Global book reviews

This Week: BIOGRAPHIES, STRONG VOICES – Picture books for all ages to read and discuss in the classroom.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden

by Heather Smith is a perfect picture book to discuss natural disasters with young readers. Based on a true story, this tale is based on the 2010 tsunami in Japan. Makio and his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, witness the violence of the tsunami, which claims the lives of loved ones. Mr. Hirota helps Makio and others their village to deal with their grief in a lovely, unusual way. In addition to being a book about a natural disaster, this can also function as a story to help children deal with loss.

Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-145-982-1033

Pirate Queen, A Story of Zheng Yi Sao

by Helaine Becker is the unique, true story of a kidnapped Chinese girl who became the most powerful pirate ever to roam the South China Sea. She ended up building an empire of ships, even conquering the Emperor’s fleet. I was not aware of this part of Chinese history and found it a fascinating read about a strong woman. This illustrated book is great for middle school.

Groundwood BooksISBN 978-1-77306-124-5

Meet Terry Fox

by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas.

The true story of Terry Fox is told in text as well as illustrations with speech bubbles in this book, which is part of a series of biographies. It is the story of a determined boy growing up in Canada. Terry loves sports and is quite competitive. But an agressive form of cancer claims one of Terry’s legs. He is determined to play sports again and, eventually embarks on a 8,500 kilometer run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The Terry Fox Run has become legendary and has rasied nearly $800 million, Even many years after his death, school children still participate in the annual run honoring this determined young man who made a huge difference during his life.

Scholastic, ISBN 978-1-4431-8206-5

An Open Letter to Those Who Voted for Trump

8th November 2020 will go down in history as the day that defined the future of the world; a day that restored our faith in humanity; a day that gave hope to millions of people who aspire to make a change and a day that disappointed millions who voted for Trump.

Hence, I am writing this letter to all the disappointed people who supported and voted for Donald Trump. The intention is to convey a message to reassure and reinforce the goodness of being humane.

Many of you voted for Trump as you felt, your jobs are being taken away by migrants and Trump will give it back to you. Please know that it is not a unilateral world; there are jobs and employment opportunities available globally and many Americans are living and working in other countries, where they are welcomed with open arms. It’s the 21st century and it’s a multilateral world, hence go out to explore the opportunities and free yourself of the vicious promise of manipulating politicians that jobs can be created by snatching them from others.

Many of you voted for Trump as you wanted to make America great again. A country does not need a saviour, a country protects, nurtures and feeds whoever considers her a mother. In that sense every country is great so there is no need to feel it has fallen off a pedestal or needs to be placed on a pedestal for being great. A country is its people; people need to be great in their care, love and approach, that is what makes a country revered and respected which unfortunately was not the case when Trump was in power so think twice if you feel Trump would have made America great again! In fact, it would have been quite the opposite.

Many of you voted for Trump as you wanted the economy to revive; inflation to reduce and employment opportunities to improve. But this was not possible if globalization is threatened by a man who thought democracy is a right to legalize corruption under the pretext of financial growth and economic stability. A man who thought less about other countries in the world, a man who spoke his opinion, not the facts, a man who promised to make America great at the cost of discrimination and dehumanisation.

Many of you voted for Trump as there was no worthy opponent or presidential candidate; I would like to defer, anyone who has not been charged with rape, anyone who has not insulted women in public, anyone who has not celebrated white supremacy and anyone who has not been bankrupt is and will always be a worthy opponent! If you earlier voted for a corrupt businessman, alleged rapist and unapologetic racist, insensitive and insecure man, then I would say you could have easily voted for anyone who is not all the above.

Hence take a moment to let the feeling sink in, it is actually a victory for everyone, even though your vote is lost you have actually won as America without Trump is already great again. It sends out a strong message that a great country of diverse people will not be broken by the selfish wants of a discriminatory, profit mongering and megalomaniac egotist and that it will rise even when there is very slim hope and do it over and over again!

Also, make sure you realise the power of your vote. Vote for what you want not for what others want for you. If you vote to make a wall, you should not expect to get a health care plan; If you vote to discriminate, you should not expect to get employment. Exercise your rights carefully so you get what you want. And finally, celebrate this moment as the country got back it’s self-respect, esteem and greatness all because a man lost the elections. Hence you have won, it’s only Trump who has lost the elections.

