Antiracism: Intent vs. Impact

Antiracism: Intent vs. Impact

EMILY: I was giving a training series on privilege and marginalization for a large international organization this summer. During one of the sessions, a Black man shared about a time when, as a student at a prestigious American university, he was studying in the library, when a White man about his age approached and asked if he actually attended the school. When the participant confirmed that he was, indeed, a student there, the White man turned and walked away without another word.

“Classic microaggression,” I said aloud.

The participant looked up at me through our Zoom screens and said, “Microaggression? It felt more like a full-on aggression to me.”

My chest tightened when I realized what was happening. What would you do in this situation, Daniel?

DANIEL: I would apologize for misrepresenting his experience and ask him, if he is willing, to share more about how the encounter felt, how he responded, and what it meant to him. At least I would like to think that I would respond this way.

Although a natural instinct may be to defend our intentions, I believe it’s important, especially in these moments, to show humility, deference, and genuine interest in the realities of others.

How did you end up responding? And how did it play out?

EMILY: That’s good advice, and I wish I had done that. Instead, I choked. My eyes got wide: “Oh! I didn’t mean micro in that way!” I made myself and my intentions the focus, and then I think I tried to explain what I meant by microaggression, basically intellectualizing his lived experience. Not my best work. Keep in mind, this was during a training seminar on privilege and marginalization that I was leading. I knew better!

DANIEL: I’ve had similar moments (which I too am not proud of), as I’m sure many other antiracist allies have had as well. Being multiracial, I can relate to this situation from both sides— as a person of color who has had others misrepresent my reality and as a White person who has, at times, unintentionally misrepresented the realities of others. That moment of disconnect can be an inflection point in any discussion, and it’s how participants— particularly the “misrepresenter”— respond that can determine the relationship of the participants going forward.

That feeling of panic and the need to explain ourselves— where does that come from? I contend that it’s from the cognitive dissonance between our impact (racist words, actions, systems) and our perceived intent (non-racist or anti-racist).

In fact, “being antiracist” may even have become part of our identity— how we see ourselves and how we want others to view us— and having a racist impact clashes with the core of who we believe ourselves to be. The panic is a mini identity crisis, of sorts; and we feel the need to neatly realign everything in the presence of the POC we just harmed.

EMILY: You put that really well. Thankfully, I knew this (intellectually), and did manage to recover from my mini identity crisis in time to staunch the bleeding, so to speak. I wish I had caught myself sooner, but it just goes to show that, even when we are relatively cognizant of the issue, we can mess up.

I’ve had many conversations with White educators whose mini identity crises drag on because the fixation on our intent will never resolve the impact of our actions. We White people are used to being centred, and our feelings and comfort are usually protected. To prioritize our impact means setting aside our feelings and intent, and focusing instead on those of the people of color experiencing our words and actions. The good news is that this can be done! And I feel really grateful to partner with you on this project.

DANIEL: Yes, me too! We were getting deep into a discussion about identity and inquiry (another important topic), but I think we realized that there were some fundamental core pillars of DEIJ that needed to be addressed first — and were more actionable and relatable for the majority of educators not already involved in this work.

As you mention, differentiating and navigating between one’s intent and impact can be challenging for many White allies, myself included. And, like with any new skill we learn, it’s good to see a series of examples to help us grasp it more tangibly. That’s where our idea for the #IntentVsImpact infographics came from.

EMILY: We’ve tried to cover some common issues like colorblindness, reverse racism, and cultural appropriation, as well as some concepts that folks may be less familiar with. I hope our infographics series will resonate with readers, and that it will be useful as a tool for educators working to make their practice more antiracist.

DANIEL: Agreed. Antiracism is more than just a series of behaviors to avoid; it’s a fundamental mindset shift in how we approach everything we do as educators— and scrutinize, confront, and transform the structures and systems that we inhabit and uphold. My hope is that these infographics will help facilitate that vitally important shift.

Please find Daniel and Emily, along with their new infographic series on Antiracism Impact Vs Intent, on Twitter:

View the full: #ImpactVsIntent Gallery

Hierarchy of Needs: the Student Version

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on

In the time I have been in education, which is almost 15 years now, there has been a constant focus towards addressing student needs. To date it seems we have not met these needs, as they keep increasing and are becoming more and more demanding. Hence there needs to be a structured framework to address the students’ needs in order to provide an inclusive and holistic education to students. But even before creating a framework it is necessary to find out what do students in today’s classrooms actually need.

