sweet to be home

Five months ago, my mother died, and I broke off my engagement with my fiancé. About a month later, I decided to quit international teaching and move back to the US. At the time, my Head of School asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this? ’ He cited some famous psych study that lists the most stressful [not physically violent] things a person can experience, and puts ‘death of a family member’ at the top, followed closely by ‘change in relationship status’ and ‘move’. I said yes.

Yes, living abroad is an adventure. Yes, I feel incredibly privileged and thrilled that i’ve been able to have had this experience, in two countries and two regions of the world, over the past six years. Yes, it’s financially very lucrative compared with public or private school teaching at home in the States (um, my school pays my rent, for starters– eat that, Park Slope). Yes, I’ve seen wonders of the world (Jersualem! Cairo! Petra! Mountains and deserts in South America!) and made amazing friends and had incredible conversations, and learned much about myself and my own culture in the process.

But i haven’t been *home*. Yes, I’ve visited twice a year for six years, but those short tours no longer suffice.

I am tired of living a temporary existence. At age 38, as my father astutely observed, I am interested in finally ‘settling down’. I want to both build, and to deepen. I have 10- and 15-year old friendships in New England that I want to cultivate. I have interests in teaching and history and psychology and the arts that I want to explore. Instead of running away from the political mess that is the United States right now, I want to re-engage and see how I can play a small role in highlighting the positive, encouraging the youth, and doing annoying performance art in front of the White House as often as I can stand it.

I just don’t think it’s very viable to do all that while living overseas. Schools overseas too often overlook pedagogy in favor of pedigree (some schools in the US do this also). And expats overseas often seek short-term pleasures instead of long-term lives. We live outside our normal society, so we outfit ourselves with different morals. We aren’t fully a part of the place where we live, so we hold ourselves apart. This is what I want to get away from. I want to have roots.

I learned from my disabled mother that taking responsibility isn’t a bad thing, despite what the zeitgeist says. Even though I did sometimes resent the fact that I was her primary care-giver for the better part of ten years, over that time, I grew to accept it. I didn’t expect her to remember my friends’ names, but I still told her about them. I knew she wouldn’t stay awake for the new Muppet movie, but I took her anyway. I bought her clothes and scheduled her appointments and plucked her chin hairs and played Scrabble. It doesn’t matter if I thought some of it was boring. This is what life is.

I don’t need to always be seeking the highest mountain in South America or the most remote and secluded beach in Brazil. I want to also be content with the view of the trees at a local park and the taste of a toasted bagel with butter from a close-by cafe. My adventures will be eavesdropping on passers-by and chatting with taxi drivers about the weather, finding a lecture series at a nearby bookstore, going to hear live music in a bar the size of a closet, bringing a friend ingredients for soup and making it at her house, inventing new words with her 1-year old child. I can still enjoy new and fast and loud, but I resolve to also relish the small, and slow, and quiet, and sweet.

Posted in Allison Poirot | Leave a comment

A New Year’s Carry Over

So I cannot believe that it’s already the year 2019. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all stressing about the roll over to the new millennium, and wondering what the year 2000 would bring to the world? In some ways, those two decades since seem to have blurred all together, like time tends to do as we get older and older. One truth that I’ve learned for sure in my life is that the days go by way, way too fast, and if you don’t stop and hit the pause button every once in a while it will speed you by without warning, and more crucially, without notice. The start of a new year is an easy and obvious chance to do just that…to stop and reflect, to pause and consider, and to take stock in your life. It’s a natural opportunity for people to think about where they are both personally and professionally, and a chance to make goals and promises, or resolutions, to do better, to be better, and feel better about where they currently are. 
 
The problem that often comes with these “resolutions” however, is that they are usually framed in the negative, and unrealistically, often setting people up for failure. They tend to lean toward what’s wrong in your life, and toward areas that need improvement. Recently, resolutions haven’t felt right for me, because I found myself always starting the new year in a negative mindset, focusing on things that I am not currently doing, which in my mind, I should be doing. This ultimately made me feel bad about myself. I’m sure many of you have gone through a similar experience, and maybe you’re feeling that way right now. Well, this year I’m taking a different approach to the new year…entering into 2019 with a different and positive mindset, which so far feels really good. 
 