Long Live Humanity, Long Live Justice!

TOp Ten Teacher Interview Questions for 2020

  1. Describe your dream house and where it would be, etc.
  2. What will be the reason you quit this job if you ever do?
  3. What do you need from our school in order for you to be a success?
  4. What would you be doing if you were not a teacher?
  5. Paint a picture for me of a student-centered environment without using the word student or centered.
  6. What do the best virtual teachers do to ensure their students are learning?
  7. If you could redesign one thing about schools, what would it be?
  8. What question haven’t I asked that you would like to answer?
  9. How do you think culture impacts learning and what have you done about that in your career?
  10. What famous person would you like to have a coffee with and what would be your first question?

How Can School Leaders Manage Increased Community Anxiety During the Second European Lockdown?

Commentary in Pediatrics: Children Don’t Transmit Covid-19, Schools Should Reopen in Fall

As Germany, France and the UK move into new national lockdowns this week, the decision has been taken to keep schools open. Anxiety among teaching staff and parents has been climbing since the start of the school year, when the second wave of COVID began to build. As COVID deaths increase to levels not seen since May and countries shutdown, staff, students and parents are becoming even more fearful of going into school and anxiety levels are escalating. Isolation from family and friends during a lockdown, is also likely to increase the focus upon schools as a source of emotional support. This will place additional strain upon already struggling school leaders. 

In my 2019 post Why is the School Principal’s Role So Emotionally Draining, I outline how school leadership is an inherently emotional practice, due to the people-centred nature of schools, placing relationships at the heart of the leader’s role. The head/principal, plays a pivotal role, acting as a conduit or buffer for the emotions of others and soaking up the difficult or unwanted emotional states of the whole school community. The current crisis has made this more evident and school leaders are facing increasing demands for their emotional support. 

In my recent survey of 700 school leaders worldwide, 90% said they feel their work has become more emotionally challenging since the start of the pandemic and 94% feel they are supporting the emotional needs of others more. Two-thirds of leaders report experiencing events or situations of an emotionally challenging nature on at least a daily basis, . 

Only 22% of survey participants feel their training has prepared them for the current crisis. Most school leaders receive no training in supporting the emotional needs of others but 41% indicate they would like to receive such training. Only 32% of leaders feel they are receiving enough emotional support from home or school. Even accounting for response bias, this paints a picture of a significant number of school leaders struggling to manage others’ anxiety, feeling unprepared and unsupported. 

While the present situation is an unprecedented crisis, which we hope will not be repeated, the ongoing emotional demands faced by school leaders’ call into question the adequacy of headteacher/principal training in this area. It is time to acknowledge the role school leaders play in supporting the emotional needs of others and the importance to school effectiveness of managing this successfully. During my years as a school principal, some of the most valuable time I spent was with school counsellors, observing them in the act of supporting students, parents and staff. I came to understand the importance of the affective in school and learned key skills which improved my leadership significantly. In the first few months of the global pandemic, I witnessed how those with the right training can reassure others, provide clarity and share strategies to help all groups, including leadership, to manage their anxiety levels. Many schools do not have the luxury of school counsellors readily at hand to support school leaders, so it is crucial that headteachers/principals receive professional development, as part of their leadership training, in supporting the emotional needs of others. 

This is a longer term goal, however, that does not help with the immediate crisis. In the short term, schools need to consider tapping into external psychological support services. While some wealthy schools, in the private sector, are providing one-to-one sessions with a clinical psychologist for all staff, on demand, this is not an option available to most institutions. However, there are, cost-effective or cost-free ways to tap into services. For example here in Wales, the Regional Education Consortia has employed a clinical psychologist to provide professional development webinars on how to support the mental health of students and staff, while Public Health Wales has developed a free online course Activate Your Life to help those suffering from anxiety. An organisation in South Wales, Reading Well has also developed a “books on prescription” service, providing free access to a range of self-help books on mental health topics. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), provides US-based workshops, and resources, including its PRePARE curriculum for school crisis prevention and response. They also consult and deliver bespoke services to schools around the world, via Zoom, to address more immediate needs. It is well worth exploring what other services are available in your area or online. 

