GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Friendship. What better topic to discuss in the international classroom? And what better tool to use than great books. Here are some of my favourite titles:

I Got You A Present! by Mike Erskine-Kellie and Susan McLennan, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Poor duck is having a hard time coming up with a surprise birthday gift for you. He tried so hard to make you happy but knitting socks didn’t work, the ice cream he bought you has melted and he couldn’t find you a dinosaur. But after all of his efforts, he does end up with a special gift, just for you! ISBN 978-1-5253-0009-7, Kids Can Press

Nut & Bolt by Nicole de Cock is the lovely story of a friendship between Bolt, a donkey, and Nut, the mouse. Friends each have to give and take. While it seems that Nut does much more for his friend, because that is what friends do, in the end it turns out that, Bolt too, has a lot to offer.  ISBN 978-1-55455-364-8, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Hug? by Charlene Chua. Now that the world is not into hugging, this is a fun book to share out loud with very young children. Hugs can make you feel better but problems arise when everyone wants a hug – cats, ducks, even skunks. There are bear hugs and porcupine hugs, even one character who does not want any hugs. A hilarious story told in few words and in pictures.  ISBN 978-1-5253-0206-0, Kids Can Press

This Is A Dog Book, Judith Henderson, illustrated by Julien Chung. Bunny desperately wants to be part of the dog gang, specially if it means being in this book. He goes to all lengths to proof that he, too, is a dog and belong here. The dogs have their doubts and put Bunny to the test but eventually decide that, even if he may not be a dog, Bunny does make a good friend and should stay in the book. ISBN 978-1-5253-0493-4, Kids Can Press

Little Narwhal, All Alone by Tiffany Stone, illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, reads like a fictional picturebook – about a little narwhal who likes to wander and explore. But in the back matter it is explained that this is based on the true story of a narwhal found about 1000 KMs away from his home in the Arctic. He now has befriended and lives with a pod of young beluga whales, an unusual true story of friendship beyond species. ISBN 978-1-77164-620-8, Greystone Kids

Aaaligator! by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier is the story of an unlikely friendship. The boy loves bird watching but one day he stumbles upon an… aaaligator! After he feeds and helps the aligator, it shows up at his house, lonely. At first the town is against aligators but this one proves itself to be most helpful. A book to share and smile about together. ISBN 978-1-5253-0151-3, Kids Can Press

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy is a unique book. Produced in handwriting with exquisite drawings, the book reminded me of Christopher Robin and Pooh, sharing similar random wisdoms about life, self esteem and friendship. A beautiful story to encourage reading, writing and discussions with older students. This will also make a special gift for any educator.

ISBN 978-0-06-297658-1, Harper Collins

Margriet Ruurs combines her global adventures with favourite books here: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com

Coaching & Mentoring: Need of the New Normal

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Recently our school had to close for two days due to the resurgence of COVID cases. This caused panic attacks and PTSD across the staff and student population. Even though the past year taught us well to mask our fear and anxiety, literally and metamorphically, the stress and anxiety reached new levels. This new normal has clearly led to a fragile emotional state. The only hope is that things will be back to normal soon, without realising that these chances are the new normal and things won’t be back to the same as it was before the pandemic.

We are experiencing the new normal, we are not prepared for it as the new normal is dynamic in nature. Change is the only constant in new normal therefore decisions are fluid and unpredictable. A need for an emotional anchor is essential for the sanity and mental wellbeing of staff and students. Coaching and mentoring is a great way to establish emotional resilience and moral support.

Many schools have well established coaching and mentoring programme; I have been fortunate to have worked with one such school. The coaching and mentoring programme is a framework to look after the mental wellbeing of staff and students. There is a difference between coaching and mentoring even though they are applied in conjunction, I will explain it based on my experience with coaching and mentoring and the professional development I did with Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Coaching is more suited for new staff and students to assist them with the expectations of the new environment in a structured manner. The purpose of coaching is to be school-ready within a period of time. It is usually planned and led by the coach who identifies the goal and ways to achieve it. For example, a new student coming into school in the middle of the year is assigned a teacher coach who can guide them to be at par with the rest of the class within a time frame by completing a set of tasks. Similarly, staff who are new to a particular education framework or programme are assigned a coach who guides them to identify areas of improvement and work on them.