Recently while teaching motivation theories to the grade 11 students in my business management class, we created a student’s hierarchy of needs very similar to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy is based on the student’s perspective of needs, hence, what is coming next, take it with a pinch of salt!

  1. Physiological needs: International school students have demanding physiological needs, it is much more than just food, shelter and clothing. A few examples cited by students themselves; the canteen needs to serve at least 5-6 types of international cuisine; the internet needs to be high speed preferably 5G; there has to be access to world-class facilities like a multi-function gym, heated swimming pools, etc; the freedom to wear anything but the uniform; the devices like laptops, phones, ear pods, have also made it to physiological needs that need to be satisfied.
  2. Safety needs: In a school, there cannot be any compromise with safety, all safety needs must be met. Access to counsellor, nurse, doctor, health and safety guidelines, fire drills, are some of the needs met by the school to ensure child safety and protection. While schools are sweating it out with the ever-increasing need for safety and security, it still isn’t enough. As for the student’s perspective safety means no bullying, no discrimination, no negative body image, no cliques, no harassments, and no ragging. These needs are more demanding and urgent for students.
  3. Belonging needs: Probably the most important need from a student’s perspective is the need to feel needed; a sense of belonging. It is no longer limited to having confidence and good relationships with peers. Students said they need to ‘fit in’; their attitude, attributes and actions need to be ratified by peers and teachers alike, even so, because it is a diverse, multicultural environment. But the dominant culture of the international school decides the fate of the students. I use the word ‘fit in’ as that is more important to students than doing ‘the right thing’. What matters most to students to have a sense of belonging is to be accepted by student, staff and school just the way they are and not the way they have to be.
  4. Esteem needs: These are developed over a period of time when students realize their potential. In the milieu of a school, it is still necessary to perform academically above average to gain self-esteem and confidence. Even in this century after having discussed and debated and researched the purpose of schooling, esteem is still linked to grades. This level is almost impossible for many students to describe and they feel it is hard to achieve. They have varied talents and may not aspire to get the highest grades, but they do aspire to gain a sense of accomplishment. In this vicious circle of achieving high grades, self-esteem and confidence are overlooked, hence students beg to differ when esteem needs are linked with academic performance, they would rather experience accomplishment with their unique abilities in their area of interest, not limited to academics.
  5. Self-actualization: Self-actualization is required to meet 21st century needs. Students need to have critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, entrepreneurship to be able to survive the next paradigm shift. Hence students feel they need to have all the physiological, safety, belonging, esteem needs to be met to reach the best of their potential.

Hence for students to reach the highest level of self-actualisation, international schools need to meet all the needs as per the students’ perspective. It is time to prioritise student’s hierarchy of needs while creating policies to provide a truly inclusive and holistic education experience for a diverse community of international students.

Just choose one…

So we have been surveying teachers and principals across international schools to get a monthly read on how they are managing learning as the pandemic progresses.  Essentially, there are still all three arrangements, of which all our readers are no doubt acutely aware of and about which there are ENDLESS blogs and articles:   all virtual, all face to face and a hybrid of varying models.

While there are no actual full-scale data yet on whether kids overall are learning more, less, or the same amount or the same things, or whether curriculum has been modified and if so, using what criteria, one lesson does seem to be emerging fairly strongly.

If you can- if your country will allow it – choose one or the other- all virtual or all-in person- and go at it with all you’ve got. It’s the flipping back and forth from one model to the other that seems to be the biggest cause of teachers feeling like they are doing less than their best and becoming increasingly stressed about it.

And it make sense.  If we have to put our energy into TWO systems (or three), all of which have unfamiliar facets, it is clearly dissipated at best and for many, is negatively impacting teaching, and learning. Teachers report spending so much time and energy managing the time, space and learning tools that the fundamentals of quality teaching seem a lifetime away. We don’t do any of it well, ending most days exhausted from just managing the systems, which may or may not have included any quality learning or teaching.

It’s not that every teacher can’t (and many have) become an expert virtual teacher, for example- but that has not been the goal.  Rather the goal, many report, has been to just get through the best we can, with our sites on ‘getting back to normal’.   As long as we are approaching it as a temporary stopgap, the strategies and support our leadership lend to the process may be no more than that as well- stop gap measures, with little strategic direction or leadership.

