We’re Moving, and Leaving Our Baby in Hong Kong

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Here’s something I wasn’t prepared for.

I grew up as a child in international schools, so I’ve done it. I’ve said good-bye to so many people, so many times. I’ve made my career in international education. More farewells. The process isn’t necessarily easy, but I am accustomed to it. When my husband and I decided to leave Hong Kong, we knew the hardest part would be separating from the people who’ve made our seven years here so memorable, but we also knew we could handle it.

What I didn’t consider was that our baby, now a toddler, would be left behind.

Of course I don’t mean literally. He’s booked in a seat sandwiched between ours as we rack up the last of our Cathay Pacific airline miles, for now. But, he was born here, and spent his infancy here. And we can’t take that with us.

When we fly into Amsterdam airport later this month, we will be leaving behind the sweet little crew of munchkins that have become his tribe. We rotate group play dates at one another’s homes every Friday, swim in the community pool together every Tuesday, and bop around with maracas and plastic leis (don’t ask) at “dance class” every Wednesday. More afternoons than not, my child spends an hour or two on the playground with these babes, learning how to negotiate, to take risks, to show compassion, to have fun. We hosted the play group a couple of week ago, and he cried a little when the children left. “I miss my friends”, he said.

Oh, dear.

Hong Kong is where I gripped the edge of his car seat, instructing the taxi driver to slow down, as we wound down Mount Kellett Road, heading home from the hospital where he was born. Hong Kong is where he, inspired by his older/wiser/more experienced buddy (born 2.5 months before him) took his first steps across the brightly-coloured, vinyl-covered indoor play room where we passed so many hours in monsoon weather or to escape the air pollution. Hong Kong is where he used to pitch pieces of very expensive, organic pears imported from Italy onto the dining room floor because he was learning how to eat, but also learning about gravity, which was more fun. Hong Kong is where he was a baby.

Parenting adds a new – often unexpected – dimension to virtually every aspect of life, and this is no different. My husband and I have begun to bid farewell to friends, but we also know that we will be able to stay in touch with them, and there are certainly people we intend to see again. Those relationships will change with distance, but they will not disappear.

Our baby’s relationships will essentially disappear. So much happens in a child’s development that it’s not possible for them to keep up with others without real contact. In a year from now, his little crew won’t know him anymore. He was a baby with them, and they won’t be babies anymore. Perhaps that’s why, despite the cost of shipping to our new home in the Netherlands, I’m bringing along a box full of clothes that definitely do not fit him anymore.

As international parents, there is a definitive finality to moving. When we leave Hong Kong, we will do so with a full-fledged toddler. Our baby will stay behind.

 

How do you carry on memories of a place with young children? 

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Beautiful Places and Moments: One Year on the Road

We are now half way through our ride around the world. Since leaving our teaching jobs at Tashkent International School, we have cycled over 12,000 kilometres through 11 countries.

Uzbekistan:

Kyrgyzstan:

Kazakhstan:

China:

Laos:

Cambodia:

Vietnam:

Thailand:

Myanmar:

Malaysia:

Indonesia:

Not the entire 12 months have been spent actually on our bicycles, it is just not that simple. Over a month was spent in certain cities waiting and resting, normally for visas or extensions. Two weeks were spent in sick beds in Northern Laos, a month off to see our families at Christmas, and really our one year is more like nine months on the road. I think this is quite typical, and we still consider ourselves successful in crossing much of the biggest landmass in the world.

A friend asked me the other day whether this trip is proving to be all I had hoped it would be. Looking back, I was disappointed with the brief answer I gave, so here are some more considered answers –

i.) If I answer that question based on the experience of a year touring this part of the world on our bicycles, then yes, pedalling in a mainly easterly direction from Uzbekistan to Lombok, has indeed been wonderful in its truest sense. It has also been adventurous and therefore rewarding; passing from high plateaus and densely forested islands, to featureless deserts and climbing between snow-capped peaks. There have been dangers such as busy roads and violent provinces, but measured consideration of the safest routes and most sensible riding time gave us an inner-peace that we are grown-ups and responsible for ourselves.

ii.) If my friends question was more about the places and people rather than the ride, then I think my preconceptions of Asia; that it is heavily populated, polluted and runs at a frenetic pace, were correct. But there have certainly been some pleasant surprises.

