Air Pollution: What Should Schools Be Doing?   

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Photo credit: The New York Times

When I lived in the Middle East, we had ‘rain days’, when it poured enough to render the roads unsafe for students to venture out, and school was cancelled. In Colorado, we had snow days. In Hong Kong, we’ve got typhoon days. We also have days when the air pollution is so high that children must stay indoors.

I recently spent a solid week inside with my toddler because the air was too poor to consider leaving the house[1]. One evening, the app that shows me our current air quality (I check it way more than I look at Facebook or Twitter), said the “air” was 323% more polluted than the World Health Organization’s maximum safe limit. I cranked up the purifiers and drummed up as many indoor baby activities as I could. At one desperate point, I started shopping around for flights to someplace fresher. Developing children are too susceptible to take this risk with.

There isn’t a standard international way to measure air pollution, nor do we agree upon what to measure or how to interpret the results. Schools, if they have a policy in place around air quality, typically rely upon government-published data, the reliability of which varies. It can be easy to assume that, unless a thick fog is visible (and you don’t live in India or China), smog isn’t an issue. However, air pollution – often invisible and odourless – is present in higher levels around the world than you might think. This mesmerizing website, by the World Air Quality Index project, debunked some of my assumptions about where to go for clean air[2]. Indeed, the WHO has concluded that, in 2014, 92% of the global population was living in places where air quality guideline levels were not met[3].

Is it the responsibility of schools to protect students from exposure to air pollution? I’ve heard of some campuses with ‘bubbles’ built over their play spaces so that children have room to run without being outside, exactly. Some schools install air purification systems in classrooms. And some simply hold indoor recess for as long as it takes for the haze to pass. Unlucky is the asthmatic child whose condition has landed her on a list of students who stay inside in all but the best conditions while her peers hit the playground without her. But really, should any of them be running around in questionable air quality?

What precautions does your school take to protect students from the harmful effects of air pollution? 

[1] It’s Hong Kong: when I say ‘house’, I mean a flat that might qualify for those ‘tiny home’ TV shows in the U.S.

[2] As I write this, air pollution readings are triple those in Hong Kong at a station in British Columbia, and at another in Italy.

[3] World Health Organization. (2016). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/

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Wired for Play

So ​I’m currently reading this amazing book titled, The Importance of Being Little, by Erika Christakis, and I literally cannot put it down. An outstanding educator, leader and friend of mine, Paola Pereira lent it to me after I saw her carrying it around last week, and it’s one of those books that makes you sad as you get closer to the end because you truly hope that it goes on and on forever…you’ve all read books like this I’m sure. Anyway, there is one chapter in particular that has resonated deeply with me, and has got me thinking again about something that I’ve been passionate about since I first stepped into a classroom many years ago…the paramount importance of play in the lives of our children. 

 

Christakis puts it beautifully at the end of the chapter by suggesting that as educators, “we should do our best to get out of young children’s way as much as possible to let them draw their own conclusions about how the world does and doesn’t work. A reinvigorated play habitat is just the place for this”… I love that! The idea of getting out of children’s way is something that can be difficult for us as educators I know, and giving up the reigns can often be a struggle as we do our best to “teach” our kids. That said, it’s probably the biggest gift that we can give as educators to all of our students, regardless of how old they are…unstructured play, trial and error learning, and the incorporation of the natural world often leads to the beauty of that serendipitous learning that we’ve all seen in our students at some point or another. It makes me wonder why we tend to get further and further away from this approach to learning as the students move up in grades, and as traditional educational models continue to hang on by their fangs. 

 

It’s not just kids though, as adults we are guilty, I think, of losing that love of play as we grow up and “mature”, but I’m here to tell you that this is not a good thing for us or for our kids. I wrote a blog post just over five years ago that speaks to this, and I’d like to share it again because I believe it’s worth repeating. Think about how playful you are in your own lives these days, and how much you try to inspire this in the lives of your students…I bet there are improvements that we all can make, regardless of what grade you teach, to bring the idea of play more to the forefront of your day to day experiences with kids. Here’s a piece from that older post…

 

