It’s Real

“I’m struggling.” I’ve said these two words more times than I can count in the past week. On one hand, it’s a relief to openly express my feelings and frustrations, and on the other, I feel guilty for complaining about something so wonderful.

With just over a week remaining until the end of the school year, I should be feeling like I’m in a state of euphoria. I should be counting down the final hours of the school year, celebrating my successes and the academic gains of my students, and looking forward to basking in sun, family and the awesomeness that is summertime.

And yet, I’m struggling.

As a career international teacher, I’ve never been directly confronted with issues such as budget cuts, incentive pay, lack of professional development, or students with extreme special needs. I’ve had it pretty darn good.

But there is something missing.

Next week marks the end of my 11th year in an elementary school classroom. When I began college, I remember learning that the average person in today’s workforce will change careers about 5-7 times. “Of course”, I remember thinking, “why would anyone do the same thing for forty-plus years?” I made the decision right then and there that I would be an elementary teacher for 5-10 years, tops, before making the move to something new.

And here I am.

It’s not for lack of trying, mind you. I’ve expressed my interest in teaching middle school on multiple occasions, and have attempted to make internal moves, to no avail. Like an actor who is typecast, I can’t seem to “break into” other roles within a school. Despite my credentials and strong desire to teach more focused content, I am viewed as an elementary school teacher, and always cast as such.

Not that being an elementary teacher is a bad thing. To be clear, I would not have stayed in this role for 11 years if I was miserable or somehow disliked this age group. On the contrary, I love working with young children, and would relish in the opportunity to continue working with them in a different setting or context. I just don’t want to teach science. Ever. Again. Science isn’t to blame, of course. My passions just lie elsewhere.

Educators in middle and upper grades have the great blessing of being able to teach the subject of their passion, be it math or chemistry or literature. Elementary teachers, however, typically teach all of the core subject areas, whether or not they have substantial interest, desire, or content knowledge in a certain area. Spending the day with a homeroom teacher, stable classroom community, and set routine may be more developmentally appropriate for younger learners, according to research. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to witness and be part of the bonds and communities that have been formed in my classrooms over the years. But I also believe that some of the same factors that benefit young students may contribute to teachers being stretched too thin and feeling burned out more quickly. I wouldn’t be sharing these feelings on a public platform if I thought I was alone. I know I’m not.

There are plenty of statistics sharing the startling rates of teachers leaving the profession, and it makes sense in a place like the US, where the education system is in need of a major overhaul. But for overseas educators, life is grand. We earn competitive salaries, get our housing provided, receive countless professional development opportunities, work with incredible colleagues and students, and get to travel the world. What’s not to like?

Nothing, you might think. This gal’s got it made.

We’ve all worked with those people who just don’t seem to like kids (why did they become teachers in the first place?), or who are unhappy no matter what. But burnout affects even those of us who are truly passionate about working with children, and who generally greet life with a smile. I love my school and the young people with whom I spend my days. They make me smile constantly. We learn, we laugh, and we help each other. And yet, there’s a part of me that is not feeling fulfilled.

The struggle is real.

Perhaps this is one of the few drawbacks of being a lifelong learner. I have too many interests, and I’m not done navigating their positions in my life just yet. I’m not ready to settle on one thing, even if there’s still so much to learn about that thing. Let’s face it, nobody’s ever really at the top of their game in the field of education, because the game is always changing. Still, I feel that there are so many options out there for me to explore. Maybe that means that someone will finally offer me the chance to help middle school students cultivate a passion for words and find their written voice. Or maybe I will go back to school for another degree that will make me more marketable in a different realm of international education, taking me outside of the classroom entirely. But then again, maybe now is the time I start that business on the beach I’ve been talking about for years, or become a pediatric nurse, or join in a humanitarian aid effort. I struggle, because while the beach business idea is a good one, I don’t really see myself walking away from international education anytime soon. What I do know is that I’m approaching the end of the line in elementary, and I’m ready to be cast in a different role. My soul is yearning for something new, something fresh, and it can no longer be silenced or ignored.

After this summer, which will hopefully provide some clarity, I have another year of teaching fabulous fifth graders. I will give them the same amount of love and attention that I have given every group of students thus far. And then, I believe that this scene will come to a close. I’d love to remain part of the same storyline; the change to a new scene doesn’t necessarily require an entirely new script. Perhaps someday, it will. But for now, just being cast in a different role might provide the needed change I seek. Like an actor who finally breaks out of their typecast and then watches their career really take off, I am ready.

 

Posted in Shannon Fehse | 8 Comments

Middle School – The Beautiful Struggle

So I’m down to the last two weeks of being a Middle School Principal, and as it draws to an end I find myself getting really, really sad…and feeling very, very grateful. It’s been an amazing seven year run for me, across two very different schools and communities, in two different countries and in two different continents, and if I’m being honest, it’s been the best seven years of my life so far. There’s something about the Middle School experience that is not for everyone. It’s challenging in many ways, and it takes a special kind of educator who can find their passion dealing with this age group of kids, but you know what, it’s so immeasurably rewarding and it changes your life for the better.

If I think of all the grade levels in a traditional school environment as a burning flame, I see the Middle School years as that bright blue part right smack in the center…the core…the place where it burns the hottest, the place that shapes and molds, and the place that transforms the overall identity of the fire. I like to call Middle School the beautiful struggle, because in many ways it is very much a struggle for kids, as they try to figure out life and their place in it…but with each struggle and with each stumble and eventually with each success, there is always incredible beauty!