In the short term, we also need to ensure that school leaders receive immediate succour in the form of regular professional coaching/counselling. The challenges of the role make coaching a worthwhile investment in the short, medium and long term but there is an acute need for such opportunities to be made available to school leaders now. For those struggling to justify this expense to boards of governors/trustees, please see my article How Can We Persuade School Governors/Trustees to Take School Leader Wellbeing Seriously?

HOW CAN WE PERSUADE BOARDS OF GOVERNORS OR TRUSTEES TO TAKE SCHOOL LEADER WELLBEING SERIOUSLY?

On Thursday I led a Zoom town hall discussion with a large group of Montessori school leaders from across the USA who had reached out to ask for my support. The first question was “how can I make the board of governors/trustees listen and take my wellbeing seriously? The principal asking this question told the group that she had reached out to her board of governors about her increased workload and stress levels but it had been made clear that they were not interested in discussing or supporting her needs. She shared that the governors see their role very much as being limited to overseeing the finances of the school. Many others were nodding during this discussion to indicate that they may have had a similar experience. 

The current focus upon school leader wellbeing and resilience very much places the onus on the school leader to take care of their own wellbeing needs. The internet is awash with an overwhelming number of lists of strategies to improve wellbeing during the current crisis. Since I concluded my doctoral research in 2016, I have felt strongly that principal wellbeing will only be significantly improved when governments and boards of governors recognise their school leaders as a precious resource to be valued and nurtured. School leaders should of course reflect upon their leadership practices and personal habits and make necessary changes to improve the environment in which they operate and learn how to manage stress better. However, most of the issues facing our principals and heads of school are structural and cannot be solved through self-help approaches. 

In most systems around the world the role of the board of governors is three-fold.

  • To set the strategic direction of the school.
  • To provide robust accountability for the head of school/principal.
  • To ensure financial oversight.

However, the overarching purpose of any board of governors is to improve school performance and raise educational standards. It is, therefore, short-sighted of governors to fail to understand and acknowledge how the wellbeing of their head of school/principal may impact on the success of the school

There is plenty of research evidence to demonstrate that, second to teacher quality/instructional practice, the school principal is the most important factor influencing student outcomes. Additionally, there is a significant number of studies that show how stress impacts negatively on work performance in a wide range of employment roles. It is not hard to extrapolate from this that overwhelmed and exhausted school leaders are less likely to be able to deliver and sustain exceptional school performance than those who feel more physically and mentally robust. 

We know that schools around the world have been facing a crisis of school leader recruitment and retention for many years. It is not hard to link this to the stressful nature of the work. Work-related stress has been linked to turnover of staff in a number of occupations plus there is increasing anecdotal evidence that burnout school leaders are leaving the profession and that this is likely to worsen as a result of the COVID crisis. In my own 2017 research, only two of the ten highly stressed interview participants remained in the same role one year after their interview. Studies tell us that stable school leadership is a key factor in improving school performance and student outcomes and that both teacher turnover and teachers’ attitude to change all suffer are impacted negatively by principal turnover. 

So if school leader wellbeing impacts school performance and student outcomes, is it not well within the purview of the board of governors overarching purpose of raising educational standards in their school?

Even if we look narrowly at the role of governors as being only responsible for the finances of a school, there are a whole range of reasons for school leader wellbeing to be part of their agenda. After the school buildings is not the senior leader the school’s most valuable asset? Just as buildings need to be maintained should not the principal be the subject of a maintenance programme to ensure they are kept in tip top condition to enable them to fulfil their role to their maximum potential? Surely, draining this precious resource of its vitality is in no-one’s interests. And what of the cost and risk involved in replacing this asset when it is finally worn out and has to be discarded? In the USA, studies have established the cost of recruiting and training a new principal to be between $10,000 and $75,000. A new leader is also an unknown quantity, no matter how robust the recruitment process. Is it not better to take care of the leader that you have and work with them to build their resilience and the sustainability of their leadership rather than throw them away and replace them with a new model?

This may sound harsh as governors are, after all, volunteers with busy lives who are doing their best to support the leadership and growth of their schools for no recompense. There will also be boards of governors who care very much about the wellbeing of their head of school/principal and go to great pains to ensure they do not burnout. However, in my experience and that of the hundreds of school leaders I have come into contact with over the last two decades, this is not the norm. 

