In 1974, a young boy named Harold Whittles is about to experience his world in a new and astounding way. For the first five years of his life preceding this moment, Harold has not heard the sounds around him as he has been deaf since birth. This is about to change as technological advances have led to Harold’s meeting with a doctor to be fitted with a hearing aid.
The remarkable picture below captured the moment when Harold heard for the first time and was transported from a world of silence to one filled with seemingly countless different sounds emanating around him. Harold’s eyes are wide with astonishment and wonder.
It is this sense of wonder, conveyed in an emotional and extraordinary manner through Jack Bradley’s photo, that serves as a reminder of our role to nurture the natural curiosity in our students and their exploration to understand the world around them. Our students also remind us each day that we adults should never lose a child’s sense of awe and wonder.
As we prepare for our annual community Thanksgiving celebration, I was drawn back to Harold’s story and the importance of both gratitude and wonder. In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to convey my deep levels of gratitude to be a member of a community dedicated to ensuring a learning environment that regularly leaves students and adults in a state of wonderment.
P.S. Thank you to our talented science teacher, Stephen Boyd, for introducing me to Harold’s story.
One of the many things I appreciate and admire about Switzerland is the collective commitment to civic responsibility. The pragmatic Swiss approach to the establishment of community norms in combination with both an individual and societal belief in supporting and adhering to these agreements have resulted in a country that runs incredibly well.
ISZL‘s commitment to these ideals was evident during last week’s road safety training. Our Kindergarten students had the opportunity to learn from a local police officer about traffic rules and, more precisely, how to navigate pedestrian crossings. The fact that young children in Switzerland take public transportation and make their way to school unaccompanied by an adult does not happen by accident. The effectiveness with which the local police partner with schools to educate young children about their civic responsibilities is clearly by design.
The police officer who met with our students demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism and impressive pedagogical skills. The traffic safety lesson, conducted in partnership with ISZL’s teachers, involved differentiated and personalised instruction, focused on building relationships, and provided students with an opportunity to develop their German language skill
The resulting demonstration of learning involved each student individually stopping traffic with a hand wave, looking both ways to ensure their safety, and then crossing the street at the designated crosswalk. Of course, the students were also encouraged to give a wave of thanks as they passed in front of the cars. For those students who were initially reluctant to cross the road, the police officer and teachers gently helped them to develop the understanding, skills, and confidence needed. It was exemplary teaching at every level!
ISZL’s vision is to help every student turn learning into action, creating opportunities for students to stretch themselves further and achieve more than they believe possible. The realisation of this vision will look different at every level of the school. At the Kindergarten level, our students were able to turn their learning into something they may not have thought possible – to cross a busy street alone.
Thank you to ISZL’s teachers and the Zuger Polizei for their important work to ensure our students continue to learn about their civic responsibilities and turn their learning into responsible action.
“Never odd or even.” Why not start a blog post celebrating the beauty and oddities of language with an intriguingly perplexing phrase that is also a palindrome – a word or a sentence that reads the same backwards? First, my apologies in advance to anyone who suffers from a fear of palindromes, or what the Germans refer to as “Eibohphobie”, which is, in a deeply ironic twist, a palindrome itself! Okay, now on to what is already looking to be a higgledy-piggledy blog post originally designed to commemorate the September 26th European Day of Languages.
A day to celebrate language represents a fabulous or, borrowing from Mary Poppins, a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious opportunity. There are currently between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken among approximately 7 billion people. There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe, representing about only 3% of the world’s total. Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa and at least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual.
The evolution of so many languages over the centuries has resulted in words that are especially descriptive and specific. For example, the Slovak word, prezvoniť, means to call someone’s mobile from your own without the other person picking up with the intention of leaving your number in their phone’s memory. The Albanian word, vetullhen, refers to an eyebrow arched like the crescent moon. The Dutch word, broodje-aap, refers to an awful, often invented story that is told as being true, thus becoming a myth. The Irish use the verb plubairnigh to describe the distinctive thick, bubbling sound that porridge makes when boiling. The Germans use the word, Zechpreller to describe the person who leaves without paying the bill. And, perhaps my favourite, the Finnish use the word poronkusema to describe the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break (about 5 kilometres if you were wondering).