 From the sweet innocence of the 6th grade class, who come to Middle School so excited, and scared, and hopeful, and nervous, and who still think it’s okay to go on playdates and to cry when they get hurt, to the confusing and formative 7th Grade class who learn so much about their changing bodies, and hormones, and how to fit in and make friends, and about who they are starting to become as people, to the desperate to be adult 8th grade class who want so much to be given independence and autonomy, but still silently scream out for boundaries and guidance…how can you not love this beautiful struggle? All the awkwardness, all the mistakes, all the tears and heartache, and all the relentless hope, it truly makes my heart want to burst! Their search for themselves is so wide open and honest and pure, and it draws me in day after day after day…and it makes me smile.

 The best part of my day is watching them all come off of the buses first thing in the morning ready to start again. They walk past me smiling, sleepy, and eager to learn about life, hoping to be noticed and inspired and validated by the ones who matter the most…their peers. I watch them, I joke with them, I try and set a good example for them, and I love them…I have grown to understand their struggle. If you ask anyone about their Middle School years you always get a passionate response. Some people loved Middle School and some people hated it, but everyone remembers it intensely. That first crush, the hopeful first kiss, all those risks that were taken that either fell flat or successfully catapulted you ahead with relief…constantly failing forward, and growing, and doing things you wish you hadn’t done…Middle School changes you, and it sets the tone for the rest of your life.

 For some people these are the best years of their lives and for some these are the worst, and for me it’s beautiful to watch it all unfold. I love Middle School and I love Middle School kids, and I’m inviting you all this week to go out of your way to watch them, and to marvel at them, and to be inspired by what they’re going through. We need to praise them, and set high expectations for them, and embrace those daily (hourly) teachable moments, and we need to hold them accountable. We need to encourage them to take risks and to make mistakes and when they do, we need to take the time to watch them learn and learn and grow and grow.


Being a Middle School Principal has been one of the most inspiring experiences of my life because I got to live vicariously through them all, and I got to feel that burn that comes from being right at the center of the flame…everyday. Middle School kids make me feel alive, and I’m honored to have been such a major part of their journey over the past seven years. It’s a struggle for sure, but there’s no better place to be than right in that flaming blue core…where life burns the brightest.

 Next year I begin a new chapter in my life as a Lower School Director, and I couldn’t be more excited. With this will come a very different kind of beauty, and days filled with constant joy, innocence, and belly laughs before the school day even begins. I’m absolutely thrilled to be going down this road, as I’ve felt the pull down to the lower grades for a few years now…it’s honestly where I now want to be. That said, there will always be something about the Middle School that has a huge piece of my heart, and as the final two weeks come to a roaring end, I want to say thank you. Thank you Middle School for all that you’ve given to me, and for all that I’ve become because of your burning flame. I’ve loved every moment of this beautiful struggle, and I’m all the better for it…in every possible way.

 
Quote of the Week…
It takes courage to grow up to become who you really are – E.E. Cummings
 
Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

You Don’t Have to Kiss Auntie Katie: Teaching Consent in International Families

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

My son will undoubtedly be thrilled to see my sister this month. Whenever he hears the FaceTime ring, he shrieks her name in anticipation of their chat. However, if it takes him a while to warm up to Auntie Katie since our last visit, that’s understandable. Katie also has children and knows that it is not just about respecting our babies’ personal space; we are teaching them about consent.

It can be tricky when the relative seeking a kiss from your child doesn’t receive it in return. It may feel like a personal affront when a little one denies their offer to snuggle and, as parents, there may be pressure to apologize for the perceived slight, or even coax the wee one into their loving relative’s arms. The message we send when we do this is that physical contact is owed to certain people, by nature of the relationship, regardless of whether it feels good.

These interactions may seem innocuous: What’s the harm in one hug? It’s from someone you love, after all. And they gave you a present! You don’t want to make them feel bad, do you? You hugged them last time you saw them… However, the path to date rape and other forms of sexual harassment can follow chillingly-similar lines of logic. When we prioritize other peoples’ desire to be physically affectionate (however well-intentioned) over bodily autonomy, we are depriving our child the chance to learn how to set boundaries.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has reinvigorated this conversation with a report published last month showing that an estimated 87% of women aged 18-25 in the U.S. have been sexually harassed[1]. These findings are serious, and all children will benefit from understanding how to set boundaries for themselves, and to respect those of others. Of course I am not equating our loved ones’ affection with assault. Still, it is understandable that children may have difficulty understanding bodily autonomy if they have learned at home that personal boundaries are trivial. Indeed, this Harvard study suggests that most parents and educators aren’t talking with young people about consent at all.

As a school counselor, I have taught hundreds of children about consent; this can be done at any age. We discuss the importance of asking permission before offering a hug. We learn about reading body language and experiencing empathy for others. Even young students appreciate personal space, and should be taught how to say no to unwelcome touch[2]. Hugs can be heartwarming, bond-enhancing acts of kindness, but only if all participants are enjoying it. While parents and educators world-wide teach children to use their manners, it is important that young people also know they have the right to be firm when it comes to unwanted physical contact.

For international families, this is a particularly salient issue. Children abroad may not see extended family and friends for spans of months or years at a time, so close physical contact might not feel appropriate upon reunification. International families sometimes harbour guilt at separating their children from relatives and friends back ‘home’, which can exacerbate the situation. And even if, as in the case with my son and his Auntie Katie, the child adores the person, seeing them face-to-face for the first time in a while may feel overwhelming.

5 ways to support children learning about consent: 

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about consent with your child now. The full report from Harvard includes recommendations and resources for teaching children about healthy relationships, with a focus on preventing misogyny and sexual harassment.
  • Check with the school about lessons your child has received on consent so you can reinforce the message, language, and strategies at home.
  • Have a chat with family and friends before reunions to let them know your child is learning about consent. This way they won’t be caught off-guard.
  • Offer your child the option to give a high five/fist bump/wave instead. These can be friendly alternatives to a hug or kiss.
  • Finally: be prepared! We have all had the experience of being caught, with our child, in an awkward situation. (I will never forget the first time – yes, it happened more than once – that a friend stuck her finger in my baby’s mouth. You’d better believe I had a quick response ready the second time someone tried this.) If you and your child have a plan for how to respond to unwanted touch, they will feel more confident asserting their needs, and you will be prepared to support them.