Kyrgyzstan’s sublime mountain-scape, it’s winding rubble roads up and down mountain passes for instance, were unforgettable.

Cycling near much of the Mekong river from China’s Yunnan province, through Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam was special too. It was as if the river became our friend, not only confirming that we were heading in the right direction,  but also provided some reassurance that we were getting closer to our goal of Ho Chi Minh. The river slowly widened from a cascading body of water, not much more than a stream, to what looked more like an ocean towards its delta.

iii.) Perhaps my friends question was less about the geography and more about the physical challenge. In which case – we have done well. We have dealt with the dry bbq-like 50 degrees celsius desert heat of the Kyzl-kum and Taklamakan deserts. As well as the boiling, dripping, shrivelling humidity nearer the equator. We have had a wide range of physical human experiences too, from feeling fit as fiddles and strong as oxen, to faint, weak and disorientated.

I recently wrote about our trusty steeds in another post (link). They have been fantastic but also like dead weights sometimes. I have been reminded, more frequently than ever, that much of the challenges we face in our lives can be overcome by a positive mindset. Our pace has been good overall so we have been able to take time in places we loved and have blasted through those we did not.

The next stage in North America will be the penultimate in my 18 year attempt to circumnavigate the planet. 40,000km is the goal, and with about 10,000km left as we prepare for this long next leg, we are looking good to achieve this by summer 2019. Administration waits should be less of a problem on this next stage so our Christmas breaks with our families should be our only significant pauses, allowing for plenty of pure pedalling. We are also considering Cuba and the Caribbean in the new year, perhaps even some of central America, but right now the distance is the goal, and of course we will want to leave some parts of the world for exploring in the more distant future.

It is definitely the case that we are now living with a new rhythm. It used to be a rather busy beat, with long awaited silences to get our breath back in school holidays. Now, it seems we are both more easy going. I have noticed that I have become less worried about things, less edgy and stressed, and the need that I lived with for the last 10 years of dealing with everything immediately, has at least a little bit, abated. I feel calmer in myself, having had time to think, and good about my health as I enter the latter part of my 30’s. We have both enjoyed the experience of riding through foreign lands immensely. Sometimes different cultures and their ‘normal’ is a little bit hard to accept and deal with, so yes, from time to time we have felt a little bit travel fatigued, but nothing a good bike ride the next day couldn’t solve. I am sure that all of these little niggles will be the basis for many a daydream when we look back and chuckle in the future. Our relationship is stronger than ever. I think the sense of accomplishing this together added something that we were not expecting and we are both in a wonderful place mentally about our breaks with family and the dream of cycling through prairies on traffic free routes, camping in meadows and breathing fresh air.

Posted in Matthew and Niamh | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Do we live here, or are we vacationing?

The reality of being an expat is that your family and friends back home usually assume you live some kind of art-film existence in which you travel constantly, never work, have poetic interactions in another language with strangers, and stay up late every night. The reality is that even while living abroad, we still have to buy groceries, do dishes, and take out the trash, as well as grade papers, plan lessons, and stay up late to make a work deadline the next day.

But this is not just the view of our loved ones back home. I think the idea of being “on vacation” permeates expat culture in our communities here, as well. We expect each other to always travel; our social connections come and go; we are constantly looking to our next move. Because we don’t feel like this is our true home, we never fully invest. And the consequences are that there is something lacking in this expat life; this expat culture. For example:

I value travel, but not when the result is 200 selfies and little self-reflection.

I value new friendships, but prefer those that can discuss the day-to-day as well as the occasional adventure.

I value cultural exploration, but not empty engagement. We should explore old classics as well as new restaurants; quieter neighborhoods as well as trendy ones; local news as well as international.

This practice of not-really-investing has consequences for the schools we teach in as well. Why would I want to improve my curriculum, if I know I’m just going to be moving on in a few years? Why would I seek to get to know my students? Why would I volunteer for faculty committees if I won’t be around to see the results?

One of my favorite aspects of being a schoolteacher is that I get to be part of an educational community. Call it geeky, but the fact that we convene 200+ students and 50+ teachers every day to learn and study is thrilling. And it’s even more exciting to me to see how it develops- to be part of a student club, now in its fourth year, as it becomes stronger and more active; to become a better team leader and orchestrate conversations between faculty where no connection before existed; to teach a student in her sophomore year and see her again in senior year with more wisdom and greater awareness of herself. We’re teachers partly because we like to see kids grow. I want to stick around to be a part of that.

