Tag Archives: international schools

Relationships and Learning

One of my highlights each week is the eighty-minute Leadership Class I teach to high school students every second day. A pedagogical foundation that I always hope to include in the class is the application of theoretical constructs to practical situations through experiential learning opportunities. It was during a meeting with students this week, to follow up on their collaborative project work, when they concluded that the key to the success of their project was their focus on relationships. The students were referring to their decision to structure and lead learning activities for the lower school students who arrive at school at 08:00 during the Professional Wednesday late starts. During their first classes, the Leadership Class students struggled to run effective activities. However, after some coaching and reflections, the classes gradually became more effective and engaging. I asked the Leadership Class students about the reason for their success. The students’ eyes lit up when reflecting on the question and quickly recognized that their newfound success was based primarily on the fact that they had established deeper relationships with the lower school students.

Fundamentally, effective teaching is dependent on the ability to build strong relationships that are based on trust, mutual support, and understanding. In fact, it can be argued that relationships are the single most important factor associated with effective teaching and learning. Extending this concept, it can also be claimed that a school community is only able to collectively support student learning at the highest level through the relationships that evolve in terms of a partnership among parents, students, and the school. It was, therefore, encouraging to see so many parents participating in this week’s parent-teacher coffees and the lower school assembly (an estimated 100 parents were in attendance!), in addition to the gracious and generous efforts of the PTO and the U.S. Embassy to host a teacher appreciation event.

The week of May 5-9 is designated as Teacher Appreciation Week at EAB, representing an important moment in the school year when we recognize the outstanding work of our teachers. EAB is fortunate to work with a talented and committed group of teachers who make a difference every day in the lives of our students. Recognizing that my opinion is obviously biased, I do see the work of teachers as a “calling” for those who have a passion for working with students. In Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, he corroborates the concept of teaching as a “calling” through his statement, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” The focus of this week has been to celebrate the identity and integrity of each teacher at EAB and the passion, talents, and professionalism they correspondingly commit to EAB’s students. Please join me in celebrating and thanking our wonderful teachers.

Among EAB’s greatest strengths are the relationships that are developed throughout the school community, which is representative of one of the most important factors contributing to student learning.


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.

Honest Inquiry

What is the most common question we ask a child? My bet is it’s “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I know I’ve asked it myself a number of times. I’ve even answered it when one of the smallest on our campus innocently enough thinks I’ve still got time to become someone or something else. (My response is always what it was when I was five, a big rig truck driver. Or, if that doesn’t work out… Zorro.)

But how often do we ask it of our schools? Who do we want to be?

It certainly makes you think. It also makes you appreciate that we can (like me- when a 4 year old asks) become something new, better, or different.

However, to know what you want to be, you have to first know who you are. That knowing is never easy. It is difficult to be as honest with ourselves as we are with each other. But we have to be if we are going to know what we are dealing with.

Honestly inquiring into our organizations might sound like: What are we good at? What could improve? Who comes here? For what? What are our hopes, dreams and desires as a group? What are we afraid of, worried about, or don’t understand?

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s question “What is school for?”

If we know what our classes, courses, and campuses are for, and can honestly say we know what we are right now, it leads us to the topic of what’s next. However, then, it’s easy to just say: “I like what I’m doing now thanks. I want to be what I am.”*

Right? You’ve heard that before I’m sure.

However, deep down we all know that’s not enough. Things are and continue to change. From the climate to the gadget, from the need to memorize to the necessity to act, solve and create- we need to find a flexible resilience in what we do and what we pitch school as being for. (Flexible because we will change again. Resilient because we need to be strong enough keep changing, growing and discovering.)

In International Schools especially, we need to recognize our mission and unique position. We have the mission to educate children in a certain style (American, IB, standards-based, college prep, globally aware, etc.). However, we have an opportunity to educate for so much more. We are uniquely positioned to take advantage of our diversity, and/or our locales.

Honest Inquiry in International Schools might sound like: Are we taking advantage of our unique setting? Do our students and parents understand and value what is different about our internationally located school? Are we maximizing our own potential and not just mimicking what schools in our home countries are doing?

Who do we want to be?

