Not insignificantly, agility affected my personal framing of work and my thinking about how to get work done. My colleague Bill pointed this out to me one day. “You can’t go back, you know,” is what he said. So I started asking others working with agility if they had experienced something similar. They had, ranging from big Aha-moments to gradual shifts in thinking and practice that led to new ways of working.
So what’s agility? You’ll get different answers from different people, but you’ll likely pick up on a strong leitmotif of collaborative work, completed in short iterations, with lots of feedback informing the team and the work along the way.
There’s a document describing the basic elements, written in software terms, called the Agile Manifesto. It remains an important touchstone for agility. But, of course, agility didn’t spring up out of nowhere. There are likely themes of agility since people have been people. The document stresses (and the bullets are a direct quote):
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
While obviously written for software development, it is not hard to crosswalk the ideas into an educational context. Focusing on individuals, who work collaboratively, and adapting that work as they learn more about it has direct applications for students and teachers.
A group of agilist educators did reformulate the original manifesto into a guide for education, which they completed in 2016 and called the Agile in Education Compass. It packages agile principles more directly and in language familiar to educators. Some members of that same group are working now on a process to certify educators in agility.
And with good reason, I think. The IB PYP guidelines and the new ACE protocol for school accreditation designed by NEASC are nice examples of why. These are large organizations that are pushing for the type of mindset embedded deep in agility. So why not develop a certification, and work on expanding the network of educators, who feel at home with the agile mindset? If it can advance the agendas that include greater student self-regulation and an ability to manage one’s own workflow, in collaboration with others, in my book that’s a significant victory.
Read more in the LAS Educational Research publication, Spotlight, or follow my colleague Nic on Twitter (@agileinthealps) and visit her web page with the same name.
Every year we put some substantial effort into looking at our IB and IGCSE exam results – understanding patterns, seeing trends and considering where we can make improvements. Each department does an analysis, and we triangulate against our predictions, historic data and other schools. It’s a lot of work behind the scenes, and each year we get asked to reveal the fine details, department by department. Each year we decline to do so; and I want to write to explain the thinking behind our approach.
Our academic results are, of course, very important. We recognise that they remain key determinants of acceptance to Higher Education, and offer current and prospective parents some insight into the quality of teaching and learning at UWCSEA. And we are very, very proud of what our students achieve.
So why don’t we share everything, and make a much bigger deal about the results? What follows are a number of overlapping points that explain the way we think about this important issue; there are three very broad points and then some detailed ones.
The first overarching point is that our Mission is about preparing young people to shape a better world. Examination success is a necessary but wholly insufficient measure here – but we know that this goes against the grain of many national systems. We fear that detailed reductionist discussions will be a distraction here, and lead us to focus away from the most important things.
The second one is that like so many schools, worldwide, we are concerned about student wellbeing. Rampant perfectionism, high expectations pervasively competitive environments are taking a toll on our young people (here’s just another article on this How Life became an Endless, Terrible Competition). Reducing any narrow numerical focus on grades is part of fighting this.
The third point is that data hides individual stories. While we are proud of those achieving 45 points (top marks available worldwide), we are just as proud of the students whose 24 point Diploma was hard-earned; or those with whatever score achieved against significant adverse circumstances (try taking exams when you have been recently bereaved, or are sick). Ranking these students via the numbers of the Diploma score misses the point – as any parent who has had a child go through the IB years will know.
Given these three points, it’s been suggested that we should not report on public exams data at all; that we should have the courage of our convictions and just focus on the other great outcomes our students have. While I have some sympathy for that position, I think we also have to recognise the world we live in – that is, the market. Not something educators like to talk about, but frankly, if we cannot persuade anyone to come to our school, the Mission becomes irrelevant. And there is a great deal about which to be proud – as long as the data is understood contextually and without over-simplistic conclusions being drawn. So here are a few thoughts on how to interpret these results.
Bear in mind that:
Our students have a broad, holistic learning programme focussed on developing them for an uncertain future, not on nailing public exams. They undertake Activities, Service, PSE and Outdoor education when it might be easy to cram instead – but we know that the long-term benefit it worth it.
We are not rigorously selective academically; we look for students who will make a broad contribution at school
All 550 of our students take IB courses, with 99% doing the full Diploma. Many other schools only allow the most academic students to take the Diploma. So if you want to compare our results with a school where the select cohort size is 100, you’d need to take our top 100. We’re not going to publish that (for the reasons outlined here) but it is several points higher than the overall average.
We allow students to follow their interests and aspirations in elements of coursework and in subject choices (eg you don’t need an A or A* at GCSE to take IBHL maths, like some schools). This allows them far more opportunity to develop creativity and autonomy that we know will serve them well – but it may not maximise their grades
So, all that said, what are the grades? Well, if you really care see here.
We’re really proud to take a broad range of academic aptitudes; that each year many excel at the 40+ end; and that many excel and the 30- end. This is a great place to be; we are a school for all. We know we could easily add a few points to our Diploma average – but the cost of doing so would be too high. That’s not who we are.
Rather than encourage choice, we could limit subject offerings so that students had to study at IB level what they studied before. No new subjects would be offered, so effectively, choices at 14 would carry through at 16.
Rather than allow students to follow creativity and interest, we could restrict the freedom with coursework and Extended Essays so that all students were writing on a narrower range of areas. We could then explicitly teach to these areas.
Rather than commit to all our grade 10 students, we could refuse grade 11 places to any students whom we thought would struggle with the Diploma Programme. Or we could require specific grades to undertake specific subjects.
Rather than support all, and especially those who need it most, we could have an academic filter at the end of grade 11, and by various means ensure that struggling students do not take their Diploma with us.