How much more productive it could be to take just ONE and do it well; pour all the resources, all the PD , all the positive energy into just one.  What might it look like if, even though a school COULD get back to in- person learning on and off during this school year, they just decide not to.  Once that strategic decision is made, we set our sites to organizing the curriculum with new lenses – like what is actually BETTER learned online, what was ALWAYS fluff and we can now eliminate, or how can we leverage technology tools as actual instructional strategies rather than poor-cousin replacements for in-person learning.

No naiveté about what I’m suggesting -of course there are all those parent pressures, reputation, long term repercussions. Yet all those considered, the kids that are in our schools RIGHT NOW signed up for the very best of our teaching and leadership. It’s our obligation as school leaders to be absolutely clear about what IS in our control and what are options are.

For certain, many will be thinking that choosing just one way is not an option.  And true, for many it may not be, but school leaders might try it on, if only to do some of that ‘blue-sky’ thinking that liberates perception and so often leads to the unexpected solutions. 

So, school leaders, gather your team and throw around this question: What would it look like were we planning proactively for a full school year, fully virtual?  It’s worth 15 minutes on behalf of quality learning.

Lessons from Watching Online Language Instruction

My 10-year old was a student in a five-day online language program. Overall she loved it. She learned some German and she learned, more importantly, that learning language is interesting. As a language teacher and language learning enthusiast, I recommend an online language course to the parents of any motivated child.

Personally, I learned a lot from watching her take the course, sitting at her side to see the screen or listening and observing from across the room. Here are some takeaways. 

Remote learning is different from face to face learning. We know this, but it is hard for us to let go of established routines that have worked so well for us in face to face environments for so long. But let go we must. We need to observe how students are learning without the prejudice of historically good face to face learning clouding our vision. Some practices will need to be changed, some will need to be dropped entirely. This shift will take time, but those who are quicker to adapt will fare better. 

Students are still extraordinarily forgiving with the tech glitches that we all experience. Perhaps because we all experience them. However, the patience for glitchy performances will wear thin as more and more of their online experiences figure things out. Breathe a sigh of relief that students are patient, but don’t misinterpret their patience as license not to adapt better to the online environment. Their clocks are ticking.

Language teaching still has lots of room for improvement. It’s nearly thirty years since I began graduate school to learn how to teach languages. The debate back then was essentially how much to focus on communication and how much to focus on grammar. One persistent and long lived voice stretching back to my grad school days in the early nineties (and in fact back to an early publication of his position in 1977), is that of Steve Krashen. In a nutshell, you have to to be understanding language – and making meaning with language – in order to advance.

With that background, the two most interesting observations I made of my daughter’s language learning experience are:

  • While she heard a lot of language – a lot of comprehensible input – she did not have much opportunity to talk. Sometimes she missed opportunities by not speaking up, which is partly on her and partly the way the learning environment was structured. Mostly, though, there were simply few opportunities to talk. 

Anybody familiar with a traditional language learning environment has seen this over and over. A teacher asks a question, one student responds, and the teacher comments on the student response. Let’s say that those three events – two by the teacher and one by the student – are all the same length (spoiler – they aren’t. The teacher generally talks far longer than a student). But, to keep things easy, the teacher is speaking two-thirds of the time. The remaining one-third is divided by the number of students in the room. In a 60-minute classroom with 20 students, with a teacher-student pattern of two-thirds teacher and one-third individual student, there is one minute per student to speak. As mentioned though, the teacher talk is generally longer than the student talk – and some students respond more frequently than others. The result? Many students go through a whole class with just seconds to actually speak. Crazy.

There are of course remedies. First, drop the teacher-student-teacher pattern (called initiation, response-feedback, or IRF, if you want to read more). For example, a call-and-response pattern of teacher-all students results in a 50-50 split of speaking (and all students are getting 50%, not just an individual student). This isn’t perfect – the students are not making original meaning – but it’s a heck of a lot more active than what I described earlier. A great way to do this is by teaching songs, something my daughter’s program used very effectively. Getting beyond a 50-50 teacher-student ratio requires creating situations in which students speak to each other with the teacher in s support, behind the scenes type of role. Role plays, games, debates, and other activities can get you there.

  • When the program teachers got didactic, things went downhill. Interest sunk, learning sunk. This wasn’t because the teachers weren’t good. Their subject matter was just not appropriate. Breaking away from communication, even rigidly structured communication with a question-answer pattern, into explanations about verb conjugations was a mistake. 