Some schools are taking risks, trying on new paradigms and noticing the shifts. From there, it’s true there is a lot of work to be done to make risks realities. However, it is only with the planning, attempting and reflecting; then trying something different, that we can move our organizations forward.

As I head off to start the end of this year, I find myself wondering how I can help plan for five or more years of change, and yet keep the inquiry process alive and more important than adhering to the plan.

In a nutshell, how can we use questions to drive us to more and better questions, instead of letting our answers snuff out the inquiry?

*(Oh, how Plumbeam would have answered that! Photo above is from that famous and wise book The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater)

Performance, Not Results?

barry blog1Last weekend, I had the good fortune and honor to host professional triathlete Tim Don at my home during his four-day visit to Brasilia to compete in Sunday’s 70.3 Ironman triathlon (Race Highlights).  Since I was also training for the race, I was particularly enthusiastic about spending time with a triathlete who won four world titles, represented the United Kingdom at three Olympic games, and is currently ranked as one of the top triathletes in the world.

Tim won Sunday’s Brasilia 70.3 Ironman race setting a course record by completing the 1.8 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21 km run course in 3 hours and 46 minutes.  Yes, that is very fast!  Given that I finished my race 751 positions behind Tim, I thought I would ask him to share the keys to his success. Tim highlighted three essential factors associated with training and racing: consistency, communication, and performance.  What was curiously absent from Tim’s response was the focus on results, but more on that later.

Based on Tim’s successes and the fact that he has never been sidelined due to overtraining, illness, or injury, I wanted to discover what I could incorporate in not only my own training but also my professional and personal lives. This is what I learned.


The maxim, “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire” is not only apropos to sport but to all facets of our lives.  Tim’s approach is to address problems immediately and directly as soon as they are identified, rather than waiting until the same problem has surfaced on multiple occasions. Regular communication with his support team ensures that any potential injuries are identified and corresponding preventive actions are taken.

While everyone understands the importance of addressing problems as soon as they are encountered, the transference of this philosophy to practice can prove to be more challenging. The goal to ensure our students are receiving the best education possible is achieved through open, honest, and timely communication, which is dependent on the partnership between parents, students, and the school. This partnership is similar to a three-legged stool; if one of the legs is missing, the stool cannot stand on its own.  If an educational program is not standing on its own, then it will be difficult to overcome inevitable conflicts and challenges.  A passive aggressive or “head in the sand” approach to a problem will not resolve the issue.  It is only through open, honest, and expedient communication that we will effectively work together to support our students.


Tim stressed that consistency does not refer to always performing at the highest level each week, but, rather, being faithful to a carefully established plan that is designed to move us forward, in an incremental manner, toward our goal.  His words reminded me of a prior blog post about the 20-Mile March and the importance of not wavering from a consistent and iterative approach.

When preparing for a marathon, we are not going to start training by running 30 kilometers on the first day.  Rather, we will start with a short distance and gradually build up our endurance over time through a consistent adherence to an established plan.  The concept is the same for students.  Deeper levels of learning are achieved through a regular dedication to study and class attendance, rather than trying to cram for tests during short, intense periods. The former approach will normally result in lasting development and understanding while the outcome of the later is, at best, a fleeting recall of the information associated with the test questions.


I was initially surprised that Tim focused on performance rather than results, especially given that his livelihood depends on winning. However, after reflecting on his words, his approach resonated with me. By way of example, there is a significant difference between finishing a race in third place, ten seconds behind the winner, and finishing in third place, ten minutes behind the winner.  While a third place finish is a good result, it may not necessarily equate to a good performance.  A focus only on results, with the accompanying pressure and stress, may often lead to burnout, injury, and diminished performance.  In contrast, your best performances will usually lead to great results.  In terms of his professional competitions, Tim states the following:

“Some of my best performances have come from races where I have not been on the podium but I have squeezed our every bit of what I had and, as they say, left nothing out there.  I truly walked away with a smile knowing that, sure the win would have been nice, but, on that day, that’s what I had. Control what you can control.  I really try to race like that in every race. I will sprint as hard for 40th position as I would for the win: that’s me, that’s what I do, that’s what I was taught to do.”

Reflecting on these words in the context of our student athletes who are currently competing at the Big 4 tournament, performance is the key.  While we hope students at  the American School of Brasilia (EAB) achieve outstanding results, it is their performance, both individually and collectively, that is of great importance.  Win or lose, we will have much to celebrate if our students are able to perform at their highest levels and “leave nothing out there.”

Transferring this concept to academics, EAB does not narrow the definition of teaching and learning to one where teachers only prepare students for tests (results).  Instead, education at EAB is about students developing in a holistic manner where the school supports the whole child to achieve his or her potential (performance).  Through effective communication, a consistent approach to learning, and a focus on performance, outstanding results will naturally follow, as exemplified through the impressive successes and achievements of EAB students.

Congratulations to Tim Don for his performance at the Brasilia 70.3 ironman race (Interview / 48 Hours with Tim Don).


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.

The Importance of Arts Education

So we completed two very important jobs over the past week…we finalized the results from our community climate survey, and we got all of our students to register for next year’s courses and classes. I love receiving this necessary feedback and data because it gives us an opportunity to see how well we’re faring as a Middle School from a parent perspective, and it allows us to see if the elective programs that we offer are still garnering the kind of interest, enthusiasm, and demand that we hope for. When analyzing the data from both of these tasks, one thing bubbled up and crystallized for us…that both our students and their parents love, celebrate, appreciate, and long for…THE ARTS! Now, this comes as no surprise to me, and if I’m being honest I was hoping that the data would come back like it did because I’m a huge, huge believer in, and proponent of the arts in education. I’d like to take some time today to speak about Dance, Drama, and Fine Art (and leave Music for a separate, upcoming post) because it is my belief that these  programs might just be the most important things that we offer to kids…and the biggest gifts that we can give our students throughout all of their years in education!

It’s funny that all this came to my attention so profoundly this week, because my own two Lower School children are currently more engaged and inspired than they’ve ever been in school. My son has been recently rehearsing for this week’s school dance production, where he’s part of the hip-hop crew, and he’s also doing a unit of study on the Gold Rush, where he gets to dramatically create a character and showcase his alter-ego to an audience in less than three weeks time. He’s super pumped to go to school, he’s voluntarily doing his homework for the first time ever (which consists of practicing his dance moves and making props for his gold-miner identity), he comes home eager to talk about his day, and he’s gaining confidence in ways that I’ve never seen before with regards to “school”. My daughter is also currently taking an after school hip-hop activity, and whenever she finds herself with some free time on her hands she’s either painting, drawing, sketching, or creating some form of art…and it’s like she is transformed into the best version of herself when she’s engaged in either of these endeavors. It’s not just them though, the data that came back clearly shows that this is the case with the majority of our MS students, and it all suggests that our kids are most happy, most engaged, most excited, and most inspired when taking part in these classes…and it makes me ridiculously happy to see.

I’ve known for a long time about the benefits of arts education, and the connection/correlation to how it enhances a student’s achievement and success in the “core” classes like Math and Language Arts, and I’ve enjoyed doing a fair amount of research on this topic over the past few years. The majority of research that I’ve done suggests that arts education enhances student learning in profound and immeasurable ways, and one particular article written by Valerie Strauss sums it up wonderfully. Strauss discusses the top 10 skills that children learn from the arts…skills that not only affect who they are as people, or aide in their academic and social development, but skills that affect how well they succeed in all aspects of their academic achievement (article is included in the links below)…

  1. Creativity
  2. Confidence
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Perseverance
  5. Focus
  6. Non-Verbal Communication
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback
  8. Collaboration
  9. Dedication
  10. Accountability

It makes me crazy to read about how many districts and schools around the world are cutting these types of programs, or giving the jobs to teachers who are not specialists in the field, and simply not qualified to deliver the lessons with the same passion, expertise, or knowledge of an educator trained in the arts. One of the reasons that I love quality international schools is because we tend to understand the paramount importance of these programs, and we see the incredible benefit and learning that our students receive from these offerings. I’m so proud to be working in a school that places such an emphasis on the arts, and I know that our entire community is so much the better for it. Without specific programs like Fine Art, Dance, and Drama, our students would be missing out on what education is really all about in my opinion, and they would be getting short changed to the point of neglect…in short, it would simply be educationally irresponsible. Anyway, make sure to say thank you to our arts teachers this week for all that they bring to our students’ lives, and take some time to really think about how important and necessary their role is…wow! For those of you celebrating Easter today, I sure hope that the Easter Bunny found you, and I hope that you’re all full of chocolate eggs! Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting, and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.
– William Bennett

TED Talk – Dance Evolution –
Amazing Art and Dace Videos –
Great Articles discussing the benefits of the Arts in Education –

Becoming a Teaching Principal

One of the best things about teaching at schools overseas is the opportunity to connect with consultants when they are in the region. Whether at conferences, or weekend workshops, we have many of the best-known thinkers in the area of education coming to and near our schools to help us all improve. Once abroad, those super-stars of the education world are just like us, navigating the visa line in Muscat, or trying to bargain in Nepal. It is a unique pleasure to have the chance to be with a guru: on a plane, in a taxi, or even in a classroom at one of our schools.

Last weekend, we hosted Matt Glover, early-childhood writing specialist, author, teacher and leader, at our school. Matt was moving through several schools in the region on his way to a NESA-sponsored weekend workshop in Muscat, Oman. We had one day for our Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers to work with Matt. He presented for a few hours, took our specific school-related questions to heart; then demonstrated some teaching moves in our classrooms, followed up by an afternoon working with teachers. Although I learned a great deal about writing and early-childhood best practices from Matt, (more on that here) what really stuck with me was the fact that he was a former principal who made it a point to teach too.

Eureka! That’s what I want to be.

I know high school and middle school principals- and I’ve heard of a few Heads of School- who teach a class. This allows them to stay connected to the kids and to the teachers through their “on the ground” work. I’ve always been impressed by the added workload and admired the desire to maintain that connection. However, what I’ve not seen is an elementary school principal who consistently teaches. Mainly because it isn’t easy to break the ES day into “classes.” (Nor is it necessarily good for younger children to have multiple leaders in the room, as it can confuse structure and routine.) So, how did Matt Glover do it? How can I be a teaching-principal too?

Well, as a principal of a large (800+) early childhood school in Ohio, Matt spent years teaching in classrooms to improve both his own understanding of how best to reach young writers, as well as how to support and lead his teachers as they took on the work. He knew it would be easier to bring along his whole school if he was a leader who was also trying to do the work he was asking his colleagues to embrace. Matt wasn’t acting as the teacher of an isolated class of children; he was the teacher of the whole school. He maintained his own learning stance, moving through the “how can we do this better” phase right alongside his teachers and the students.

The result is evident when Matt presents. He isn’t the sage on the stage, but rather someone who has built up his own repertoire of skills- over time, and with practice. Practice inside the classroom with real kids, practice doing the instructional work as much as getting it down on paper, and practice analyzing student writing to understand where to go with a particular child as well as the whole student body.

Last week Matt Glover taught me how to be a better writing teacher. He also helped me realize that the best way for me to be a leader is to lead from the work inside the classrooms.

If I can practice like Matt, my leadership might just be meaningful too.

Let 2014 be the year of purpose, not position…

So much happened this year…

So I went for a ski today in my backyard (which happens to be in the Swiss Alps)


and it got me to thinking, as being in a beautiful place can do.

So much happened. So much tragedy. So much triumph. I watched that video above five times and couldn’t get through it without a lump in my throat. Is that what your school year felt like? Was it inspirational? Did it have new beginnings? New frontiers? Or was it just another year with pretty good I.B. scores and relatively happy parents?

After five years in the Alps, I have decided to move on. There were plenty of new frontiers since 2009, many new beginnings, a few triumphs, and definite tragedies. It was a lifetime lived. When I went to see my boss, I told him my goal four years ago was to ‘work myself out of a job,’ to make the people around me better, to hire the best talent I could find, and then to let them go. It was not easy at all, but we finally reached that zenith.

And now after twenty years in the business, I am taking the time to reflect not just on the next position, but the purpose. This is not an easy thing. It’s akin to stepping off a moving treadmill. I’ve been on many interviews and a finalist at three. But something is missing. Everyone seems so earnest and hard working. But the questions keep coming back to the same themes.

“How do you improve I.B. scores?”
“How do you take a good school and make it great?”
“What part does God play in your leadership?” (Yes that was an actual question)
“What are your thoughts on performance pay?”

I guess these are all legitimate questions but in my mind their purpose did not inspire me (even the God question). There is so much going on in the world that is moving so fast, we need something other than the same but “better.” I recall a recent lecture I heard on innovation refer to this as ‘sustainable change.’

Believe me, this is not easy. It is so easy to stay comfortable in international ed. It’s a pretty nice gig. You choose the country, target a few schools, and enjoy a decent lifestyle with pretty good kids. Who wants to change that?

I guess I do. So, while I walk the idyllic, evergreen lined roads of the Alps, wondering how on Earth I could walk from such a comfortable lifestyle, I listen to podcasts like Education Next and Ted Talks Education as well as The Meet Education Project and they get me to thinking…A lot of us are doing our best. But it’s not enough.

I had good answers to the above questions. But it spoke to the position, not my purpose.

Good luck to those of you attending the job fairs this year. Keep that purpose in mind. I know that the beach and those mountains are beautiful. But the students and what they need to make a difference in this crazy world are far more important.

Make it count. The world needs this generation too much. Do it because you have purpose.

I’ll leave Bono and Mary J to say the rest. Have a purposeful 2014.

5 Tricks of the Trade for Substitute Teachers


By Kailie Nagrath

As an intern my primary role is to be the ‘go-to’ substitute teacher for classes in grade levels from Preschool to grade 4.

They didn’t Teach this in College

So far, I have subbed for all grade levels, and have found that one thing is for sure, with all the training we get in college – from classes in education and psychology, to student observations and field practicums – nothing teaches you how to handle this!

Learn as you Go

At first it felt like being thrown into the deep-end of the ocean, but I am starting to see the light and have actually figured out a few tricks of the trade which I will summarize here.  Subsequent blogs will delve a bit deeper into each strategy, but none of these are etched in stone.  As teachers we learn as we go, and one important learning method is to talk to other teachers.  So teachers, please feel free to add your tips and tricks to the list!

Five tips to help anyone who has to get up in front of a classroom and say, “Good morning class, I’m your substitute teacher today!”

1.) Know thy Subjects – I am not referring to content material although that’s important, I’m talking about the kids in the class.  Get to know them and connect with them, the best and first step in doing that is to learn all their names.

2.) Know the Classroom Culture – Just as every school has its own unique culture, so too, does every classroom. The teacher will have set the tone from day one and it’s your job to know the classroom expectations and what the students are working on.  Being consistent not only supports the teacher you’re filling-in for, but it makes your day, and the student’s day run more smoothly and productively.

3.) Embrace the Co-teaching Model – If you have teaching assistants in the classroom take advantage of their skills and ability to provide consistency and support.  If not, seek out other teachers in your grade level and have them co-teach lessons, or team-up on outings or activities.

4.) Do Your Thing –Have your own unique go to prop, activity, or story that shares with students a little bit about who you are as a person and what your interests or personal style is all about.  This relates to the first strategy of getting to know your students. Building a relationship is a two-way street and it’s greatly enriched if your students feel they get to know a little more about you. This of course does not mean revealing things from your personal life, but it means sharing your passions.  This could be anything from a love of poetry, to an obsession with birding, or an interest in music, the arts or sports.  Is there a poem or a song or a sports fact you can teach the students by the end of the day?  If so, it will make your time with students more memorable and will prove helpful if you’re coming back tomorrow or later in the year!

5.) Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – If you’re having a difficult time getting through the lesson plan, take a deep breath and relax.  A more experienced teacher gave me advice that I can’t repeat here, but the gist of it is to go with the flow and try to have fun with the students. If they see fear or nervousness, or impatience than you will not be in control of the class.  If you must, let go of the lesson plan and find fun ways to connect and allow students to learn.

Any other ideas are welcome!

Five Keys to Running a Great School

Seventeen years after ceasing my career as an international school head, I am still unpacking the most important lessons I learned. I headed two schools, in very disparate circumstances, for 23 years and would like to share five enduring observations here.

1. First and foremost…

The most critical factor to the success of students in their learning is the quality and effectiveness of the teachers and administrators supporting them. Yet while most educators acknowledge this, agreement on the essential skills and characteristics of highly effective teachers is far from unanimous; the plethora of teacher evaluation programs and techniques attests to this confusion. But the most essential way to address this conundrum is to train administrators and teacher leaders to identify, assess, and develop the essential skills the best teachers should all have in their arsenal.

2. Second and foremost…

The above will not produce a highly talented and effective teaching staff unless administrators also have the courage to confront, honestly and directly, the shortcomings of mediocre and “just OK” teachers. This is the most difficult task, and the most telling factor in the strength and quality of school administrators. Mediocre teachers may be very nice, and very popular, staff members; when this is the case it is especially challenging.

Meanwhile, administrators are perennially concerned about staff morale and inherently committed to the best possible relations with their teaching staff. The pursuit of popularity and staff approval can greatly inhibit the effective human resource decisions of principals and school heads. This raises the essential question: is their primary commitment to maximizing the learning of their students, or to promoting the most auspicious relations with staff, and overall staff morale?” The former goal should clearly prevail, as difficult as that may be. But so often in many good schools, substantial time, resources, and training efforts are committed to bringing the skills of sub-par teachers up to an acceptable level, when replacement with superior teachers would clearly better promote the learning of their students.

While a difficult choice, doing the right thing in these circumstances can actually promote the pride and the morale of a school’s teachers. They need to understand and sign on to the maintenance of high standards, and to see a clear process of evaluation that is characterized by procedural integrity.

Effective school leaders can cultivate the belief and conviction that highly effective teachers positively affect every member of staff through a strong record of learning and student development; the recognition of parents and the community; and the morale of students who appreciate their effective teachers. It is also possible to get union representatives committed to the goal of retaining only highly effective teachers, and we did this at WBAIS in Israel.

3. Think “student activities”

A strong and comprehensive student activities program can reinforce learning by ensuring that students enjoy their favorite activities; this may include many sports, but goes far beyond them. Many international schools, being the de facto community center for expatriate families, set a standard that far exceeds what most nations’ public schools can provide.

Students need to have activities they believe are fun and responsive to their needs and interests. Some schools create programs in martial arts, quilting, cooking, painting, or any other pursuit in which at least 10 students have an interest. Most international schools are beehives of activity in the after school hours, and often into the evenings. As in every enterprise, the busiest and most engaged students are often the ones who perform best in the learning arena.

4. Professionally, you get what you develop for

Schools that strongly promote the professional development of their staff, together with career ladders that capitalize on special skills and leadership potential, are most likely to attract and to retain a dynamic and effective cadre of educators.
This is a proposition that the most prominent and effective international schools acknowledge and pursue, and the impact can be enormous. Random grants and mere budgeting for professional development will not have the desired impact.

In my experience, a key approach to developing a strong, committed, and effective cadre of teachers involves tapping their skills and interests in projects outside their classroom. Many dynamic teachers have leadership qualities and aspirations; by cultivating and supporting their interests, through administrative assignments, coaching other teachers, or developing programs they want to experiment with, a wise administrator can foster a dynamic working environment and the continued development of key staff members.

In my longest tenure as a head, at WBAIS in Israel, over half of the staff was engaged in administrative or educational projects such as Model UN, English language instruction for local residents, coordinating after-school programs, monitoring interns, chairing departments (with concrete learning objectives), coaching colleagues, public relations programs, alumni programs, etc. These services were either paid for by contract, or included as one fifth of their workload, thereby teaching one less class. This was one of the most successful endeavors our school enjoyed.

When we developed an annual school retreat and professional training program, for two or three days and in some unique location, a committee of five to seven teachers conceived, developed, and coordinated the entire program. They came to realize how challenging and complicated it is to mount an educational retreat. Most found it a highly rewarding experience, and developed some healthy respect for the challenges encountered by administrators.

5. It’s all about expectations

The most basic constant in my experience, in terms of promoting strong student performance, is setting and enforcing high standards of performance for students. Students should be challenged in their work, and all assessments should be based on clear standards and objectives. No student who is just coasting should be receiving high, or even acceptable, grades. Students and parents need to be informed of these expectations, and the reason for them. The higher they are set (within reason of course), the stronger student performance will be. It is that simple!

This can be challenging, especially for hard-working students who have managed straight As in their previous schools. I recall a heavily decorated army colonel angrily confronting our then principal at ECA Caracas (Bambi Betts) when his high-achieving daughter got two B grades on her report card. “What do you think your school is,” he roared, “some kind of educational Mecca?” Bambi Betts answered, “As a matter of fact, yes!”

I know that many other new approaches to promoting stronger schools and better student learning have since emerged. One new key is the development of comprehensive assessment strategies. Online learning also seems to me to offer a clear path to more and more effective student learning. And the identification and development of other types, and sources, of intelligence can be profound. I leave these new pursuits to the currently engaged teachers and administrators, who are in many international schools the real trendsetters for more effective learning by all.

The Philippines – From Tropical Paradise to Tropical Depression

The Philippines before
Before: The Philippines – a tropical paradise
After: Typhoon Yolanda – a tropical disaster

When Disaster Strikes Near, But Not at You 

By Kailie Nagrath

I have been getting a lot of inquires from friends and family members who have been hearing about the devastating super typhoon Yolanda.  “I am perfectly fine and safe,” I assure the people back home.  But I can’t help but feel sad, and even a bit guilty, about all the thousands of people who are not so lucky.

Manila and the surrounding metro area seemed to escape the wrath of this violent typhoon, but the ‘eye’ of the storm struck hard on the southern part of the Philippines.  So hard, that Filipinos are calling this the worst typhoon in the island nation’s history.  Filipinos are not ones to sensationalize their weather as they have grown accustomed to these powerful tropical storms, living in a land where almost half of the year is considered typhoon season.

Yet many of the southern islands could not have known or prepared for the stormy uproar that struck their land late Friday night into early Saturday morning.

Eastern Islands Hit Hard

The area of the Philippines most affected is the Visayas provinces. Tacloban City in Leyte caught the full force of the typhoon with winds of up to 310kmph (195mph) completely decimating the city.  Exact figures are still unavailable but the death toll in that city alone is expected to reach the 10,000 mark.  Countless others are suffering from injuries, loss of shelter, food, electricity and clean drinking water. The actual destruction of this storm is so massive it is still being mapped out and the damage and human toll has yet to be fully calculated, but one thing is for sure, this is a disaster on a massive scale.

President Benigno Aquino III declared a “state of national calamity” in a plea to the international community to offer relief efforts.

Manila not Hit but Hurt

Seeing my host country going through this disaster is so heartbreaking.  Although Manila was largely unaffected by the storm, the emotional and psychological effects are plainly visible.  In a small island nation almost anyone living in the capital has friends, family or relatives in the outlying islands, so everyone is affected.  In a culture that is as family-oriented and giving to friends and loved ones as the Filipino culture is, everyone feels personally connected to this tragedy.

The current mood of the city is contrasted sharply to the city I landed in just a few short months ago.  A city where I could always find a welcoming smile, a helpful hand to assist me, a friendly face eager to say hello, or a warm smile sent my way.  The typhoon has left such sadness in the air that it seems to have washed all the smiles away.  I wish I could give back more to the people who have welcomed me to this country, because I have seen first-hand that these are a people who do not think twice to help out someone else in need.

Images Don’t Capture the Devastation

They say a picture speaks more than a thousand words… but none of the images you see can fully capture the magnitude and level of devastation that has hit this country.  Nor are there enough words, or even the right words, to explain the wreckage this storm has caused.  Lives were lost, families torn apart, and countless people have been left homeless with nowhere to go.  Survivors are desperately looking for loved-ones and searching for food and clean water to drink.  One can only imagine the desperation these people are feeling.

This morning when I went into the convenience store across the street from me, the man at the counter asked me to donate all of my old clothing.  It’s the least I can do, but of course I want to do more.  I know there are many people who feel the same way, but need to know how or where they can best help. 

How to Help

I would like to pass along this message from the International School of Manila on how best to help at this time.  ISM would normally send teams from the school to help assist first-hand but due to the level of devastation and the health risks that is not currently possible.

The best form of aid is financial assistance.  If you would like to help out with a donation you can either give directly to ISM’s Disaster Relief Fund or to UNICEF Philippines.  Please click on the link to ISM’s fundraising page to see details on how to make your donation:

Donate Through ISM

The people of this country have welcomed me with smiles on their faces everyday and I have learned to love and care for this country and its people.  As a guest in this very special land, I know they really need our help right now.  It is my hope that anyone who can make a contribution of any kind would do so now in this hour of dire need.


First Day of School Jitters

Back to School

The first day of school. Just that phrase alone conjures up reactions spanning the emotional gamut from happiness and excitement, to fear and dread and just about every other emotional state in between.

Until this year, my entire lifetime of first days of school came from the first person perspective. It was my first day of school, my new teacher, my new friends, my new classes, etc. I even remember laying awake in bed the night before fifth grade was about to begin, just as I had done on so many other Back-to-School eves, wondering, Will I like my new teacher? Will I make new friends? And the most important question of all, are my back-to-school clothes cool enough?

Butterflies in Stomach
This year was different. I once again had that familiar feeling of going back to school, but this time I was going back to school not as a student, like every other year, but as a teacher,* which surprisingly, still produced the same sensation of butterflies in my stomach that I remember feeling when I was a kid.

Why the nerves? Because I, just like every student who gets nervous for the first day of school, implicitly understand that a good first start can set the tone and mood for the rest of the year. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure that I could make the day as great as possible for the kindergartners that would be walking through the door on that early August morning. Additionally, I also wanted to make a good first impression with the students, their parents, and my colleagues.

Let the Games Begin!
As the morning bell rang there was no time for anxious worry because bursting through the classroom door was a swarm of five-year olds excited to begin their elementary school career! The children’s uncontainable skipping carried their curious minds to the various learning tools that were placed in every nook and cranny of the classroom. The tables and shelves were stocked with toys, puzzles, games, and books all designed to foster their natural curiosity. Some students gravitated towards the math center, while others stopped at the science exploration center. Then there was the writing center, dramatic play area, blocks corner and reading center where there were books, books and more books! Here was a fully rounded environment designed to facilitate learning through exploration, play and inquiry for all types of learners.

First Things First
While the young students were eager to learn and get started, I too, as a new teacher, was equally eager to start teaching! But I immediately remembered what I learned in orientation the week before. We were told that the first days of school are all about making sure each student feel emotionally connected and secure. More important than jumping into the curriculum, is the need to make real one-on-one connections with each student and to help them form connections and friendships with their fellow classmates.

Breaking the Ice
It was clear that some students were already making friends, as they clutched onto each other’s hands and explored the classroom together, while other students were shy and reluctant to interact with their peers, and instead, seemed more focused on taking in the classroom setting itself. Kindergartners, like adults, need certain “ice-breakers” to help them warm-up and feel comfortable in a group setting. One way to do this is to encourage them to share some personal facts about themselves in a safe and encouraging environment.

Personal Connections
A dialogue is started to spark a naturally curious mind to want to know more about the person sitting opposite him or her in circle time. Questions are asked to promote conversations such as; Does anyone have an older brother? What is your favorite food? Is anyone else’s favorite food sushi? These questions immediately show students that they have something in common with their classmates and help to enhance the newly formed social relationships that are being forged. This in turn enhances student motivation because only when a child feels emotionally secure and happy in the classroom is the soil ready to start planting the seeds of learning.

Aristotle Knew
By the end of the day, even the shy students had already made new friends. It was encouraging to see them pairing-up as they set out to explore the classroom together. Watching them decide amongst themselves who would go first, and what they would do next, was almost as gratifying as seeing the smiles on their little faces. It reminded me that even with all our new research and insight into how children learn that more than two thousand years ago, Aristotle had it right all along when he said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

*Actually I am a teacher in training at an internship program at The International School of Manila.