With the risk you may think this is all poppycock or, worse still, tarradiddle, let’s take a look at some tongue twisters that challenge our language skills.
English speakers may recall reciting this children’s song: She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure. So, if she sells seashells on the seashore, then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
How about this French tongue twister? Combien de sous sont ces saucissons-ci? Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous (How much are these sausages here? These sausages here are six cents).
Or, try this German tongue twister: Zwei schwarze schleimige Schlangen sitzen zwischen zwei spitzen Steinen und zischen (Two black slimy snakes sit between two pointed stones and hiss).
A Polish variation: Król Karol kupił Królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego (King Karl bought Queen Caroline coral-coloured bead).
And, finally, a Swedish tongue twister: Far, Får får får? Nej, inte får får får, får får lamm (Father, do sheep have sheep? No, sheep don’t have sheep, sheep have lambs).
Idioms also represent a deeply interesting aspect of language, usually highlighting cultural, historical, and traditional themes. By way of an example of how an idiom can span languages, all of the following idiomatic expressions are similar to “The apple does not fall far from the tree”:
Æblet falder ikke langt fra stammen. (Danish)
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. (German)
Nem esik messze az alma a fájától. (Hungarian)
Obuolys nuo obels netoli rieda. (Lithuanian)
Niedaleko pada jabłko od jabłoni. (Polish)
Jabolko ne pade daleč od drevesa. (Slovenian)
Äpplet faller inte långt från trädet. (Swedish)
Did you know that there is a word in the English language that describes the fear some people suffer from when they come across long words? The word for this phobia is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. While it is in no way my intention to diminish the suffering anyone with this phobia experiences, it is hard to ignore the irony here given the length of this word! So, if you are a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic, please skip this next section as it will highlight some of the longest words found in languages.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism (English word for the love of long words; 33 letters)
ακτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (Greek word meaning to be dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes; 47 letters)
Kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden (Dutch word related to the preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession; 48 letters)
Speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode (Danish word for the period when a specialist doctor’s planning of the practice is stabilized; 52 letters)
Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas (Finnish word for a technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines; 61 letters)
Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (German word for a regulation about competences; 67 letters)
Of a particularly impressive note, the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes coined the following 183 lettered word meaning a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, fowl and sauces:
While these are fascinating and interesting language facts to consider, I should move beyond what some would consider my lollygagging and return to the motivation for this post – the celebration of language. While I am currently living in Europe and the European Day of Languages is certainly of great importance to the region, I would also like to extend the celebration to all languages and areas of the world when highlighting how important language is to our cultural heritage, to our understanding of ourselves and others, and to our ability to see and understand the world in different and new ways.
The International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) is fortunate to have Lorna Caputo as a member of its team serving as a language specialist and overseeing, among her other duties, 16 after-school language programs. In her blog, Exploring Multilingualism, Lorna highlights the importance of all languages:
It is the harmonious coexistence of languages that enables people to develop intercultural understanding, appreciate cultural diversity and work together better. Multilingualism is what unites many different regions within countries and is at the core of many national identities. Even in multicultural cities, you can observe local dialects and languages coexisting with other international languages. It is helpful to understand how schools can often be located within this linguistic intersectionality, and how schools prepare their students to navigate their familial, local, national and global linguistic landscapes.
Lorna will also be quick to discuss the research supporting the advantages associated with children learning multiple languages at a young age, which features an important aspect of her work with ISZL’s learning program.