Mentoring on the other hand is an ongoing process, where the mentor and the mentee collaborate for the professional or academic growth of the mentee. It is an informal process based on feedback and reflection. For example, every senior student is assigned a mentor who can meet with them on a mutually agreed time to evaluate academic performance and growth. Similarly, a senior leadership team member mentors potential leaders for future roles by assigning them tasks or projects to evaluate their leadership skills.

The coaching and mentoring framework should be applied in each school especially in the current situation. The benefits I have experienced reinforces my confidence in coaching and mentoring as the answer to the challenges of the new normal. Coaching and mentoring will certainly build a human bond outside the digital realm leading to healthy mental wellbeing. Other benefits include establishing trust between colleagues, peers and creating a culture of collaboration. With professional development going completely digital, coaching and mentoring is a great way to share knowledge in person with a person. The most significant benefit is a stress-free approach towards achieving professional or personal goals.

If the new normal compels us to be dynamic, then change management can be nurtured with coaching and mentoring. This will allow participants to discuss multiple perspectives and make quick decisions as well as develop resilience to change. This could open up an entire new diaspora of skills to explore by all stakeholders in education. 

In summary, coaching and/or mentoring: either receive or provide.

Heroes Down the Home Stretch

So here we are, finally staring down the last few weeks of school, and as I think back over the last ten months or so, the only thought that I can come up with is, wow, that was quite a year. I guess what I really want to share this week with all of you is a heartfelt thank you, and a joyous congratulations, for your Herculean and heroic efforts throughout arguably the most difficult year of our professional lives. It really has been a year like we’ve never seen before, and a year that we never could have imagined, and yet together we somehow found a way to navigate through it successfully, and keep our students happy, engaged, and learning…a Herculean and heroic effort indeed. 

The last ten months have certainly taken their toll on all of us that’s for sure, as our levels of anxiety have been constantly on high since day one. We never knew when a covid cluster would hit, or if one of us would get sick, and we learned some hard lessons around what it really means to be resilient and adaptable. When I stop and look back over it all, much of it seems like a blur honestly, and I’m left feeling a little dizzy and overwhelmed, but you know what, I feel a lot grateful and proud as well…we all should. We took on so much this year as a faculty, even with the pandemic playing havoc at times, and we should all take a few moments this week to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished as a community. It’s really impressive actually how we’ve managed to keep committed to our goals as a school, and to use the lessons that we’ve learned to become better educators, better leaders, and in many ways, better people.

Besides saying a huge thank you for all that you’ve given to our kids and to each other throughout this craziest of years, I also want to implore all of us to finish strong, and to find just a little bit more strength to get through that final sprint. The last few weeks of a school year can be tough as you know, even in the best of times, as fatigue begins to set in, and as the onslaught of emotions that comes along with saying goodbye to students and colleagues and friends inevitably starts to knock us off balance. With all of that fatigue and emotion dragging us down we still have to be at our best with all that is still left to do…we need to find a way to finish strong, as hard as that may be. 

As tired as we all are, and as eager as we all are to get to the summer, the next three weeks will give us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all that has gone well in spite of it all. All of the personal and professional learning that we have obtained, all of the growth that we see with our students, all of the silver linings that have come out of this most unusual of school years, and all of the ways that we can take what we’ve learned this year and use them to make next year incredible, as we rise up better and stronger than ever. 

Thank you again to all of you, for your strength, resiliency, and unwavering commitment in the face of adversity…you truly are heroes…heroes down the home stretch. We’re almost there so let’s lean on each other and finish strong. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

If you have to put someone on a pedestal, put teachers. They are society’s superheroes. 

-Guy Kawasaki

Inspiring Videos – 

Sign Wars

A Second Chance

10 Things That Made Us Smile

Related Articles – 

Teachers are the Heroes We Need

10 Reasons

Finish the Year Strong

Changing Roles

What Are We Learning?

Communities of Belonging

Teaching internationally sometimes is like being inside a cocoon.  School days typically in English. The comforts, routines, and rhythms in our new “homes” are similar; often little difference whether in Cairo, Shanghai, or Rio de Janeiro. Of course architecturally they may differ, yet our lives therein, not so changed.  In most cases, it would be a long shot to claim it is a hardship to teach in accredited international schools.  So comfortable, we may even have to go out of the way to feel vulnerable. Still, the fact remains that always outside the doors of home or school is “the different.”  Or more apt, the reflection that we are the “outsider.”   This possibly is the motivation behind our being abroad.   

And we are lucky for this chance. 