Last week, I watched kids playing tag, cops and robbers, hopscotch and hide and seek, not to mention all the great games of soccer and basketball and football where kids were pretending to be their favorite players from their favorite teams. I saw kids jumping in puddles and playing rock, paper, scissors, and every single one of them was smiling, free, and completely engaged. I started to wonder why as adults we don’t play more together? I thought about how maybe it’s actually the kids who’ve really got it right, and how maybe it’s time for us as educators to let the kids teach us an important lesson for once. Then I thought about the times in my life when I’m the happiest and it occurred to me that it’s when I’m playing. Either playing soccer with my boy, or dolls or moms and dads with my girl, or when I’m out for a run just letting my imagination and that dreamy state of mind take over. I also thought about the best teachers that I’ve ever had in my life and it struck me that it was the ones who played with us as students. The teachers who found ways to bring “play” into the classrooms, and the ones who found time to incorporate “play” into their lessons…and the ones were out on the field at recess throwing footballs and playing horse. The teachers who hadn’t lost their inner child, and who knew the importance of having fun like a kid.

 

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. I think most of us tend to get saddled with the seriousness of work, and paying the bills, and the responsibility that we have to ourselves, our students, and our own kids…and I think it’s the wrong approach. I think that finding time to play may just be one of the most important things that we can do as adults. I think it will make us better educators, better mentors, better colleagues, and better parents. Like balance, finding time to play in your life is hard, and maybe something that you haven’t put as a priority of late. I guess I’m asking you all this week to think about how much you play with your students throughout the school day, and how much time you set aside in your own lives to escape like those kids on the playground…it might just change your life for the better.

 

Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be playful with our kids and good to each other!

 

Quote of the Week –

The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression! – Stuart Brown

 

 

Great TED Talks on the Importance of Play – (watch these)

http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_on_creativity_and_play

http://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen

http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity

http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids
Interesting Articles –

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1987/03/the-importance-of-play/305129/

http://www.playengland.org.uk/about-us/why-play-is-important/

https://www.education.com/reference/article/importance-play–social-emotional/

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/feb/27/play-education-creative-learning-teachers-schools

http://www.naeyc.org/play

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The ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Depreciate the Value of American Schools

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Between 1950 and 2009, internationally-mobile students increased from 107,000 to 3.4 million annually[1]. That’s almost 3.5 million students making a decision each year to leave their home to study, and more of them choose the U.S. than any other destination. When I was a college counselor at an American school in the Middle East, only about 1/3 of our students were American, but over 90% of our graduates went on to tertiary studies in the U.S.

The so-called ‘Muslim Ban’, recently signed by U.S. President Trump, which blocks immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries, will likely impact study abroad applications. As an American, I value the contributions of foreign students to my country. As an international school educator, I wonder about how this ban will effect the appeal of American college prep schools abroad.

Following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the United States. Anti-Muslim groups have also drastically increased. It has been posited that, “The decision to study overseas is driven primarily by cultural values rather than rational choice”[2]. If this is so, perceived messages of intolerance toward Muslim people will influence students’ decisions about where to invest the time and financial resources it takes to complete a degree. I anticipate that we will see a decrease in international Muslim students on U.S. campuses in the coming years.

Image Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

With fewer foreign students planning on the U.S. for college, I suspect that families will rethink their children’s attendance at international college prep schools. The Executive Director for the Association of International Educators recently gave an interview on National Public Radio, explaining their collaboration with colleges and universities in the U.S. to gain insight on how the immigration ban is playing out in our admissions offices. I fear the worst: numbers of foreign students to the U.S. will drop and, along with that, American college prep schools in Muslim majority countries will see declining enrollment.

We need international students in the United States, and we need American schools abroad. Promoting cross-cultural contact can reduce negative stereotypes about ‘the other’. This is not romantic aspiration; research shows that when white Americans are exposed to positive information about Arab Muslims, their implicit negative bias declines[3]. Having enjoyed four years of gracious hospitality in the Middle East, I am saddened to think that the students I knew may now be feeling unwelcome in my home country.

How has the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ impacted student’s college plans at your school?

[1] UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2011). Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

[2] Shields, R. (2013). Globalization and international student mobility: A network analysis. Comparative Education Review, 57(4), 609-636.

[3] Park, J., Felix, K., & Lee, G. (2007). Implicit Attitudes Toward Arab-Muslims and the Moderating Effects of Social Information. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 35-45.