How and when does your school teach students about consent?
What are your favourite resources for talking to children about consent?

[1] Weissbourd, R., Anderson, T. R., Cashin, A., & McIntyre, C. (2017). The talk: How adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment [Executive Summary]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

[2] Children should also learn about exceptions, such vaccinations from the doctor, which are not necessarily welcome touch, but required for health and safety. I teach students that these exceptions should never be a secret and, if in doubt, to seek help from a trusted adult.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Celebrate!

So here we are with only three weeks left of school, and I have to say that it’s easily one of my favorite times of the year. Not because summer is right around the corner and because the holiday season is in sight, but because it’s the time of the year when we get to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished as a school. The next few weeks are all about celebrations, and in my opinion it’s a beautiful thing to see…we celebrate our students at graduation and moving on ceremonies, we celebrate academic achievement at our academic award ceremonies, we have our athletic awards night and our major year-end award assembly where we celebrate kids in so many areas beyond athletics and academics, and we celebrate in smaller, more individual ways with year-end MAP scores, positive student directed feedback from teachers, and portfolio reflections around goal completion. So much goes into a successful year as you know, and I love that we are constantly looking for ways to celebrate our kids, and purposely sending them off on their holidays with a true sense and feeling of accomplishment…like I mentioned, it’s a great time of the year!

 

All that said, I know that for teachers these next three weeks can be stressful and overwhelming, and often times we can get so caught up in all that’s going on that we forget to slow down, reflect, and find time to celebrate ourselves. All of these student accomplishments don’t happen without dedicated, committed, and passionate educators, and as we speed toward that final Friday, I want to make sure that our teachers…YOU… are celebrated for all that you’ve given to our community. I know that we have a few upcoming celebrations planned to recognize years of service, departing teachers, and one final happy hour where we can toast each other to an amazing year completed, but before all of that I want to publicly say thank you to each and every one of you for your outstanding work here at AC. 

 

I see how you go above and beyond in so many ways…I see how many hours you put in beyond the regular school day to ensure that our kids are getting the education that they deserve…I see the tremendous effort that you put in to developing strong relationships with our students and with each other, and I see how our school has literally been transformed because of who you are as people…I want to celebrate you! I feel an immense sense of pride when I think about all that we’ve accomplished as a team, and how far we’ve come as a school because of your amazing contributions. I had a chance to reflect last week during a couple of long plane rides, and honestly, it’s staggering to think about how far we’ve come throughout my time here…it’s a fact that most, if not all of the transformative work across our school would not have been completed or successful if it wasn’t for who you are as educators…absolutely incredible. 

 

The biggest piece for me however, has been the unwavering positive attitude that you’ve come to school with each and every day. Throughout the good times and the struggles it has been your inspiring attitudes that have impressed me the most. You always frame every initiative, every decision, and every minute of the day around what is best for our students, and that for me is my biggest celebration of you…attitude is everything, and you’ve inspired me every day with yours…thank you. Here is one of my favorite poems, which speaks to who you are as a faculty…never giving up, always trying to make things better, and forever framing a situation through a positive lens. Enjoy the next three weeks everyone and please take the time to celebrate each other along the way…it’s been quite a year! 

 

The Greatest – By Don Schlitz

 

Little boy in a baseball hat,

Stands in the field with his ball and bat

Says, “I am the greatest player of them all”
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around
the world so still you can hear the sound; the baseball falls to the ground.


Now the little boy doesn’t say a word, picks up his ball he is undeterred.
Says, “I am the greatest that there has ever been”
And he grits his teeth and he tries again.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around
the world so still you can hear the sound; the baseball falls to the ground.


He makes no excuses he shows no fear
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers.
Little boy he adjusts his hat, picks up his ball, stares at his bat
Says, “I am the greatest when the game is on the line”
And he gives his all one last time.
And the ball goes up and the moon so bright
Swings his bat with all his might
the world’s as still as still can be, the baseball falls
and that’s strike three.


Now it’s suppertime and his momma calls,
little boy starts home with his bat and ball.
Says, “I am the greatest, that is a fact,
but even I didn’t know I could pitch like that!”

 

Quote of the Week…

Never suppress a generous thought – Camilla E. Kimball

 

TED Talks –

https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_troxel_why_school_should_start_later_for_teens
https://www.ted.com/talks/ben_dunlap_talks_about_a_passionate_life?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2016-07-31&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_image

https://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success

 

Interesting Articles –

http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin343_a.shtml
https://www.edutopia.org/student-accomplishment-part-one

http://www.theleaderinmeblog.org/celebration-the-internal-motivator-for-student-achievement/

http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/leaders-link/principals-must-celebrate-successes/

http://inservice.ascd.org/end-of-year-a-time-to-celebrate-and-set-goals/

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Graduation Address to the Class of 2017

What follows is a section from my Graduation Speech to the class of 2017.

….we have so many, many things we could say: but collectively they can all be summed up: thank you for your leadership, kindness, company and for the privilege of seeing you grow over the years….. whether you joined in grade 4, or grade 12. We’re more proud of you than we can say, and we look forward to seeing what you do with your lives.Parents – thank you for lending us your precious children… just to be clear – you can have them back now; it’s been good but Grad Trip is not on us – just sayin’!  But seriously, thank you . We’ve done our best for your wonderful children over these years; we have seen them grow into the remarkable young men and women we see here today, and we share your pride. We hope you see in them everything you had hoped when you entrusted them to us.