Here you don’t have to take my word for it. When the students were asked at the end of their time together what they liked best, they mentioned the games that they played – those activities that had less of a specific language learning outcome and focused instead on fun, which required some communication in the language. Not coincidentally, that’s also when I observed the highest motivation, the most talking, the most comprehension. 

My takeaway is this – and it is as true for this online experience as it is in many classrooms – when her teachers shifted into teacher mode, feeling like they better teach something, like those verb conjugations, learning dropped. Although it’s a little counterintuitive, it’s not unsupported in the research. (Think back to Steve Krashen, fighting a similar battle since at least 1977.) Our curriculum and our manner of assessment, among other factors, may be hamstringing us a bit.

If you aren’t a language teacher, here’s the generalization I’m aiming for. We might all do well to focus more on the doing than the tools we need for the doing. When students are doing, they may have a better chance at motivation and involvement, at constructing their own understanding as they go. They’ll ask for the tools if they need them to continue the conversation. So give them something interesting to think and talk about and then let them go. Teach your subject a bit less. Get students doing your subject a bit more. 

That’s what I learned from my daughter’s online class. 
Check out comprehension-loaded language instruction from proponents I know best – Beth Skelton, Grant Boulanger, and Liam Printer.

Global book reviews

In today’s column I would like to share with you books of wintery tales and seasonal information. These books can all spark discussions about seasons and traditions as well as lead to classroom crafts and activities.

Snow Days by Deborah Kerbel is illustrated in collage by Miki Sato. This is a wonderful picture book to share with young children about the magic of snow. If they have never seen snow, they will want to after hearing about snow angels and snow men. The attractive art is featured on thick, shiny pages (‘toddler tough’ the publisher calls them) making this a good book for kids to explore and try to make their own paper snowflakes.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-135-9

What if you came from a warm country and had never experienced snow? Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Eva Campbell tells the story of a young girl’s very first walk in snow with her mom. This picture book casts a new light on snow clouds, on snow falling and covering everything, making sidewalks slippery and trees pretty. What is better, snow or sun?

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-258-7

Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler is a brand new release. This picture book is a walk in the snowy woods of a boy and his grandfather. Together they make tracks and grandfather teaches the boy which animals make which tracks as well as the Ojibwemowin names of the animals.

Panama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-136-6

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Nathalie Dion is a lovely story of winter – when shadows disappear but snowflakes dance and the wind tells stories. It is a poetic picture book to share with young readers and discuss miracles of nature, like how do cherry trees know that their buds will blossom when spring returns.

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-2204

The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay is the story of Finn, Leo and little Ooley. They like to tell stories about exploring and about wild animals. But a real adventure is even better so they set off, on a very snowy day, to explore the woods. They don’t spot many animals and worry about climate change. But they do end up building their own snow animals – even better than building a snow man!

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-377-5

One of my favourite Christmas stories ever is Linda Bailey’s When Santa Was A Baby. Have you ever wondered what Santa was like when he was little? ‘He had a little nose, like a cherry!’ And his voice? Not a baby’s soft gurgle but, even in his cradle, he made booming ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ noises.

This book is fabulously funny and a great one to share with kids of all ages. It can even inspire students to write their own hilarious childhood stories of other fictional characters.

Tundra Books, ISBN 978-1770495562

And finally I want to bring this great resource to your attention: Christmas, From Solstice to Santa by Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton is an 80 page nonfiction book explaining history and traditions of Christmas around the world. From Egyptian Solstice information to traditions from Guyana, the book has lots of personal stories of food, decorations, beliefs and customs. A great resource for any (international) school library.

Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-1-4598-1355-7

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of over 40 books for children, including Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey. She conducts (ZOOM) author presentations in schools around the world.

Hope springs eternal

So I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about how difficult this past year has been, and he spoke to me about how nervous he is for the upcoming winter months that lie ahead. Just as we were finishing our chat I mentioned to him that deep down I was tremendously hopeful for the changes that 2021 will bring to our world, and he kind of smirked and said that he loved my sense of optimism. It is true that I am an eternal optimist, probably to a fault, but his comment got me thinking about the idea of hope, and how in my opinion being hopeful is actually very different than simply being optimistic.