Rather than accept students who we know will make a contribution to broad school life, we could make admissions choices on academics alone
Rather than allow students to learn independence and an amazing experience in their school-supported independent travel week at the end of grade 11, we could use that week to cram for exams.
Rather than require ongoing commitment to Activities and Service, we could allow grade 12s to drop this, and thereby focus on their academics.
So that’s why we share results in the way we do. We hope that in doing so we strike the balance between transparency and valuing the right things. We hope that as they are so quantifiable they will not draw attention to the wrong place; and that we will not attract families for whom they are the be-all and end-all of education; because that’s not what we offer.
So this week I had several students sent to my office to be celebrated. It is literally my favorite part of the day when a student arrives at my door, with a teacher by their side, holding a book or a piece of writing or simply just standing there empty handed excited to share something special with me..I absolutely love it! There was one student in particular though, this past Wednesday, who had me choking back the tears. He walked in a little nervous and very excited, holding a large print chapter book, and he was super eager to read it to me…and he did so beautifully.
You see, this 4th grade boy came to ASP at the beginning of the year not knowing a single word of English, and there he was only three months later ready to read out loud to his principal…in English! I sat there and listened, and watched him grow in confidence with each spoken word, and the look of pride on his face made my heart want to burst. After the celebration, as he was walking back to class, it hit me that this particular moment, that was orchestrated by two incredible teachers (thank you Sherri and Gabby), will stay with that boy for the rest of his life. That feeling of success, and that sense of pride that he felt in that moment changed him, and absolutely strengthened his relationship with school and learning. I managed to catch up to him later on in the day, after I had composed myself, and I asked him how he felt. He told me that he felt like a reading superhero, and as he walked away smiling I swear he felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof.
I was reminded once again through that magical experience that it doesn’t take much to change a kid’s relationship with learning. Little successes, some small wins, and a few well thought out celebrations can make all the difference. An encouraging word here, a high-five there, a note or a phone call home at some point throughout the week, and of course a trip to the principal’s office will go a long, long way in strengthening a child’s relationship with school and learning…for us, it doesn’t take much time to do but the effect on the student will last a lifetime! We are all so busy at school doing what we do, and if we aren’t careful then days can go by without us purposely finding ways to set up, or call out moments of success with each one of our kids. A child’s relationship with learning is at the heart of it all, and the foundation of a student’s educational experience. There is nothing more important for us as educators than to go after that relationship specifically, and to help build that foundation.
I’m challenging you all this week, with less than two weeks to go before the holiday, to celebrate as many kids as you can, and to go out of your way to strengthen all of your students’ relationships with learning…purposely make them feel like learning superheroes, and watch their eyes light up, their chests swell, and the smiles start to spread across their faces. Make them feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof, if even just for a moment. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
Neither comprehension nor learning can take place in an atmosphere of anxiety
Almost 20 years ago, a group of software engineers published what they called the Agile Manifesto. In it they outlined how they envisioned working. They focused squarely on people, collaborating with each other and the customer, delivering pieces of the final product in short, regular intervals.
They imagined that working this way would be more responsible. They would be more likely to produce useful software, they would work quicker, and above all, they would find work more fulfilling.
Several individuals and schools have been pulling this mindset into education. In my roles at Leysin American School and Endicott College, I’ve practiced with some agile tools, like Scrum, and with some adaptations of these tools specifically for education, like eduScrum. I’ve collaborated with consultants and business owners, as well as teachers and students. Together with school colleagues we’ve introduced agility in middle school, high school, and the university. We’ve also applied agility at the organizational level, managing our accreditation self-study, professional development, and some school change processes.
I’m convinced we are onto something big. I’m equally convinced we need to keep working small, in a bottom up sort of way, accumulating examples of successes and failures from an increasing pool of practitioners, in order to share the impact this shift in thinking can have.
And while agility in education is not mainstream, it is popping up under different names in mainstream practice. This week a colleague shared with me the IB document “Collaborative Planning Process for Learning and Teaching.” Bullet points on the document describe what learning means for the PYP program. Here is one: “Developing students’ capacity to plan, reflect and assess, in order to self-regulate and self-adjust learning.” Parts of the new ACE protocol for school accreditation also read as if inspired directly by agility.
I’m wary of sounding too evangelical. So enough said for today. But explore a little if your interest is piqued:
Agile Classrooms – John Miller, one of the earliest proponents of agility in education;
eduScrum – Willy Wijnands, who translated Scrum into eduScrum and has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort spreading the word; and
Scrum Alliance, “a nonprofit organization that is guiding and inspiring individuals, leaders, and organizations with agile practices, principles, and values to help create workplaces that are joyful, prosperous, and sustainable” (scrumalliance.org).
I have noticed an uptick recently in schools moving resources, money and time, to address cybersecurity concerns. The motivation for addressing security issues is genuine, but the approach and implementations I am reading about are less than effective.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of posts to address what schools should do to improve cybersecurity. Nearly every suggestion will require a change in process or culture, but not any significant financial investment.
Social engineering is the art of exploiting human psychology, rather than technical hacking techniques, to gain access to buildings, systems or data. ~ https://www.csoonline.com/article/2124681/what-is-social-engineering.html
Physical access to any space is the holy grail. Hacking begins with collecting information, watching people, finding the weak links within the organization, and studying how systems and people work.
Having an open friendly campuses means exposing information systems to a variety of threats that exist outside the network controls.
Allowing students, teachers, and staff to freely move around campus with few limitations or consequences, creates multiple opportunities for data to be collected on areas of the campus that generally are part of the plant or backend operations. These areas are designed for small teams of workers to keep the campus running, and these areas allow access to systems that control things like water, gas, electricity, etc. The plans and operational guides for these areas are not public, but people taking a regular stroll through these spaces eventually collect enough information to execute an exploit.