Graduates, I hope you will all look back on your High School years with great affection; the many alumni who have flown in to be here today, and the numbers who constantly visit us throughout the year suggest that this is so for many. But I also know that High School is no bed of roses – or put it another way, it’s a bed of roses but roses have thorns – and it can hurt.

I hope for all of you you are proud of your achievements – you should be – but I know they come at a cost – in time and effort at least; and for some, in other ways too. And we know that for a few of you, it has been really difficult. We’ve tried to be beside you all the way – supporting you, pushing you, pulling you, occasionally dragging you.  I hope it never felt like a kicking; and I hope we got it right; please forgive us when we did not – it wasn’t through lack of care, or effort.  Whatever the reason you found it hard – academic matters, emotional matters, personal matters, social matters, behavioural matters, family matters, and whether you told us or kept it private – you’ve come through it; you achieved despite your adverse situations, and we’re especially proud of you and your achievements today, and what you have done when it was tough. Know that we recognise especially you, and that we applaud especially you.

Now let me speak directly to the whole graduating class. Watch out. Here comes the advice, based on two stories.

Story 1 In 1983 a then-young aspiring musician, Dave Mustaine, was kicked out of his rock band, just as they were signing their first contract. Disappointment, yes. But he used it to drive his ambition and set about becoming the best rock star he could. He practiced, dedicated himself… and his new band, Megadeth, went on to sell 25 million albums.  Dave Mustaine is now a legend of rock. But my message here is not the obvious don’t give up; always follow your dreams.  No, it’s a different message – because the group Dave was was kicked out of went on to become Metallica – who have sold 180 million albums. And 180 million is a lot more than 25 million. In a rare intimate interview in 2003, Dave admits he sees himself as a failure. Close to tears, he said that despite everything he will always be the guy who got kicked out of Metallica. Despite his fame, his glory, his place in the Hall of Fame, Dave Mustaine sees himself as a failure.

So my advice is: find the right standards for success; don’t set yourself absurd targets that mean you’ll never be good enough. Allow yourself to be happy, even when you don’t get what you want. Don’t always compare yourself to others.  Comparison is the thief of joy.  It is tragic for Dave Mustaine that he cannot be happy with his success, and we see similar things on a smaller scale.  Two years ago a student told me he considered anything less than 45 IB points a failure. So with his 43, and a place at Oxford, he saw himself as an academic failure.  I fear for that young man!  When perfection is your only acceptable outcome, you are destined for unhappiness – in academics, in career, in relationships… in life. As writer Tim Minchin said Chasing perfection is the way to have your life pass you by; it keeps you focussed on the future, and out of the moment. It means you will miss small pleasures as you look for bigger ones in the future. It means you will not see the people in front of you because you are thinking about how useful they may be to you. Eventually, you may not even see your children right in front of you because you are looking for the child that does not, and will never, exist. The pursuit of perfection is a diversion from the messiness of real life. Close enough is often good enough and perfect is a myth that’s too costly, despite what modern culture will tell you.

Story 2 involves another danger that can arise even if you are happy with close enough and resist the perfection trap.

A few years ago, I was presenting something at a Primary School parents assembly, in another country, and I had to ask a couple of the seven-year-olds on stage what they wanted to do when they were grown up. One said ‘work in an ice-cream shop’. The other one, to the vast amusement of the audience said he wanted ‘to be a burglar’ (true story!) But in either case we smile because we know that the children are making a guess about what a good life might look like and what the details might be. A great many of our own wishes for the future have this character – they are guesses about what a good life looks like. And we smile because we know that with further experience, self-knowledge and maturity, the picture of a good life undergoes dramatic revision. Eleven years later, at graduation, the hypothesis of a flourishing life will be reoriented to filmmaking, medicine, finance, the law, the theatre, music, engineering, mountain climber, entrepreneur, public charity work and so on. These are still all guesses about what a good life looks like. And they may be more accurate than the ice-cream shop and the burglar (I hope so!) but are they correct?

That’s for you to say; it’s your life. But when I read the business press, look at some of my own friends, and observe the world of work, it seems to me that the notion of a good life seems to have been pushed to the margins –  a nice bonus if it happens, rather than the central life goal it should be. Work has become a job; sometimes a career, but only rarely a calling, a genuine belief in the value of what you do.  And the trouble with that is that even if you do it perfectly (which you should not) – then you will still have fallen short of what you could be; still have let yourself down.   Success in the wrong thing is something of a failure. As Lily Tomlin said Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

That doesn’t mean that knowing what to do is easy; and it would be naive to ignore the realities of making a living. But if making a living is all you care about, you may miss making a life.  John Kotter wrote between the yellow brick road of naivete, and the muggers lane of cynicism, there is a narrow path, poorly, lit, hard to find, and even harder to stay on once found. And finding that is my second piece of advice here – Seek that path that makes a life and at the same time makes a living; stay on it; show it to others.

Both of these problems – the problem of seeking perfection, and the problem of seeking the wrong thing – are at some level the same problem: the ‘always problem’ that never goes away and that is, to my mind, the fundamental human problem: are you living your days to the best of your capacity, in ways that are aligned with your values, and in ways that you can look back on with pride, knowing that you served others as well as yourself? That’s what we teachers call an ‘exit question’. And this one you should ask yourself every year of your life at least once.  Today is also a good time to ask that question, and as I look back at what you have achieved in your short time with us, I believe the answer to that question has so far been a resounding ‘yes’.

Our UWCSEA goal is to educate individuals to embrace challenge and to take responsibility for shaping a better world. We’re so proud of you. I know I speak for the entire College when I say it has been a pleasure, and a privilege working with you. As well as the great hopes we have for you, we have even greater trust in you.