I think there’s something to the notion, also, of letting a place affect us. So often we think of leaving our mark. What mark did your previous schools and placements leave on you? And what more could you learn (about the place; about yourself) by staying longer?

I often feel like travel nowadays is treated as buying a packaged adventure. Here’s your gorgeous breakfast, an unbelievable view, an insane boat trip. If you’re not doing something all the time, there’s something wrong; it’s inadequate. A night in is lame and you’re a failure. Maybe it’s because of Facebook and Instagram that we feel we always have to be exuberant and active and exciting. But we and our students also need to see the value in healthy everyday routines, slow conversation, long-term relationships, community-building, institutional development. We need to actually live here, not be on semi-permanent vacation, in order to be fulfilled and meaning-seeking adults.

Full disclosure: my viewpoint is very much affected by the fact that I fell in love with and will soon be marrying a local, and he has helped me access Argentina far beyond what I would have on my own. I’ve returned to cities instead of only going there once and then continuing to the next on my list. I’ve listened to his family members’ personal and and political histories. I’ve reconsidered how I want to learn the language.

I’m grateful for the opportunity he has provided me with deepening my connection to this place where I found myself– my for-now home– instead of moving on to the next in a few years’ time. I’ll never be a local, but at least I can be a more engaged immigrant.

Posted in Allison Poirot | Leave a comment

The Good People We Meet

 

A commonly used adage is “The less one has to give, the more generous they are’”.

This may presume that material possessions are a gauge of how much one has. Or that giving is a sign of ones kindness. I prefer to think that generosity in the form of helping strangers does not require any form of wealth other than human spirit in the heart.

Along our way, we have been touched by the kindness of strangers. It fills me with hope for the future and, in the short term, a warm glow, protection and reassurance for our continuing journey.

We grew up with clear instructions from our elders never to speak to strangers. Whilst we often remain wary of many people, a large part of this experience is about immersion and putting trust in the people we meet.

Our bicycle tour around the world has now taken us through 12 countries and we would like to pause and say thank you to some of the people who helped us when we found ourselves in sticky situations or just went out of their way to be friendly and welcoming.

  • Sardorbek and the other field workers just outside of Bukhara, Uzbekistan who let us get some shade under their apricot trees in the 40 degree heat that we just weren’t prepared for on our very first day of the tour. They then gave us a huge bag of delicious apricots to take with us for energy.

  • Dildora and her family in Gazli, Uzbekistan who, when we asked if we could pitch a tent in the shade near their property, instead insisted that they make up beds for us in their air-conditioned living room and then laid on an almighty spread of food in typical Uzbek style while refusing any money for the accommodation or food.

  • Islomjon and Dilmorod, the General Motors truck drivers who picked us up on the side of a desert highway in Uzbekistan when Niamh was really sick from heat exhaustion and just couldn’t cycle in the sun anymore. They put our bikes on the back of the truck and let us lie down on the bed behind the drivers’ seats to rest while they drove us to the next town and would only let us buy them some tea at a highway rest stop as a thank you.

  • Abdulrahman who repeatedly welcomed us to Kyrgyzstan while buying his cup of vodka in the local shop, went away, came back 5 minutes later and presented us with two delicious ice-creams and a big smile.

 

  • Sultan, the little boy on the donkey in Kyrgyzstan who helped us to find a good spot to camp on the side of a mountain pass when it was starting to get dark and then came back later to give us two bouquets that he had made from wild flowers and which we adorned our bicycles with the next day.

  • Axel and Claudia, the German couple in the 4×4 in Kyrgyzstan who spared us a couple of litres of drinking water when we underestimated just how remote one section of our trip was.

  • The Russian family who picked us up when hitch hiking to Charyn canyon in Kazakhstan and to the group of Turkish men who picked us up on the way back.

  • The family in Khorgos who, on our first night in China, were extremely helpful in finding us the best restaurant and food in town and later came to check that we were happy. One of the best and cheapest meals we had in the country.

  • The mechanics in China who tried to fix Matthew’s chain (but made it worse) and then helped us to organise transport for us and the bikes to the next town where it could be fixed while feeding us energy drinks, tea and beans.