Maybe the exploit is simply students finding a way to sneak off-campus, but when one group creates a loophole, another group has the opportunity to use it. Social engineering practitioners are looking for loopholes and they are looking to mix with trusted groups of people. Their access begins with a bad policy or the improper enforcement of a policy.
It is far easier to use social engineering tactics to attack a school’s data and assets than to try and exploit the network externally. Not only is it easier, it is less risky. Generally, school policy is granting a person physical access, and therefore they are not trespassing. Whereas any attempt to breach the network would be a crime.
Before worrying about the network, the cameras, and the technology as a whole, it is imperative to reduce physical access and to design policies that balance community with access.
Defending Against Social Engineering in a Friendly Manner
Schools are not banks or government facilities. They are generally friendly and trusting environments. Implementing security measures should not create a panic, and should not create a culture a fear. Every measure taken needs to connect to another logical reason that the community can understand. Here are some ways you can reduce the risk of threats through social engineering:
Let everyone know, they are free to call security and report anyone or anything they see that seems “off.” This means, not punishing people if they misidentify someone. Make the process easy, and make certain security personnel follow through and keep records. Social engineering often requires a few visits to a campus, and studying reports could identify a pattern.
Lunchtime is always important on a school campus. Set a simple policy for business and operational offices to either rotate their lunchtimes and /or lock their offices. Lunchtime rotation is an excellent countermeasure. It ensures that every day, a few people are always in an office, the offices are open so people can access services, and the schedule of activity is difficult to predict. An example would be the following: Four people work in accounting. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, person 1 and 3 choose to do lunch at 11:30AM; On those days person 2 and 4 choose to do lunch at 12:30 PM. Locking offices for an hour is safe, but it is not going to be as popular as using a rotation.
Any closet or room containing computer network equipment, phone system equipment, etc. should not be used for storage. Why is this important? Because the moment a room or closet is accessible for storage, the number of people who will be opening the door becomes unpredictable. The equipment in that space would allow easy access to all the data that flows through the school. A common mistake schools make, is to use these network/electrical closets to store cleaning supplies. Cleaners are usually very friendly and trying to help people, as well as maintain safety. So, if I wanted to access the closet and exploit the network, I would create a spill of liquid and wait for the cleaner to get into the closet. I might even distract them long enough to slide a small piece of paper between the lock and door jamb. The cleaner is doing their job, and I have gained access to the space after the cleaner is finished.
Guests/Parents should have their own network. It goes without saying that allowing anyone aside from students and employees on the academic network is risky. A guest network SSID is highly recommended if the public or parents are allowed to use the WiFi. The more I consider this, the more I believe that a better policy is to simply improve the mobile network reception, and direct people to use their own data. A school can invest in repeaters and other technology to make the mobile signals from various providers strong and robust. Schools can also use services like Kajeet to deploy better mobile access. In many cases, schools qualify for FREE mobile hotspots. Why spend time and resources giving the public and parents access to limited and/or filtered academic networks anyway? Using mobile reduces the chances of a data breach, and virtually eliminates the liability a school would incur.
Encourage and incentivize teachers to work outside their offices, in higher traffic areas. Teachers know each other, they know parents, and they know students. Teachers also have good instincts for spotting odd behavior. These statements are from anecdotal evidence, but if you have worked at a school for a long enough time, then you realize teachers are truly on the pulse of the organization. Teachers working in school cafes, libraries, etc see and hear more than they would if they are isolated in offices. Setting up conference rooms with glass walls, or creating PD opportunities in more public venues would greatly improve the random and increased presence of teachers on-campus. Remember, the idea is to create unpredictable patterns and to make it more difficult for someone to find a weakness and the confidence to act. The mere presence of staff in public spaces is a deterrent.
Assume a good Social Engineer can get on-campus with an ID check, and plan accordingly. The core group defending against social engineering would most likely be the security team, operations team, and technology team. They should work together to plan scenarios and action plans. School leadership needs to make certain that those teams are focusing on those individuals who have enough skills to get through the external layer of security. Making assumptions that the camera system, front gate ID check, etc., will somehow prevent access, is going to create a false sense of security. Good social engineering requires imagination and creative thinking. Good defense will require the same.
Work with parents to test your security and access. Parents want what is best for the school and their children. Parents also have come from a variety of backgrounds. They are a trusted group that will be honest and help measure improvements.
Educate yourself first, and seek outside advice second. There is a massive amount of information about social engineering. It is worth educating a core group of people on security topics so they can inform practice and direct consultants. Remember, consults will only be useful until they leave. Build your team, and give them the time they need to learn. Much of what people need to know is free, time is the only factor.
I hope this posts stirs the pot and creates some discussion on school campuses. I am placing some resources below, including some very informative and entertaining videos on the subject of social engineering and physical penetration testing.
I am happy to do a live debate on this subject or webinar for anyone interested. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I write this farewell missive from the traditional homeland of the Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland,” a collective name for the indigenous populations that for the past 13,000 years have occupied the territory we now refer to as northern New England, the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec.
That, right there, is a land acknowledgement, by the way. It is increasingly common to hear such statements in the opening remarks at conferences, protests, or performances around the world. What the planet’s 370 million indigenous people share—as varied and complex as their cultures, languages, and histories undoubtedly are—is the experience of expropriation, exploitation, attempted extermination, and historical erasure that no mere statement can begin to repair.
Yet even small speech acts such as this one have value, in the eyes of many. As symbolic reinsertions, they are the first step in bringing awareness to non-native members of dominant groups that have for centuries remained willfully or unwittingly blind, not only to the plight of indigenous people but to their very presence within our communities.
According to the official United States map, I am not presently in Dawnland but in the state of Maine, a relatively young entity created in 1820 whose upcoming bicentennial has already spurred a good deal of collective soul-searching. To cite one example, rather than reiterate the old state slogan, “The Way Life Should Be,” in looking forward to 2020 the Maine Humanities Council has asked residents to collectively grapple with the question, “How should life be?”
As for the Maine Historical Society, rather than promote the state’s “Vacationland” brand in the lead-up to its 200th anniversary, the institution invited Wabanaki advisors to curate an exhibition that speaks to their millennial relationship to this land as one of leadership, obligation, and resilience. “Holding Up the Sky,” on display through February, showcases heritage items alongside contemporary artworks and includes the stunning photograph of Passamaquoddy tribal elder Mary Selmore pictured above.
The show also includes one particularly disturbing item: the Phips Proclamation of 1755. In order to secure land for English settlement in the territory now known as Maine, the Massachusetts governor offered sizeable bounties on native scalps and ensured settlers freedom in “pursuing, captivating, killing, and destroying all and every” one of the Eastern Indians. It was sanctioned genocide, and it almost worked.
I grew up in Massachusetts, but I never learned about the horrific Phips Proclamation in school. In fact, our popular imagination had the story the other way around, with “Indians” cast as the blood-thirsty scalpers of poor, hardworking “Settlers.” And though I was raised in the traditional homeland of the Wampanoag people, whose early encounter with the “Pilgrims” is celebrated every year on Thanksgiving, I was led to believe that the Native Americans of our region were long gone. (They most assuredly are not.)
Despite systematic efforts by colonizers of European extraction to remove indigenous people from the territory now known as the northeastern United States, and despite the devastating epidemics they spread, both the Wabanaki and the Wampanoag people survived. What’s more, they have managed to preserve and restore elements of their cultures, languages, traditional knowledge, and worldviews in the face of injustices doled out through the decades, right down to the present day.
Not so for the Taíno people of the Caribbean. “They would make fine servants,” wrote Christopher Columbus of the first populations he encountered following his 1492 transatlantic journey in search of the Far East. “With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
In contrast to the persistent view that celebrates the exploits of an intrepid explorer who opened new trade routes for Europe, historical documents have revealed that Columbus was also a slave trader who inaugurated an era of brutal usurpation and genocide.
This is hardly breaking news. Even as my elementary school teacher had us memorizing, “In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” over 100 Native delegates gathered at the United Nations offices in Geneva to confront the navigator’s legacy of violence. Among other important outcomes of this conference, it was resolved “to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an international day of solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”
Writing in 1977, artist and poet Jimmie Durham stated optimistically that “from now on, children all over the world will learn the true story of American Indians on Columbus Day instead of a pack of lies about three European ships.”*
Sadly, the world has been slow to catch on.
Today, my youngest daughter, Fiona, is twice the age I was when this resolution was adopted. For the very first time—and thanks to decades of effort by tribal leaders and activists from the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki Nations—Fiona and her classmates celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day this past October, after Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law.
In eschewing the federal Columbus Day holiday, Maine joined Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. in favoring celebrations that recognize each region’s native populations. On something of a roll, Maine lawmakers additionally passed legislation this year banning Native American mascots in public schools throughout the state, to the great dismay of a vocal band of holdouts.
Even when change is mandated by legislators, it doesn’t always take place, of course. Despite the enactment of a 2001 law requiring schools statewide to teach Native American history and culture, little had been done over the past two decades to integrate the subject until Portland public schools began working in recent months with tribal leaders to craft and roll out a Wabanaki Studies curriculum districtwide.
It seems the tide may at last be turning. The move to decolonize the curriculum and recenter the world’s indigenous people in our approaches to history is a growing global phenomenon.
While some Latin American countries continue to observe the date on which Columbus arrived in the Americas, a number now refer to it as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) or some variation on “Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity.” These are largely commemorations that celebrate the region’s native ethnic groups and cultures in their resistance to the European colonizer.
In 2002, under Hugo Chavez’s rule, Venezuela began to mark an annual Día de la Resistencia Indigena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). Two years later, a crowd of activists toppled a statue of Cristóbal Colón, as the Italian mariner is known in Caracas.
All the same, monuments to the man continue to enjoy a place of privilege in public spaces around the world. An online “Columbus Monuments Page” lists over 600 such statues in approximately 30 countries throughout the Americas and in Europe. Toppling all of them would take a concerted effort, in the face of fierce opposition to such revisionist interventions. Indeed, in spite of all we know about his crimes against humanity, Columbus continues to enjoy widespread admiration among a powerful contingent who credit him with launching the Age of Discovery.
Miseducation onboard the Santa María
One gorgeous September afternoon this past fall, a month before Maine celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I brought my daughters down to Portland’s waterfront, having learned that a replica of Columbus’s flagship, the Nao Santa María, would spend three days docked at the wharf. Warning Ava and Fiona at the outset that our visit onboard the three-masted vessel was not about paying homage, I enlisted their help in a mission to examine how the ship’s history was being represented to visitors.
One of the first panels we encountered declared the Santa María “the most famous ship in universal history” and explained that the replica was constructed in Huelva, Spain (as the original had been) “with the objective of reliving history.” I wondered how the slain Taíno would feel about reliving their people’s genocide.
Timed to coincide with the 525th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in “America,” the contemporary voyage celebrates the role of Spanish ships that “opened routes” of “communication and mutual knowledge” and led to “mutual encounters and meetings.” Everything, it seems, took place on perfectly mutual terms, according to the Nao Victoria Foundation that financed this initiative.