In a note to community members this week, Lorna asked us to build on our recent inclusion work (see Inclusion & Community) and translate the phrase, “We are all ISZL” into their native language. Here are some of the wonderful responses:
We are all ISZL (English)
Мы все ISZL (Russian)
Me ollaan kaikki ISZL (Finnish)
Vi är alla ISZL ( Swedish )
ISZL 我們是一家人 (Mandarin)
Siamo tutti ISZL (Italian)
Hepimiz ISZL’iz (Turkish)
Wir sind alle ISZL (German)
Nous sommes tous ISZL (French)
Todos somos ISZL (Spanish)
Tots som ISZL (Catalan)
Somos todos ISZL (Portuguese)
Wij zijn allemaal ISZL (Dutch)
Mi mind ISZL vagyunk (Hungarian)
Είμαστε όλοι ISZL (Greek)
Mi smo svi ISZL (Serbian)
Vi er alle ISZL (Danish)
In closing, I hope you didn’t find this post to be too higgledy-piggledy, but rather a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience! While my hope has been to highlight some of the interesting and unusual aspects of language, there is always the shadow of kakorrhaphiophobia, or the fear of failure, associated with this quixotic endeavour. There is a lurking feeling that perhaps I should have been more pauciloquent and that this text had been less argle-bargle in style, avoided goggledygook, and did not generate any bobsy-die. The last thing I want to do is to leave you bumfuzzled, frustrate you with the confusing “never odd or even” palindrome, or to diminish your status as a deipnosophist. Finally, I hope you don’t see me as a blatherskite, a hoddy-noddy, or a floccinaucinihilipilificator at heart!
Okay, this is probably enough tomfoolery, twaddle, and balderdash for today!
In the celebration and appreciation of all languages!
Argle-bargle: copious but meaningless talk or writing
Balderdash: senseless talk or writing
Blatherskite: a person who talks at great length without making much sense
Bobsy-die: a great deal of fuss or trouble
Bumfuzzled: to be confused
Deipnosophist: a person skilled in table talk
Floccinaucinihilipilificator: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless
Goggledygook: language that is meaningless
Higgledy-piggledy: in confusion or disorder
Hoddy-noddy: a foolish person
Kakorrhaphiophobia: an irrational fear of failure
Lollygagging: to spend time aimlessly
Pauciloquent: using few words in speech or conversation
Quixotic: extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
Tarradiddle: pretentious nonsense
Tomfoolery: foolish or silly behaviour
Reference: The majority of the sources for this article are from the following website: https://edl.ecml.at/(Take their language challenge: QUIZ)
Stress at the start of the school year is normal. I firmly believe that a positive start leads to a positive year. Here are some suggestions I like to give to people at the start of the year.
What do you need to start the school year?
Students. Teachers. And a place for them to meet. Many of the things people stress about are not required to actually start the school year. Remember, not everything can be the most important. If everything is critical, and everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
No, really, what do you need to start the school year?
Here is a core checklist for the school start-up:
A roster of students who should be attending
A roster of students who left, to make certain they do not return without re-enrollment
Schedules (or at least a plan for the first week while scheduling is being sorted)
Lunch planning needs to be sorted and should be running smoothly; food is important; the communal time is important
Two to three weeks of lesson plans that can be executed with the resources from the previous year
Buddies for new staff, with a simple schedule to keep them connected and interacting
Short meetings scheduled to touch base on facilities issues; administrators should take the issues down and get everyone back to work
If the technology is being unreliable, remove layers of complexity, and simply give people access to the internet; new management protocols and summer updates can take weeks to sort out
Keep students connecting socially, and offline; build community first and the curriculum will be easier to deliver
Consider Staying Offline for a Few Days
For students under USA grade level 3, I would keep them offline for 2-3 weeks. Focus on social interactivity, building a relationship with their teachers, and learning how everything works within the learning environment.
For students in who are USA grade levels 3 -5 and middle school grades 6-8, I would keep them offline for at least a week. I would make sure they do a full review of the school’s AUP and Digital Citizenship program.
High school students in USA grade levels 12 and 11 should be the main focus of IT for the first two days of school. Grades 9-10 can wait. Once the upper grade technology is sorted, move down to 9-10. Remember, high school students are flexible, and they can meet IT for support in varying intervals. High school should be all online within the first four days of school.
The Big Bang is Not Good for Stress
The Big Bang Implementation Approach (big bang), is something schools tend to do annually. Basically, they try to do everything for everyone at once. For example, connecting all BYOD devices K-12 in one day. Think about who needs access, and when they need it. Consider the curriculum. What percentage of a grade level’s content is only available with a device in hand? Do the higher percentages first, and the rest later following a steady pace.