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High School: Where the fallen angel meets the rising ape

I was recently at an under 9s boys football tournament, supporting one of our teams. These are high energy events, as you can imagine, with hundreds of small boys charging around in semi-controlled fashion; a triumph of enthusiasm and innocence. Our long-suffering Coach never flags during the four matches that each team plays, and constantly shouts what are, to me, cryptic messages like ‘Clear your lines boys, clear your lines!” During one recent tournament, our team had lost 8-0, 6-0 and 2-0; in the fourth match it was 0-0 with 3 minutes to go, and standing beside Coach, I noted he was quite agitated, as the ball had passed, for the first time, and only momentarily, into the opponents’ half. Amidst the “square ball, square ball, lads!” calls, one boy on our team ran up to Coach on the sidelines, saying “Coach! Coach!” Coach glanced away from the scrum (rugby and football being strikingly similar for this age group) and said, urgently, “Yes, what is it?”. The boy looked up, dreamily paused to admire the elegant curve of the wing of a bird high above the pitch, and the glint of sun in its eye, and then, pointing to his stomach said, in a slow and rather faraway voice “My shirt is a bit itchy here”. I walked away rapidly, biting my fist to stop myself laughing, and so regrettably did not catch coach’s comment, but I can confirm that it was concise and guttural. I was later told that the young man in question brings the same focus and commitment to his Tae-Kwon Do.

 

Last week I also had the great pleasure of welcoming back to school some of our first ever alumni, in whom we are so proud, who are now approaching the end of their initial University experiences. These wonderful young men and women have been speaking with confidence, experience and pride about what they are doing now – from National Service to NYU to Oxford and a dozen other places – and about how they want to establish a strong alumni network around the world, so that they can offer recent and detailed support to us. They have been generous, open and warm with their perspectives and advice, and we are grateful to them.

As a HS Principal, I find it very helpful to ponder the pre- and the post-HS life. As I watch our current HS students sitting exams, learning hard lessons about privacy in the digital age, getting ready to plan an independent trip around Asia, and dealing with the news that they have been accepted or rejected at University, the context helps.   Like all schools, we have students who have some tough moments to get through – and it helps to remember where they were, just a few years ago, and also where they will likely be very shortly.

The human condition is one where, in Terry Pratchett’s memorable phrase, the fallen angel meets the rising ape. Nowhere is this truer than in the High School years, and it’s good to have it mind whenever we face difficult times.

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Where Has Groucho Marx Gone? Teaching Social Satire in a Time of Tyrants

With the miasma of crackdowns, collusions, and demonization that has become a weekly occurrence here in the United States, I wonder, where have all our Groucho Marxs’ gone.  All those wry, witty, double entendre, in-your-face comic geniuses who makeup the American landscape of satirists and comics. They who make us squirm or double over in revealing life’s absurdities and injustices.

With a lineage that traces back to Aristophanes and Ovid, social satire has long been a form of social criticism and a voice of dissent. It is a sensibility that is iconoclastic and irreligious and challenges all the sacred cows of a culture. Sometimes at great expense: Ovid and Lenny Bruce being two salient examples. When power is thin skinned and reactive it resorts to brute force to silence or exile its unrepentant critics.

Here in America we have a gilded tradition. Mark Twain, H.L. Menken, Groucho Marx, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Mort Sahl, Robert Altman, Russell Baker, George Carlin, to name but a few. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about genocide, imperialism, capitalism and industrialism, racism, environmental destruction, are to be found here. It is a tradition, that cuts across genres that has long informed the American experience and the spirit of social critique. And yet, what school, what middle or high school humanities program, has considered this tradition as legitimate a form to study as ancient civilizations or chemistry? It would appear, that we are missing out on something that is an essential vehicle for cultural critique.

We live in a time of the narrowing of discourse and plurality of viewpoints. Is there not a better time, with democratic ideals at risk, to expose young people to this boisterous, often unrepentant tradition of satirists? The world has always needed a dangerous comic tradition and needs one now more than ever before. It needs voices that are inimical to greed, mendacity, shortsightedness, and intimidation. A nation that cannot laugh at itself, is a country that takes itself too seriously or too sanctimoniously. Both are omissions of resilience and humility. Call it an elective, an extra. Name it independent study. Where it fits into your curriculum doesn’t really matter. What does, is connecting the young to a tradition that has often been at the forefront of upholding civil liberties and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Is there not be a more propitious time to insert a study of social satire in the curriculum? Unless we see no place for humor in the expansive lists of 21st century skills. Or in the words of Groucho Marx: “Humor is reason gone mad.” In America, it is time to get mad.