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | Leave a comment

Understanding Ransomeware


                     By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

On Friday, 12 May 2017, a large cyber-attack using it was launched, infecting more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries, demanding ransom payments in the cryptocurrency bitcoin in 28 languages. This type of malicious attack is classified as ransomeware.

The ransomeware concept is fairly simple. Once the package infects a system, it begins to encrypt all the data. The data is still on the machine, but it is not accessible unless the user enters a decryption key. In order to obtain the key, money must be sent to the “owner” of the ransomeware. Usually this money is requested in the form of cryptocurrency, to make it difficult (if not impossible) to trace the payment.

Ransomeware Targets Everyone

Schools often believe that certain security measures and protocols followed in the corporate world do not apply to them. There is often a consensus on-campus that technology needs to be friendly and open. Because of this cultural approach to planning technology many rules and regulations are simply not followed, especially if those rules and regulations are designed for extreme scenarios.

For example, it would be odd to find a school that did not have user managed passwords for email. When users get their email account, they change and manage their own password. However, if someone recommends that school personnel setup multistep authentication, that expires every thirty days, that recommendation is probably going to be rejected. Any multistep authentication process requires that users learn more about security and manage security more regularly. If a user makes a mistake, the delay for resetting their services is often considered unacceptable.

IT policies and procedures that would prevent a school from being a victim of ransomeware, or other sophisticated attacks, are going to be policies that create barriers and limits. These measures would slow people down at times, and restrict certain types of technology from being used on-campus.

Managing network and data security is a discipline that must be followed regardless of an organizational mission or definition. Best practice scenarios need to be studied as universal best practice scenarios. Studying best practice scenarios for only a single type of organization (like a K-12 International School) limits exposure to case-studies, creative ideas, and threat assessment.

Ransomeware Prevention and Protection

Investing money and IT security planning have something in common. If a person makes a future decision, strictly on past performance, they are very likely to be investing in a plan that is expensive with lower future yield. IT security threats work because they are original, and because a purchasable defensive solution was not available at the time of the threat.

Many organizations make the mistake of preparing for the future by buying protection for a threat that is no longer unique.  This is useful if the threat resurfaces, but it is useless against new threats.

If an organization truly wants to be well prepared for ransomeware threats, everyone in the organization should be able to answer ‘Yes’ to this statement:

“I can take my laptop/desktop/primary device and throw it away right now without severely impacting my work or life.”

Answering ‘Yes’ to that statement means that a person understands the data  is more important than the machine is resides on. Just like investing in retirement, only diversification will save someone during a new and aggressive IT security threat.

There are numerous ways to achieve a high level of data diversity and redundancy. Here are a few that can be implemented with policy and practice:

  • The standard for file storage should be in the cloud.
  • Do not use SYNC software such as Google Drive Sync or OneDrive sync.
  • Laptops given to staff and students should have very small hard drives to discourage hoarding data and storing old files.
  • Weekly or Monthly archiving of data should not be in the same environment as data for daily work. For example, I use Google Drive everyday for work, but once a month I backup the important data to DropBox. The larger archives are for emergencies, and held within a different environment.
  • Offline backups on external drives are good, but hardware can fail. Consider what data is critical and make sure the offline backup is not the primary copy.
  • Systems like TimeMachine can actually corrupt data if they are backing-up automatically. Consider manually initiating backups, only after you have scanned your machine/servers for malware.
  • Photos and media can be challenging to keep organized in the cloud. Services like Google Photos, Instagram, etc. are designed for media. Use media centric services to manage media.
  • Email is not for data storage. If email is compromised, the communication threads should be all that is lost.
  • Schools using local network shared drives and NAS systems (Synology etc.) need to be restrictive and vigilant with permissions. If these services have been planned with “Ease of Use” as the driving force, they are at risk of being turned into an engine that will rapidly spread a threat.
  • Limit non-cloud based data sharing to special groups or departments to reduce the need to constantly update and patch these systems.

A final note to those who are making and enforcing policy. A single human vector who introduces one of these threats onto a network can create a cascade of destruction. Allowing anyone to circumvent a policy because of their title or position is placing everyone at risk.


WannaCry RansomeWare Impact
The ransomware campaign was unprecedented in scale according to Europol.[9] The attack affected many National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland,[50] and up to 70,000 devices — including computers, MRI scanners, blood-storage refrigerators and theatre equipment — may have been affected.[51] On 12 May, some NHS services had to turn away non-critical emergencies, and some ambulances were diverted.[12][52] In 2016, thousands of computers in 42 separate NHS trusts in England were reported to be still running Windows XP.[46] NHS hospitals in Wales and Northern Ireland were unaffected by the attack.[10][12]
Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK in Tyne and Wear, one of Europe‘s most productive car manufacturing plants, halted production after the ransomware infected some of their systems. Renault also stopped production at several sites in an attempt to stop the spread of the ransomware.[53][54]
According to experts[who?] the attack’s impact could have been much worse if no kill-switch was built in by the malware’s creators.[55][56]
Cybersecurity expert Ori Eisen said that the attack appears to be “low-level” stuff, given the ransom demands of $300 and states that the same thing could be done to crucial infrastructure, like nuclear power plants, dams or railway systems.[57]
List of affected organization
São Paulo Court of Justice (Brazil)[58]
Vivo Telefônica Brasil) (Brazil)[58]
Lakeridge Health (Canada)[59]
PetroChina (China)[16]
Public Security Bureaus (China)[60]
Sun Yat-sen University (China)[61]
Instituto Nacional de Salud (Colombia)[62]
Renault (France)[63]
Deutsche Bahn (Germany)[64]
Telenor Hungary (Hungary)[65]
Andhra Pradesh Police (India)[66]
Dharmais Hospital (Indonesia)[61]
Harapan Kita Hospital (Indonesia)[61]
University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy)[67]
Q-Park (The Netherlands)[68]
Portugal Telecom (Portugal)[69]
Automobile Dacia (Romania)[70]
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Romania)[71]
MegaFon (Russia)[72]
Ministry of Internal Affairs (Russia)[73]
Russian Railways (Russia)[74]
LATAM Airlines Group (Chile)[75]
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (Spain)[76]
Telefónica (Spain)[76]
Sandvik (Sweden)[61]
Garena Blade and Soul (Thailand)[77]
National Health Service (England) (United Kingdom)[78][12][10]
NHS Scotland (United Kingdom)[12][10]
Nissan UK (United Kingdom)[78]
FedEx (United States)[79]
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Saudi Telecom (Saudi Arabia)[80]
Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leaving Well