Communicate the planning to everyone. Take a breath. And keep the school start steady, positive, and peaceful.
As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?
This is the question clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle asks in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, which is based on 30 years of her work studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. While she is not anti-technology, Turkle presents a compelling case that our current communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships.
Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and workplaces, Turkle argues that many of us, “would prefer to send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call” (Turkle, 2015, p.3). Her concern is the cost associated with this new type of connection and how technology allows us to find ways around conversation. She argues that “face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy” (Turkle, 2015, p.3).
Reclaiming Conversation argues that, while technology presents us with seemingly endless possibilities to improve our lives, it also allows us to hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. And, it is this loss of connection and conversation that should give us pause and cause for concern. In having fewer meaningful conversations on a regular basis, we are losing skills such as the ability to focus deeply, reflect, read emotions, and empathise with others, all of which are needed to actually engage in meaningful conversations.
Turkle further argues that the ability to have meaningful conversations also depends on our engagement with solitude and self-reflection. If we are always connected, then we may see loneliness as a problem that technology needs to solve and that being connected is going to make us less lonely. However, Turkle cautions that it is actually the reverse: “If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely” (Turkle, 2015, p.23). Research in this area indicates that being comfortable with solitude and, correspondingly, our vulnerabilities is central to happiness, creativity, and productivity.
Building on these considerations and thinking about Turkle’s writing in the context of ISZL, the book presents several compelling arguments for any school and community to consider, particularly given our collective work to support student learning and development. On a personal note, the book challenged me in several ways in terms of my own relationship with technology and my practices as a father, husband, educator, and community member. By way of an example, the following passage from the book has led me to further consider the implications of the presence of a cell phone during conversations:
“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us ” (Turkle, 2015, p.20).
A central question emerged during the reading of this book: Are we unintentionally inhibiting our students’ development in terms of the skills and tools that are crucial to friendship, love, happiness, work, creativity, and sense of worth? Like anything that is of deep significance, there is no simple response to this question as we continue to understand the benefits and impacts technology is having and will have on our lives.
Turkle believes that our regular connection to be online and “elsewhere” will likely lead to the erosion of the essential human qualities of empathy, generativity, and the mentoring of our young. If this is true, then there are obvious and compelling reasons for our school community to further our reflections, conversations, and actions associated with this challenge. These thoughts may perhaps be best summed up by Cameron, a student Turkle interviewed, when he shared what he sees around him: “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem” (Turkle, 2015, p.21).
Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Kindle Edition. Penguin Press.
An important focus area associated with this year’s review of ISZL’s mission, vision, values, and learning principles is that of our school and community’s culture and how it relates to global citizenship. With our staff and students representing 34 and 60 different nationalities respectively, in addition to the school’s offering of 25 language courses, ISZL is clearly an international community that embraces diversity, culture, and language. To what degree, then, does the concept of global citizenship define ISZL?
If we consider this question from a more macro perspective with respect to ISZL’s greater context, we quickly note that, although the Canton of Zug does not include a large metropolis centre, it has a remarkable degree of diversity in its population. According to 2016 census statistics, non-Swiss residents comprised approximately 26% of the population while the city of Zug records an even higher level at 31.7%. Switzerland currently hosts residents from about 140 different countries.
A recent conversation with local educational leaders highlighted this diversity. As part of our outreach to further connect with the Swiss community, we invited the leadership team from Kantonsschule school to visit ISZL with the hope of initiating a partnership. At one point, we were asked about the number of nationalities represented by our student population, and we proudly stated the number to be about sixty. We are somewhat surprised when the visiting school representative responded by stating that they have about the same number of international students. This commonality has, in part, established that we seem to have more in common with local schools than may have been understood initially.