 

 

 

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Students At The Helm

So we have been spending a lot of time and energy of late finding ways to inspire our students to lead their own learning. It’s been a true passion of ours as a school over the past few years honestly, to break out of the traditional model of education, and to come up with programs, units, assessments, structures and spaces that are conducive to putting our students at the helm…and it’s been very exciting. I have to be honest though, this change in mindset, curriculum, and approach takes a great deal of planning, and time, and commitment, but I’m happy to say that things are finally starting to stick around here.

I took a casual walk around the school last Friday morning just to see what I could see, and in many ways I was inspired by what I saw…here are few things that stood out for me, and a few examples of how students across our grade levels are starting to take ownership of their education, and how teachers are there as mentors and facilitators…

  • A 7th grade social studies class all becoming entrepreneurs, working on their sustainable entrepreneurial projects, trying to create small businesses that will help raise money for Earthquake victims on the coast. A transdisciplinary unit written in partnership with our 11th grade economics classes.
  • Our GIN (Global Issues Network) students putting the finishing touches on their projects that they are about to showcase in Panama next week at the regional conference (Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, and Climate Change). Student inspired projects that have affected local change in our community.
  • Students working through the design cycle in our Middle School Design Technology class and Maker Space, finding solutions to the question, “How can we make our school and community better?” Empathizing, ideating, and prototyping
  • A 4th grade class of kids sharing passion/inspiration project ideas that they will showcase at our next Inspiration Project morning on March 17th for our community. These projects have taken the place of traditional homework in our upper elementary grades, and have truly inspired our kids to bring their passions to life in any way, shape, or form
  • Grade 1 classes reflecting on their Friday morning PYP assembly, where they took on the role of student environmentalists, looking critically at how we can reduce our food waste at school, our use of plants around campus to protect animal life, how we can use our resources (water and electricity) more efficiently…they presented fantastic solutions that will make our campus a greener, more environmentally friendly space for all of us
  • Our Life Skills class working behind the scenes to grow their Sweet Morning Charities business, which supports a local charity focused on children with Down Syndrome…researching sustainable coffee growers, training High School and Middle School student volunteers, updating inventory, and modeling a true entrepreneurial spirit

Anyway, what I noticed more than anything was the shift that has happened with our students and teachers all across our school…less direct teacher instruction, more authentic questioning from kids, and ultimately, more engaged, curious, and thoughtful students really looking for ways to lead their learning, and to connect this learning to relevant, real life situations and problems. Like I said, we’ve done a lot of work in this area lately, bringing in Suzie Boss to help us with our PBL (Project Based Learning) journey, digging deep into the Design Thinking model, looking for ways to inspire an Entrepreneurial spirit in our students, thinking critically about how to best use technology to inspire student learning, and writing curriculum that breaks down the traditional, stand alone subject specific approach, and brings cross curricular standards together with an eye on affecting sustainable change in our local community…all good.

 

I know this isn’t really ground breaking stuff, as many fantastic schools around the world have been doing amazing things in this regard for a while now, but for us, it’s a celebration. I feel like we have just scratched the surface of what’s possible, but we have momentum and passion on our side…and that’s a great start. Keep up the outstanding work everyone and feel empowered to go even deeper. There’s nothing more important that you can do as an educator than to let our students take the helm. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the week…

School can be a torture or an instrument of inspiration – Higgins and Dolva

 

 

Fun and Inspiring Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1K2jdjLhbo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7bJR3yu1G4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnzCGNnU_WM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6QuYiY1EJg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKBb_2wn-i0

 

 

Interesting Articles –

http://www.ed.ac.uk/staff/teaching-matters/features/let-students-lead-their-learning

http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/using-technology-help-students-lead-learning/
http://www.upworthy.com/students-have-designed-an-amazing-new-afterlife-for-our-leftover-coffee-grounds?c=fea

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/10/what-happens-when-students-control-their-own-education/381828/

 

 

Great Websites –

https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

http://www.aeseducation.com/blog/2015/05/entrepreneurship-lesson-plans

https://www.bizworld.org/

https://haas.berkeley.edu/businessacademy/middle-school/

http://www.entre-ed.org/teacher-classroom-resources/

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Trending Upward to Exhaustion

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I have written before about measurement and time management. These two concepts are essential for anyone in a leadership position to understand and practice well. However, as leaders, do you ever ask yourself how much is too much? Or, how much time is enough time? When does my job end, and when does my life begin? Are those two things (job/life) the same, and should they be the same?