So I was going through the end of the year event calendar this morning over coffee, and I honestly can’t believe that we’re so close to the finish…how did the school year speed by so fast? I also can’t believe how much we still have left to do before we send the kids off to their summer holiday. The last month of the year is always tricky in my opinion, as we struggle to connect the excitement and promise of summer with the pressure and anxiety of finishing strong and leaving well. It’s hard when we see the finish line in the distance, to not get distracted or complacent as all of the emotions of the last five weeks begin to set in. I wrote a post several years ago that I like to send out every year around this time, as a challenge and reminder to all of us that the next four weeks might just be the most important weeks of the year. Tomorrow we officially begin the homestretch, and we all need to be at our best. Beginning today, we all need to commit to finishing strong and to leaving well. Here’s the message again, and please, please take it to heart…

As we stare down the last month of school, I want to challenge us all to re-commit to our students, their learning, and to each other, and to dig deep to finish what we started. I’m challenging us all to LEAVE WELL. You see, sometimes when schools and educators aren’t careful, there can be a tendency to take the foot off the gas so to speak when speeding toward the end of the year. It can become very easy to let complacency creep in, and to ease off on the work, the effort, and the attention to student learning. Losing focus and looking ahead to next year and to new adventures can quickly turn what has been a wonderful year into a disappointing end result simply because the finish wasn’t strong and the goals weren’t seen through to completion. In my opinion, we’ve put ourselves in a great position to end the year on a high, and to be able to look back on the year with an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s an exciting time of the year I know, and the kids are happy and smiling…we all have one eye focused on our summer adventures, and we can see the finish line on the horizon…I’m asking you however, to not lose sight of the importance of what’s still left to do.

Finally, I’m asking you all to pay careful attention to our beautiful kids over the next several weeks. Many of them are navigating the rough emotional road that leads to saying goodbye to their friends, saying goodbye to a school that they love, and saying goodbye to the identities that they’ve forged during their time with us here at AC. It’s also very easy for all our kids to get caught up in the promise of summertime fun, and to get distracted from the goal at hand, which is to work hard right up until the end, and to set themselves up to move on with confidence, pride, and with the right mindset. Talk to your kids…ask them how they are feeling…give them extra support if you see them veering off track, and be the amazing role models and mentors that they’ve come to expect. Don’t let them off the hook, and go above and beyond (even though you’re tired) to make the final four or five weeks their best of the year. Starting the year strong is so, so important as you all know, but it’s comparatively easy compared to the challenges of May and June. Finishing the year strong is where the rubber hits the road in my opinion, and it’s here that all master teachers and school wide leaders worth their salt show their mettle.

For those of us moving on to new adventures, like me, remember that we’re only ever as good as our last exit…….and for those of us returning, know that students remember the educators that we are in June…..so let’s make sure they remember the best of what we have to offer. The last few weeks are going to speed by everyone so please commit to making them count. Let’s all feel great about what we’ve accomplished so far this year…it’s been amazing…but we’re not done yet! Finish strong, leave well, and wrap up the year with a beautiful bow…Happy Mother’s day to all you amazing Mother’s out there as well…you certainly deserve more than just a day! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the week…

If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a brand new hello – Pablo Coelho

 

TED Talks to watch this week…Happy Mother’s Day!

https://www.ted.com/playlists/247/talks_by_fierce_moms
https://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen

https://www.ted.com/talks/karim_abouelnaga_a_summer_school_kids_actually_want_to_attend#t-328163

https://www.ted.com/talks/spencer_wells_is_building_a_family_tree_for_all_humanity

 

Leaving Well Articles – 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frederick-w-schmidt/on-retiring-and-changing-jobs-leaving-well-as-a_b_7442014.html

https://www.thindifference.com/2016/07/leaving-well/

http://teach4theheart.com/how-to-finish-the-school-year-strong/

http://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/05/finishing-the-school-year-strong-they-deserve-your-best/

http://www.teachhub.com/end-year-strong

Posted in Daniel Kerr | 1 Comment

Best of Saudi… Six years later

Back in 2011, we had just completed our first year living and working in Saudi Arabia.
We published a blog post on the Top 10 Best Things about Living in Saudi Arabia to our personal blog which was later published to TIE Online Blog. Now, six years later, we are finishing our 7th year in Saudi Arabia and thought there was a need for a reflection and update to this top 10.

With that said, our priorities have changed mainly because we have two children. That, along with our longevity here, has altered the list. First, let’s revisit the original:

10) Labor Costs
9) Location for Traveling
8) Bahrain
7) Shawarma
6) Availability of Food
5) Coworkers and Our Jobs
4) Gas
3) Weather
2) Housing
1) Money

Six years later…

1) Money

This is a no brainer. This was the top of our list back in 2011 and is still here. Almost no one is here for anything other than the money or perhaps family. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. We doubled our salary moving here back in 2010, and it has gone up another 50% since then. That, along with the free health care, housing, utilities, and flight money home, it is overall an outstanding package that rivals all but a very few in the world for international teaching.