While the Swiss government has implemented policies to attract international residents, there also seems to be an approach to global citizenship that may be instructive to ISZL’s culture and values, particularly given our focus on further integration with the local community. By way of example, the Swiss Federal Immigration department publishes a document called, “Welcome to Switzerland”, which provides information for new residents arriving from abroad. One of the most interesting aspects of the publication are the quotes from foreigners living in Switzerland and their focus on integration and diversity. For example, Sabir Aliu from Kosovo stresses the importance of communication:
“Our neighbourhood means more to me than just having a roof over our heads. This certainly has something to do with the fact that the people who live here gradually realised that living happily together requires effort from all of us. It doesn’t matter whether one is Swiss or a foreigner, old or young. One has to start talking to one another. This is the only way to change things together.”
Anna Gruber from Macedonia challenges us to think about integration at a deeper level:
“What bothers me slightly is that the word integration is often reduced to learning the language or to whether one wears a headscarf or not. But integration means a lot more: It needs people who have the will to become involved with a new country and a foreign culture. And on the other hand, it needs a society which allows this. Mutual understanding and tolerance just cannot be stipulated by laws.”
The publication also quotes Swiss citizen Bruno Moll who provides us with transition advice:
“Responding to prejudices and opening doors, not closing them – this is my aim. Not only as a Swiss person, but from one person to another, I would give the following advice to new residents arriving from abroad: They should approach our country inquisitively and not shut themselves away with people in the same situation. Of course, I would advise them to learn our language and explore our mentality. I would prefer them to see what we have in common, instead of the differences. They should ask questions and try to discuss with their fellow citizens. They should definitely climb our mountains and join the strollers on Sundays. They should go shopping at the weekly markets and read, watch and listen to our media. To put it simply: They should try to become a part of things. Of course, I also wish this for ourselves, the natives.”
Some of the common themes that emerge from these quotes are the concerted and purposeful efforts for understanding through listening and talking, engagement with our local community, and respect and openness to different ways to comprehend the world around us. As a community that focuses on the development of students, these values and dispositions translate well to a school environment. This thought can be taken a step further to argue that ISZL’s context and its location in the Canton of Zug will inevitably have a strong influence on ISZL’s culture.
When reflecting on the question of “Who are we?”, it seems prudent to consider the influence local culture has on our school, which can range from a traditional farmer’s lifestyle to the more than 30% of foreigners living in the canton, among other factors. The influence of external factors on ISZL’s culture also furthers our work associated with the International Baccalaureate’s mission, “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” This focus on culture and global citizenship may also be referred to as cross-cultural cognition, which can be defined as the ability to think, feel, and act across cultures. To that end, it would be natural to conclude that the concept of global citizenship plays a critically important role in contributing to defining ISZL and answering the question, “Who are we?”.
Last week we spoke with students and parents new to our school, many of whom were new to Singapore. We started with the why – our school’s Mission:
The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.
For those who were understandably wondering about new classes, friends, uniform and timetables, this may have seemed a lofty, distant ideal. But with so many very good schools available in Singapore, this lofty goal remains our defining characteristic. Or more precisely – because lofty goals are easy to write – how we put this into practice remains our defining characteristic, and I hope why families have chosen us.
I am very pleased, however, that it is no longer a very special goal – at least, not if we take special to mean rare. Go back fifty years and this kind of thinking was marginal, outlier, considered naïve and well off the mainstream. Today the idea that we should not settle for less for our children is absolutely mainstream, almost banal. The notion that education should narrowly focus on academics, without recognizing that children deserve more and need a higher purpose, is clinging on here and there, but it’s on its way out. There are two reasons behind this; they may seem to be quite different, but ultimately, they are mutually supportive.