The conversation reminded me of a wonderful book that I read a long time ago by Jerome Groopman called the, The Anatomy of Hope, where in one of the chapters he beautifully defines and separates out the meaning of these two words. He writes that, “Hope is one of our central emotions, but we are often at a loss when asked to define it. Many of us confuse hope with optimism, a prevailing attitude that things will turn out for the best. But hope differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to think positively, or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. Although there is no uniform definition of hope, I found one that seemed to capture what my patients had taught me. Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see—in the mind’s eye—a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. True hope has no room for delusion.” 

So when I said that I am tremendously hopeful for the changes that 2021 will bring for our world, I said it with the acute awareness that there are some very difficult months that lie ahead, and with the understanding that there are significant challenges and obstacles that we will still have to overcome…yet I remain hopeful, and in my mind’s eye I do see a path to a better future. A little boy said to me on Friday that he can’t wait for things to return to normal, and I know what he meant, but in many ways I don’t want things to return to normal at all. Of course I can’t wait for many of the normal things to return, like hugging for example (I do miss hugging people), but my hope lies in a new normal, a normal that includes a world that is more inclusive and just and kind, a world that is more environmentally friendly, a world that uses the lessons that we’ve learned over the past several months to create a better future for our children, and of course, as an educator, world that finally moves on from it’s outdated and traditional approach to education. I hope for a world that stops taking our earth for granted, and a world that embraces our collective humanity, and a world that is united and connected and a little bit more enlightened…here’s hoping. 

Anyway, it is true that I see the world through rose colored glasses, and ultimately that helps me get through some difficult times, but at the heart of it all, it’s deeper than that…it really is about hope, and seeing that path to a better future. Just imagine the beautiful world that will emerge from this crazy 2020..I can’t wait to see what 2021 will bring. Hang in there everyone, only a week and a half left until the holiday, so remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Enjoy this little poem by John Keats and remain hopeful, because hope springs eternal indeed. 

John Keats, ‘To Hope’.

When by my solitary hearth I sit,

When no fair dreams before my ‘mind’s eye’ flit,

And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;

Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,

And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head …

Quote of the Week…

Hope springs eternal in the human breast – Alexander Pope

Inspiring Videos-

Female Toy Soldiers

Give With All Your Heart

Inner Child

Classic and Beautiful 

The Greatest Gift

Holiday Commercial – Sweet

Related Articles – 

The Power of Hope

Live It Forward

Why Hope Matters

TED – How to be More Hopeful

Snow Day

In 2018 I stood next to a man at a bus stop in Singapore. He was wearing a tee shirt that read, “There’s no day like a snow day.” I laughed so hard I had to take a picture (to which he obliged). I asked him if he had any idea what it meant, and of course didn’t. My explanations didn’t help much. It’s a location thing.

In 2009, in my first year on the job as the Principal of a Swiss boarding school nestled on the side of a ski mountain, I relished the first opportunity I had to invoke my executive privilege of calling a ‘snow day,’ which was a spontaneous act of sheer joy proclaimed twice a winter after a particularly heavy evening of powder and an opportunity for the entire school to skip classes and hit the slopes.

In stormy New England in the 1980s as a student and later as a teacher in the 1990s, my eyes would be glued to the television as the names of school districts scrolled in alphabetical order like the returns from a close Mayoral race. Mine was the only one with the letter “Q” so you had to pay close attention right when the “P’s” started:

Plymouth. Pocasset. Popponesset. Provincetown.

And there it would appear, like the golden ticket. Quincy. I’d leap from my chair (even as an adult), screaming at the top of my lungs the tribal, primal scream that had been passed down through the generations.

Snooooow Daaaaayyyyy! SNOOOWWWWW DAYYYYYYYY! I’d jump and down, waking everyone in the house, throwing whatever I could grab up in the air, fist pumping like Kirk Gibson after his famous home run, wild eyed with crazed euphoria.

It was a feeling like none other followed by a sumptuous day of unstructured fun, calling friends for sledding, and forgetting about everything I was supposed to be thinking about for just. one. day.

In 2020, December 3 to be exact, my daughter and I stood at the window of our house in Zagreb, Croatia watching the first flakes of the first snow since who knew when since we stopped keeping track of time in the pandemic and had resorted to the ancient rituals of watching seasons pass and sunrise changes. I put my arm around her and said,

“Hey, on a day like this, we’d probably be calling a snow day.” Like the man at the bus stop in Singapore, she looked bewildered as I explained. When I told her that it was one of the few times of the school year when a feeling of pure euphoria and joy overwhelmed us, she looked up and said, “I could use some of that now.”

