How Do We Spend Our Time?

So over the last seven years, almost all of my posts have been directed specifically toward educators about topics related to education. This week however, I’m going to widen the scope a little bit and direct this message toward anyone with a beating pulse. You see, over the past few weeks, three separate things have happened that have brought me back once again to a very important question that we should all be constantly asking ourselves…how are we spending our very limited time on this earth? The three things were…four people very close to me lost members of their family (one lost a father, one a mother, one a husband, and another an uncle)…my beautiful boy Max turned 12…and a decent percentage of families failed to show up for their child’s goal conference because they were too busy to attend. I want to unpack each of these in order to make a point that is worth thinking about I believe, and in an attempt to get us all to look closely at how we are choosing to spend our days.


First of all, to the four people who lost their loved ones…I’m deeply sorry for your loss. The news of these passings got me thinking hard about how fragile, and short, and random life can be, and how it can change in the blink of an eye without warning. It put my perceived troubles and my trivial worries into perspective, and woke me up again to what’s really important in life…living each gift of a day to the fullest, and spending time with the ones that you love. It’s very easy to take the time that we have on this earth and with each other for granted, and we often get so caught up with issues that in the grand scheme of things don’t really matter at all.


We get so busy with work and deadlines and that race to nowhere that we miss out on the opportunities to really connect with what really matters…we go weeks without talking to the people that we love who are far away, we don’t stop and say thank you to the people in our lives who have inspired us to be better, we fail to stop and look at the beauty of our world that is all around us all the time, and we don’t take enough time for ourselves to reflect, to count our blessings, to smile, and to be happy. The universal truth is that nobody knows how much time they have left, and it goes by in what seems like a heartbeat…so my question to you is…how are you spending your days?


I bet if we really look closely at it, there are some changes that we all can make to bring what’s really important in our lives more into focus…Think about that this week and do three things…connect or reconnect with someone who would love to hear from you…think of a person in your life who deserves a “thank you” for making your life better and tell them…and take some time each day this week for yourself. Notice the beauty around you, count your blessings, be grateful, and slow down. Life speeds all of us by it’s true, and there’s no going back, which brings me to my 12 year old boy Max…where did that time go?


I cannot believe that my little boy is almost a teenager. For those of you with kids you know how quickly it goes. Man, I still think of him as that little baby who would sit on my knee and cuddle me for hours. In many ways he will always be that little boy, and it’s sad for me to watch him grow up so fast. He wants more and more to spend time with his friends, and with his iPad, and I find myself having to fight for his attention. I find that the older he gets the easier it is for days to go by without really connecting with him, and I fear that it’s going to start getting even harder. Many of my friends who have kids who are now grown up and moved out implore me to make the time to connect each and every day with my kids. Set up time to go for walks, or play sports, or read together, or go for drives around the neighborhood, or whatever. Ensure that not a day goes by without having that special time with your child or children because it’s gone before you know it.


As adults life gets busy, and we tend to make our days busier than they need to be, and it is very, very easy to go days and weeks without really connecting with your kids, or your spouse for that matter…don’t let that happen. A good friend of mine, Scott Miller, told me that the most important thing that you can do as your kids hit the teenage years is to make your house, THE house…the house where all the kids hang out. He said the best investment you can make is in a hot tub, so that all the friends of your son or daughter will want to come over. It doesn’t have to be a hot tub, but I get his point. If you have kids and you’re reading this, connect with your children each and every day because soon they’ll be grown up and moved out and you’ll be desperate for that weekly Skype call to keep up with their lives. I’m scared to death of that and I’m going to hang on for dear life. I can’t slow it down I know but I can savor each and every day I have with them…and that’s what I’m going to do. Happy birthday Max…you’re still my little boy and you always will be.


Finally, we had our student goal conferences last week where each student presented to their parents around the goals that they set at the beginning of the year. It was truly a day of celebration, as the students talked about their growth and their success and their learning that has happened over the past 5 months or so. I loved seeing the kids present as I walked in and out of classrooms, and I loved seeing the pride on the parents faces and the sense of accomplishment that was pouring out of the kids. It was a great day all around. That said, there were quite a few parents who didn’t make the time to attend the conference for whatever reason. My response to that is…really?