The truth is that we need to find ways to raise awareness among governors that school leader wellbeing is not a peripheral issue that falls outside of the scope of their responsibility but it is right at the heart of headteacher/principal recruitment and retention, school performance, student outcomes and the prudent management of school finances. If we can encourage governors to engage more fully in understanding the challenges their heads and principals face and acknowledge the key role that governors could play in improving leader wellbeing, this would benefits the whole school community.

BOOKS for booklovers

As an avid reader and writer, I love books about books and libraries. Here are some outstanding ones.

Every once in a while you pick up a book that makes its way straight to your heart: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is such a book.  The text is a poetic description of  26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way. Rather than a summation of biographies the author used the voice of a circus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates European writers and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Baird who singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.

Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover. 

Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663 

FROM A CHILD OF BOOKS

Another book I fell in love with is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The SeaThe Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.

Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9

Oliver Jeffers is also the creator of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a hilarious picture book to share with Kindergartens or older. Henry devours books, literally. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Until he is so stuff full of books that he gets a tummy ache. Then he discovers that reading books is much better than eating books, and he gets smarter yet. The ‘real bite’ out of the back cover is a fun bonus.

ASIN : B007XJ7388

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library. 

Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.

I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.

I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.

Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…

Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.

@ZAlexanderBooks

ISBN 978-1-250-23370-7

The Pygmalion effect: the power of high expectations

To raise the bar or not to raise the bar? To have high expectations or not to have high expectations? This has been a constant discussion topic in many schools. Many believe in order to be inclusive one should lower the expectations to suit the student’s ability while others strongly disagree. Some even confuse it with differentiation as they think giving students work that they can complete as per their ability is differentiation. I strongly disagree, I believe in The Pygmalion Effect (Rosenthal,1987). which simply states that high expectations lead to better achievement levels hence low expectations will lead to low performance.

Diagram
The Pygmalion Effect (source: https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/)
Image source: https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/

This is very true for higher secondary students, they tend to reciprocate the teachers’ approach towards setting expectations and then they perform accordingly. A simple experiment I do is announce that the upcoming test will be very challenging, and surprisingly students come better prepared and perform better than those tests taken casually or informally. Another example is the students’ approach towards formative assessment and summative assessments, they usually do well in summative as the expectations are higher.

Teaching for so many years, I have always set high expectations for student outcomes and designed challenging assessment tasks, sometimes this does not go down very well with many stakeholders in education as some believe that expectations should be as per student ability. Hence I always suffered the conflict whether I should raise the bar or lower it to suit the student’s ability. I never got a clear answer and the conundrum grew until I read about The Pygmalion Effect.

I will briefly highlight the key factors that helped me resolve my conflict regarding expectations. The article Being honest about the Pygmalion Effect, (Ellison, 2015) explains that various researchers have observed when managers have high hopes for their employees, the workers become more productive; when military instructors believe trainees have superior skills, the trainees perform better. The pygmalion effect states that high expectations lead to better achievement levels, hence I strongly promote this strategy in my classroom.

Furthermore, there are seven ways teachers can change their expectations by watching, listening, engaging, experimenting, meeting, reaching out and reflecting (Pianta, 2003). Ironically the last step is most effective, to reflect on the whole process by questioning our personal experiences. This is very insightful if I apply this in my context, I do work better as a teacher if my supervisor has positive expectations of me, hence I should apply the same to my students. This has been a learning curve in terms of setting expectations for students. Hence by following the seven steps teachers can set a high standard without having to worry about the outcomes. But this requires training since teachers need to ensure that the expectations are made challenging for every student at their individual level, it requires deep knowledge of both approaches to learning and differentiation.

In summary, even though the strategies for improving student self-efficacy have been under the spotlight for the past decade, it has not reached its fruition as teachers are neither expected nor trained to set high expectations. In many schools, usually, the expectations are kept low in order to have a greater number of students and low turnover. This has become an ethical dilemma hence must be debated extensively to put together a set of rules and procedures to promote student self-efficacy.