And then I paused and had an evil thought. The pandemic had brought with it the end of snow days. I did the quick calculus. Computers. Virtual Learning. Zoom. It was over. OVER! There were no longer any reasons, excuses, or euphoric celebrations. They were a thing of the past. It wasn’t SNOWWW DAYYYY!!! It was, “Due to the inclement weather, we’ll be transitioning to a virtual day. Homeroom starts in 15 minutes. Please make sure you click on the link.”

I couldn’t accept that. I can’t accept that. This was as bad as saying we didn’t need books anymore. I had to do something about snow days, even if they were technically a thing of the past. I had to find a way to capture that spontaneous euphoria, that crazy joy when the routine was stopped, the unplanned was now possible, and we could all just run around and sip hot chocolate or ice tea, and roll around in the snow or surf and sip whatever beverage or comfort food was appropriate to the geography.

I had to find a way to pass onto this pandemic saddened generation that there really is and was NO day like a SNOW day.

I have to find a way.

Have you eaten?

Does the perfunctory “How are you doing?” really cut it anymore?

Traditionally, the Chinese inquired, “chī le ma?” Or, “chī fàn le ma?”  Literally translated as, “have you eaten?” One origin story points to the significance of the salutation being attached to people’s emotions through food.  Closer to home, here in Thailand, people in passing traditionally greet one another by asking, “bi nigh krup” or “bi nigh ka.”  Used in place of “hello,” it translates, “Where are you going?” The polite response, as ambiguous as automatic, “down the street.”

How are you doing? 

Four words.

At the doorway of my classroom and in the hallways, I might unwittingly string these four words together over a hundred times each day!

400 cheap words, the currency of little value. So, let me try this again.

How are you doing? I mean, how are you REALLY doing? The question, asked in English, goes back more than four centuries.  The actual verbiage being, “how art thou?” Syntactically, various versions of the common inquiry morphed throughout the ages.  The meaningfulness of the genuine salutation seemingly adulterated. Which brings us to today. The response an unauthentic knee jerk, “good.” For any who may contest, when was the last time you responded or heard another respond, “Terrible”?  Instead, the predictable exchange can be chalked up as one of life’s “near miss” exchanges.   Akin to handing off a bill and getting change at a toll both.  Mere pleasantries, if even.

With Social Emotional Learning (SEL) more than ever before on educators’ minds, it behooves us to successfully leverage ways we might more successfully and meaningfully connect with students, families, and colleagues.  SEL dubbed the non-cognitive skills which provide for an holistic and well-rounded education, might feel for some to be yet one more thing.  Yet, amidst a worldwide pandemic and inexorable uncertainty, truly getting to know individuals is vital.  Arguably even more so, in an increasingly virtual world.  A friend recently commented how a professor in an on-line course made the indelible assertion, “SEL is not one thing more on the plate. SEL IS THE PLATE.”  Touché.

So, if connecting with our students is important, becoming more deliberate in our salutations seems to be a sensible initial step. Thinking about what we ask, but also not settling for the generic, “good.”  Instead with compassion, might we look others in the eye, seeking to better understand how each is really doing.  Slowing down and taking a self-inventory to see if we are listening earnestly may also pay dividends.

Five years ago, “thinking routines” rightly were all the rage.  Maybe now, the time is ripe for “feeling routines.”  Challenging ourselves to not only learn more vocabulary but to truly get in touch with how we, they, and everyone is doing.  As we begin to hold ourselves more accountable for assessing the countless shifting tides of emotions, maybe then we can more fully honor and support students. But like all good teaching, first we must model. Additionally, creating space, building trust, developing vocabulary, and truly taking time to genuinely show we care, all are at the core. 

The result? 

Students who are likely to feel more connection, validation, and belonging.  In doing so, we stand a chance to truly bring out the humanity in this noble profession.  

Global book Reviews

Books truly are ‘windows to the world’. Picture books can be a powerful tool to show kids that they are not the only ones dealing with a problem or coping with feelings. 

A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas is the story of Mary who comes from a loud family. With hairdryers and lawn mowers going, no one can hear little Mary who speaks in a whisper. But Mary is the one who hears the birds and talks to the flowers. Even when Mary seems to have disappeared, her family gets louder and louder. Until they finally fall quiet and can hear Mary’s song and learn to notice what she was trying to tell them all along. 