The fact being, we made the choice. We also have the option of how far we might “dive into” the host culture.  Fathoms deep, we may break the surface, challenging ourselves to begin learning the language.  Yet, regardless we will remain “the outsider.”  A feeling sometimes that could even be distressing.

Yet, we are lucky for this chance (refrain).

For the Times, They Are a Changing

How many people truly have the choice to navigate into and out of a dominant culture? Few I would argue.  Instead, so many are without this privilege. They simply nod their head, stand in line, and follow antiquated systems of organization and inequity.  Forced to play by what some may call, “the rules of the game.”

Singer Bob Dylan probably said it best,

And the present now will soon be the past

The order is rapidly fading

The first one now will later be last

For the times, they are a changing

The times are definitely changing.  So too are the “rules.”

International School Leadership Holds a Mirror Up to Themselves

Many of us were not aware, how during the spring of 2019, the Diversity Collaborative, a voluntary group of international educators, initiated a research study by partnering with ISC Research and George Mason University. “The goal was to survey the field of accredited international schools to establish a baseline of information in the international school sector about school leadership and diversity.”  2,676 accredited international schools received the survey and an informative three-and-a-half minute video summarized the results.  

Mind you this is pre-pandemic and more than a year before the murder of George Floyd.  Even earlier, in 2017 The Diversity Collaborative was established, in effort to commit to creating and sustaining a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just international school community through our focus on leadership.

In an often myopic world bent on entropy, it is refreshing to have such good news. 

Others Help Pave the Way

Within governmental agencies there is even a push for more diversity and inclusivity.  This is evident, regardless of the stir caused by the CIA’s recent recruitment campaign titled, “Humans of CIA.”  According to an article titled, “Unpacking the CIA’s cringey recruiting strategy,” the push for diversity is not new. “In 1994, then-CIA director R. James Woolsey said in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “the ability to understand a complex, diverse world—a world which is far from being all white male—is central to our mission.”

According to McKinsey & Co, companies spend $8 billion a year on diversity training.  Yet, this is just a start.  Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific’s global chief diversity officer says it best. “Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.” 

Belonging.

And isn’t this paradox seemingly woven into the fabric of 21st century life?  Always connected but more disconnected than ever; an increasingly socially isolated world.  The belonging Gilmore speaks of is almost tribal, a systemic need. It remains even more paramount when power structures are left unchecked; fraternal in their decisions of who allowed in the “room where it happens.” Or, who ultimately belongs.

But, as we have heard, “The times are a changing.” 

In the school where I teach, a recent DEIJ statement was crafted to be used on the school’s website, admissions application, handbooks, etc.  One part specifically attests to the importance of belongingness.  

“Our community is actively engaged in reflection and action planning to ensure that our school is creating and maintaining an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong and where our students leave with the attitudes, values, and tools they need to enrich the world.”

The Survey

The data from the 2019 survey helped form a baseline for The Diversity Collaborative’s work.  This year another survey was launched (closing on May 30th) and is more detailed, requiring respondents to dig deeper into the roles of their leadership teams.  The initial question is a declaration of the region of the school. Following this, nationality and race/ethnicity are defined so there is shared understanding and clarity.  The survey then asks for the respondent to declare the gender, nationality based on passport, and ethnicity of the head of school. Then, questions are asked regarding the number, gender, and nationalities of members on the leadership team, as well as whether or not the leadership team has educators from the country where the school is located. The same questions are asked but this time about the school’s board members. Last, the 22-question survey repeats the questions but as they pertain to schools’ teachers.

Now What?

International schools are definitely interested in keeping pace and walking alongside the global communities they serve. Data gathering is but one small step.  Reflection, policies, professional development, partnerships, advocacy and action are all in process.  Ralph Waldo Emerson attested to the gravitas of action. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” The Diversity Collaborative shared in a recent presentation a very clear statement of action in this regard. 

“We recognize that the changes described will take time and resources,  but that just adds to the urgency for all of us engaged with international schools to act without delay to start to dismantle the systems that have prevented some outstanding educators from becoming international  school leaders and to build a more equitable and inclusive international  school sector so that educators of all backgrounds thrive.”

Helpful Links for More Information
ISS Diversity Collaborative
2019 Infographic of the results
For any survey questions, please reach out to data@cois.org

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GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Books don’t always have to be issue driven or full of information. Sometimes a just plain funny book can hook a reluctant reader into wanting to read more. It can offer an escape to a young reader who just needs a laugh. And when a child wants to read, he or she will tackle more and more books that will then lead to more knowledge. But let’s not forget the importance of a plain fun story to share. Here are some of my favourites.