As parents, there is NOTHING more important then making time for our kids. Whether it’s attending a goals conference and engaging in their education, or making time to watch their basketball or soccer game, or doing whatever it takes to see their play or recital or concert…that’s what parenting is. Making the time for your children should be held up above anything else in life in my opinion, and if our lives are too busy as adults to make that happen then we need to look closely at why that is.


I know that I can make changes in my life to get better at this and I’m committing to it today. Getting back to my two earlier points, life goes by too fast and it can be over before you know it…we need to be there for our kids and be a part of their lives. It’s easy to make excuses and we all do it but that doesn’t make it okay. Eating dinners together, going on trips together, reading together, playing together, and being present for the things that are important to THEM…that’s our responsibility and that’s what matters. I guess with all that said, my challenge to all of us is to look critically this week at how we are spending our days and how we are prioritizing our lives. I know there are things that I need to do differently and I’m excited to make those changes. Ultimately, if we’re fortunate enough to live long lives, we don’t want to look back and have regrets. No one wants to be looking back wishing that they had spent more time with their kids or with the people that they loved…no body wants to look back and regret how much time they spent on things that really didn’t matter at all. Life is an amazing gift that we all need to embrace each and every day…let’s do that.


Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other. I’ll be sharing this message with my entire parent community and if you agree with the sentiment then feel free to pass it along. It’s a message that I think we can all take to heart.



Quote of the Week…

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision –

Helen Keller



Great TED Talk – Isaac Lidsky


Interesting Articles –


Inspiring Videos –

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Confused? I hope so.

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in lessons this week – just dropping in and out of classes for a few minutes.  It’s good to see what’s happening in the various areas, to talk to students about how they are finding things and take the pulse of learning in High School.

But it’s not easy to do.  You might think that if the teaching is clear, and the students attentive, all should be well.  But in fact, that’s not always the case.  Learning is a very messy process, and hard to know about – not just because students vary, hormones intervene, blood sugar changes over the course of the day – but simply because while clear thinking is the goal for students, simple, precise and clear explanations are not always the best route to that end.  In fact, often the best sign of learning is that the students are puzzled and frustrated.


Confusing students in just the right way to eventually deepen their understanding is an art. The art of excellent teaching, no less.

This is not as counterintuitive as it sounds!   To see why, see this puzzle and then have a think about what will happen (best to do in a group if you can).  Then watch from the start to  1.10 of this video to see the answer, resist the temptation to watch further and observe your own mental state.  Most non-physicists are surprised; some students think it’s a hoax.  When this is shown in class, there is often confusion and debate, and disagreement.  The class can erupt into chaos and noise, with conversation stretching to other examples – birds, aeroplanes, javelins.  It’s interesting to contrast this with the traditional quiet, attentive class where the focus on the laws of motion (or whatever) is laser-like, and the students are hanging on the teacher’s every word.

 It’s hard to be sure, but my guess is that the latter lesson is not nearly as effective as the former.  And the reason is that, as Steve Kolowich puts it, we need to confuse students to help them learn.  Kolowich draws on a classic experiment where two instructional videos were made and shown to students.  The first featured an actor explaining a basic physics concept in a traditional way using drawings and animations.   The second was a video of a mock conversation between a teacher and student. The student initially struggled to understand the concept, and the tutor asked questions, but never actually explained the answer – which the student eventually got.  Students who watched the two videos said the first one was clear, concise, and easy to understand and the second was confusing.

But when students were tested on their understanding of the concept  – that is, on their actual learning, students who had watched the second one actually learned more – even though they did not feel that way!  So a little confusion can prompt students to think harder and improve their understanding of complex matters, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable for them.   That’s actually not a surprise – we know that learners construct meaning by making connections between knowledge and concepts.  That is, learning happens as a result of students making their own meaning – not being told it, or given it, or getting it by dictation, or copying.  And what better way to make  meaning than by being puzzled, confused and not being told the answer so you have to debate with your peers?

Of course total confusion is not a good thing – clarity around what we are doing, and why we are doing it is important.  But that’s instrumental – the really important intellectual clarity needs to be hard-won, and like so many valuable things, may come over time, through struggling with difficult ideas.