Firstly, there’s the realization that academics are not enough even for the world of work. In truth they never really were, but the changing nature of work means we are increasingly focused on what skills students possess, and what they can actually do. In the past, these may have been very tightly linked to what students know – but in the disrupted, AI-influenced economy we face, knowledge alone will be far from enough. To be ready for tomorrow, today’s students will have to be increasingly adept in human skills and qualities, and ready to use them in real-world contexts on difficult and complex human problems It’s not just educators saying this, but governments, businesses, NGOs, the OECD and others. So the contexts provided by our focus on the peoples, nations and cultures part of our Mission is exactly how to prepare students for an uncertain future; because these are the areas that are the pressing challenges we face and that will not be automated,
Secondly, it’s important to place schools in a much broader social context. And that context may be startling. Because despite the horrific events going on around the world, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been, in many significant ways. Extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving. Now let’s not be naïve here – tragedy, atrocity and grinding poverty are still real today. But the current trajectory is astonishingly positive, and where there is injustice, we are beginning to see outrage and social activism to address it – not consistently, but increasingly so. In the past where issues may have been ignored, we’re also seeing thought leaders take a lead. That includes CEOs, and the US – admittedly under extreme provocation from its administration – is leading the way here. CEOs have publicly come out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and most recently, against the extreme right. At the same time, we’re seeing many high profile billionaires – including two of the most famous in Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – pledge half their wealth to philanthropic causes. So there is a broader social move towards widening moral circles; and schools both reflect this and importantly, prepare students to continue down this path. That’s where the peace and a sustainable future part of our Mission comes in, and why we weave the Mission so carefully throughout our Learning Programme.
There is no tension between the pragmatic necessity to prepare students for their future, and the idealistic opportunity to make whatever small contribution we can to the historic trend. We intend, this year and forever, to do both to the best of our capacities.
“All grown-ups were once children… but only a few of them remember it” ~The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I was recently listening to a series of interviews with Joseph Campbell and his reflections on the essential themes that have emerged from sixty years of his life’s work. He emphasized the interconnectedness of our lives and the human experience, the fundamental role of storytelling in our culture, and the importance of courageously embarking on our individual journeys to fully realize our lives, as highlighted in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell also shared a curious thought when he suggested that adults should read more children’s books to further our own learning and understanding. In fact, this seems to be sound advice, particularly as I recall a memorable and meaningful graduation speech that used a children’s book as its framework to convey a meaningful message.
A friend and colleague, Corey Watlington, was selected by the senior class to deliver the faculty commencement speech. While I am sorry that I do not recall all of the details of the speech, the messages conveyed through the use of a children’s book resonated with all of us. The book’s title is, The Three Questions, by Jon J. Muth, and, following Joseph Campbell’s advice and using Corey Watlington’s idea, the following is a brief summary and reflection associated with the book.
The book’s main character is a boy named Nikolai who is seeking answers to three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is most important? What is the right thing to do? A cast of colourful characters, which include a monkey, heron, turtle, dog, and panda, all play important roles as Nikolai is forced to overcome several challenges due to a terrible storm. Through adversity, his own kindness, and the support and guidance of his friends, Nikolai finds answers to his three questions: “…there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important person is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”
This is indeed good advice and a reminder, not only for adults but also for our students and those responsible for our educational programs, of the importance of being present and kind. With so many distractions, technologies, and the seemingly ever-accelerating pace of life, this can be a challenge. Still, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to make this a priority. For this reason and many others, I am grateful for the opportunity to work and live in Brazil as the Brazilians have much to teach us about living in the present, enjoying the moment, and appreciating the people in our lives. As a Canadian with a disposition that can, at times, bend slightly towards a future orientated focus, the answers to Nikolai’s questions are always a welcome reminder.
International schools generally embrace a strong emphasis on a holistic educational approach, which includes the well-being and health of our students and communities. To that end, Nikolai’s learning extends to our educational programs and school cultures such that there are high value and support placed on being present, actively valuing our relationships, and ensuring a focus on kindness. Perhaps these approaches are some of the factors associated with Joseph Campbell’s reference to the interconnectedness of our lives and the human experience.
“We are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them.” ~Prime Minister Trudeau
The recent horrific and tragic attack at the mosque in Quebec and the subsequent categorical response from Canadians and concerned citizens around the world is a poignant reminder of one of our primary purposes as educators. As learning institutions, we must model and live by the highest standards associated with tolerance, empathy, and understanding while categorically rejecting all acts of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. The unique opportunity to serve as an educator includes an unwavering commitment to model and stand up for the values we hold dear in our schools.