Princesses Versus Dinosaurs, by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Joy Ang. This brand new picture book is about pretty princesses. No wait, it’s about roaring, stomping dinosaurs. They argue about who gets to be in this book. They can’t agree on anything. And they certainly don’t want to play together. Building a wall turns out not to be a solution. In a fun ending, everyone ends up living together happily ever after. A great read out loud for younger students. ISBN 978-0-7352-6429-8

Perhaps these funny books, too, have hidden meanings when we search for them, but in our family we love to read Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin because it’s so silly and such fun to share out loud. The cows are on strike, the chickens want electric blankets. What’s next on this farm?ISBN 0-439-31755-X

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin can be used as spring board for students’ own animal diaries, for nonfiction and to look at ‘voice’ in writing. But it can also be just a wonderfully funny book about Worm and his family. His best friend is Spider who can’t dig, while Worm cannot walk upside down. Wonderful art by Harry Bliss adds more fun to this book. ISBN 978-0060001506

Elephants Do Not Belong in Trees by Russ Willms. Bird, Squirrel and Money agree. An elephant does not belong in their tree. Even though Elephant really, really wants to live there they insist they he cannot. Until Elephant saves the day. And the tree. Complete with surprise ending. ISBN 978-1-4598-2599-4

Many years ago I wrote a plain funny story about my own chickens who were pretty clueless. ‘What if… a chicken didn’t know what to do with her eggs?’ That question lead to my picture book Emma’s Eggs. It won all sorts of recognitions and has been in print for many years. Later, reviews told me that it really was about a child wanting to please. But when I wrote it, it was just a fun tale about chickens. ISBN 0-7737-5898-4

Where’s Walrus?, Stephen Savage. When I first saw this wordless picture book, I had no idea how much fun we would have with this book. Following Walrus’ escape from the zoo and into the city, was fun. Young readers will love seeing all the hiding places where a walrus can blend in. Spotting Walrus in a fountain and in shop windows supplied us with hours of fun sharing art and stories. This, by the way, is one of those picture books that is also great to study with older (highschool) students since it’s such a great style of art. What makes it work? A book that encourages storytelling. ISBN 978-0-439-70049-8

For reluctant young readers, there is a series of chapter books that is hilarious and will appeal to their sense of humour. The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is a wild romp. Andy and Terry build their dream treehouse that contains a pool, a bowling alley and much more. Together they argue, they invent and they end up with amazing slap-stick adventures. Add 13 to find each next book in the series: The 26-Story Treehouse, 39, 52 and so on. ISBN 978-1250070654

Margriet Ruurs is the writer of many books for children. Check out her travel and book blog combination: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com

Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal.

Service for Wellbeing Framework

I had the opportunity to present at the IB Asia-Pacific conference in April 2021. My topic was Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal. The new normal is the paradigm shift in education. The need for wellbeing is the topmost priority for me and for a lot of other colleagues who are dealing with inexplicable difficulties due to separation from family members and restrictions imposed due to Covid19. 

I collected data from a group of teachers across the world and found out the common challenges of the new normal:

  1. All of us are unknowingly suffering from pandemic side effects like fatigue, lack of motivation, uncertainty about the future and weight gain. Yes, stress eating has silently but surely skyrocketed.
  2. Our social and community links have become fragile probably on the verge of a collapse and we are unable to find ways to strengthen them.
  3. Even though the blended learning environment is a reality, not many teachers are trained for this new reality. Training and development for the blended learning environment are in their infancy stage.
  4. Managing the feeling of being left behind; there is so much to catch up; online conferences and workshops; e-assessments for the virtual platform; changing instructional strategies for the blended learning environment, and the list goes on…

As a result of all the above, well-being is compromised. The question arises how do we successfully navigate the new normal?

I found the answer in service-learning. Whilst still nursing the pandemic wounds I found solace in service. After critically reasoning possible solutions for the wellbeing deficit I thought of applying the same strategy at work, using service learning for mental wellbeing. Being the service-learning coordinator, I focused on wellbeing as the main objective for all service projects and activities.

Together with a team of very talented teachers, I was able to map service-learning opportunities in various disciplines; the next step was to create a framework for wellbeing. This framework was created with a design thinking routine:

  1. Empathize = Wellbeing as the objective for all service projects.
  2. Define = Challenges due to Covid.
  3. Ideate = Brainstorm solution or ideas with teachers and students.
  4. Prototype = Service for wellbeing framework
  5. Test = Case study of the school’s service-learning programme

This helped me to design the Service for Wellbeing framework. With my experience in teaching, I was able to identify the important parameters for the service for wellbeing framework. Service-learning must be linked to the curriculum, with a strong link to a discipline. Service-learning must have a global perspective like the UNSDGs, this brings purpose to action and keeps everyone motivated to achieve the learning target. The service-learning programme must start with small group projects, especially to combat the stress of uncertainty and social distancing. Group projects bring people together in a non-threatening environment and foster collaboration. The most important parameter, service for well being has to integrate student choice and voice, to allow them to own their learning as well as enjoy the process. 

Start with small group projects.

I would strongly advise everyone to try it. The next time you feel stressed, think of ways to engage in community service. Look into your subject area, find service links, think of a task that can be created to align with a global perspective or objective and then share the idea with your students. Trigger their critical reasoning by asking them to come up with service-learning activities linked to the subject and start projects to achieve the target. Try it and let me know your success in fostering wellbeing and establishing service opportunities.

ACCREDITATION IS ALL ABOUT BEING BETTER

Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development.  And it is available to us all.

“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.”  Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for  “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.  

Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on.  The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement.  Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies.  Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.  

Impact.   

After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation.  We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students.  An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.

Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical.  Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues.  A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken.  Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”  

Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential.  This means: 

~Leadership team (head of school and principals)~Teachers  
~Parents  ~Support Staff
~Business Staff  ~Building and Grounds
~Nursing Department  ~Public Relations and Marketing  
~Admissions  ~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)

Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning.  Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning.  Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward.  “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.  

SO WHAT?  

Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills.  People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development.  Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:

~Question development         ~Interview strategies              ~Formal writing

~Collaboration                         ~Presentation creation           ~Oral presentation

The visit I did was unique in several ways.  The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process.  One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.

NOW WHAT?  

At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged.  Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included.  The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails.  A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.    

The whole accreditation process is value added for all.  Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself.  To reflect.  To be vulnerable.  To speak but also listen.  Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment.  Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement.  Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.

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Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links:

www.acswasc.org/

www.msa-ces.orga/

Global Book reviews

Poetry is a universal language. These books, both new and old, invite readers to explore the world.

Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Barbara Reid, is one of my all-time favourite picture books. Whenever I visit international schools, I try to bring this book as a gift. The illustrations are fantastic, made of plasticine, and full of detail. The text is poetic with fun information about different countries and with a wonderful flow to read aloud. The story is about a young girl whose grandmother travels the world and sends home gifts: a baobab seed from Africa, the roar from the jungle king, and a secret wish of a flying fish from Hawaii. Throughout the images, the girl grows up. In the end she is the one traveling the world, inspired by her grandmother.  The book is also available in Spanish. ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5

Poem in My Pocket by Chris Tougas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon is a clever rhyming picture book celebrating poetry. What if you keep poems in your pocket but your pocket has a hole? Words tumble and float everywhere, even the letters get all mixed up. But in the end a wonderful thing happens – you can grow a poet tree. Great to use with elementary students of all ages. ISBN 978-1-5253-0145-2

My own newest picture book is also in poetry format: Come, Read With Me is illustrated by Christine Wei. It is a poetic celebration of books and fairy tales. Two children follow the piped piper, meet whales and princesses and a puss in boots as they read books at bedtime. ISBN 978-1-4598178-76

Judi Moreillon’s book Read To Me as been out for many years but remains a wonderful book to share with both students and parents. It emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to children, of setting a reading example and sharing books, stories and songs in any language. I love sharing this poem with parents. It is also available in Spanish and in Vietnamese. ISBN 1-932065-49-0

Melissa Sweet is one of my favourite illustrators. William Carlos Williams became a Pulitzer Prize winning poet by following his heart into nature and by writing even during his medical studies and work as a doctor. A River of Words is his beautifully told biography by Jen Bryant, illustrated in gorgeous collage by Melissa Sweet. A book that shows  young readers to listen to their heart and focus on what is important to them. ISBN 978-0-8028-5302-8

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a brilliant free-verse novel. A gentle, spellbinding story of Kek and his mother who came to the USA from Africa. Struggling with winter, housing and no extended family or friends, Kek learns to make a new life for himself in a new country. An eye-opening tale of what it is like to be a refugee. Great as a classroom read-a-loud. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6

Margriet Ruurs’s current writing project is a blog that combines a love of travel with a love of books: www.globetrottingbooklovers.comhttp://globetrottingbooklovers.com

Unpacking Our Trauma, Celebrating Our Growth

So last week I had a long, and as it turns out, a much needed conversation with a great friend and colleague of mine. We talked about the past year and a half, and how incredibly hard it has been for everyone, and for our world, and you know what, that conversation for me was cathartic. At one point he used the word “trauma” to describe some of his low points since the pandemic began, and for many people that is exactly what the last 18 months or so have been…traumatic.

Trauma as we all know, is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, and it can cause feelings of helplessness, loneliness and isolation. It can diminish a person’s sense of self, and it impacts a person’s ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. Well, what people have gone through lately certainly fits this definition, and I think the first step toward healing is for all of us to find space to unpack and talk about how we have been affected and changed since this all began. 

To be honest, I’m not very good at opening up about my darker feelings, and I’m outwardly as happy and optimistic as anyone that you’ll ever meet, so the conversation with my friend was a little uncomfortable at first. As it went on however, it started to feel good to say out loud how I was feeling, and to verbally articulate how much I’m struggling with the way the world is these days. It can be overwhelming if you stop and think about all of it, which is why it is so easy not to, so many of us keep focused on the silver linings and little joys and gratitudes as a nice defense mechanism…I’m really good at that by the way, but I’m not sure it’s all that healthy as a solitary and full-time approach. 

Saying that this past year has been hard is a colossal understatement, as people have lost jobs and loved ones, been sick (in some cases more than once), been locked down and isolated away and in most cases deprived of many things that make them happy. We haven’t been able to hug or touch or even see people’s faces, we haven’t been able to travel, many of us haven’t seen family for almost two years, and every day is an uncertainty. The level of stress and the type of stress that people are experiencing is unprecedented and people are afraid. 

For educators specifically, we are struggling to be our best professional selves in this new normal, and we are all desperate for the things that we took for granted, like a face to face happy hour, or a sit down lunch with a friend, or a simple conversation with a student without a mask on. We’re all so tired of it and we all just want to take off our masks and smile and share a hug with someone…anyone. For our students, it’s also been really difficult. Many of the best parts about school are gone for them, and for seniors, it’s happened at the absolute worst time. For the kids who find their identity through sport or theater or social connections it has been devastating. So, let’s talk about it…we need to.

Before the end of the year, as we carve out time to meet and reflect about the year in teams and as a larger division and school, we will have an opportunity to share how we’re feeling, and how we’ve been affected, and by sharing we can find strength in our collective trauma. Like I said, sharing and listening and empathizing can be a cathartic experience, and I think it’s essential that we do this first, before we have the important conversations about how much we’ve grown, and how much we’ve learned, and about all of the good things, the silver linings, that will eventually come out of this. 

In a strange way that conversation with my friend buoyed me a little and I felt lighter and ready to return to my smiley and optimistic self…I think that talking about the hard parts of your year will help you too. Anyway, the end of the school year is in sight so hang in there and lean on each other for support. Together we will unpack our trauma and then celebrate our growth, which will in both instances make us a little bit better and a little bit stronger. Have a wonderful short week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Oh yeah, Happy Mother’s Day for all you incredible mothers out there!

Quote of the Week…

Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard.

-Cheryl Richardson

Inspiring Videos – (Mother’s Day Themed)

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Dear Mom

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STUCK CONTAINER SHIP: A METAPHOR FOR THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?

What could be harder to turn around than a 220,000 ton ship measuring nearly a quarter of a mile long?  The education system. The Evergreen however served as a fantastic metaphor.

For six days, the colossal three year-old was stuck. In a stretch of water narrower (985 feet) than the length of the boat (1,312 feet).  Not even a 3-point Austin Powers maneuver back and forth was possible “baby.” 

Not What It May Seem

Though the word “Evergreen” is painted on the ship’s side, on its back and bow in smaller letters is its official name, “Ever Given.”  A Taiwanese company called Evergreen Marine is responsible for operating the vessel, though it is registered in Panama.  Further, it is managed by a German ship company, but owned by a Japanese billionaire.

Education, more than a fifth of the way through the 21st century, is also not what it might seem. 

Roots of Education and Where We Find Ourselves Today

For most of human existence children educated themselves simply through play and exploration. A scary concept for most today.  Agriculture and the eventual systems of servitude resultant of the Middle Ages may have been what led to the death of children’s free will to organically learn.  In its place, obedience and reverence for lords and masters. The Industrial Revolution further squelched the innate desire to learn, as children were used for labor.  Once industry began to become more automated children were no longer as needed as much and at the advent of the 20th century child reform efforts surfaced. Finally, in 1924 opponents of child labor in the United States sought a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to “limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.” However, “the conservative political climate of the 1920s, together with opposition from some church groups and farm organizations that feared a possible increase of federal power in areas related to children, prevented many states from ratifying it.”  Not until 1938 were child labor laws enacted.  

Mind you, this is but 83 years ago!

Until Jean Piaget (1896-1980), pedagogical theory envisioned children as merely “empty vessels.” To be kept in line and “filled up.”  A diametric opposite of the very meaning of education. Etymologically, the term “education” derived from the Latin word “educare,” meaning “to bring up, rise, or to nourish.” Or, even more fitting is to consider the Latin “educere,” and its meaning to “to draw out.”  

Nourishing and Drawing Out.  Are Schools Doing This Today?  

More aptly, are schools whole-heartedly bent on settling for nothing less than a child’s best and allow for personalization?  I would argue we still have many miles of road to pave.  However, traction continues to be gained as educational systems move from compliance to empowerment.  The narrow ideologies of the past may pervade, yet however steeped in “control” they may be, such views are being sabotaged by digitization and connectivity.  Now, a teacher in the virtual world likely contends with YouTube, chat rooms, and possibly even Netflix, for a student’s attention.  “Armed” with pre-determined and trite curriculum, it often feels like a losing battle.  Vying for students’ attention and dumping curriculum on them was not the impetus most teachers got into the profession.  

An alternative approach might instead based on respect and trust.  Where the knowledge, skills, and standards checklists become more invitation than imposition. Or, what about the powers of collaboration?  How many educators are trusted, willing, or daring enough to set out to build a sort of kinship with students, where curriculum might be co-created?  A return to a more master and apprentice style; exploration as opposed to inculcation. For an example of how one middle school teacher does this, take a look at the basic structure for a unit design in a post written by Allison Zmuda titled, “A Play-By-Play Strategy for Co-Creating Curriculum with Students.”

Damage Done

The Suez Canal, a slit carved between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, took 10 years to build.  An investment well spent because today it is the preferred path connecting east and west. Ten percent of the world’s trade purportedly flows through these waters. From the 23rd to the 29th of March, the world watched as more than 360 ships were forced to wait.  A behemoth blocked the way. According to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence organization, a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo was held back each day.  Not until April 3rd did the Suez Canal Authority declare the logjam over and that all waiting ships finally crossed through.  Then, on April 13th, the Evergreen was seized and “Egyptian authorities said they wouldn’t release the massive ship… until its owners agreed to pay up to $1 billion in compensation.”

Are today’s schools similarly being held for ransom?

What is it going to cost to free our brittle, antiquated, and traditional system of education?  Though there is a clinging on to a delivery of knowledge; something seemingly more ubiquitous than even clean water or air, I remind you how the duration of this model, is but a flash in time. A “new normal” if you will. Yet, cracks in the system, like the ones the pandemic is inducing, continue to create a sort of vacuum. The rays of light clear the space for teachers to be more daring and for learners to return to what is instinctual.  Learning which is constructed, not consumed. Actively uploading, as opposed to passively downloading.  

Nothing New or Particularly Earth-Shattering

The late Sir Ken Robinson was turning heads 14 years ago, claiming how schools actually squash creativity. Further, in a visit of over 200 schools, Ted Dintersmith shared his observations in a book called, “What Schools Could Be.” Further, for specific schools standing out in the field, you may want to take a look at Getting Smart’s list of “Middle and High Schools Worth Visiting.”  Here you will see project-based learning, personalization, purpose, and a variety of other “ingredients” necessary to “unstuck” education.   

The stuck container ship is in fact a fitting metaphor for the education system. A difficult system to turn. One that still is wedged.  However, I like to think progress is being made, even if  transformation has not freed the “ship.” Marketer and author Seth Godin says it best, “Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation.”  The idea is there! Allies and advocates alike, we are tugboats.  Please stay the course, because your pushing and pulling is critical.  

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