By Nicholas Alchin | Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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Stronger Together

“We are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them.” ~Prime Minister Trudeau

The recent horrific and tragic attack at the mosque in Quebec and the subsequent categorical response from Canadians and concerned citizens around the world is a poignant reminder of one of our primary purposes as educators. As learning institutions, we must model and live by the highest standards associated with tolerance, empathy, and understanding while categorically rejecting all acts of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. The unique opportunity to serve as an educator includes an unwavering commitment to model and stand up for the values we hold dear in our schools.

While it is not the role of a teacher to promote and impose personal political views and beliefs, it is a teacher’s responsibility to denounce, without exception, all comments and actions that are not in full adherence with the school’s focus on valuing plurality, difference, understanding, respect, and tolerance. As intolerance is usually a result of fear and fear is often generated from a lack of understanding, the focus on learning in schools plays an ever-important role toward deeper understandings. The hope is that the suspicions and uncertainty that result from a lack of understanding or knowledge will be replaced with curiosity, support, and appreciation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the shooting was a call to action and the coming together as a nation: “We will not stand for hatred and bigotry. Together we will ride from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before. That is who we are… love, always love, instead of hate.” It is also heartening and inspiring to witness the commitment of our education colleagues and the focus of so many schools and organizations to take a stand against all that divides us. The message is clear in that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. By way of example, Asger Leth’s video, Three Beautiful Human Minutes, is a moving testimonial conveying the message that there is more that brings us together than we think. Teachers are also regularly seeking ways to embrace and learn from our differences. Alison Schofield recently posted a helpful article entitled, “How Teachers can Honor and Nurture all Students’ Languages and Cultures within an International School.” The University of Minnesota, where I am currently engaged in graduate studies, just launched a “We All Belong Here” campaign, with five key messages: 1. Our differences drive our greatness, 2. Respect everyone every day, 3. Rise above intolerance, 4. Stand up to injustice, 5. Strive to be inclusive.

This work is not easy, though it is of paramount importance. The studies of a colleague at the American School of Brasilia, Gavin Hornbuckle, highlights one of these challenges. Gavin conducted extensive doctoral research in the area of intercultural competencies. The results of his study and others indicate that “while teachers often believe that they possess the intercultural skill-set required to [help students to develop intercultural competence], in reality, this may not be the case” (Horbuckel, 2013). The research also stresses that the majority of educators have more of a monocultural mindset, while our students show evidence of being more sophisticated in their intercultural development” (Cushner, 2012). It is a fact that intercultural competence does not come naturally and is an area that we, as educators, need to continually work at, particularly as we seek to understand, embrace, and celebrate our differences.

Returning to Prime Minister Trudeau, one of his recent statements may serve as a guiding principle for our schools: “If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, then we do not actually end up any safer. Fear does not make us stronger, it makes us weaker. We are bound by one, unwavering, unshakable truth: we are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them”.


Twitter: @dequanne


Cushner, K. (2012). Planting seeds for peace: Are they growing in the right direction? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(2), 161-168.

Hornbuckle, G. C. (2013). Teachers’ views regarding ways in which the intercultural competence of students is developed at an international school in Southeast Asia: a mixed methods study. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) Flickr photo by Roel 
Wijnants (Painting):

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BYOD and Network Anonymity


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Many countries have begun to create or enforce new rules concerning online anonymity.

Here are some examples of anonymity rules: South Korea , ChinaThe United Kingdom

These rules are manifested in places like coffee shops that require a phone number to be verified via SMS. It is not optional anymore to allow students or staff to be online anonymously. Cyberbullying, hacking, and other issues cannot be addressed if the person (or persons) involved cannot be identified. Most school administrators may not realize how prevalent anonymous access is on many K-12 campuses.

General Policies and Procedures

There is often a knee jerk reaction to fix problems by spending money. There are plenty of nifty IT solutions to help with security, but without proper policies and procedures in place, technology will eventually fail.

Policies and procedures must be adopted and implemented from the highest levels of the organization. Any exemption creates a vulnerability. Luckily, the concepts and steps are simple enough, and they apply to both BYOD and non-BYOD schools:

  1. Every user on the network has a login.
  2. Logins are either genuine/legal names or employee/student ID numbers.
  3. Passwords are not shared or common;
  4. Every device on the network, printers included, must have the default username and password customized.
  5. School owned devices must require individuals to login; generic logins like “classroom1” cannot be permitted.
  6. Very young children who cannot manage a username and password must be assigned devices, and those devices need to have a static IP address.
  7. Children from grade 1 and up should learn to login with an individual username or using an ID number; a shared password is acceptable until grade 3.
  8. Primary school children should not be on the same network and/or Wifi as middle and high school children. This is essential to prevent older students using a younger student’s account.
  9. Teachers and students should not be on the same network and/or Wifi. Sharing should happen in the cloud or file servers.
  10. Guest access should be very limited unless there is a major event.