The Australian author of this brand new picture book worked as a classroom teacher and knows which stories can inspire.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-122-9

Noisy Poems for a Busy Day by Robert Heidbreder is a picture book of poems to use in Kindergarten. Full of onomatopoeia, kids can whisper, shout, sing and dance long with these fun poems. From animals to clouds, from swinging to burping there’s a poem that begs to be memorized and chanted out loud.

Kids Can Press, ISBN 978-1-55453-706-8

This picture book is a trusted classic by now. It’s a story about honesty and one of my favorite picture books ever because it shows the importance of being honest in very few words: The Empty Pot by Demi.

This quiet story is a wise lesson as well as a tale that brings tears to the eyes. The next Emperor will be chosen from among the children whose challenge it is to grow seeds. Ping is rewarded for his honesty and hard work.

The gorgeous illustrations show traditional Chinese architecture and landscapes. A great picture book to use as an example when writing legends with studentsof any age.

Henry Holt and Co., ISBN-10: 0805082271

The Greats by Deborah Ellis blends magical realism with a somber subject matter: it deals with the hardships of mental health issues, incarceration, and devastating loss. Jomon, a Guyanese fifteen-year old is visited by the ghosts of his grandfathers, who open his eyes to their stories and his family history, providing a way to deal with a childhood marked by abuse and hopelessness. Meanwhile, a prehistoric sloth in a museum awakens nearby, fascinated by her earthly surroundings. The Greats explores life and death through braided narratives threaded through with a message of hope. This short novel has a simple and poetic tone that creates an almost otherworldly feel that will appeal to teens and adults alike. 

Groundwood Books, 978-1773063874 (This teen novel was reviewed by 14 year old Matilda Colvin)

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of many books for children, including A Brush Full of Colour, The World of Ted Harrison. She conducts (virtual) author visits to schools around the world.

Teachers the Change-Makers: Three lessons from Mahatma Gandhi

In the recent AIELOC (Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colour) conference I had the opportunity to discuss an issue that requires immediate attention. The teacher diversity ratio in international schools has never been a priority until recently when the Black Lives Matte’ global movement took momentum; there has been an intentional and significant shift in the way teachers of colour are regarded in international schools. I would like to explain the need for this shift with the help of three quotes of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Future Depends on What You Do Today

The future of globalization depends on how we as educators groom the global citizens of tomorrow. Hence the future depends on how we teach our children/students to value the rich cultural diversity around them. The future needs teachers to bring into our workplace, our curriculum, our attitude and our attributes, the different shades of our heritage, culture and language. This is only possible if an international environment has people from all over the world driving its mission of internationalism; hence a bit of time and resource investment into recruiting teachers of colour, teachers from diverse backgrounds and teachers with diverse experiences will up the ante for tomorrow’s world to be peaceful and better.

Be The Change That You Wish to See In The World

Probably the most known quote of the Mahatma; it has clarity in the way it appeals to all of us. It is simple, if you wish for change make it happen. Hence as teachers of colour, the burden of starting the conversation, taking powerful initiatives and building a strong case for improving teacher diversity in schools is our burden, there is no Mahatma to lead the change, we are the change-leaders. Doing a bit of research and educating our community is the first step. Table 1 is research done at Stanford University, it will help you to make a case in your environment and give you the conviction that this is the change that will benefit future individuals, institutions and societies. And, we teachers are the change-makers.

Milem, J. (n.d) The Educational Benefits of Diversity: Evidence from Multiple Sectors. Available at:

In a Gentle Way You Can Shake the World

Social justice can only be achieved through social service; the world is in a fragile state, in need of repairs and it will only happen with our gentle actions. Anger, confrontation, disputes only create divide not decision. A decision has to be made by gentle means more powerful than any weapon, the Mahatma showed us an example by making ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence his greatest weapon. Similarly, during the Covid19 pandemic, the gentle actions of educators around the world have changed the way we teach and learn; the gentle actions of teachers around the world have created a sustained environment for learning to continue; the gentle action of school leaders around the world has made it possible to improve access to education. All these gentle actions by educators/teachers have actually shaken the world, changed it for better as now the dream of access to education for each and every child can become a possibility with the help of the Covid19 model. Similarly, a social movement as a social service is required for social justice and this time the movement is to improve teacher diversity in international schools; in a gentle way.