 Ellison, K. (2015). Being honest about the Pygmalion Effect. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2015/dec/14-great-expectations

Rosenthal, R. (1987). “Pygmalion” Effects: Existence, Magnitude, and Social Importance. Educational Researcher, 16(9), 37-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1175728

Pianta, R.C. (2003). Handbook of Psychology  Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/0471264385.wei0710

An Autumn State of Mind

So we’ve reached November and Autumn in France is in full swing. There is so much beauty that goes hand in hand with this time of the school year, and last week was a great example of that as we finished off spirit week in the lower school with the Trunk or Treat event, which sent our students home smiling and full of joy…and candy. Just as we were dismissing the kids to the buses on Friday afternoon a student asked me very seriously, “Now that Halloween is over Mr. Kerr, can you put up the tree and start playing the holiday music every morning?” Of course, I told her that it was just a little bit too early for that, but honestly, I am tempted because I know that the next 4 weeks are going to be tough in many ways for all of us.

Being back on lockdown is hard for sure, and the timing is rough as well with the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter and the flu season just beginning. Plus, the emotional US election is coming up this week and we are struggling with the recent terror attacks that have put us all on edge. There is a lot of uncertainty as we stare down the next few weeks, and if we are not careful the literal darkness of the days can start to seep into our mindsets and our attitudes and it can start to sap our energy and joy. What we can’t forget is that we have the incredible gift of each other, and we need to commit to reaching out for whatever it is that we need. We have to be purposeful in our attempt to lift each other up as often as we can, and to be the light and warmth for each other as the days get colder and darker. There is so much to look forward to as November begins, and I am hopeful that this month will bring some positive changes to our current situation. 

I often talk about finding inspiration and joy in the little things in life, and in the beauty that surrounds us in every moment of every day. We have our students and we have each other and that’s a lot! Find ways to take care of yourselves both physically and mentallly over the next several weeks and lean on each other for any support that you need. Lean on me specifically for whatever it is that will make your days easier and brighter. Let’s go out of our way to spread joy and light and happiness all around, and let’s begin tomorrow…I don’t want to have to dig out that tree just yet, but I did put together an awesome new holiday playlist which is all ready to go when it’s time. Here is a favorite poem of mine that can help send you into November in a positive Autumn state of mind. Have a wonderful week everyone as we finish off a successful school accreditation experience, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Hope Is A Thing With Feathers

  • Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

Quote of the Week…

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr

Inspiring Videos – 

Proud Parent

Rise Up

A Skeleton Best Friend

Chipmunk Restaurant

6 Year Old ABC’s

Related Articles – 

The Beauty of Autumn

Winter Wellness

Autumn in the Best Season

It’s Important to Reach Out

TED Talk – Seek Your Truth

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

A Look at our Environment in picture books and novels. Here are some brand-new titles for readers of all ages, dealing with our environment and even with our current global pandemic.

 This Is My Daddy! by Mies van Hout is a lovely board book for very young readers. Each colourful image shows an animal baby and four possible daddies who look amazingly similar but are actually different animals. The art really makes you look closely at wings, legs, feelers, horns to determine whose baby this is. A fun book for preschoolers, complete with surprise ending. ISBN 978-1-77278-112-0, Pajama Press

Benjamin’s Blue Feet by Sue Macartney is a fun, engaging picture book about creatures living at the Galapagos Islands. Benjamin thinks his beak is too long, his wings are to wide and his feet are… too blue! The iguanas, lizards and crabs are all adapted to their own environment.  But when Benjamin tries to alter his looks with things found on the beach, he discovers that he is just perfect, too. This book offers additional resources here: pajamapress.ca/resource/benjamins_blue_feet_extra_content ISBN 978-1-77278-111-3, Pajama Press

A Forest in the City by Andrea Curtis examines the importance of trees and park in city landscapes in this nonfiction picturebook. Tied to urban development and climate change, the book shows the importance of paying attention to parks as city populations grow. A good resource for upper elementary and middle school students who are looking at city planning and environmental impact. ISBN 978-1-77306-142-9, Groundwood Books

Kah-Lan and the Stink-Ink by Karen Autio is a chapter book for young readers. We all know the perils and consequences of an oil spill in the ocean, but how would a young sea otter feel when his environment is endangered? This interesting story is told from Kah-Lan’s viewpoint as he grows up and is ready to leave his family raft. Venturing out alone along North America’s west coast, Kah-Lan learns about the dangers he must face and experiences what happens when people pollute. A nice story to share and discuss the environment. ISBN 9-781989-724071, CP Press

Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters is a timely novel about the world’s current pandemic. Although based on recent events, facts and experiences, the strength of this book is that it is a fictional story in which young teens can recognize themselves. Suddenly faced with school closures, Zoom meetings and face masks, 13 year old Quinn and her friends learn to deal with a new reality. This book will show upper elementary and middle school readers that they are not alone in facing many new challenges. The story also shows how kids can take positive initiatives to help others. ISBN 978-1459827875 Orca Book Publishers

Identity Role Models Needed: How Teachers’ Identities Affirm Diverse Students’ Futures

This article was originally published on WISEducation.