These policies and procedures have a two-pronged effect. First, they set a standard for the type of network equipment and design that is required. Secondly, they take very technical topics and reduce them to yes/no questions. “Are children under the age of six using assigned devices?” “Do all school owned devices require an individual login?” “Can students login to the network with a shared password?”

BYOD Specific Policies and Procedures

There is an underlying truth about letting people use equipment. If a person can take a piece of equipment to an anonymous location, they can hack into the equipment. If a school owns a laptop, and allows a student to take that laptop outside of the school, then that student can own that laptop and manipulate it.

I have demonstrated this to people who were setting policies for school owned equipment, and believing that the equipment was secure. I once unlocked a Windows laptop in 5 minutes with a USB tool I created from free software. I did this in front of three people who had deployed over 100 laptops to my campus, believing the laptops were secure. The last time a school gave me an Apple laptop loaded with “security features” I was able to circumvent the security in less than 10 minutes. The modification were never detected. The truth is, I am not even half as motivated or talented as many students. However, I can think the way they think.

A few years ago I spent an entire day with a CISCO engineer. I wanted to brainstorm with him on BYOD security. We went through all the scenarios. In the end, we came up with a good low cost set of protocols for BYOD management:

  1. The school needs 3-4 SSIDs (Wifi Names) per division. For example: Teachers,  Secondary_Students, and Guest. Primary students would not be able use the Secondary_Student Wifi.
  2. Students, Teachers, and Staff must authenticate with the PEAP protocol. This means everyone needs to login like they are in a coffee shop. A small pop-up window asks for your username and password every 24 hours (or similar concept).
  3. All BYOD access requires a 3-point authentication process: MAC Address + IP Lease + Username. (If anyone wants to know HOW to do this, please email me directly).

These three steps ensure that unless Student A gives their username and password to Student B, it is impossible for Student A to use Student B’s computer (without committing theft). This is the core issue with BYOD. A school needs to be able to show how they know what they know. The access responsibility needs to be on the students, and down to a personal choice.

As with the general policies and procedures, this protocol will help set the network equipment and configuration standards without requiring the administration to have a deep understanding of technology.

Please feel free to contact me directly with further questions or to arrange a discussion.


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Death of a Genius

When I was recruiting for the fifth most expensive boarding school on the planet several years ago, I leaned over to my boss at one of those zany ballroom signup sessions and told him that the prototype hire for us was a public school educated teacher working in a large city.

He nearly choked on his Swiss chocolate.

I still stand by that statement as I write this eulogy for my mentor and friend, George Smith, who died this past week at the age of 69.

I first met George when I started my first teaching job at Quincy High School (MA/USA) in the Fall of 1995. Quincy (pronounced Qwinzee), is the Queens of Boston, the City of Presidents, and the start of my journey into teaching. It’s a seaside town with a proud tradition of shipbuilding and hardscrabble folks who left Boston for a piece of the American dream and a hopeful view of the ocean. It’s the birthplace of two Presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) who are buried directly across the street from where I worked for seven years.

I remember my first days on the job, nervously washing down the black slate board with a dirty rag after I dusted off the long carved wooden chalk tray at its base. I’m not making that up.

“HEY!” a voice yelled at my door, causing me to startle. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT RAG!” I turned to see a short man in thick glasses and a frumpy plaid shirt holding a large yellow sponge in one hand and a dusting brush in the other. It was George. “Welcome to the team, kid,” he said more softly. “Try these out, they might work better. And there’s a bucket in the closet over there in the corner if you need some water.”

It was the start of a relationship that would last fourteen years until I left for a life overseas and we lost touch.

It wasn’t easy teaching in Quincy. Minimum class size was about 26, resources were limited, and the audience was tough. George would often give me advice between classes when he’d notice the shell shocked look on my face.