I believe most people want to work more efficiently, and have more time to focus on things outside of work. Changing focus is where I find inspiration and the energy needed to solve problems, and I have to be believe other people are similar. Change is difficult, but achievable.

Trending Upward

This graph represents the lives of many people I know. Regardless of what they do, and how well they do it, time is always a problem. Based-on this diagram, a person would never finish solving problems. The result is their life is Trending Upward to Exhaustion . The wheel never stops, and the demand is never met.

The goal  should be to achieve something known as a backward bending supply line. A very cool concept from economics.

If your work life and personal life reflected this graph, it would indicate you are completing more tasks/projects in less time. This indicates that the longer you are involved in a career, job, etc. your efficiency improves.

The long term effects of reaching this goal are substantial:

  • You leave work on-time
  • You can take time-off sometimes for personal needs
  • Vacations, are vacations
  • There is time to innovate and experiment
  • Professional networking can be weekly and not just the big conferences
  • This list…can be endless

Achieving a Better Balance

The only tools needed to achieve a better balance are a clock, a spreadsheet or journal, and an alarm/calendar. The process is simple:

  1. Every day at the contractual end of the work day, set an alarm or calendar reminder.
  2. Look at what work is still pending, it does not matter if that work is pending from the past, or if the work is new. Look at the work, and type of work. Record each unique task that is pending.
  3. When you finally leave to go home, make a note of the time.
  4. Continues this process for about two weeks.

You will start to notice things fall into a few categories:

  1. Tasks you have started on your own initiative
  2. Tasks someone else has given you
  3. Off plan tasks created either internally or externally

As you begin to look at and categorize data, certain trends will emerge.

First off, you will immediately identify people who are outliers. These people will either be always requesting or always complaining above the norm. For example, I once found one person accounted for 12% of all IT Support Requests. Once I had that data, I spoke to their line manager and the problem was sorted. Imagine 12% of all last minute noncritical requests being eliminated.

In another case, I found that one employee in a weekly meeting hoarded problems. They left the problems off the agenda, and sprung the problems like a trap. Because there was an agenda, only a small percentage of problems could ever be addressed, and thus problems spilled-over into another meeting, another day, etc. I started managing my time in the meeting. Since there was an agenda, if the items did not pertain to me, I would asked to be excused. This forced the person in question to schedule a direct meeting with me, and thus, I was able to insist on all issues being in writing, in advance. The result was that 90% of the issues were dealt with outside of a meeting, and via email. Sometimes, I could delegate the issues to another team member, and avoid direct involvement.

Next, you will notice tasks that you have volunteered to do. Those are simple enough to manage. Volunteering is a choice, and doing it too much will shift from choice to responsibility. Moderation is the key.

Finally, within your team/department you will notice inefficiencies that are spilling-over. If your team is supposed to complete jobs A-B-C, and they only complete A and C, who is going to do B? You cannot do B. You have to figure out how to help them do A-B-C and properly meet their responsibilities.

When I started finding the daily issues caused by spillover, I knew something needed to change. I solved most of the spillover issues after discovering the cause was within the human resources policies my team was following.

The solution is in the trend. To find the trend you need the data. Use time in its various forms as the benchmark and boundary for the data. Be diligent in the routine and if you cannot be objective, find someone to help with the analysis.

Find the balance, your life and your school will appreciate the outcome.

Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Thin Line Between A Successful (and unsuccessful) Job Search

Hi Again;

I’m inspired every day by the teachers I work with. They are consummate professionals and bring their “A” game every day. It’s a competitive world out there and as you know, it all starts with putting your best foot forward in the job hunt process. (By the way, this film on the “job hunt” in Japan is amazing).

I hope these tips help. Best of luck. Stay positive. Things have a way of working out.

1) Inappropriate LinkedIN, CV, SKYPE, etc. photo and/or professional email. Yes, I turned 50, so this is my old man rant. (I didn’t include Facebook profile or Twitter on this list but you’re at your own peril if employers search for them). I am astounded at how many people have suggestive and inappropriate email names that they share with prospective employers. I’m equally amazed at the SKYPE and LinkedIN photos that look like they were taken at nightclubs or on hunting vacations. NOT INTERESTED. Clean up your professional acts! If you have to build a separate LinkedIN account or SKYPE for interviewing then please do it.