As we made our way through the dim hull, we read about how “unbreathable” the space would have been in the 15th century. Not a single sign indicated, however, that the human cargo Columbus carried back to Spain could have been subjected to these extreme conditions. In fact, none of the navigator’s activities in the New World were discussed at all.
Back on deck, I asked a crew member to fill in the blanks left by the spotty exhibition. She was visibly uncomfortable as she referred, in passing, to the “less good impacts on the indigenous people” of Columbus’s voyages. Claiming ignorance on the subject, the veteran sailor suggested we do something more fun for the kids and she let them ring the ship’s bell. Then, in the hushed tones of a co-conspirator, the middle-aged woman asked if my girls would like to don the navigator’s faux fur-lined red robe and floppy hat. Visitors typically pay US$5 a pop for the privilege, but our guide was willing to forego the fee if a game of dress-up could get me to stop asking questions.
The whole trippy experience called to mind one of my all-time favorite movies, Goodbye, Lenin!, a 2003 German film by Wolfgang Becker about the psychological challenges involved in transitioning from a particular worldview to a radically different one. It’s October 1989 when Christiane, an East German woman deeply devoted to the socialist cause, falls into a coma. When she awakes eight months later, everything has changed, only Christiane doesn’t know it thanks to increasingly desperate efforts by her son to shield her from the realization that communism has fallen along with the Berlin Wall and her entire way of life.
Between the Santa María’s sparse infographics and its numerous theatrical props, I couldn’t help but feel that, rather than educate young visitors, children were being implicated in an elaborate and increasingly hard-to-maintain fiction, as if, like Becker’s coma survivor, they were too frail to handle the truth.
The reality is, we educators are all too often the fragile ones.
As Fiona demonstrated, if you give a kid a costume, she’s likely to play dress up, even when morally opposed to what it symbolizes. If we ask our students to memorize a catchy rhyme, they will be able to repeat it for the rest of their lives, whether or not it accurately reflects reality. And if we teach our students a mythology rather than give them the tools to critically interrogate history, we’re sure to be hearing from them in years to come.
The girls and I followed up our Santa María experience with a corrective visit to “Holding Up the Sky.”
*In the original print version of this article, Jimmie Durham was characterized as a “Cherokee artist and poet”; this reference has been removed, as Durham’s claim to Native American heritage has been contested.
So when I was a kid I didn’t have much choice in what I learned in school. I remember clearly as a whole class having to read the same books and to write about the same things, and having to do the same math worksheets, and having to research the same topics in Social Studies, and even having to do the exact same science experiments. I remember never being able to choose my own partner and I absolutely remember being forced to play the clarinet in 6th grade when all I wanted to do was to play the drums! I also remember not being very interested in any of it.
As far as I can remember I had no personal connection or choice in anything that I was learning when I was a kid, and I always felt like I was being forced to learn things that I had no desire to learn. Thank goodness for recess and sports and after school activities where I could finally get a little control back in my life. There was however, this one amazing year when I was in 5th grade, and I had a teacher (Ms. Lumsden) who let us all choose our own just right books to read, and who allowed us to write about topics that were important and meaningful to us, and to research anything we wanted in our current events unit, and she even let us design our own science experiment to share with the class…and I could choose my own partner if I wanted! That was easily the best year of my school life, and the year where I actually remember the book that I read, and the experiment that I designed, and the essay that I wrote about baseball…funny enough, It’s also the teacher who I connected with the most, and the one who I felt truly knew me as a young person…man I loved Ms. Lumsden and I loved 5th grade!
Anyway, I’m writing about this because we have been working very hard as a school over the past couple of years to find ways to give our students more voice and choice in their learning, and lately I’ve been noticing it everywhere I look. I see it in our Math stations where kids get to choose which games they play, I see it in our literacy workshops with kids choosing their own just right books and writing about topics that deeply interest them, I see it in our Inspiration Projects where kids go after a passion that they are keen to research and present, and I see it in our science and maker-space programs where kids are given choice in the areas of environmental stewardship, school service, and creative design. In music, kids are able to choose the instruments that they want to play, and in PE students are often able to design their own activities. In Art kids are choosing what materials they use and how they want to represent their learning, and in French students are able to choose the roles that they play in their green screen skits, and they write their own scripts…student choice is literally everywhere!
You know what, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen our students more engaged and joyful in their learning, and when looking at student data I am seeing an increase in student achievement as well…but the best part of it all is when I pop into classrooms and ask kids about what they truly love about their school experience, they consistently talk to me about the choice that they are given throughout the day. It’s been validating for us to have recently attended conferences and worked with consultants who are championing student voice and choice as a way to deeply engage kids in their learning, and I’m thrilled that our new strategic plan is connected strongly to this purpose…so good.
Finally, I understand that we can’t give students choice in every activity and experience throughout the day, and I am acutely aware that there is a time and a place for direct teacher instruction and whole class activities. What I am celebrating is the attention that we are paying as a school to finding places across our programs to give students more voice and choice in their learning, and to inspire our students to take more ownership of their total educational experience. I’m asking you all this week to look for ways to give kids choice if you can, where and when it’s appropriate, and then watch as the joy and engagement explodes all around you. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
The necessity of creation is the sovereign power of choice
Over the last decade, we have built a research and professional development center at our school. We call it LASER, as in Leysin American School (LAS) Educational Research.
This past week I stepped back to notice how far we’ve come and how closely our center resembles research centers at the university. Here’s a quick synopsis of one day.
In a purpose built commons room for the center, a visiting scholar is working on his own project, while two faculty members debrief a design-thinking day that we hosted the previous week. Another faculty member arrives to discuss the requirements of the Institutional Review Board for his study of our new grading policy. Must he get written permission from parents before interviewing students? (The answer is yes, as well as permission from the students.) We finish our conversation by editing a survey he is going to use in his study.
