world irrespective of caste, gender, religion, nationality or colour. Equality alone can bridge the gaps created by tensions during an apocalyptic situation. Equity is about helping others in the time of need but equity is not the answer as it will lead to widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, how? Well, simply because it again creates the situation where one is capable of giving and the other is at the mercy of the giver. To bridge the gap it has to be filled not widened. Equity is providing too little to those who need it and too much to those who do not, this can further exacerbate the inequalities we see today. Equal opportunity is the solution, teaching students to be entrepreneurs and to create jobs is a better skill than teaching them to indulge in charity. The current situation is a stark reminder on how charity is not the answer but sharing resources and opportunities to survive, is the only option.

Pluralism over monism
Pluralism philosophy encourages duality of ideas, thoughts and perspective, in terms of the society it celebrates diversity, racial and cultural differences; on the other hand monism philosophy unites into sects or groups by dividing under common beliefs for example religion. When it comes to Ubuntuism, if we consider the very core idea of one’s development in conjunction to another, it automatically reinforces pluralism and teaches to understand multiple perspectives and learn from other people’s experiences rather than just believe in oneness and unity which ultimately is used to segregate on the basis of colour, race, beliefs, geography, food and gender. The Covid19 crisis would have been dealt with better without prejudice and bias. The virus does not segregate it just keeps attacking the next human being without bias or prejudice hence is more successful than those trying to contain it with hatred and xenophobia.

Soul over self
At Nelson Mandela’s memorial, United States President Barack Obama spoke about Ubuntu, saying,
“There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailers as honoured guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.”

Ubuntu speaks about the soul, to oversome the self and be human in the time of crisis. Ubuntuism is the way forward, a world not divided but a world as one family, opening up borders, getting rid of economic domination, racial supremacy, roots of discrimination and cold calculated xenophobia. Only by revising educational aims and values can we survive the future, the future of coexistence with an understanding and respect for each other.

Covid19 has given an opportunity to policymakers, philosophers, politicians and heads of countries to rethink how to shape the future of the world. Creating a whole world, not a fragmented world, by acknowledging Ubuntu-I am because we are!

Posted in Shwetangna Chakrabarty | Leave a comment

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What Big Disasters Tell Us All.

A small gathering of people, heads bowed, sit on makeshift benches in the open air of a small town in the American West, surrounded by the rubble of what used to be their church. A powerful nation, wounded by a brazen and public act of violence that crumbles two symbols of its economy, impulsively reacts with rage and violence.

There’s nothing like crisis to expose us for who we are and what we value (and don’t). It’s cathartic, like a near death experience. (Which unfortunately is what this can be).

In schools, we like to think we’re ready because we plan (fires, cobras yes that’s a thing, earthquake, gas leak, military coup, invader, etc.). I’ll never forget the time in Switzerland when the local fire department made me enter a simulated smoky room tent and follow recorded screams to the other side with a fire extinguisher in my hand as I tried to spray a burning stove. My heart was beating out of my chest, my tie nearly caught fire, and no plan in the world was going to help. It was terrifying (and awesome).

So forget about the neat lines of elementary kids quietly walking down stairs in rows to the pre-planned fire drill on a sunny day out through the cafeteria and lining up on the football pitch. This ‘stuff’ is for real.

Remember how dysfunctional your communications were before the pandemic? I bet that got sorted fast. Remember those needy and at risk students before the lockdown? Are they worse than ever? Possibly. Remember how much difficulty the science department had collaborating when they were in person? How’s that working out now through a screen?

All of those things that we either ignored but knew could be problems, hoped to get to later but never had the time and wished would fix themselves, are now screaming at us like one huge virtual siren. Similarly, so is the great stuff. I bet those popular pep rallies are better than ever on Zoom!!

Economics pundits are recording with fascination how the work universe is re-sorting itself. Visionary businesses like Amazon and Netflix are gobbling up the opportunity while the insecure or unprepared are suffering. (Maybe we didn’t need all that oil after all). Same goes for us.

If your organization over-promised and underdelivered before the crisis, you’re probably in trouble now. If you didn’t properly support or train your teachers before the crisis, you’re in trouble. If you didn’t build trust with your parent community before March, you’re really in trouble. If you didn’t build a culture of transparency and respect and yes, love, before, then the current shutdown for you might extend well beyond when things open up again.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, these current times are leadership gold. They are providing a clear path to us about not only what is really important about learning, but what we are made of as institutions and what cannot wait for the next accreditation cycle.

Of course, a lot of schools and businesses might pick up right where they left off. There may be socially distanced parties, unveiling of statues built for lower elementary and Pre-K teachers, and an increase in community building. But things might just drift back to the way they were.

Don’t let that happen. Even if things were good.

This is the greatest scorecard of all time. It’s better than accreditation, a PhD from Bath, and a Klingenstein Fellowship rolled into one. It’s the mirror, looking straight at our unshaven and unkempt faces, telling us exactly who we are and what is our potential.

Don’t waste it.

Posted in Stephen Dexter | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment