Words to Class of 2018 in final assembly

When I was 21, I spent a year backpacking around China. It was thirty years ago, and I don’t remember everything, but there was a moment among the many that I often think about. I was on a long train ride – and when I say long I mean 36 hours; trains were slower then. It was hot afternoon, with the sun low and a warm glow in the air. The train had stopped for no obvious reason; and I was looking out of the window at a man, probably about as old as I am now, working in the rice-fields through which the train passed. He was, I guess, only about 20 yards away, and I could see him very well – he was wearing long trousers, and a t-shirt. I don’t remember exactly what he was doing, but I watched him for, I guess, 15 minutes. He was not aware of me. Then the train jolted into motion, and he looked up, and we met each others eyes. As the train moved away he did not wave, but we both nodded to each other, and held each others eyes for 30 second until the track curved away. The train pulled on. I have never seen this man again, and never will – if I did I would not know him, even if he is still alive. He would certainly not recognise me.

But I have often wondered about him: Did he have a family? Was he happy? What were his hopes and dreams? Did he achieve them? What was his home like? Did he work for himself or someone else? Did he enjoy his work? Did he read?  Had we ever read the same books? Would we enjoy each other’s company? Would we make each other laugh if we ever met? Was he satisfied with a life well lived?

And I realised, as I have thought about tis over the years, that these questions are questions we most often ask only about ourselves, or family or close friends. We do not ask them, or even consider them, about most people. If fact, we rarely see others as even having interests like the ones these questions address; we tend to see most others as just minor characters in the plays in which we have the leading roles. But the questions still matter. And then a recent graduate wrote to me and mentioned a word that summed up what was quite an important moment for me, all those years ago:

Sonder:  the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own (here’s quite a good short video on the topic)

We tend to forget this.  We forget that each person in this room is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. We tend to think that people around us somehow owe us, or that their purpose is to somehow make our lives easier.  Of course parents and to some extent schools do play that role – but as we grow up, less and less so.
So days like today, where we are celebrating our Leavers –  give us the chance to recall that everyone’s going through the same thing as we are; we are all living our lives, trying to do the best we can – we are all alike in this.

You may know sonder with your friends and family, but it’s with people who are very different to you where you will actually learn the most – perhaps people from a different culture, perhaps grandparents, or with service partners, or some of our cleaners if you have had the privilege of getting to know them. You’ll gain a great deal from them – with the elderly, for example, you’ll see that their present, is a way of looking into your own, distant futures.

So I would ask us to consider this realisation that everyone is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. And to remember that our perspective is one of, in this room alone, less than a thousand individuals.  All these individuals live a life that is equally valuable, with equally valuable concerns, cares, loves, worries, hopes and dreams,

We need to remember that, when we need to – which is precisely when it is hardest.  And that brings us back to leaving, where in an understandable excitement we can be caught up in our own perspectives, and forget that others matter.  I want to remind you of that; if everyones’ perspectives counts as much as our own, then we need to be mindful of others when we leave.

So, Grade 12, leave well. Be remembered for your ingenuity, your sense of fun, your sense of inclusion. Be remembered for being kind – not just to your friends; that’s easy – but also to the people who have made everything you have done here possible – support staff, facilities staff, cleaners and teachers; and also the people you may not have gotton along with, or whom you may have fallen out with. Remember sonder, that these people have just the same inner lives as you do; and they deserve the same respect as you do. One mark of a grown-up is the ability to give and receive apologies in good grace; so close your time here ensuring you have mended any fences that need mending. If you can do that, if you can laugh withpeople, not at people, you will be creating something that enhances, not diminishes, the reputation you have worked so hard over the years to establish. Most of all, you will be remembered for your generosity of spirit and for the kindness of your consideration.

So Grade 12 and all other leavers; leave well.

Let me close by acknowledging what we teachers know, what your parents know, what future employers will know, and what research tells us: that your futures are not determined by your exam results; that your rich inner lives, your hopes and dreams, are not determined by the next few weeks. Your success will be measured in the kindness and integrity of your actions, your ability to see other perspectives, the quality of your thinking, and the strengths of your friendships; not in an academic qualification.

I say that to Grade 12, but really, the message is for us all – that the really important successes or failures in our lives do not happen at discrete points, but throughout our daily lives; they are in our control everyday.

We wish you all the very best.

Posted in Forrest Broman | Leave a comment

Got Culture?

So last week I wrote a little bit about the importance of culture in schools, and how it is inside each and every one of us to be a culture leader for our community. I’ve been thinking more and more about this, and after reflecting on the kinds of things that we tend to prioritize in schools, and the time and effort and money that we put towards specific initiatives, I’ve noticed that the idea of culture and climate seems to be many times left out of the equation…like a positive culture and climate will somehow come about naturally without any specific focus, planning or attention. Over the past 20 years I’ve been at schools with incredible cultures, where the positive energy is palpable and inspiring, and I’ve been at schools where the climate and culture is like a dark raincloud hanging over the buildings, and I can tell you that creating an inspiring school culture doesn’t just happen…it takes a lot of work.

I’m at the point now, after 6 schools and 6 countries, that I believe schools should target school culture the same way that they target other important strategic initiatives…with time, professional development, money, and a clear focus. With all of the research around the effect of a positive school climate on learning, it makes me wonder why schools leave culture to chance? I’d even like to see schools adopt something like a “director of climate and culture”, similar to a curriculum director or a technology director…a person or group of people who specifically and intentionally target and prioritize school culture, and look at introducing initiatives that improve school climate, relationships, and community…maybe even open a culture department where educators across divisions get together like they do in a Math or Science department…why not?

Let’s regularly get together in teams to ensure that we are celebrating enough as a school, and that faculty and staff feel valued and appreciated for all of the incredible work that they do, and that we know each other as people outside of the classroom and across divisions. Let’s work together on learning how to improve relationships, and how to have those hard conversations in productive ways that will give us the courage to address any issues that may be bubbling up. Ultimately, let’s regularly work together to build that trust that we need in order to truly collaborate and share our expertise for the betterment of our kids.

To take it even further, I think there is a job out there for a school climate and culture consultant (maybe this can be my second career), where just like a literacy or math consultant, a person can come into a school and not only audit the culture, but specifically work with faculty, leaders and all stakeholders to introduce initiatives and to set up structures so that the energy of a school really does inspire…why not? That would be an amazing use of professional development funds. School culture is an area that often gets neglected in schools, and an area that if improved, even slightly, can have transformative implications.

Anyway, I honestly believe that school culture needs to be on everyone’s radar, everyday and every year as a strategic imperative. I’m going to continue this in the lower school for next year, and I’ll put a couple people in charge of bringing it to life in fun and creative ways. You see, we get so, so busy in schools and the days and months fly by. It’s so easy to get into routines, and ruts, and go days and days without coming up for air. It’s easy to forget to take the time to play together and to celebrate together and to enjoy each other’s company. Improving relationships and building trust takes time, effort, and hard work…let’s do this work together. I guarantee that with a little attention to this, our lives at school, and at home, will become more inspiring. The best part about this however, is that this attention to climate will enhance the learning of our students. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Oh yeah, Happy Mother’s Day to all you incredible Moms out there!


Quote of the Week…

Great acts are made up of small deeds – Lao Tzu


Related Articles –

The Importance of School Culture

A Three Step Process

School Culture Now

20 Ideas From Principals

Why It Matters

Culture Building is Tough Work


Classic TED Talks –

8 Secrets of Success


Winning and Succeeding

Work-Life Balance

Philosophy of Success


Happy Mother’s Day –

Toughest Job in the World

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Human Rights Trump Cultural Tradition

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Inclusive education is, “not limited to the inclusion of those children or young people with disabilities. Inclusion is inclusion of all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, and any other aspect of an individual’s identity that might be perceived as different[1]. As educators, how do we tackle this goal in countries or regions with a history of excluding certain groups? For example, is it our obligation to improve inclusive education for gender and sexual minority students in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime[2]?

When it comes to rights and justice in education, I am tempted to take a purist approach: insist on full equity, anything short of this is unacceptable. In reality, the concept of equity is subjective, complex, and extremely difficult to measure[3], so this mentality is practically inoperable. Additionally, as a visitor in countries abroad, I am compelled to position myself as the learner (rather than the teacher), to value diversity[4] (rather than assume my perspective is superior), and to respect local traditions (even if I do not practice them).

Still, those who do not have access to the privileges of a dominant group need and deserve allies and advocates. To ignore disparity is to be complicit in discrimination. In countries and regions where inclusive policy and practice is discouraged[5], whether by social norm or legal position, this is particularly salient. What is our role, as international educators, when local cultural traditions marginalize certain students? Are we overstepping our reach to demand equitable education when we are guests on foreign ground? On these questions, we can take guidance from international human rights agreements, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to education”.

While the large multi-national cohorts that initiate human rights agreements have been critiqued for slanting toward Western ideology, these benchmarks are still preferable to leaning on one individual country’s interpretation of who deserves to attend a school that is relevant, safe, and inclusive. Human rights are more important than culture and tradition. So, discriminatory practices such as keeping young girls home to do the housework while their brothers go to school[6], are not acceptable. Marginalizing gender and sexual minority students from the full educational experience[7] for any reason, including cultural or religious objection, is also intolerable.

To implement policies stating as much is easier said than done. These types of shifts must be carried out sensitively, carefully, and sometimes slower than we like. Heavy-handed, hasty, top-down mandates (even with benevolent intentions) may prove counter-productive, causing backlash and a staking of camps. International education policy-makers, then, must be people with a deep understanding of the culture where they are working, a strong background in relevant policy, and a commitment to the well-being of all children, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged.

How do you exercise cultural humility as a guest abroad, while also working toward inclusive education for all of your students?

[1] Polat, F. (2011). Inclusion in education: A step towards social justice. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, p. 50-58.

[2] For the record, my answer to this question is a firm: yes.

[3] Wiseman, A. W. (2008). A Culture of (in)equality?: A cross-national study of gender parity and gender segregation in national school systems. Research in Comparative and International Education, 3(2), 179-201.

[4] Déquanne, B. (2017, February 9). Stronger Together [blog post]. The International Educator Online.

[5] Fully aware, here, that my own country of citizenship (the United States) has a well-documented history of denying equitable access to education; this is not a ‘foreign problem’.

[6] Lewis, M. & Lockheed, M. (2007). Inexcusable absence: Why 60 million girls still aren’t in school and what to do about it. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

[7] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danieschewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Lighthouse Leadership

So with only six weeks to go, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on this past year, and also a lot of time thinking critically about the best goals and divisional imperatives to set for next year. One of this year’s imperatives that absolutely must continue in my opinion, revolves around our commitment to building stronger trust and relationships with not only each other, but with our students and parents as well. Our focus on establishing a stronger culture in the lower school has played a huge part in our success this year as a division, and as you all know, this work takes time, effort, and specific initiatives and attention. We’ve made significant progress over the past several months with regards to strengthening culture, and the positive energy is palpable almost everywhere we turn. That said, like most schools, we have work left to do and we can always get better.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking of ways to target culture in more specific ways moving forward, and I have some ideas that I’ll share with you in a few upcoming posts. Anyway, what’s interesting to me as we head into the time of year when we meet to reflect on our individual goals that we all set for this year, very few of these goals, if any, revolve around relationships or trust building. Actually, I would say that throughout my time as a leader in schools over the years, most goals, if not close to all of them have had to do with curriculum development, integration of technology, assessment, time management, data collection and using data to inform instruction and practice, and things like that. All of which are amazing goals to set and absolutely appropriate…but…maybe it’s time to start looking at something that may just impact student learning as much as anything…relationships and culture. What about setting a goal around developing stronger relationships with our kids and colleagues, and specifically gathering evidence around growth in that area. In order to truly change the culture of a school, or a division, it has to be more that just a few initiatives, and a top down imperative that not everyone is completely invested in. For next year, I’d like to encourage us all to set a goal in this area so that we are all in it together.

Along those lines, I want to share something with you that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now, and it’s something that I’m calling, Lighthouse Leadership. You see, we all have the opportunity to be leaders and change agents in our school, and we all have the power and ability to shape a school’s culture in profound ways, just by being who we are as people…the people who we are for each other and for our kids. We spend so much time and money as schools on internal and external professional development, and most of it is outstanding and completely helps to transform schools in tremendous ways. The best way however to transform schools (in my opinion), and the best way to engage students and enhance their desire to learn doesn’t cost a cent…it is totally free, and as easy as making a purposeful commitment to change a few specific areas in our daily lives as educators, which of course isn’t really that easy at all…changing habits is hard.

I love the metaphor of a lighthouse when thinking about our role as educators. It can be argued that the two most important aspects of a teacher’s job is to first of all be a lighthouse beacon for children in need…a mentor, or a surrogate mother or father, or a champion, or a confidant, or an adult who will hold a child accountable, and someone who sets high expectations. That special adult that a child can come to with any problem and in any circumstance. The second, is to be that lighthouse searchlight, constantly looking and searching for those kids who seem to be struggling, or alone, or in need in one way or another, either academically or maybe more importantly, social/emotionally. The light house metaphor is beautiful, and perfect in my opinion for what gets to  the heart of who we are and what we do as educators. Being that searchlight…that lighthouse, isn’t about anything other than committing or re-committing to what we all got into this vocation for in the first place…to change the lives of young people, and then in turn, to change our world for the better.

Here are a few of my previous posts from over the years that go deeper into this, and it’s interesting to me that throughout this exercise I’ve come to the realization that almost 40 per cent of my posts over the past 8 years are directly or indirectly related to the idea of culture…I guess it’s easy to see where my priorities lie…I’m a culture guy for sure, maybe even to a fault. Anyway, I’m using this idea of Lighthouse Leadership to put together another TED talk that I’ll share in the upcoming months, and also as the framework for a book that I’m thinking about writing around this theme. For now, with only 6 weeks to go, I’m asking you all to channel your inner lighthouse, and to be that searchlight educator for our kids. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Attitude and Perspective

Don’t Resist the Day

You Are The Weather!

Language has Power

The Best Part of a Bad Day

Searchlight Souls

All I Have To Do Today is Smile!


Quote of the Week…

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel

– Carl W. Buechner


Inspiring Videos –

Kindness in the Classroom

How Students Feel 

New Shoes

Meal Plan

Happiness 101

Retired Teacher Surprise


TED Talks –

How to Build Trust

What Makes a Good Life


Related Articles –

School Culture and Climate

Building a Positive Culture

5 Ways to Foster the Right Climate

MeTEOR Education

The Power of Positive Relationships

Posted in Daniel Kerr | 2 Comments

Access Denied: Controlling What Students Can Access

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Recently I have been discussing multiple new security measures for academic networks. From these discussions with other schools, engineers, and suppliers, I have created set of goals to help keep the development of network security on track and within budget.

Physical Access

Physical access can be managed without a great deal of expense. The goals to reach for are:

  • We allow only the devices we have confirmed and labeled
  • We can control the number of concurrent devices a user is using on the network
  • We can identify by IP, Serial Number, or MAC Address (or a combination of the three) the owner of a device
  • We can remove a user from network access, and restrict their devices, with minimal effort
  • We have processes and procedures to register devices; users can switch devices through these processes
  • Users can only circumvent the processes by giving their login IDs, passwords, and hardware to another person

These goals do not imply the direct management of equipment; nor do they capture user data. These goals ensure that devices on the network are approved, registered, and can be clearly identified.

Achieving these goals is the first step towards the concept that accessing the network is a privilege not a right. Privileges can be revoked. If revocation is not possible, then the concept/policy cannot be enforced.

Guest Access

Guest Access can be problematic for schools.  However, if your school is in a country that requires you to perform due diligence for network/internet access, then the Guest Access should be provided in a limited fashion, and only when necessary. Please review the laws governing access; especially where children under 13 are present.

If you are not sure what the laws are in your country, start here.


Topology refers to the way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged.

These are the topology goals that should be met before additional security is added:

  • Students, Teachers/Staff, and Parents/Guests are never on the same network/same IP range (not just SSIDs, unified IP ranges and access across the network should be prohibited)
  • Printers and other devices are not on the same IP range as the Wifi; those with access to printers and devices must be provided access
  • Data sharing should happen in the cloud; or in a device that has been configured with user authentication
  • LAN ports should not be using DHCP, if those ports are physically accessible by teachers, students, parents, or guests
  • Equipment on the LAN should be managed; given an IP address; and be easily identifiable
  • VLANs need to be created to meet most of the above requirements; VLANs should be planned out on paper and clearly mapped for decision makers to understand
  • All Access Points need to be named and numbered to reflect their exact location on campus

Web Filtering

Web filtering is often sold to schools as a turnkey holistic solution to manage content that students access. The truth is that web filtering will only, and always, be partially effective with students. Web filtering is highly effective in meeting the following goals:

  • Controlling what teachers and staff access
  • Controlling what guests access
  • Controlling what school owned devices access (devices that stay at school all the time)
  • Preventing accidental content being shown/broadcast on school owned devices
  • Meeting most due diligence standards concerning laws that govern content access and control
  • Showing an overall data set to help guide decisions based-on what people are doing and trying to do online

Web filtering has two main issues. First, HTTPS content can be blocked but not read.
This means when students go to HTTPS websites, the school will not know what they are doing, and/or interacting with on those site. Since 2018, HTTPS is used more often by webusers than the original non-secure HTTP. A few years ago, a person could type http://facebook.com . Today, everyone is forced to https://facebook.com .

Because many schools want to use web filters to study student access data, they will fail to achieve that goal, regardless of the fact the filter claims it can read the data. The filter can read some data, but not all; and currently not most.

Second, students can install and run VPN services fairly easily. When they do this, most filters are circumvented. Keep in mind that good VPN services are not free. Having those difficult conversations with parents at the beginning of the year, and as frequently as possible, is often more valuable than new snazzy technology solutions. If parents enable behavior, it is very difficult for school policies to be successful.

In summary, Physical Access, Guest Access, and Topology goals are usually achievable with current network hardware and software solutions employed by schools with a population of 500 users or more. Achieve these goals first, before investing in web filters or other solutions.

Remember, giving students freedom to work and create will create security loopholes. Depending  solely on technology solutions in an environment where education opportunities are abound is a bad strategy to pursue. There is no substitute for engaging students in dialog when they are acting inappropriately.

Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Teacher Appreciation: Smiles, Trust, and Cookies

Beginning in 1984, the National PTA of the United States has annually set aside one week in May as “Teacher Appreciation Week”. During this week, teachers are honored, supported, and recognized for the work that they do with students day in and day out, all year long. Internationally, this week may fall at a different time of year, be limited to only a day, or perhaps, not happen at all. But outside of these designated times when educators might anticipate handmade cards or treats in the staff room, what other signs of appreciation do they receive?

Usually, it’s pretty clear when we’ve positively impacted a child, ignited a spark, or helped a student overcome an obstacle. Kids are generally pretty good at conveying their appreciation for what we do. Whether that comes as an impromptu hug from a kindergartener, or a heartfelt “I couldn’t have done this without you” from a graduating senior, we know when our students value the time and energy that we put into their education and into them as individuals.

And sometimes, that’s enough. We take pride in what we do, and when we see a student’s face light up with new knowledge, the hard work and long hours are worth it. When we help a child succeed in math, encourage a reluctant writer to finish a story, or guide a student through a difficult social situation, we feel proud of our work. We don’t need anyone else to acknowledge our efforts or stroke our egos; the proof is in the student.

At times, however, teachers need to feel that their efforts are recognized by the adults involved as well. What about the parents, colleagues, and administrators? What are they doing–or not doing–to let teachers know that they are valued?

A few days ago, I read a post on social media written by a teacher who felt as though she was not being appreciated by her administrators. As others chimed in with similar stories and anecdotes, I started to wonder: What does appreciation look like? What form does it take for different people? Just as our students are all individuals and have different needs and styles, we too have different needs and preferences. While one teacher feels appreciated when recognized publicly, the teacher in the classroom next door might be mortified by such a thing, and would prefer a note or a quiet email acknowledging a job well done.

I posed these questions online in order to find out what makes teachers feel valued at work, and, as I suspected they would, the answers varied greatly. For some teachers, it’s an announced dress-down day. For others, it’s fresh-baked cakes or cookies in the staff room. Many who responded said that “thank you goes a long way”, and that a smile and a personal acknowledgment from colleagues and administrators does the trick. And besides taking more time and effort to craft than an email, a personalized, handwritten note card makes teachers feel genuinely appreciated. Some even said that they have kept these notes and looked back on them over the years.

However, beyond these often tangible tokens of appreciation, many teachers said that they regularly feel appreciated when they are listened to by their colleagues and administration. Teachers want their voices to be heard. When ideas, suggestions, and complaints are given authentic recognition, teachers feel valued. They want to be part of the discourse, not just told the outcomes of decisions that have been made. Small check-ins about items other than curriculum also have a big impact. It’s easy to get lost in the paperwork and the to-do lists, and for all conversations to revolve around students and unit planning and clerical items. However, when an administrator pops by your classroom to ask a question about how you’re doing as a person–then takes the time to actually listen to your response–this makes a huge difference. Acknowledging that teachers’ social and emotional well-being is also a priority, and recognizing the whole person, is instrumental in making teachers feel appreciated.

In addition to having administrators who listen to them, teachers want to be respected and treated as professionals. Many teachers said that they are grateful for casual drop-in observations from administrators who engage in the lessons and know what is happening in the classroom. They interact with the students and ask questions, then give constructive feedback. Micromanaging is a quick way to kill staff morale and make teachers feel like they cannot be trusted. Conversely, giving teachers voice in decision-making, and allowing collaboration to happen organically makes them feel that they are valued as professionals. When PD opportunities are differentiated, when teachers are able to seek out personal wellness at work, and when time is respected, the overall culture of a school can be drastically improved. Simply put, teachers who feel valued will add more value.

Many who chimed in on this topic likened the variety of ways in which educators feel appreciated to the theory of “love languages”, based on the book by Gary Chapman. This theory states that there are five ways that people express love. Not surprisingly, people express and receive appreciation in various ways as well. Along with Dr. Paul White, Chapman has co-authored another book titled, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. This book instructs leaders how to communicate their appreciation, thereby improving staff morale, increasing engagement, and building solid relationships among faculty. That, in turn, creates more buy-in and pushes employees to want to do more and work harder.

Hopefully, educators are in this profession for the kids–and their feedback should be the most important of all. If a teacher feels valued by his or her students, that should be enough. But sometimes, those little tokens of gratitude from other adults keep us going when our batteries are drained and our patience is running thin. On those days when we feel everything is going wrong, or when we’re not reaching a particular student, or when a family member back home is sick and we’re just struggling to be present, we might need just a little more. A smile, a handwritten note, or a personal, genuine, “How are you today?” can work wonders toward making teachers feel that their hard work and personal health is valued.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. May you all feel cherished, primarily by your students, but by their parents, your colleagues, and your administrators as well. And if there are cookies in the staff room this week, make sure to grab one…or maybe two.


Posted in Shannon Fehse | 1 Comment

Biking Stuff: Ride Diary – Sumatra, Indonesia

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Sumatra.

Ride Diary Week 2: Bukittinggi to Bengkulu

A bit more than a week (10 days) but no point in doing a week 3 blog post for only 3 days. We ended up flying out of Bengkulu to extend our visas in Yogyakarta and carried on cycling from there. It was a much more pleasant place than Bengkulu to hang around for a week during processing.

Key to Hotel ratings:

£ = budget (less than 10 pounds) ££ = mid (10-20 pounds) £££=expensive (more than 20 pounds)

C=Cleanliness: /10

F=Facilities: /10

V=Value for money: /10

Adjusted for country expectations. Average price of hotel etc…

Bukittinggi to Lake Maninjau – 30km direct

Through canyon. Severe ups and downs. Stunningly beautiful. 45 switchback descent to lake. Beach Guest House: £, C = 7, F = 6, V = 9.

Lake Maninjau to Pariaman – 86km

Anti-clockwise around the lake and then down a valley to the coast. Easy riding. Surface generally good. Nan Tongga Hotel: ££, C = 4, F = 5, V = 5.

Pariaman to Airy Paintai Bungus – 71km

Minor roads along the coast as far as the airport. Joined Padang bypass for ease and speed. A few climbs near bays towards end of day. Cavery Beach Hotel: ££, C = 8, F = 7, V = 7.

Pantai Bungus to Painan via Sungai Pinang – 69km including 8km boat crossing

Tough, steep. In parts unsurfaced. Quiet and beautiful along the coast. Wisma Putri Wisatta: £, C = 7, F = 6, V = 7.

Painan to Balai Selasa – 72km

Road under construction. Fairly flat after testing morning climb. Little shade. Villages along coast. Penginapan Bunda Bari: £, C = 5, F = 5, V = 6.

Balai Selasa to Tapan – 65km

Another morning climb – quite short. Road under construction. Improving east. Not much to see or do. Steady pace, fairly flat. Hotel Felai: £, C = 6, F = 6, V = 6.

Tapan to Mukomuko – 70km

A few minor hills. Lots of short, sharp up and downs. Nice road past the airport on approach to town. Long town stretched out along main road. Not much to do. Cheap laundry place. Hotel Madiyara (mosque in hotel carpark. Extremely loud call to prayer).: ££, C = 7, F = 7, V = 7

Mukomuko to Ipuh – 104km

First 30km flat and east. Constant up and downs. Hundreds of them. Tough but all rideable. Guest House beginning with “A” (forget name). Small white sign to turn left before centre of town. Che Che supermarket opposite sells beer. ££, C = 7, F = 5, V = 4

Ipuh to Ketahun – 82km

Along coast. More ups and downs. Palm plantations. Road was fairly good. Losmen Dari Hotel – shockingly bad and infested but only place in town. On the right just after petrol station (which in on the left) before roundabout. Supermarket at roundabout sells beer. Good restaurant opposite hotel. £, C = 2, F = 2, V = 3

Ketahun to Bengkulu – 87km

Some confusion on route from town. Stick to the road along the coast. Not well paved but scenic and quiet-ish. Nice place for a rest stop at 47km. Coconuts to drink and rocky island view. Busy on way into city. Tropicana Guest House: ££, C = 8, F = 7, V = 8

If you need a bike shop in Bengkulu there is one to the east of town within walking distance of Tropicana. Aloha Cafe on the beachfront was good and Bencoolen Cafe. Both near Tropicana and both sell beer.

Click here for week 1 ride diary.

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Sumatra.

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For videos of our bicycle tour around the world, subscribe to our You Tube channel.

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Education Project: Surprise School Visits in Sumatra

It has now been 10 months since Matthew and I left our teaching jobs and although I love the freedom that this career break brings, I sometimes miss the classroom. Sumatra has been quite challenging in some ways but we were delighted to visit two different schools during our time there. Both visits were the result of spontaneous invitations and lifted our spirits as they came at the end of two tough cycling days.


After a day of cycling extremely busy roads and dodging trucks we arrived at the oil and gas town of Duri and checked in to the Amadeo hotel. The Indonesian manager, Mr Ger, turned out to be a fellow adventurer (by motorbike) who invited us to visit the school where he volunteers his free time. After meeting the students and teachers, we split into two groups to run a Ted Web workshop – Matthew with the boys and myself with the girls. Each student wrote a story, some in English and some in Indonesian. Considering that our session was only about 40 minutes, and we arrived by surprise, it was impressive that the students managed to think of and produce stories in such a short amount if time. After the workshop and lots and lots of group photos, Mr Ger treated us to a delicious dinner of fried chicken and coconut rice. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s ride. A really pleasant end to a stressful day of cycling.

Teachers click here to find these student’s stories on www.tedweb.org.


“Hello Mister!” called the group of girls as we wandered down the street to find some dinner. We had just arrived in the town of Ipuh after a day of constant hills through palm oil plantations. We found a restaurant for some ‘mie ayam’ and then planned to collapse in our guest house for the evening. As we ate, the same group of girls kept poking their heads around the corner and peering into the restaurant. “They probably want selfies,” I commented to Matthew. As we walked back back toward our guesthouse we heard a polite “Excuse me Miss” from behind. I turned around  for the obligatory selfie, but instead was surprised to receive a lovely invitation to be a guest at their English evening course. They had rehearsed the invitation and were helping each other to finish the sentences. When I agreed, they erupted in squeals. Matthew had a rotten cold so he went to rest while I followed the girls to the school. I was greeted by their teacher, Maria, and about 20 students. We all sat down and spent the next hour or so chatting. Sometimes they asked me questions, sometimes I asked them and sometimes I just chatted with the teacher. The lesson went quickly and before we knew it, it was time for group photos and back to the guest house for me. I even got a lift in the teacher’s car for the 400m journey because they were adamant that I shouldn’t get wet in the rain – that’s Indonesian hospitality!

You can find videos of our ride around the world on our You Tube channel.

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activism abroad

1- A few days ago, I stopped to yell at some guys on the street. I had been running, and ahead of me on the sidewalk I saw a woman with long hair in a ponytail, a sports bra, and running tights. She jogged towards me and passed me, as I watched 3 local men whistle at her, make rude gestures, and shout things. Maybe because of the adrenalin, or cortisol, or because I was already hot and sweaty so prone to making questionable decisions, I decided to interrupt them. Stopping my run, I said to them in terrible Spanish, “Don’t do that; she doesn’t like it,” and despite their looks of confusion and claims of “No entendes” (‘You don’t understand’); I persisted in speaking to them in English, using gestures to make my point: “Does anyone look at you when you walk down the street? Is *your* body for others to talk about?” I said, disdainfully (hopefully) eyeing one of the men up and down. “It’s rude!” and I ran off. I don’t think it was very effective in convincing them catcalling is wrong and that they should stop; but maybe they’ll look around next time to see if a red-faced stranger is present before they do it.

2- I’ve attended 3 protests now at the US Embassy: one last year for the Women’s March (after the inauguration of Trump); one this January in protest of the Muslim Ban; one a few weeks ago in support of gun control and in response to the recent school shootings in the US. Each time, I’ve made signs, invited others, connected with other expats (American and non-) upon arriving at the protest, and marched, yelled, and discussed. They were small – the Women’s March in Buenos Aires was probably at the max 200 people; and the other two had less than 30 participants- but it maybe felt even more important to be seen making our voices heard (thank you, local media, & social media as well). Even Americans that live abroad have convictions about what’s happening our country, even though we don’t live there.

3- At school I am now the lead faculty sponsor of the GSA: Gay Straight Alliance, or, if you prefer, Gender/Sexuality Alliance. This year we’ve gotten much more active- partly spurred by a few key student leaders and partly just because we now have the numbers. During our Ally Week, we hosted a 50+ student ‘town hall’ discussion where students shared their views on gender rights. The GSA planned and presented a workshop at SPEAK, the school’s student-led conference, on the ‘myths and facts’ of gender & sexuality. We have a whole-school assembly planned for this Friday, co-created with the Feminist Club. And later next month, we’ll have our Day of Silence. This year, one of our faculty members came to share with us his personal stories of coming out, and one of our alumni stopped by to explain her experience being out and lesbian in Buenos Aires. We created and led a workshop for faculty about ‘Safe Space’ issues. The school nurses are now supporting our efforts and faculty give strong and consistent support. It’s been busy, but super stimulating, and the note that I received from a student about how much she appreciates my vocal and visible support hammered it home.

Can I do all these things because I’m American? Is my activism a privilege, or a duty, or a right? When is it appropriate to celebrate individual rights, and when is it crossing a line into cultural disrespect, misunderstanding, or impoliteness? Should I yell at cars that run stop lights (hell yes), even though it is extremely common and largely unpunished in BsAs? Should I challenge my Chinese students who believe democracy could never happen in China (maybe, but first ask them why they think so)? At what point do I hesitate and consider that I may be overstepping my place?

Some years ago, the intention I set for the school year was ‘Seek to understand’. At that point I had realized that my feisty righteousness, which in some settings was celebrated and admired, could also go too far. I finally was recognizing that I needed to be careful in making assumptions, especially about sensitive political or cultural issues. Some of my friends here are much better at this than I am– my friend from Tennessee, who asks questions to others about gun control before sharing his considered opinion, or my friend from Iowa, who is always careful not to succumb to the party line. Maybe the longer we live abroad, the less attached we are to our original political identities; the more self-reflective we are; the more self-defined. Being an foreigner is an opportunity to get closer to our values by removing ourselves from the context in which they were formed.

But as I hone in on the values I truly believe in, I realize how prone to propagation I am– I went on a rant about not shopping at Wal-Mart in my Psych class the other day- so I must needs also consider my effect. When I lived in Jordan, it was obvious to me how ignorant of its political/religious/historical context I was. Asking questions and pursuing knowledge was my priority. Here, it’s trickier: Buenos Aires feels much more like the US, and so I can sometimes slip into having expectations informed by my experiences back home. I judge Argentine cuisine (too much meat, needs more spices), its gender roles (hello machismo, anorexia, high heeled fashion). The separation between what is good for me and what is good for others is murkier. In Jordan, I didn’t presume to impose- but in Argentina, I feel more comfortable, and thus more able to critique.

In my history classes, we study social reformers; in psychology; we consider why we do the things we do. In activism, we share our values with the world, and assume that others should hear them. I still have convictions, but I am learning to listen too.


Posted in Allison Poirot | 9 Comments

The Tao of Escalators: A Culture Story

Two things fascinate me about the institution of schooling: 1) How the environment around the school impacts the culture of the school and 2) The structure of the school management and how it makes decisions.

I went out for an alumni dinner from my alma mater last week and had some fascinating conversations with people that had very different careers from my own. One, a fresh graduate, was a management consultant for Ernst & Young. He told some stories about the cultures of certain businesses and how it was his job to realign them to be more purposeful. “The oil industry is all compliance driven,” he said, “So it’s tough to build in any creativity or things out of the norm. It was my job to untangle their complex and clogged systems of compliance to allow more flexibility in a rapidly changing market to allow for adaptations before things went into the tank.” Schools hire strategic consultants to come up with all sorts of things like new technology programs, NGSS, literacy initiatives, accreditations, and so on. A few take symbolic gestures at governance structures but they are mostly compliance driven and address things like whether or not the procedures for updating the policy manual have been reviewed. Very few allow someone to come in and look under the hood to see what’s really driving the work flow. (or not).

A second man, a Singaporean who had attended my university for banking and commerce, told an equally fascinating story when I complained about how awful school mission statements were. “Did you know,” he said, “that the MRT in Singapore supposedly had the fastest escalators in the world? It was part of their mission to grow the fastest and most efficient economy on the planet.”

“Really?” I said. “Faster than now because they’re really fast.”
“Oh, way faster. This is nothing.”

“So, what happened?” I asked. “How come they no longer have the fastest ones?”
“Too many older people were getting hurt. They would hesitate at the top and be afraid to get on like a carnival ride. And a lot of times when they stepped on they’d fall or something would happen. It was like an out of control conveyer belt.”

“Wow, that’s fast.”

“Yeah, they only go about half speed now.”

It made me reflect on what a critical thing such as cultural attitudes towards work can impact something so operational as escalator speed. When we work in a hyper competitive environment, we don’t pay attention to the big picture, whether we are ‘compliance driven’ as the management consultant described, or even the people trying to step onto a whizzing escalator. We pay attention to the output, the outcomes, and the pressures that force the escalator to move faster or the oil company to be more compliant.

The young graduate told me that he simply crunched a lot of data and pointed things out for them to decide. He’d highlight the time for supply chains to reach their destinations, for invoices to be approved, for policy decisions to be made, all of the meat and potatoes of managing large companies. It was fascinating to think about the similarities to schools. And the escalator speed? Fascinating parallels. I know a lot of people (including myself) that have gotten tossed from that high speed staircase.

There are actually some really bold attempts to break down the compliance driven, top down, creativity, risk averse, and fear driven hierarchies that many educators work in now. One is The Mastery Transcript Consortium, (mastery.org) which is looking to redefine the way we think about and record high school academic work, and the other is the ACE Accreditation from NEASC, a bold initiative that is going to reshape the entire structure of oil company compliance that drives many schools.

So, whether you’re working in a bureaucratic and inefficient environment such as one where the post office closes during lunch (a very maddening experience) or one that is so efficient it is tossing retired folks off the conveyer belt like potatoes, you have to acknowledge and accept that the culture that surrounds you will have a direct impact on the place you work and the expectations placed on you, regardless of how high your gates are or how bold you believe your mission to be.

Think culture. Think mission. Think environment. And most of all, think relationships, they are the root of everything we do.

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