On his way out a faculty member arrives to gather materials for class. He meets the visiting scholar and soon they are discussing a common interest: getting students to take greater ownership of their learning. Shortly afterwards the room clears when everyone leaves for their classes.
In the afternoon, a group of five faculty members drives to a nearby school for a demonstration of a video recording system for professional development. We learn about the system, discuss the school’s experience using it, and ask questions to determine if we might like to purchase the system ourselves. During the car ride back to our school, we agree to at least pitch it to the deans.
I make it back just in time for a meeting with a faculty member who is implementing a new curriculum in her math class. That is, she had planned to implement a new curriculum, but the pressure to cover content for the required external exam is making her change her plans. We discuss what changes can be made at this point while preserving the integrity of her project. She asks if I’d like to co-author an article about the project and I accept.
After dinner two colleagues present a new initiative, student-staffed writing centers, in the format of a Laser Focus talk. All faculty members supported by LASER grants are required to give a Laser Focus talk. There are seven of us in the audience, including our visiting scholar. We learn about the writing centers, discuss among ourselves, and agree that this presentation is ready for submission to a conference.
And that’s one day. Visiting scholars, debriefing and planning, discussions about research, and presentations, sprinkled with class during day. There is little difference here between our activity at the high school and the activity in a research center at the university.
And while it took us years to arrive at this place, the years we spent getting here were also productive. We are living the tagline of our first professional development website, back at the beginning of this journey: Continually becoming the professionals we already are.
Faculty in LASER are happy to assist you and your school with the development of a research center. Let us know if you’d like to start the conversation.
So with American Thanksgiving coming up this Thursday, I want to post an updated and reworked list of some of the things that I am genuinely thankful for as an educator. I’m writing this from a hotel room, as the sun rises over sleepy Luxembourg, ready to head off for day 2 of an Inquiry-Based Learning conference, and I’m feeling very thankful indeed. So, here we go…in no particular order, I am truly, truly thankful for…
The Noise– Have you ever taken a few minutes in the day to stop and listen to the white noise of a school? If you haven’t then do it on Monday morning…it might just be the most beautiful sound you’ll ever hear. It’s a constant hum of laughing and learning, and failure and success, and teaching and determination and love. One of the best parts of my day is to walk down a hallway and to listen from outside the door to the sounds of kids engaged…or to stand off in the corner of the playground during recess time and listen to the shouts and squeals of happiness, as kids play and make new friends and learn how to fit in…it is definitely music to my ears, and without a doubt, the soundtrack to a beautiful day.
A Child’s Beauty – Children are the best teachers that any of us could possibly have, and the most beautiful inspirations that exist in our world. It is impossible for someone to spend a day with a child and not come away inspired and changed for the better. If you really listen to what children say, and if you take the time to watch them interact with the world, your heart will fill with joy and your smile will stretch across your face. The way they notice the little things in life that we often take for granted, the way that they are constantly curious, the utter joy that spills from their bodies when they learn something new and find a little success, and their imagination, creativity, and willingness to fail and to try, try, try again…wow…there is nothing in our world like the beauty of a child.
Committed Educators – Teaching is the most noble, honorable and important profession/vocation that we have in society, and quality teachers are as close to true and living superheroes that we have in our world. Committed educators are change agents…they are sculptors…they are artists…they are mentors…they are role models, and they are often times under appreciated. No professional works harder than a committed educator in my opinion, with the sole focus and responsibility of moulding their students into positive change-makers for our world, and into empathetic, compassionate, critical thinking, and creative members of our communities. Quality teachers are truly amazing and deserve to be lauded for their tremendous efforts and contributions to the future of our planet.
The Opportunity – The opportunity that we have as educators is incredible, and the responsibility is immense. The opportunity to re-imagine education and to break free from traditional schooling is in our collective hands, and there is no more exciting time to be an educator than right now. We have the ability to transform how we teach our kids, and how we design and redesign learning spaces, and how we write and deliver curriculum, and how we prepare our students for a rapidly changing world…awesome! We have the opportunity to be courageous and innovative and transformational…let’s seize it!
The Struggle– Watching kids learn, and grow, and fail, and develop is a beautiful struggle, and one that I will never get tired of being a part of. Growing up is hard, and trying to find your way in this world is difficult at the best of times. I love this struggle, and I love each child’s journey into becoming who they will eventually become. They all burn so bright, and their joy and pain is so open and honest and so on display. The struggle is incredible to watch, and it brings you back to that time in your life that shaped who you are. It’ll make you laugh and cry and get frustrated, and it will make you proud…but most importantly it will make you feel, and become a part of something truly special, which is each child’s journey into finding themselves, and their purpose…this struggle is at the core of what is beautiful about education.
The Constant Learning – Each and every day I learn (and re-learn) something new. Being in classrooms and interacting with students and teachers is a constant learning process that makes me a better person. I learn from my mistakes, I learn from the mistakes of others, and I learn about people and how to best support and challenge them. I learn about current educational trends and research, I learn about what’s being successful in other quality schools, I learn from my outstanding leadership and admin teams, and like I said before, I learn from the best teachers that we have…our kids. They teach me everyday about the importance of being my best self for others, and to be humble and honest and a good listener. It’s staggering how much you can learn in the run of a school day if you just open yourself up to it.
The Unexpected – An educator’s day never goes as planned and I love it. The thing about school is that you never know from one second to the next what will come your way, and this uncertainty makes me love my job. There’s always an unexpected mini crisis or a student celebration or an issue with a parent or a teacher or a kid, and it keeps us on our toes in the best possible way. From one hour to the next you can be floored by a student accomplishment, you can be bewildered by a decision that a student or adult has made, you can have a belly laugh from something that a kid says to you, and you can be thrown into a situation that will break your heart…and it’s all good. An individual school day is just like a student…ever-changing, unpredictable, surprising, and always beautiful!
The Joy – If you’re like me then coming to school everyday brings you tremendous joy…how could it not? We get to hang out with kids all day long, we get to spend time with our colleagues who are also our friends, we get to learn and feel and become better human beings because of our daily interactions with our students and each other, and we get to shape the future of our little (and not so little) kids. What other profession can offer such a joyful and purposeful existence? Just when you start to feel stressed or frustrated or overworked, you turn the corner and run into a beautiful little kid, with a huge smile on their face, and so much joy in their hearts, and they run up to you and they give you a big hug and you just melt as their energy reminds you why you love school so much. I’m so grateful for what children bring to my life!
Well, I could go on and on but I’ll leave it at that for now. I hope that some of these resonate with you, and inspire you to think about what it is that you are thankful for as we stare down Thanksgiving this week. I am thankful for the opportunity to be working with such an outstanding faculty and I’m truly grateful for our ASP community. There are only four weeks left until the holiday break so keep your energy up and keep your heart open to why you love school so much. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.
Quote of the week…
Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses
“Who wants meatloaf? Does anyone want meatloaf? Katia, do you want meatloaf?”
“No, I want salad,” she says, looking disinterested.
“Last chance for meatloaf,” the veteran social studies teacher of 27 years repeats. She sighs, typing in the last two names. “Okay,” she says, “the meatloaf is really good. The rest of you are going to regret this.”
And so our day begins.
I’ve been trying to kill the lunch count since I started over a year ago. For a school with a 21st century mission, we shouldn’t have time for chicken sandwiches and lunch counts. My entry plan included a daily bulletin packed with more important information than you could shake a stick. There had to be more efficient ways to determine if the children wanted eggplant parmesan or rice so we could get on with saving the planet.
But of course, any leader worth his or her salt should know what not to overlook. Or dismiss.
Of all the systems changes and trends and grinding turnover, the lunch count, as inane and arcane as it seemed, had been in place since the school started in 1960. It had become, literally, an immovable feast. It was more than meatloaf. It was a time to connect, to slow down, to savor a few seconds of the day to think about the basic human need for nourishment. It was wellness before such a word became chic. It set the tone for the day.
Reading the report from the last accreditation was like dusting of an Egyptian papyrus. None of the names, initiatives, or projects were familiar. Everything had changed. And this was only five years ago.
Flipping through the report, all I could think about was all of the hard work that had gone for naught. All of the curriculum teams, the MAP benchmarks, the advisory programs, the new systems that were already defunct. Everything had drifted away like an ancient civilization.
It made me think about how much the constant reinvention and starting over held schools back. New Heads bringing new strategic plans and visions. New teachers coming and going with their suitcase curriculum. New boards bringing new priorities. And new IT personnel. Don’t get me started on what that does to school culture.
Disruption seems like so much fun. It’s creative. It’s trendy. It’s liberating. But it’s routine that anchors us so that these things can happen. You don’t just start chipping away at the foundation. That’s literally destabilizing to the entire structure.
This is not an argument for status quo. There are a lot of horrible practices out there that continue just because “we’ve always done it that way.” This is not an anti change argument. It’s a call for recognizing the simple but important routines that must be preserved so that the organization can move forward rather than constantly starting from scratch.
So, if something works and isn’t breaking the culture, then why don’t we have the discipline to honor it and put our attention somewhere else? I’ve been in this business for 24 years and I still spend far too many minutes of my life on attendance policies. “Ritualize the mundane, make room for the brilliant,” is one of my favorite quotes.
So, yes, the lunch count drives me mad. It makes me think I’m in a one room school house in Saskatchewan in the 1800s.
But it’s going to stay because it is an important constant, a cultural cornerstone of a small school that, in spite of its growth spurts, needs to keep it roots strong so it can reach for the sky.
I’ll have the meatloaf, thank you. And of course, mashed potatoes.
STEPHEN DEXTER, a native of New England, has been a teacher and administrator since 1994. He finally discovered that the Swiss stay thin on a diet of chocolate, cheese and wine by walking a lot and not eating or drinking to excess. He is currently taking a gap year in the Swiss Alps to rediscover his passion for education and to understand what chief innovation officers really do.
DANIEL KERR is now Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the ASP family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his two children, Max and Gabby.
KASSI COWLES is an IB English and TOK teacher currently based in Shanghai. She has worked in international education for the last 8 years in Canada, Togo and China. Her writing explores issues of educational reform and how to create authentic and creative learning communities.
MATTHEW GOOD & NIAMH CONWAY are international school teachers who met while working at the British School of Lome, in Togo, West Africa. They later moved to Uzbekistan, where they spent four years at Tashkent International School, each summer exploring another slice of the world by bike. Their Pedalgogy website allows users to follow the touring teachers on their two-year bike trip around the world.
BARRY DEQUANNE is currently working as the Director at the International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL). His blog explores topics in K-12 education and school leadership within the framework of five focus areas: Academics, Activities, Arts, Leadership, and Service. The blog also explores professional articles and highlights recently read books.
EMILY MEADOWS is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health, and is a PhD candidate researching inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students. Emily is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools: www.emilymeadows.org
DAVID PENBERG is an urban and international educational leader/consultant with a deep commitment to progressive education, understanding global mindedness, and new school creation. He abides by the dictum of E.E. Cummings who said: “ I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing, than teach ten thousand stars not to dance.” He is presently the Head of School of Innovate Manhattan Charter School in New York City.
SHANNON FEHSE Shannon Fehse has spent her entire teaching career overseas, having lived and worked in China, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and presently, the UAE. As a textbook definition extrovert, she talks to anyone, and enjoys listening to stories and different perspectives on life. Shannon has a somewhat faulty filter and often says what other people are thinking, but this typically works out favorably. She offers opinions and insight into the benefits and challenges of job hunting, dating overseas, and general issues that affect international educators.
MIKE SIMPSON is the Director of Curriculum and Learning at The International School Yangon. Originally a lawyer from New Zealand, Mike has also worked in schools in Qatar, Venezuela, and Lesotho. Mike has a particular interest in the development of collaborative and innovative learning communities. He hopes that his blog might be of interest to other teachers and school leaders as they nurture these communities in their own schools.
GREGORY HEDGER Dr. Gregory Hedger has recently been appointed to be the head of the International School Yangon, in Myanmar, beginning in fall 2016. A native of Minnesota, Greg has served in education for over 25 years, including 13 years in the role of School Director at Cayman International School, Qatar Academy, and most recently as Superintendent at Escuela Campo Alegre in Venezuela. Greg promotes international education through his service on the boards of AAIE, AASSA, and his work with the International Task Force for Child Protection, his contributions to various periodicals, and his work to promote the next generation of leaders through workshops and teaching.
LINDSAY LYON is a seasoned English and Theory of Knowledge teacher currently working at JIS. She and her husband have taught abroad as a teaching team for fifteen years in Venezuela, Thailand, China, Saudi Arabia, and now Indonesia. They write about expat life with a focus on money and savings in their blog The Haggard Lyon. Here you will find some of the same, and other musings from Lindsay on life overseas with kids, teaching, technology, and staying balanced in a busy world.
NICHOLAS ALCHIN is High School Principal at the United World College of SE Asia, East Campus. A sino-celtic Brit who has lived and taught in the UK, Switzerland, Kenya, and Singapore, he has also held a number of roles with the IB and writes and speaks widely on educational matters. He enjoys traveling with wife Ellie, and kids Tom (10), Millie (13) and Ruth (16).
TONY DEPRATO Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.
ETTIE ZILBER is a consultant to International School Communities and Families in Transition and a veteran international school educator and school leader. She has served in independent international schools in Israel, Singapore, Spain, Guatemala, China, and most recently in the USA. Her expertise extends to such topics as international school models, second/foreign language acquisition, communicating between diverse groups, the impact of international mobility and relocation on children, parents and staff, the special family experience of the educators’ children, the orientation of newcomers, multi-cultural communities, catalysts for teaching internationally, and marketing of international schools. She is the author of Third Culture Kids: The Children of International School Educators. She can be contacted at email@example.com
HELEN KELLY has taught in and led schools in Africa, Europe and Asia over the last twenty years. She has led educational technology teams in three schools. Helen is currently the Lower School Principal at Canadian International School of Hong Kong, where she leads Project Innovate, a Pre-K-12 initiative to bring future-ready learning to the school. Helen completed her Ed.D in 2017 on the emotional challenges that school leaders face in the course of their role. She leads workshops on improving the wellbeing of leaders and educators in international schools.
TRAE HOLLAND is the Director of Academia Cotopaxi’s The ONE Institute, has been a leader in both the non-profit and business sectors, and has 19 years experience teaching both in the US and in international schools, with a specialization in learning differentiation. You can reach his website at www.traeholland.com.
FREDERIC BORDAGUIBEL-LABAYLE is the High School Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador. Fred was born and raised in the southwest of France; he finished his studies and started teaching in the UK, then went on to Istanbul and he is currently in Quito. Fred likes to pause, reflect, and share his experience as an international educator and administrator.
SUE EASTON is the Director of the Teacher Training Center. She has worked with international schools for the past eleven years, on four continents, in roles focused on enhancing teaching and learning practices. This experience has made her passionate about the topic of change and how to best make change to support students and student learning. Her blog will explore this topic through the lens of PTC, TTC and CTC trainers’ words of wisdom.
ALLISON POIROT is currently teaching IB History, Modern World History, and Psychology at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She taught previously at King’s Academy in Madaba, Jordan, and at public and charter schools in and around Boston, Massachusetts. She has a deep interest in progressive pedagogy and believes in fostering student autonomy and empowerment.
MEADOW DIBBLE is editor of The International Educator newspaper. Originally from Cape Cod, she lived for six years on Senegal’s Cape Verde Peninsula, where she published a cultural magazine from 1996–2000. Specializing in the literary expression of 20th-century liberation movements, she received her PhD from Brown University’s Department of French Studies and taught at Colby College from 2005–08. In 2018, Meadow launched Atlantic Black Box, a public history initiative devoted to researching and reckoning with New England’s role in the slave trade.
MATT BRADY has been creating digital ecosystems that organize, inform and inspire for two decades. He writes as a curatorial journalist- connecting related stories across disciplines often beyond “Education”- to examine and understand educational leadership in a more adaptive and predictive way. Currently, he leads and supports schools through techno-social transformations and is constructing an autodidactic launchpad for his four year old daughter.
Several years ago, PAUL MAGNUSON founded a research center at the high school level in collaboration with colleagues at Leysin American School. The center supports professional learning through a variety of programs, including year-long action research projects by faculty who receive competitive resident scholarships. In addition, the center works with schools and universities around the world, hosting 10 to 15 visiting scholars annually, and consulting and presenting at schools and other organizations.
The International Educator (TIE) is a non-profit organization committed to matching the best educators with the best international schools around the world.