2) Nursery on Campus

Again, this rises to a high spot because of we had our children in the past five years. Above all, this is what is keeping us in the country for the time being. Our school provides a free nursery on campus. So, our boys ride with us to work and ride with us home from work. They are about 100 yards away from us at all times, and the nursery care, facilities, and curriculum are outstanding. The ratio of children to staff is around 3.5:1. You would be hard pressed to find another school that has this benefit.

3) Lifestyle

This remains high on the list and has been enhanced the more we have stayed. Needless to say, we have become quite spoiled. While our compound isn’t the greatest in the city, compound life in and of itself is relaxing, fun, and enjoyable.  It can be a fishbowl at times, but you really can have as much privacy or be as social as you wish. We have a housekeeper, gardener, and guy to wash our car. Our kids can run around the compound freely at a very early age. There is a great swimming pool area and decent little recreational center. Our neighbors are our co-workers which overall is a pleasant experience, because we all know we are in this together. We’ve had some pretty cool compound parties and get togethers over the years.

4) Professional Development Opportunities

This is a new one to the list too as we didn’t quite understand how fortunate we have been to be able to attend such amazing conferences for professional development opportunities. Many of these have been paid for by the school or district, which makes it even better. We’ve had training from experts in the field of education at some of these conferences and have learned so many new skills that have allowed us to immediately impact learning in our classroom but also make us very marketable to future employers.

5) Our Respective Schools and School District

With the hire of a new superintendent four years ago, our district and school has really seen some major changes and will continue to do so for years to come. Both mine and Jamie’s schools have had their challenges in the last few years, but new leadership at the top has really made a difference. Our campus is cleaner and nicer looking, there is an increased importance in safety, technology, infrastructure, human resources, and budgeting. A new superintendent is coming in the Fall of 2017, so let’s hope he can keep up the positive momentum as our campus builds a new school to move into in 2020.

6) Friends

This seems a bit low on the list, but the sad reality is that despite all of these amazing things on this list, friends will come and go in an international lifestyle. Leaving your home country for the first time, you’ll start losing ties to those friends the longer you stay overseas. It is only natural. However especially in a place like Saudi, you’ll find many other like minded people (who else would move here?), so developing friendships sometimes happens overnight. We’ve said goodbye to many good friends but others have also come in not as a replacement but a wonderful addition into our lives. It will hit our children the hardest when we leave here next year. They’ve grown up with some of the kids on the compound, and this is truly “home” for them. Kids are resilient, and we are confident they will make new friends at our next location. Social media will ensure we can maintain close ties with everyone.

7) Weather

Again, with the exception of mid May through mid September, the weather in Saudi is amazing. The weather also allows for a lot of lifestyle activities described above on the compound. You get used to the heat, and you are able to get in a few extra months of pool time.

8) Food

We’ve come to enjoy middle eastern food quite a bit. Not only shawarma, but other foods like mixed grills and the amazing breads and cold appetizers you can get here. Our kids love the India food here as well as the Filipino bread downtown.  There has been an influx of big name western restaurants that have moved in the area such as 5 Guys, Red Lobster, and The Butcher Shop. Chik-fil-A will obviously never be here and there still isn’t a Zaxby’s, but Raisin Cane’s is coming next month.

9) Traveling

Again, this seems very low on the list, but traveling is just simply now a part of our lives. Our three and five year old boys have been to eight and 14 countries respectively. I had to retire my 10 year old passport with over 35 countries stamped, James is already on his secon passport, and Jamie will renew next year. Saudi is a fine place for traveling to not only the middle east but zipping back to southeast Asia, Africa, or to Europe. Flight costs have risen steadily, but you can still find some good deals. Our only issue is now we pay for 4 tickets instead of 2 which hurts the overall budget and limits our traveling.

10) Leaving Saudi Arabia

This used to be my #1 reason because I always though that the best thing about living here was any time you were able to leave. Saudi can be tough to live in with inefficiency, terrible and dangerous driving, extreme temperatures, sexism, racism, the inability to immerse yourself with the culture, and a wide variety of other things that can make you frustrated.

However, Saudi has been very good to us since we moved here in 2010. Summarizing this list, we’ve paid off debt, both of our children were born and raised here, we’ve had wonderful childcare every day (for free) at our school, and we’ve met some wonderful people along the way that we hope to stay in touch with for years to come. So when we finally do leave for the final time in June 2018, it’ll be very bittersweet.

Posted in Eric & Jamie | Leave a comment

You Can’t Call Your Child That: International Naming Laws

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

I am beginning preparations for our multi-legged journey of summer. Traveling with a toddler is certainly different than traveling as a couple. Forget about watching full-length films, and my liquids and gels zip-lock baggie is crammed with regulation-sized baby food pouches, instead of toiletries for myself. Plus, we plan on spending longer at immigration now, thanks to our baby’s name.

My husband and I decided to give our baby my last name (we both kept our names when we married). After our child was born, we were surprised to learn that we did not get to choose the last name; it is required by law that the father’s name be printed on birth certificates in Hong Kong. (Fortunately, as Americans, we were able to correctly register the birth with U.S. social security, so the passport does bear my family name, Meadows).

With different surnames on these two official documents, whenever we cross the Hong Kong border, there are lots of please-wait-one-moment’s and serious glances between officials. If my husband is present to reassure the concerned men in uniform, it tends to go more smoothly. Once, when traveling without him, I was asked if my husband and I were divorced. When I answered no, they inquired whether we had marital problems. I know better than to make a fuss at immigration, but I was fuming inside.