I’m a half-Asian, half-White straight cisgender American male without disabilities of Korean-Japanese and Russian-American Jewish ancestry who speaks English, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. I’m writing this because it matters to my students.

My identity matters for how effectively I can reach, support, and affirm each of them.

I have written extensively on classroom and institutional practices to support student identity development and student learning. All teachers, regardless of identity, can and must make the strongest effort to recognize, learn about, and provide space and support for the identities of each of our students– using a wide range of strategies and structures. We cannot only focus on the students who look like us or remind us of ourselves; rather, we must try our hardest to think outside of our own identity and view each child’s world through theirs. Growing this collective ability in education, particularly international education, is my life’s work. 

But there are limits. 

I felt those limits as a student. Growing up in the U.S. with American teachers, my national identity was constantly affirmed and strengthened by their presence. Likewise, I had plenty of straight, cisgender, White classroom role models. The other aspects of my identity, though, were barely represented or seen at school.  Not a single one of my teachers was Asian and I had to wait until university to catch a glimpse of my first Asian-American biracial educator — a professor with whom I never actually took a course, Prof. N. Just seeing Prof. N around campus had a profound impact on me because his mere existence and presence symbolized that there would be space for that part of my identity in the adult world (and in the education field). I have never spoken to him and he does not know who I am, but Prof. N matters to me. He matters more to me than the vast majority of teachers whose classes I sat in and whose assignments I completed. He matters more to me because he made my future visible, tangible, and real– a deeply motivational effect that has been shown empirically. Prof. N exists and thrives, thus I knew that there would be space for me in this world to exist and thrive too. 

And I feel those limits as a teacher. I know that every one of my students with Korean, Japanese, or other East-Asian ancestry has felt a connection with me, especially those who are also multiracial or multicultural. My presence may even be important to students of those backgrounds that I never directly teach– just as Prof. N meant a lot to me. International school staff diversity is deeply lacking, and even though I teach in Asia, I may be the only Asian homeroom teacher they have or see for years– and almost certainly the only multiracial one. Seeing me and knowing me affirmed their futures. But what about my Black, Indigenous, Latinx, South Asian, and Middle Eastern students? My LGBTQ+ students and those with disabilities? Though they may see me as an identity role model in some ways (nationality, interests, personality) and though I work hard to create a safe/brave space for their identity development, provide opportunities for identity exploration and expression, and affirm them daily through a wide range of practices, I know– deep inside– that I will never be their Prof. N. 

I will never be their Prof. N because my existence does not (and cannot) affirm the parts of their identities that need the deepest and most tangible affirmation. My existence and success do not (and cannot) fully affirm their futures and demonstrate to them that they will have a valued place in this world. I can talk with them, learn all about them, protect them, mentor and invest in them, care deeply about them, and be there alongside them as they discover and craft their identities– but I can never truly be with them in the trenches of their biggest identity challenges and through the unique obstacles they face. I know it, and they know it.

I need help. 

I need help from educators with disabilities to be identity role models for my students with physical and mental challenges. I need help from openly LGBTQ+ educators to show my students they can be their true selves, express their genders with pride, love who they love, and thrive in all ways. I need help from multilingual and multicultural Black, Indigenous, and other educators of color from all over the world to help my students envision a more just world where all BIPOC can flourish. And I need school leaders to help by recruiting, hiring, retaining, protecting, and empowering these educators to be completely themselves– to unabashedly share their diverse identities and, with their mere existence, help my students see their futures and know that they are possible.

The moment this crack team of Prof. Ns walks through the front door, they have already affirmed our diverse students’ identities and futures in ways I simply cannot.

Imagine the results when they actually get to work.