“Hey kid,” he’d say. “You gotta learn to sub for yourself every now and then. Put them to work and sit at your desk. Pull yourself together.” (It was the first and most lasting piece of advice I ever got from a veteran. I pass it onto my teachers even today).

I asked if I could observe him, which was like asking Daniel Day Lewis if you could drop by the set to pick up a few things. He was in a league onto himself, the type of teacher that no one could emulate, replicate or simulate. He had packed classes of students, as diverse a group as any international school from places like Vietnam, China and working class Quincy. The front of his class had four flat wooden tables lined up, stacked with papers like a mad professor at work. The tone of his voice would go from yelling at the top of his lungs to a whisper. He’d run up and down the aisles between the desks, raising his arms up in the air over some historic irony that he pointed out.

In the middle of a sentence about Abe Lincoln or Nikita Khruschev, he’d think of something and go running to the stack of papers. He’d motion hysterically for a reluctant Chinese girl to come up to the front and he’d hand her stacks like a mad scientist on the brink of a discovery. “PASS THIS OUT!” he’d yell. “IT’S GOING TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE!” Everyone was so mesmerized by his animation, it didn’t matter if their English wasn’t good enough to understand what he was talking about.

I wanted to clap at the end of class.

He told me that teaching was the most exhausting job in the world because you had to give five live performances every day. “FIVE A DAY!” he’d scream, waving his finger in the air. “I’ve done more than Yal Brynner!!” (a famous Broadway actor known for over 4000 performances in the King and I).

In the summers, George would organize road trips for us to New York City to do research. He’d pick me up in his Buick Roadmaster station wagon and had a pile of coupons and maps on the front seat. The whole trip was organized to the minute. Diners, cheap hotels in New Jersey, he had it all figured out. We went to obscure places like the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach near Brooklyn, the site of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and Teddy Roosevelt’s homestead in Oyster Bay. (George actually resembled the former President). I felt so energized after the trips that I felt I could teach for the rest of my life.

George wanted to teach AP Economics in the early 1990s, several years after the movie Stand and Deliver. No one thought he had a chance, but he took a class of non-native English speaking Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese students and got them all to pass the A.P. Economics exam. ALL OF THEM. He did it by getting the students to use universal symbols of graphing complex economic principles rather than learn the complex English attached to them. His students did so well, that the school was audited by the College Board, just like Jaime Escalante in the movie.

George raised a family of five on a teacher’s salary. In the summers, he’d work full time for the National Park Service in Boston, giving walking tours of the historic district that were just as exhilarating and exhausting as his classes. I joined his tours on several occasions and watched as groups of people from around the world would give him loud ovations at the end, every time. He captivated audiences by painting pictures in the imagination with anecdotes and historic references that made everything accessible, real, and amazingly funny.

Even though I could never emulate his genius, George Smith baptized me in the sacred art of teaching. He filled me with the passion to connect with kids and the simple premise that nothing was more important than making people feel they could do anything if someone believed in them.

I miss you my friend. God bless.

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Kids and Sport

        So last night was the closing ceremony of the CAISSA boys basketball and girls soccer championships hosted by Academia Cotopaxi. It was a wonderful event, and a true celebration of our student athletes from all across the region. The tournament began on Thursday morning, and I have to say that watching our students compete over the next 3 days was truly inspiring, and it got me thinking critically about the importance of kids and sport. I have long been an advocate of youth sports, and having been a coach for almost 30 years I have seen first hand the incredible benefits that sport can bring to a young person’s life both physically and psychologically. I decided to dig deep over the past two days into the extensive research around the many advantages that sport can bring to a young person’s life, and it was fantastic to see so much evidence that clearly supports my bias. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of benefits that sport can bring to a child’s life and development, all of which won’t come as a surprise to any of you I’m sure…
1. Increased self esteem and self confidence
2. Learning how to fail and how to deal with loss
3. Learning about fair play and teamwork
4. The obvious health benefits that comes along with regular exercise
5. Improved mood and memory
6. Development of trust and reliance on others
7. Decreased chances of youth depression
8. Learning how to give and receive help
9. Teamwork skills and increased sense of belonging and community
10. Decreased chances of alcohol and drug abuse
        With all that in mind, I have to say that one of the coolest things that I witnessed over weekend, that is not on that list, was the connections and friendships that kids made with the players from the other teams. We had two social events during the tournament, and watching our students laugh, share, and connect with the other players was a thing of beauty. To me, that’s the real power of tournaments like these…the camaraderie and relationships that are formed that in many cases will end up lasting a lifetime. I also want to share how impressed I was with the coaches, who have spent countless hours of their own time mentoring their players. Good coaching is just like good teaching in my opinion…it’s about developing relationships with your players/students, learning how each player/student responds to feedback, differentiating for the many unique personalities on your team or in your classroom, and building that level of trust so each young person feels supported, safe, respected, challenged and loved…Good coaches are good teachers, and in many ways become second mothers and fathers to their players…true role models and mentors who can shape a young person’s life in positive and profound ways! For all you coaches out there, I want to thank you for influencing your players’ lives for the better.
        Anyway, I went to sleep last night feeling very good about what I saw over the weekend, and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for putting on such a wonderful event for our community. It’s a lot of work to put one of these things together, and I’m proud of our school and our team…particularly our Athletic Director, Juan Jose Fuentes! Okay, I’m off for a long run on this sunny Sunday morning because as we all know, the benefits of sport and exercise aren’t just for young people…even middle-aged guys like me still love that runner’s high that comes with the release of endorphins…Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn – O. Fred Donaldson
Inspiring Videos and Talks – 
Interesting Articles/Websites – 


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The Professional Art of Conversation

With all the many great events that go on in schools – obviously lessons; also sports fixtures, music performances, drama productions, service trip, adventurous expeditions etc – it’s easy to get caught up in the tasks we all have to get through – the assignments to complete, the marking, the logistics, the children to drop off or pick up, and so on. And there was a time I thought these were the most important things for our children; that ticking off the tasks was what it was all about.

But I have in recent years come to see things a little differently. If all we are interested in is ourselves, individually, then perhaps the tasks are the things on which to focus. I may not need to talk to anyone if I am checking my bank statement; but that’s a simply closed task that’s totally within my control. Education is never like that; and the more open, complex and important roles of parents and teachers are always about someone else. That’s because as our children turn into adults, we are forced to move from control to influence. That’s a difficult and sometimes painful process for all concerned, because while we want to shape minds, beliefs, values and so on, we can only observe events and actions.

So if we focus for a moment on the shaping of minds, it seems obvious that we have to allow our students to change their own minds – we cannot do that for them; the best we can do is to prompt and offer. And then it follows, I think, that a crucial part of this must be through conversations – because no matter what books, videos, even experiences we have, they are almost always unpacked, developed and embedded – which is to say, understood – through conversations.

The art of conversation is too important to ignore.

The art of conversation is too important to ignore.

It seems strange, therefore, that we tend to take the art of conversation for granted; to simply plough through them as and when they arise without really giving them much care. Most conversations are intuitive, unstructured and unintentional. It’s hard to imagine any other important area of our lives that we give so little attention to! Planning even mundane events like, say, shopping, usually involves thinking ahead a few weeks, making a list, considering alternatives, planning a time, having a clear sense of purpose and so on. But we often just launch into important, even crucial conversations with no equivalent preparations. The more I think about it, the more remarkable I think this is.

Many have been making determined efforts to address this issue – indeed whole genres and new jobs (eg life coach) have sprung up as a result of this approach  There now exist many conversation maps – that is, routes proven to ensure that conversations lead to their goal – deeper, better thinking. It’s actually quite a complicated business – solet me give you a very simple specific conversational strategy I have come across and intend to try out – a simple strategy to do with ensuring we influence, not just control. The strategy, called motivational interviewing, was developed by Mike Pantalon at Yale University. It’s a two step process and follows a certain protocol. Let’s say I am trying to persuade a tardy student to meet deadlines. I ask “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you do meet the deadline?” The reply might be, “Well, I have a lot of other things on, so I guess a 4.” Now a natural instinct might be to respond “Not good enough! Make it a 9!” but the protocol is to instead follow up with the rather counter-intuitive “So, you are a 4; now tell me why you didn’t choose a lower number?’

The point here is that the student has to explain – maybe for the first time – why he’s able to exceed the minimum; why he’s not at the bottom; and crucially, he is forced to examine his own motivation and find his own strengths. He’s not being confronted with the unpleasant sight of his own weaknesses, and the long road ahead of him to get from a 4 to a 10, but is able to look at where he already actually is, and why he is there. And that is, after all, where his journey has to start from.

This is a simple strategy; I confess I have yet to test it, but it does resonate with me. I imagine that the success of the conversation will be found not at the time, but over time, as it should support better thinking, not just better single actions. So this is a very simple example of perhaps an important truth; that we need to be letting our students and children find their own answers, and to grow out of our control (and into their own). Dan Pink (author of the brilliant Drive) describes it well: “As parents, as teachers, as entire organizations, our instinct is toward greater control. We think control is going to make something better. But people have only two reactions to control: They comply, or they defy. We don’t want defiant kids, but we also don’t want compliant kids. We want kids who are engaged. If you truly want to engage kids, you have to pull back on control and create the conditions in which they can tap their own inner motivations” (here he is talking about the strategy above – the first two and a half minutes are well worth a watch).

The upshot here is that many conversations are successes if, and only if, they promote, provoke or somehow encourage further thought. It’s worth bearing in mind that getting the conversations right may be the most important thing we can do for our children.


By Nicholas Alchin | Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Something very special happened this past Friday. And I am not referring to the inauguration of our 45th President. I rediscovered my dormant activist in the company of 5-12 year olds. ‘Black Friday’ instead of a day for indignation or despair, turned into a day of healing and hope. I was part of a march (although much less a march, which connotes stridency, and more a promenade) involving a collaboration of three independent schools in the upper west side of Manhattan. The theme was not of denouncement (which had its place) but one of peace and kindness. It was in fact, a march representing the principles of the republic for which we stand.

Against the backdrop of a stern and damp grey day of intermittent rain, at least 300 young children, parents, teachers and school administrators, took to the streets in solidarity with a scintillating aura of joy and determination walking the circumference of 110th street until arriving at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. What was so elevating, was that as our new President so unpresidentially railed with an ominous sense of divisiveness and vitriol, was the innocence (from The Latin innocentia, meaning, not harming) of children and their sense of hope, as they proceeded through the rain swept streets with their placards and banners proclaiming peace, happiness and goodness for all on earth. Like heroes they were cheered by elder residents and neighborhood shop owners standing in doorways, and traffic cops giving them the thumbs up. I felt like I was witnessing the unveiling of new generation of social activists. I was.

At the church, in the hushed and solemn air of worship, the sacredness was punctuated not by defiance (there will be a time for that) but glissades of lovingness and civility. Song filled the majestic space, and the words of Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Peter, Paul and Mary flowed with the incandescence of moonlight. There was something both sacred and civic in what was happening. To take a line from Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here” and that was the burgeoning of the civility, civicmindedness and critical thinking that will be required for this nation to stand up for what matters. No. It was not a march on Washington. Or a mass movement to end an unjust war. Or all the global marches that took place the following day. These were children, with their parents and teachers, showing up, luminous and alert, praising and acknowledging our shared principles and shared truths. This was more like the gestation of an awareness that at this moment in time we are all the children of Thomas Paine, and that this is how we learn the true responsibilities of citizenship.

The last time I was in this cathedral was on the eve of the first invasion of Iraq. It was eerie and laden with uncertainty. There was no sense of burgeoning ideals but the helplessness of not having choices. This time, the weight of anxiety was no less. But in the company of children, there was hope. Here there was song and the transformative power of a human gathering reminding me that with the energy of children, the efficacy of ideals and the urgency for decency and goodness– that we will overcome.

This is what democracy looks like.

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What to Read in 2017

       So last year around this time I shared a post titled, “Let’s Read”, which talked about the importance of carving out some time in our busy lives to settle into a good book…not just a fiction novel, but an inspiring non-fiction piece that would hopefully help us move forward as professionals, educators, leaders and as people throughout the year. Well, I’m happy to say that just last week I finished reading the final book from that 2016 list, and I’m ready to share my 2017 suggestions with you all. 