International naming laws
Naming laws are interesting. When I lived in France in the 90’s, new parents had to choose from a list of traditional, government-approved first names (mostly those of Catholic saints). This law has since been dropped, but French authorities can still reject a name if it is determined to be against the child’s best interest (Nutella, Babar, and Manhattan are apparently unacceptable). When I returned in the early 2000’s, there was a spate of French children named Dawson, from the popular American TV show, unheard of in Napoleon’s day[1].

Understandable regulatory practice?
It turns out that neither Hong Kong nor France have the most authoritarian laws when it comes to naming babies; Sweden is notoriously strict. Though, as an educator who has worked many years in early childhood classrooms, I cannot blame Swedish officials for rejecting Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced like Albin, of course). New Zealand parents can’t legally call their child King, 4Real, or Mafia No Fear. Twins in New York, however, were legally named Winner and Loser. Again, as someone whose career revolves around children’s well-being, this dichotomous choice is difficult to understand.

Or perpetuation of hierarchical social structure?
In international education, I have taught children with names that may not be familiar to Anglophones. But, to the family, these names are cherished. At what point, are a family’s wishes less important than the (culturally-biased) judgment of the government?

Around the world, sexism is passed down through our naming structures. One study[2] explains that, in Botswana, girls are commonly given names that refer to appearance, while boys are given names associated with power or intellect. “The proper naming system is an example of the way this society uses language to legitimize gender imbalances”.

Male dominance has been maintained through naming laws. I dated a French man who did not know his father, but carried his last name from birth. My then-beau and his mother petitioned the courts several times to change his family name to that of the woman who raised him; the process took over a decade before it was successfully complete.

Gender norms, too, are perpetuated through names. Poor Blaer’s parents in Iceland were surprised to learn that they had broken the law by giving their daughter a name that was “too masculine”. “Naming customs reflect aspects of the organisation of society.”[3] Naming laws are laden with the values (i.e. religious background, sexist tradition) of those who created them and, as in our case, may not be compatible with the values of new parents.

Even if our upcoming border crossing goes without incident, pulling out my son’s documents is a reminder that he was born into a world where, more often than not, women bear children, but men have the privilege of naming them.

How have local laws impacted the process of naming your baby?

[1] Apparently, Napoleon came up with the French naming law.

[2] Rapoo, C. K. (2002). Naming practices and gender bias in the Setswana language. Women and Language, 25(1), 41.

[3] Bahr, G. & Wetherall, A. (1999). Women and their personal names: Making sense of cultural naming practices. Women’s Studies Journal, 15(1), 43.

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Thanks for the Compliment

​So a couple of days ago I was welcoming the kids off of the school buses, like I always do to start the day, when a little girl walked up to me and gave me a beautiful and heartfelt compliment. She wasn’t fishing for one herself, and she wanted absolutely nothing in return, it was just an authentic gesture that was inspired by an experience that we had both shared together just a few days earlier…and you know what, it absolutely made my day! It made me instantly think of that great Mark Twain quote, “I can live for two months on a good compliment”, and to be honest, I haven’t stopped smiling since. It got me thinking about the power of compliments, and how if given with true sincerity and at the right moment in time, they can totally be day changing…maybe even life changing. 

I came across some interesting research out there which suggests that to our brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being given money. This journal article also suggests that using compliments is an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during any form of rehabilitation, and finally how compliments can actually be an integral component of cementing a person’s skill development. This is not surprising to me at all, as I’ve seen it first hand with my students and with my own two children. I also know the positive and immediate boost that I receive when someone compliments me on something.The thing is, it’s easy to go days or even weeks without either giving or receiving one, so I think it’s time that we all start making compliment giving a priority throughout our daily routines.

We can all do a better job at not only finding opportunities to sincerely compliment the people that we come across each and every day, but also at how we receive a compliment when it’s given. It’s hard for some of us to take a compliment without becoming uncomfortable, uneasy, or even cynical about someone’s intent…it’s hard to just stand there and smile, accept it, and say a simple thank you, even if it is the best and most appropriate response.

I found another interesting article by Eric M. Roberts, which lays out six important reasons why we should all begin to compliment more. Here they are…

  • Compliments encourage others who are struggling
  • A compliments can truly be all that stands between someone being successful or giving up
  • Compliments help people learn new tasks
  • Compliments strengthen and soften relationships
  • Compliments increase our circle of influence
  • Compliments help you become less cynical

Like me, Roberts recognizes that most people are pretty stingy with the giving of unsolicited compliments, even when we know that they are a powerful and positive experience for both parties. Anyway, I’m not sure that the compliment that I received from that little girl will last me for two months, but it’s going on four days now and I’m still thinking about it…that’s pretty darn powerful. I want to challenge us all over the next few weeks, as we speed toward the end of the year, to purposely look for opportunities to make someone’s day with a compliment. Be sincere, genuine, and authentic in your delivery, and be gracious and thankful if you happen to receive one for yourself, which I know you all deserve. I’ll be spreading them around as well, and I’m excited to see the smiles. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it! – Ruthie Lindsey

 

Great Articles –

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-gottsman/conscious-relationships_b_5062756.html

https://familyshare.com/3357/the-power-of-a-compliment

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200403/the-art-the-compliment

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/11/09/study-receiving-a-compliment-has-same-positive-effect-as-receiving-cash/#60bb01546007

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/compliments-activate-same-part-your-brain-does-receiving-singh

 

Inspiring Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opMQxa1JkuM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vik-Dy3jrE

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/health/2016/01/22/your-brain-on-compliments-sanjay-gupta-orig.cnn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5yCOSHeYn4

http://www.upworthy.com/11-times-teachers-totally-blew-us-away-with-love-for-their-students

https://www.ted.com/talks/kio_stark_why_you_should_talk_to_strangers

Posted in Daniel Kerr | 3 Comments