2) A casual and unprepared approach to the interview, whether on Skype or in person. Although this could be argued as a generational thing or a sign of the times, I have experienced many instances in which the interviewees just aren’t prepared to be interviewed. Yes, it’s a good idea to wear a tie for a SKYPE!! Saying that the reason you want to work at my school is because you love working with children is NOT an answer. Saying that you value diversity and engaging learners is NOT an answer. I want you to give a SPECIFIC reason as to why and how you are a thoughtful, deeply engaged practitioner. I want you to describe your inspired teaching with the deliberate genius of a sculptor. Capture my imagination. Please don’t tell me that you’re trained in the MYP and have integrated the criteria into your lessons. (I’m going to walk out of the room the next time I hear that).

3) Asking really thoughtful questions that go beyond the boilerplate ones like “How much is the health insurance?” and “What is the travel allowance?” The best questions speak to the culture of the school and the employer’s perspective on what it’s like to work on the team. “What have been your biggest challenges managing growth?” and “What is the organizational culture of your team?” are a couple of my favorites. These questions demonstrate that your are interested and invested in the prospective school and it’s not just another pin on your travel map.

4) Your CV is sloppy, outdated, and/or hard to read. Presentation IS important. I actually had a CV on my desk recently for Principal that spelled it PrinciPLE. I’ve seen gaps in dates, incoherent descriptions, typos, and a complete lack of clarity around the candidate’s actual qualification for said job. Your CV is YOU. It needs to tell YOUR story in a clear, inspiring, coherent way.

That’s all I got for now.

Yes, I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and it’s painful being a candidate. I hope that none of the above applies to you and that you are well versed in the standards of the industry. Thanks for all that you do to be an important part of international education.

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

How do we think about our children?

 The Carpenter and the Gardener: Metaphor matters

It is instructive to imagine education and parenthood as one of these professions.

All parents know that having kids changes us in many ways; not just in the obvious things, but also in the profound assumptions we have of the world, and indeed of ourselves.  About the world, psychologist Alison Gopnick captures parental worries well when she writes  The day before you were born always looks like Eden, and the day after your children were born always looks like Mad Max, but it’s really on self-image that she is most interesting (Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun addresses the same ideas).

Gopnik starts by observing that to be a wife is not to engage in wifing; to be a friend is not to friend (Facebook notwithstanding); not do we child our parents…. but as parents we expect to parent our childen (there is a joke in there somewhere about husbandry, but I’ll steer clear).  So what was once simply a way of being, a thing that happened to us, has become a form of work.  Gopnik’s concern is that this work has come to be modelled on more formal types of work – with goals, objectives, KPIs and assessment measures.  Planned, executed and analysed with carefully gradated degrees of success and (social and academic) failure .  I think she’s write to lament; children and parents are all the poorer for this.

Gopnik’s book – The Gardener and the Carpenter uses two professions to explore this issue about the parent-child relationship.  She argues that to seek to parent a child  – that is, to see parenting as an activity, rather than a state – is to behave like a carpenter, chiselling away at something to achieve a particular end-goal – in this case, a certain kind of person. A carpenter starts with a plan to transform a block of wood into a chair; and as long as the plan is followed, the carpenter will get the outcome he or she wants.  The gardener, on the other hand, takes a different approach.  Gopnik argues that when we garden we do not believe we are the ones who single-handedly create the cabbages or the roses.  Rather, we toil to create the conditions in which plants have the best chance of flourishing. The gardener knows that plans will often be thwarted – the poppy comes up neon orange instead of pale pink … black spot and rust and aphids can never be defeated  – but still finds beauty in unexpected outcomes.  If parents are like gardeners, the aim is to create a protected space in which children can become themselves, rather than trying to mould them.

It would be a mistake to see this as the familiar conservative-liberal axis; the key point is whether to direct shaping the material or let it flower naturally.  Gopnik’s metaphor highlights something that all parents will recognise; the dilemma between knowing what (we think) is best for our kids, and letting them be themselves.  Recent books such as Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom – which was essentially a cultural argument in support of an extreme version of the carpenter – generated a huge response, both positive and negative.   And rightly so; the two visions here are not abstract ideas but central pillars in our vision of ourselves and our families.