 

  • Coco, the woman in China who went out of her way to take us around to all the travel agents in town when we thought it might be cheaper to buy our flights home for Christmas that way. Turned out it wasn’t and we just bought them online, so she had completely wasted her time on us but didn’t mind at all and wouldn’t accept anything but a thank you in return.

  • The doctor in Laos who gave us a lift back from the hospital to our hotel on his motorbike when we were too sick to walk and who then checked in with us to make sure we were ok while we recovered.

  • The family in Cambodia who let us camp under their house when we got a bit stranded in the dark on impassable paths and gave us a ball of rice and some coconut milk to drink when they didn’t have much themselves (we gave them some money in return).

 

  • Meow’s family in Thailand who’s hotel we stayed in. They had all just flown in for their sister’s funeral but, despite the sad occasion, were determined to make us feel welcome and said that their sister would want them to take care of us. So we had a lovely evening of chatting, photos and delicious food.

 

  • Asad, The Pakistani man in Malaysia who made us feel so welcome in the town canteen and cooked his native dishes with such pride and passion.

  • Mr Nager Zer, the manager of the Amadeo hotel in Duri, Sumatra, who took us to an English class to run a Ted Web workshop with his students and then treated us to dinner.

 

  • Randy, who when Matthew met him in a ropey laundry place in Indonesia, happily offered to take him around town on his motorbike to find a better place and then to his family’s cafe to get some tasty local food and coffee. He also guided us through the busy streets out of town as we continued our journey and hooked Matthew up with some great meds from a doctor friend of his.

  • And to finish with a compatriot and like-minded bike lover, Pete in Bali who tended to the needs of our weary steeds in his beautiful bike shop and cafe : Kayuh Bali/Rhino Velo

We will look back fondly on these memories and remind ourselves of them in the future if we start to doubt that:

PEOPLE ARE NICE!

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Posted in Matthew and Niamh | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Just wondering about this “end of year madness”.

When the IB exam season kicks in, every year I think about this term coined by Joe Lumsden, Secondary Principal at Istanbul International Community School and previous colleague of mine. End of year madness. It is hard not feel it: modified schedules, exams, final report cards and transcripts, finishing the master schedule and calendar for the following year, reviewing handbooks and guides, celebrations, end of year parties, award ceremonies, graduation, IB grading, step-up days, connecting with recently recruited teachers who will join our school our school, preparing to say good bye to colleagues and friends…the list is endless. During this “madness”, however, it is crucial to pause and reflect upon the year. It does sound quite obvious but it is challenging as so many things get in the way. But since we encourage our students to reflect upon their learning, we need to model this practice. It does not have to be a complex process and I am a big fan of this simple 3 question reflection:

1) What went well and why?

2) What did not go so well and why?

3) How can I improve my craft based on 2) and use that to create my    professional objectives for next year?

Setting this expectation to all of us and achieving this before the end of the year is essential and if this becomes a priority we need to make time for this. In our school, all our High School students present a capstone presentation when they reflect upon their goals from the beginning of the year. They present their reflections and evidence in front of their mentor, their parents and some fellow students. I am now wondering what keeps us from doing with this faculty.

Furthermore, students feel this end-of-year rush too. It is quite usual for High School students to feel completely overwhelmed in this last stretch with final exams, projects and SAT’s in the pipeline. What we do we do as schools to minimize this? By putting some many things at the end, are we really focusing on the learning journey or are we just repeating over and over again those end-of-year traditions where everything is mad. Do we take the time to give robust feedback after final exams or is everyone already thinking of spending their time on the beach? And if so, how meaningful are those final exams? Is the only point of those to give a final grade?

Instead of feeling so rushed at the end of the year, students, parents and educators should be spending time to think back over their year growth and to think ahead of the future learning opportunities. Current set-up in many High Schools, however, is not conducive to this since we end up packing so much stuff in the last weeks that it is sometimes only there because “those are the kinds of things that we do at the end of the year”. As we are finalizing next year’s calendar, I really want to have a good look at this “stuff”, question its relevance and offer some alternatives to make sure that we all end the school year with our brains switched on to meaningful reflection to continue to grow.

For what it’s worth…

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | Leave a comment

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

Flow

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

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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

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