While it is not the role of a teacher to promote and impose personal political views and beliefs, it is a teacher’s responsibility to denounce, without exception, all comments and actions that are not in full adherence with the school’s focus on valuing plurality, difference, understanding, respect, and tolerance. As intolerance is usually a result of fear and fear is often generated from a lack of understanding, the focus on learning in schools plays an ever-important role toward deeper understandings. The hope is that the suspicions and uncertainty that result from a lack of understanding or knowledge will be replaced with curiosity, support, and appreciation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the shooting was a call to action and the coming together as a nation: “We will not stand for hatred and bigotry. Together we will ride from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before. That is who we are… love, always love, instead of hate.” It is also heartening and inspiring to witness the commitment of our education colleagues and the focus of so many schools and organizations to take a stand against all that divides us. The message is clear in that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. By way of example, Asger Leth’s video, Three Beautiful Human Minutes, is a moving testimonial conveying the message that there is more that brings us together than we think. Teachers are also regularly seeking ways to embrace and learn from our differences. Alison Schofield recently posted a helpful articleentitled, “How Teachers can Honor and Nurture all Students’ Languages and Cultures within an International School.” The University of Minnesota, where I am currently engaged in graduate studies, just launched a “We All Belong Here” campaign, with five key messages: 1. Our differences drive our greatness, 2. Respect everyone every day, 3. Rise above intolerance, 4. Stand up to injustice, 5. Strive to be inclusive.
This work is not easy, though it is of paramount importance. The studies of a colleague at the American School of Brasilia, Gavin Hornbuckle, highlights one of these challenges. Gavin conducted extensive doctoral research in the area of intercultural competencies. The results of his study and others indicate that “while teachers often believe that they possess the intercultural skill-set required to [help students to develop intercultural competence], in reality, this may not be the case” (Horbuckel, 2013). The research also stresses that the majority of educators have more of a monocultural mindset, while our students show evidence of being more sophisticated in their intercultural development” (Cushner, 2012). It is a fact that intercultural competence does not come naturally and is an area that we, as educators, need to continually work at, particularly as we seek to understand, embrace, and celebrate our differences.
Returning to Prime Minister Trudeau, one of his recent statements may serve as a guiding principle for our schools: “If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, then we do not actually end up any safer. Fear does not make us stronger, it makes us weaker. We are bound by one, unwavering, unshakable truth: we are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them”.
Cushner, K. (2012). Planting seeds for peace: Are they growing in the right direction? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(2), 161-168.
Hornbuckle, G. C. (2013). Teachers’ views regarding ways in which the intercultural competence of students is developed at an international school in Southeast Asia: a mixed methods study. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
What does it feel like to be mentored by a national champion who is ranked among the best in the world? To find out, you are invited to visit the American School of Brasilia’s afterschool chess club.
Meilin Hoshino (Grade 6) and her sister Karen (Grade 10) are considered to be elite chess players on the world stage, with Karen recently recognized as the top female chess player in Japan. It is the juxtaposition of a student competing in the 14-day World Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan and the same student offering a chess activity for lower school students that highlights an international school’s sense of community, the wide range of learning opportunities, and the value of diversity.
During my afternoon walk around campus today, I observed several other instances of students learning from other students. Some of these examples included cooking classes, guitar lessons, art projects, talent show preparations, Jiu Jitsu practice, reading program, robotics, and an after school running club. These are some of the many ways in which a school offering a pre-kindergarten to grade 12 educational program benefits from the wide range of student ages. The younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students while older students have the opportunity (and challenge!) to serve as positive role models and mentors while also learning more about their own abilities and strengths.
It is this building of community through mentoring, coaching, and collaboration that personifies the American School of Brasilia’s motto of “Learners Inspiring Learners.” The basis of all schools should be that of a community of learners and, for this reason, we are committed to further developing peer mentoring programs such that all students are benefiting from “students helping students” opportunities. To that end, I would like to thank Meilin and Karen for sharing their impressive talents and experiences with other students and for exemplifying the ideals associated with our school’s mission in which learners are inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.