Schools tend not to explicitly aligned themselves around carpentry or gardening, but it’s usually not hard to tell which is the dominant vision in a school culture.  Gopnik rightly notes that education is simply caring for children, broadly conceived and this highlights the issue: Is the care about carefully following the plan or carefully creating the conditions? In his essay on Modern Education and the Classics TS Eliot argues that… to think about the aims of Education is also to think about fundamental ends and purposes as human beings …to know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of Life and I think he’s absolutely correct.  So what do we want for our children?

My own personal view here is the unremarkable one that the best place to be is probably somewhere between the two extremes; that it may vary from child to child, and will certainly vary by age.  Pragmatically speaking, in the long-run, it may not matter; and no matter how hard we work to shape our children, to pass on our values, our kids will transform them into something else – institutions and values and norms fit for their own time.  For better or worse, regardless of our wishes, our children will be their own people just as we are our own people, and not pale reflection of our parents.  To me, this practical observation is as compelling as the moral point in favour of the gardener.

Reference
Elliot, TS (1936) Modern Education and the Classics in Essays, Ancient and Modern: London: Faber and Faber.

Gopnik, A (2016) The Carpenter and The Gardener

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By Nicholas Alchin | Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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Bathroom Laws and International Schools

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United States President from 2009-2017, Barak Obama, issued a statement last year reminding schools of their responsibility to protect the rights of all students, regardless of gender[1]. Specifically, his guidelines clarified the right of transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room consistent with their gender identity. The directive sparked controversial conversations around the nation, as some contend that people should be forced to use facilities that correspond with their sex assignment from birth. (A reminder that transgender people do not conform to the gender identity and/or expression that is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth). Earlier this week, current President Donald Trump, rescinded Obama’s recommendations[2], renewing debate on the rights of transgender students.

Legal issues
Under Title IX, schools accepting federal funds in the U.S. are legally obligated to comply with this nondiscrimination act, regardless of the political/moral values held by the district. International schools, however, even those following an American curriculum, are generally not bound by this mandate. So, where does that leave transgender students around the world before and after Trump’s actions? Most countries do not protect transgender rights, so policy decisions are left up to individual schools’ leadership teams, many of whom have not been in a position to address these concerns previously, and may not fully understand the issues. Some schools might choose to ignore the issue altogether, which essentially preserves the status quo of leaving their trans kids without protection and equal rights. (Gender Spectrum offers an excellent FAQ[3], as well as sample policies for schools’ reference[4].)

Cultural concerns
Outside of legal obligations, international schools have the unique distinction of managing a dazzling tangle of cultural influences. In many places, gender non-conformity is taboo, even forbidden. There are notable exceptions, such as the Hijra in India and Pakistan, or the Kratoy in Thailand. Still, it is not uncommon for transgender people to face hostility, even violence, for their gender expression. Many trans children do not have the support of their own family members. This can make it difficult for schools to offer appropriate protections, as they find themselves balancing local expectations for gender norms with the well-being of their students. As professional educators, many of us will encourage erring on the side of the child’s best interest, but that does not mean that doing so is without complication. Cultural sensitivity is a valid and important element of working in an international school community.

Transgender risks
Keep in mind that transgender children are among the most vulnerable in our care. From a mental health perspective, trans youth are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidality[5]. Indeed, in one study of transgender youth, nearly half of the participants reported that they have seriously considered taking their lives, and a quarter reported actual suicide attempts[6]. These results are consistent with other studies in the field. The good news is that protective factors and inclusive policies, like the right to choose which bathroom to use, can bear a significant impact on the educational experience of transgender children[7]. As international educators, we are in a powerful position to improve the well-being of trans students around the world.

Does your school offer protection for transgender students’ rights? If so, what was the process like to get to that point? If not yet, what do you think the next steps are? Who advocates for the gender non-conforming children at your school?

[1] Emma, C. (2015, May 12). Obama administration releases directive on transgender rights to school bathrooms. Politico.

[2] Peters, J. W., Becker, J., Davis, J. H. (2017, February 22). Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathroom for Transgender Students. The New York Times.

[3] Transgender students and school bathrooms: Frequently asked questions. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[4] Sample district and statewide policies that provide protection for transgender students. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[5] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peole: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[6] Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender youth and life-threatening behaviors. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 37(5), 527-537.

[7] The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. (2014). The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

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