Tag Archives: Community

Wellness and Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz

It was a morning filled with everything you hoped to see at a wellness event. Students, parents, and teachers were actively engaging in activities that included CrossFit, judo, Muay Thai, and yoga, all capped with the development of a few circus-related skills at the end of the day. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the wellness activities and their time with friends and family while the problems of the past week quietly drifted away. It is this characteristic that I particularly admire in Brazilians – the ability to fully live in the moment while temporarily letting go of their anxieties. I believe this is what the Persian poet Rumi refers to as surrender or, in more recent times, mindfulness, which does not necessarily come naturally to someone like me, who has a cultural bias towards a more future-orientated view of the world. This is probably why the photo from the wellness event of the two students enjoying a humorous moment with the orange traffic cones brought such a smile to my face.

wellness1

One of our school-wide goals this year is a focus on wellness: To ensure a secure learning environment in which all stakeholders are physically and emotionally safe to learn and grow as individuals and members of the EAB community. 
The Sábado Legal, or Cool Saturdays program, has regularly provided our community with opportunities to realize key aspects of this wellness goal, not only for students but also for faculty, staff, and parents. As adults, we also have the responsibility of modeling wellness and mindfulness for our students and ourselves. We are only able to best serve our communities when each of us is at our best through our own foci on wellness. This fact is highlighted by our teachers who regularly lead yoga, dance, mindfulness, and running activities with students and adults at our school, which has clearly made a difference in the health of our community.

In the spirit of our mission statement focus on “learners inspiring learners”, I am grateful to our two wonderful students in the photo for reminding the adults about the importance of mindfulness and how to enjoy a moment.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne


Portuguese Version / Versão em Português

Bem-Estar e Conscientização do Momento

“Ser Mindfulness é simplesmente estar consciente do que está acontecendo agora sem desejar que fosse diferente; apreciar o agradável sem se prender as mudanças (elas ocorrerão); passar pelo desagradável temendo que não haja mudança (pois haverá).” – James Baraz

Foi uma manhã com tudo o que se esperava encontrar em um evento voltado ao bem-estar. Alunos, pais e professores estavam envolvidos em atividades como CrossFit, Judô, Muay Thai e Yoga, além de algumas atividades circenses no final do dia. Todos pareciam estar se divertindo com as atividades e com o tempo passado com os amigos e familiares, enquanto os problemas do passado eram deixados de lado. Essa é uma característica que eu, particularmente, admiro nos brasileiros – a capacidade de viver plenamente o momento deixando temporariamente de lado as suas ansiedades. Eu acredito que é isso que o poeta persa Rumi se refere como Surrender (entregar-se), ou recentemente como, Mindfulness (Consciência do Momento), o que não necessariamente é algo natural para uma pessoa como eu, que tem uma visão voltada para o futuro do mundo. Talvez por isso que a foto do evento, onde dois alunos se divertem com um cone de trânsito, trouxe um sorriso para o meu rosto.

wellness1

Um dos nossos objetivos esse ano é focar no bem-estar: Garantir um ambiente de aprendizado seguro, onde todas as partes interessadas estejam fisicamente e emocionalmente seguras para aprender e crescer como indivíduos e membros da comunidade da EAB. O Sábado Legal traz, regularmente, oportunidades para a nossa comunidade participar dos pontos chaves do nosso objetivo de bem-estar, não somente para os alunos, mas para o nosso corpo docente, funcionários e pais. Como adultos nós também temos a responsabilidade de molda o bem-estar e consciência, para nossos alunos e para nós mesmos. Nós só poderemos servir a nossa comunidade da melhor forma possível quando cada um de nós focarmos, da melhor maneira, no nosso bem-estar. Isso é destacado pelos nossos professores que, regularmente fazem atividades com os alunos e com os adultos em nossa escola como Yoga, dança, atividades de conscientização e corridas, o que claramente faz a diferença na saúde da nossa comunidade.

Com foco na nossa Missão “aprendizes inspirando aprendizes”, eu sou grato aos dois alunos maravilhosos da nossa comunidade que aparecem nessa foto e lembram a nós adultos da importância da conscientização do seu estado de espírito e sobre como aproveitar cada momento.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

 

Inclusion – Our Obligation

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

It was one of those emails that catch your attention. Mauricio, then a fifteen-year-old student in a Brazilian school, sent an elegantly worded statement about how he taught himself English so that he could realize his dream of attending a university in the United States. Mauricio had been studying our website and, as he believed our school’s values were aligned with his, was determined to join our learning community. What I did not know at the time was that Mauricio was going to forever change our community’s perspectives on learning and our understanding of the world around us.

Mauricio’s application for admission to our high school was the first we had received from a blind student. While Mauricio did not seem to be concerned that his blindness would limit his learning, a reflection of his indomitable spirit that I quickly learned to admire and appreciate, our faculty did raise several valid questions and concerns.

The consideration of Mauricio’s application was framed and guided by a mission and set of beliefs that highlighted diversity and different learning styles as essential values. Through dialogue, learning, and understanding, the high school faculty committed to admitting Mauricio and providing him with the best educational program within our capabilities. Mauricio also supported us through this learning process and was always quick to remind us not to think of him as a blind person, but rather a person who happened to be blind.

During one of our admissions meetings, I welcomed Mauricio to my office with the greeting, “It is great to see you…” but cut myself off as I realized the insensitivity of my words. Mauricio smiled warmly and replied in a manner that conveyed wisdom beyond his years, “It is also great to seeyou.” While it was a seemingly minor moment of learning, it was also emblematic of our own collective growth. I humbly shared with Mauricio how it was likely that we were going to learn far more from him than he would learn from us. And, this was in fact the case. Four years later, Mauricio graduated from Graded, the school where I previously worked, and he realized his dream of attending and graduating from a top university in the United States. It was also during this time that we grew the most as professionals and as a community.

While Mauricio was a student at Graded, we had the honor of hosting two very special people, Bill and Ochan Powell, who conveyed a similar spirit of promise and a unique ability to instill an intrinsic commitment in others to be the best professionals and people they can be. Bill and Ochan scheduled time after their professional learning facilitation to interview Mauricio as part of their work associated with inclusive schools. I remember clearly how our faculty and I beamed with pride and a sense of purpose when Bill and Ochan highlighted and congratulated the team for their work with Mauricio and their efforts to ensure Graded was offering a highly functioning inclusive learning program.

The following two videos present clips from Bill and Ochan’s work with Mauricio.

Interview with Bill and Ochan:

Learning in a Science Classroom:

The videos highlight Bill’s talents and concern for others and, correspondingly, one of the many reasons why there has been such an extraordinary outpouring of sorrow, love, and admiration from around the world to the tragic news of Bill Powell’s sudden passing. Bill was a remarkable individual whose impressive professional capabilities were complemented with a warm heart and deeply caring nature.

A recent exchange of emails with Mauricio highlighted the difference Bill’s vision and unwavering commitment to student learning and inclusion can make in a student’s life. The following is an extract from Mauricio’s note to me this week:

Needless to say, if it were not for my inclusion at Graded and before, I would not be where I am today. I have worked at internationally recognized corporations, attended top educational institutions abroad, learned the importance of adaptation and persistence, and demonstrated to others that blindness does not define one’s capabilities.

It all began with education – an education that was inclusive, grounded, and rigorous. It all began with teachers and administrators who believed in my potential, and who required of me the same as was required of any other student. If one has education one still faces challenges, the difference being that without it we have no solution. Blind people must be able to make any choice they wish for their future, with blindness being only a circumstance and physical characteristic. As the Olympics are held in Brazil, so will the Paralympics. We apply the inspiration and values from all athletes into our lives as much as possible so that we may continue fighting for opportunity for all people.

The message of six years ago still stands: people must ask questions, so that their doubts may be resolved. On the other hand, those with disabilities must believe in themselves, strive for their best, and not for what seems comfortable, and never be let down by expectations by others. Others may not know our full potential, but I find that most people will be allies if we help them help us. And, schools cannot do it alone – families must understand that disabilities shall never define where one wishes to go.

~ Mauricio

I am deeply grateful to Mauricio and Bill and Ochan Powell for the real difference they have made in our lives. Looking ahead, we hope to honor Bill’s significant contributions to the field of education and his dedication to the lives of others by ensuring a collective commitment to furthering his vision of inclusive schools where diversity, difference, and all learning styles are valued within the context of a plurality of thought and perspectives. Next Frontier Inclusion’s mission must also be our own: “to promote and protect the interests of children who learn in different ways or at different rates.” This is our moral obligation to Mauricio and all of the students, families, and communities we have the privilege of working with at our schools.

www.barrydequanne.com


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by lee: like a record…   https://www.flickr.com/photos/leecullivan/240389468/

Celebrating Our Schools

   Recently my alma mater, my high school overseas, celebrated a milestone. 50 years as a school. The party was a good one by all accounts. There were people from everywhere; from long, long ago, together with current and more recent members of the community. It was a reunion and a celebration. While I wasn’t able to attend (I was visiting my new posting) a few things have popped out at me. Items I want to remember as a member of a current school hoping to make history:

Schools have changed, teaching and learning have changed, but it is still the enthusiasm and commitment of the people in the building that matters.

“We want to be a school that grows, a school that transforms and changes. We want our school to excel and prepare.”

We tend to talk about schools like they are alive. The personification of the place is natural but misses the point. It isn’t the school doing the heavy lifting; it is the people inside the buildings.

Business (of which education is a part) is beginning to value the effect the people have on the place. It isn’t new information. However when schools can pick from a plethora of initiatives aimed at an outcome, it is important to remember that there are people doing the work, in the moment. Those people, how they feel, what they think, why they do what they do matter long after the end of one unit, or year.

If a school were alive, it would be a grandparent to some children. Teachers’ kids. Our double connection to a school is important to us as human beings and can and should be celebrated.

My husband also attended ISKL, graduating with me in 1990. However, his parents worked for an oil company. Outside of school, his connections were often with families from his dad’s work. They have had reunions and celebrations of their own. For him, the school was a place where he went to have fun, be with friends and learn.

For me, the daughter of teachers, the school wasn’t a place, it was a second home. My sister and I, like other teacher kids, lived there. We were the first to arrive each morning and the last to leave many evenings. Over the summer, we worked at the school, helping our parents prepare their rooms or ready materials. As a group,  teachers’ kids are highly connected to the staff of the school. Not only were our teachers our teachers, they were also our friends, and in many ways, our family.

It didn’t surprise me to see that a great number of the people who made the trip back to the school for the reunion were teachers’ kids. Recognizing the longevity of that group is important to a schools’ history.

Looking back and celebrating where you have come from, and helping every member of the existing team feel connected to that history, makes transient people feel connected.

So why wait 50 years! Most schools have celebrations like this for big milestones, but with our turnover- every year should be put into a larger context.

People (again- mostly teacher kids) posted pictures from when they were there- in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond. The pictures reminded me how much it took for our parents (the teachers) to live away and abroad. Knowing how it was, gives us a sense of responsibilty to keep it moving forward.

Having an international school reach the 50-year mark is a celebration for all of us committed to teaching and learning overseas. It celebrates the work we do, the children and families we serve and the cross-cultural connections we have provided.

Here is to the next 50 years!

Kindness

During my morning arrival to campus earlier this week, I noticed the presence of a woman standing in front of the school carefully scrutinizing everyone entering EAB. Since I did not recognize the woman and with an obvious concern for security, I approached her and inquired about her presence at the school’s entrance. The woman’s response was not what I expected to hear. Her name was Edith and before sharing her response to my question, we need to first rewind to the start of this school year.

It was a typical beautiful and sunny August morning in Brasilia when two EAB teachers were crossing the street making their way to school to prepare for classes and the day ahead. The peacefulness of the morning was abruptly shattered when they witnessed a gruesome pedestrian accident that left a lone woman seriously injured and in desperate need of immediate medical attention. The two EAB teachers dropped everything and rushed to the aid of the injured woman doing everything possible to comfort and assist her through what could only be described as a traumatic experience for all involved. Our teachers continued to provide support until professional assistance arrived and rushed her to a hospital. Since that fateful moment, we have not received any news about the woman’s status. That is, until this week.Shadow-Holding-Hands1

The woman who had the life-threating accident back in August was the same woman who was standing in front of EAB early one morning this week. When I spoke with Edith, she explained that it took several months of rehabilitation and healing before she could walk again. Now that Edith had recovered from her accident, she had come to EAB in the early morning to personally express her profound gratitude with the two teachers who helped her at the time of the accident. Since Edith did not know the teachers’ names, she was standing in front of school endeavoring to identify the teachers who demonstrated such high degrees of compassion and kindness.

There are many important reminders and lessons to highlight from this inspiring event, including the connection to several of EAB’s guiding principles. On that fateful day in August, Edith and EAB’s teachers exemplified our school’s mission to “cultivate responsible and contributing citizens”, modeled the core values of “caring” and “responsibility”, and embodied the ideal of our school’s motto to “cultivate citizenship.” Perhaps the one summative word to best describe the actions of both EAB’s teachers and Edith’s effort to express her gratitude is “kindness.”

Given the prominence of kindness in our society, it is important to reflect on the role that the parent-school partnership plays with respect to developing kindness in students. While there is much debate about the teaching of kindness, I am a firm believer that the characteristics associated with kindness can be taught through our own modeling in conjunction with deliberate instructional practices. The BBC recently published an article titled, “Making Time: Can We Teach Kindness?”, which overviews several experiments that demonstrate how external factors and influences, such as modeling, affects a person’s degree of kindness. This research clearly supports the belief that kindness can be developed in youth and, given the paramount importance of our collective work towards “cultivating responsible and contributing citizens”, the school-parent partnership to both model and instruct has never been more essential.

An apparently simple act by two EAB teachers has left an indelible impression on Edith that will last a lifetime. Through our own modeling and instruction, we hope, nay, expect, that our students will continue to exemplify EAB’s ideals through their own acts of kindness and gratitude. Moreover, it is through these seemingly simple acts that we not only improve the quality of our own lives but also make a positive difference in the lives of others and, expectantly, in our greater community. Thank you to Edith for modeling gratitude and thank you to EAB’s teachers for modeling an essential element of our school’s mission and purpose.

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Molly (moominmolly): http://www.flickr.com/photos/moominmolly/2533284776/

Stand Up

This morning I woke up with a song stuck in my head. You might know this classic from Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler: “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away, and know when to run…” The song is one I’ve thought about at times in my career when I’ve felt that the only smart play was to leave.

I think part of my planned exit strategy has to do with my life-long career in our international schools as a student and as an educator. Always living somewhere for a time and never forever meant leaving was part of the deal. Add to that the fact that most of the time I’ve leapt out and moved to a new place sight unseen, the luxury of leaving is something that allowed me to mentally go in the first place. While I wouldn’t walk at the first sign of trouble, what I am saying is that leaving a school, a country, a situation is often the only option available to those of us in schools overseas.

With that admitted mindset, you can imagine my shock when I learned last week, that my dear friend, who is a top-notch administrator at an international school in Asia, was fired for standing up rather than walking away.

While I’m proud of my friend and know her actions will make an impact on the school and situation, I am left wondering how we can make standing up, doing the right thing, and holding people accountable less traumatic. How do our schools protect, encourage and support those who speak out when in most cases we don’t have legal rights on our side? What happens when you are faced with professional malpractice, but you can’t talk about it, stand up to it, or fix it, without being fired?

To be honest, I have no experience with unions, lawyers or the like. Based on what I’ve heard from my colleagues in the United States, who are bogged down in different ways, these systems aren’t our answer either. However, when we are working in independent international schools and there are ethical issues at stake, where can a professional go for real help? How can our schools ensure that the people doing the work are able to do what is right, while protecting them when they come forward?

I consider our work with children to be one of the most important jobs out there. I think we all do. We know that the learning, socialization, and development which happens on our watch directly leads to “the future” for each student. We build people in our schools through our relationships and how we care for them and through our curriculum and what we teach them. How we behave as professionals and as communities is a model for what we believe and what we want our children to emulate.

When students come to me to talk about something happening on the playground, which isn’t “right” I’m proud of them for getting support rather than taking it into their own hands. I’ve spent time building a culture where students know they are supported and can come into the office for my assistance. I am the necessary oversight. I am tasked with ensuring students are safe to speak up and safe to learn.

Doing what is right is to me the basic tenant of being an administrator. To know that my dear friend probably knew that standing up would result in her firing is difficult to digest. What will happen in a month if the school she tried to be a model for is still in disarray? I’m left wondering, who will stand up then? In fact, who is standing up for my friend now?

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m a lifer. I’ve grown up in our schools and I hope to end my career here. What allows me to remain is my connectedness to this community. I believe we are serving students and families in ways that ultimately lead to global connections and a better world as so many of our children return to home countries and bring all that we’ve taught them. I’m proud to be an international educator.

That said I’m also ready for our institutions to improve. From better and more connected systems for vetting our professionals (remember this post?) to structures that protect or even encourage whistle-blowers in our schools, we have some work to do.

It’s time to get started.

It’s time we all stand-up.

The Hero’s Journey

Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.” ~ Jodi Picoult

It was a typical beautiful and sunny morning in Brasilia. Teachers from the American School of Brasilia were preparing a churrasco, a Brazilian barbecue, to show their appreciation to the maintenance, cleaning, security, and support staffs for their daily contributions in support of the work of teachers, students, and our school’s educational program. This special day was filled with family activities, games of futebal, food, conversation, laughter, and relationship building.

It is days like this that we are reminded of the importance of community and the difference a positive and supportive culture can make in the lives of all members, particularly students and their education. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, perhaps we can redefine the meaning of the Hero’s Journey to one more representative of Jodi Picoult’s vision where heroes are everyday people making a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether it is an act of kindness, a sacrifice for a stranger, a demonstration of empathy, or to simply listen, the seemingly small gestures of everyday heroes often lead to significant and meaningful differences in the lives of others.

Each morning, I see our guards welcoming every student by name, personalizing the start of their day and making our students feel special. I see the cleaning staff cleaning the walkway in the courtyard, seeing to every detail and taking pride in the appearance of the school. A few weeks ago, members of the maintenance department and support staff were on their way home after a long day when they heard that a water pipe had burst in the chemistry class and, without hesitation, dropped everything to return to school to spent three hours of their evening to ensure class could resume as normal the next day. Schools the world over can share similar stories about those special people whose daily actions, which often go unnoticed, make a difference in the lives of others. It is this ideal of daily contributions towards community building and the development of relationships that makes a school special.

The French existentialist, Simone de Beauvior, touches on this subject in her book, All Men are Mortal. In the 13th century, the main character of the novel, Fosca, attains the status of immortality. For several centuries, he travels the world, reads countless books, meets fascinating people and falls in love many times. Fosca has a life that a mortal human could only dream of. He has the opportunity to achieve anything a person could wish to attain.

But, there is a problem. Fosca’s immortality becomes burdensome as he is unable to find happiness, an idea further explored by Derek de Lint in his film about the novel: “Fosca is haunted by events from past centuries, living with the same mistakes over and over again, with war, cruelty and injustice. He must question whether immortality and love can exist at the same time or whether true love and commitment are only possible through the limitations of life. He eventually begins to desire mortality as a basic necessity for human happiness.”

Fosca desperately searches for meaning in his life but his immortality robs him of it. What he finally understands is that it is the finiteness of the human condition that forces us to embrace our lives and to live each moment with passion. And where is meaning to be found? This is a seemingly difficult question to answer. Fosca does not find meaning through power, studying, reading, position in society, travel, or the accumulation of wealth. Madame Beauvoir leaves the reader with the notion that everything in our lives, everything we strive for, everything we accumulate is meaningless with one exception: the relationships we have with others, the lives we touch and the lives we are touched by.

If a meaningful life is defined through relationships and our efforts to make a even a small and positive difference in the lives of others, then it is fitting to confer the title of “hero” to those dedicated support staff members working in all schools. Through small acts of kindness, our colleagues attain what Fosca desperately failed to achieve through immortality. Through their commitment to support the work of teachers, students, and parents each and every day, those individuals who oversee security, maintenance, cleaning, technology, business and secretarial affairs, contribute to building community and enhancing the lives of others in essential and significant ways. They are our everyday heroes.

_________________________________________________

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Soccer