       I’m really excited to order these in the next couple of weeks, and my goal is to finish them all in the upcoming calendar year. I’m encouraging you to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own search and share those titles with me so I can add them to this preliminary list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small and simple life changes. Anyway, happy reading in 2017, and please let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can add it to my shopping cart…a good book can be transformative in so many ways, so please make the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body – Richard Steele

The Power of the Other – Henry Cloud

Originals – Adam Grant

Together Is Better – Simon Sinek

Wired to Create – Scott Kaufman

Creative Schools – Ken Robinson

Resisting Happiness – Matthew Kelly

Focus – Daniel Goleman

The Gratitude Diaries – Janice Kaplan

Rising Strong – Brene Brown

The Telomere Effect – Elizabeth Blackburn

Make Peace With Your Mind – Mark Coleman

The Art of Authenticity – Karissa Thacker

Eat More Ice Cream – Michael Bret Hood

Connection Culture – Michael Lee Stallard

The Coaching Habit – Michael Bungay Stanier

The Book of Joy – Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

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On information overload

Should you care what I am wearing as I write this? Read on, gentle reader…

Making sure that the education we offer is meeting student needs is an ongoing priority for us; and part of that has to be equipping students to use technology well. The modern age is different from what has gone previously; science and technology have given us access to a world of possibilities – not least increased lifespan and access to education, healthcare, travel and leisure.

In education one aspect of the changes brought on by technology that interests me is the information overload phenomenon – the notion that we are overwhelmed with the internet, emails, images, adverts and so on. I read somewhere that walking down a street in a big modern city, one encounters more data just in the form of billboards than someone in the 16th century would come across in a year. This historical perspective intrigued me – especially when I came across these:

What is the point of having countless books and libraries whose title the owner could scarcely read through his whole lifetime that matter books and burdens the student without instructing

Seneca (4BCE)

We have a reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as a barbarous is that of the century that followed the fall of the Roman Empire

Adrien Baillet (1685)

This might suggest that in fact things aren’t so very different after all; perhaps all the hype is nothing new; perhaps information overload is simply business as usual, dressed up in a new phrase. But it can’t be as simple as that; Baillet, writing above, would have been hard-pressed to find what Seneca wrote whereas we can get to in a few clicks. So there are differences, for sure.

It’s also instructive to look at the history of new technologies. The impact of the printing press was clearly hard to overstate, but it took centuries for it to be felt. The telephone might be a better example, being an early ‘information technology’. American sociologist Harvey Sacks writes that as it was introduced into American homes during the last quarter of the 19th Century, instantaneous conversation across hundreds or even thousands of miles seemed close to a miracle. Scientific American described it as “nothing less than a new organization of society – a state of things in which every individual, however secluded, will have at call every other individual in the community, to the saving of no end of social and business complications…”

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Information Overload

“..a new organization of society”! Karl Marx in his final years would have been proud! And such phrases have been written about the internet many times. But Sacks goes on to point out that in fact what we saw was not so new; instead it was the pouring of existing human behaviour -“our goodness, hope and charity; our greed, pride and lust” (sounds familiar in an internet age?)  – into fresh moulds.  New technology didn’t bring an overnight revolution. Instead, there was strenuous effort to fit novelty into existing norms. In Victorian times, one of the biggest questions revolved around decency; was it, for example, disgraceful to chat while improperly dressed? (You will be pleased to know that I always put on a suit when writing for TIE, but I will spare you a selfie). I wonder how many of our questions, around email, privacy, community, will be seen as quaint and amusing in 2150.

But what I am confident about is the fact that the human condition has not yet been subject to rapid change. Perhaps in the future brain-implants will change us; if so, it will be in ways we can barely imagine. For now, I would argue that we may be overwhelmed by information, but as Criss Jami wrote “the eye of the storm is not so much what goes on in the world, it is the confusion of how to think, feel, digest, and react to what goes on.” And in that, we can take an historical perspective which allows us to see continuity with humanity over time, as well as differences.

Being able to shift perspective like that (across time, space or some other category) is important; it means we can nudge toward a broader understanding and appreciation of ourselves and better locate ourselves in human story. Barack Obama said that he believes in American exceptionalism in the same way that British probably believe in British exceptionalism, Greeks in Greek exceptionalism and French believe in French exceptionalism. And that’s the message, I think; that believing we live in special times, special places, and perhaps even are special – in technology and in so many other ways – doesn’t mean that other people, times and places aren’t special too. And for us, that means that as we adapt our education to our changing times, we have to be mindful of keeping the best of the old as we introduce the best of the new.


By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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