I remember staring out the window in northern Norway this past New Year’s Eve, just a couple of weeks ago, and going down my usual road of reflection as I marveled at the fireworks that were lighting up the midnight sky. I was thinking about all the changes that I needed to make in my life, and how I need to eat better and exercise more…how I need to drink less and spend more time with my family, and how I need to take more courses and maybe a doctorate degree in something so I can continue to learn. It was at that point that I caught myself starting to get a bit depressed and frankly, a little sad. I remember noticing this negativity and quickly shaking my head, and as I looked around I saw my two amazing kids, my beautiful wife, and this incredible light show, and it was then that I challenged myself to think about all that’s right with my life, and not about all that I perceive to be wrong with it. 
 
Well, talk about beginning the new year on the right foot! I spent the next day or two finding moments throughout the day to focus on all that was right about the previous year, and all that is going well in my life both personally and professionally, and I finally thought, okay, I’ll just keep doing that for 2019…I’ll take all the good things that are working, and that are making me happy, and I’ll carry them over into the new year…a new year carry over can be my so called resolution. Of course over the next few weeks and even months I’ll try to eat better and exercise more, like I do after every extended holiday, and I will find new ways to learn because I’m passionate about learning, but I guess my point is this…Instead of beating yourself up about the person that you currently aren’t, and all the work that you need to do to feel better about yourself, change your mindset…even if it’s just a little. 
 
Take stock in all that’s right about your life, and about who you are as a person, and start 2019 by celebrating that! Begin the year feeling good about yourself instead of bad, and you know what, I bet that this positive energy and outlook will be a better foundation and starting point to achieve any goals that you might have for the upcoming year. I’m willing to bet that if you begin from a place of celebration and gratitude that any changes that you want to make will be more sustainable in the long run. Anyway, happy new year everyone and I truly hope that 2019 is your best year to date! If we look closely enough, I bet all of us have areas in our lives that we are proud of and happy with…carry them over and make those positive aspects your focal point in 2019. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 
Quote of the Week…
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year
–  Ralph Waldo Emerson
Related Articles –
Inspiring Videos –
TED Talks –
Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Over Developing Ideas

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Questions are the important thing, answers are less important. Learning to ask a good question is the heart of intelligence. Learning the answer-well, answers are for students. Questions are for thinkers. ~Roger Schank

Elevators are interesting. I use elevators as a model on the first day of any programming class, interface design unit, or STEM class. I find it fascinating to have students stop and think about how everything works and how everything is designed.

I use elevators because they are a universal norm; a mode of transport every student is familiar with using. However, the best part about using elevators on the first day of class, is everyone thinks they know everything about them. As students deconstruct the elevator, they realize there is an entire world of creation they have never noticed.

The day after the initial class, students often tell me they are angry. They are angry because now they are studying every small detail when they use the elevator, it is not longer just a quick hassle free ride.

Recently I  experienced two elevators in two very different hotels. The first hotel was a fairly standard US chain. The second hotel was on the upper end of the luxury scale in Asia. In both places, the elevators had horrible design flaws. I am certain that elevator number two was significantly more expensive to purchase. That fact did not negate the issues with user interface or reliability.

I began to wonder about the people who worked on designing these elevators, building them, and selling them to the hotels. These teams had to be worlds apart, yet, making the same mistakes. These teams obviously had very different and diverse backgrounds, yet, they ended-up in the same place with the same problems.

In a connected world this type of outcome should be fairly rare. It seems as if people should be able to study existing models, research back through history, physically explore and test systems that already exist, and easily interview people about their experiences. Yet, these team did not do that. I believe they worked in an insular fashion, and over complicated a traditional and reliable system.

Over Design and Over Development

Solutions are normally constructed with a series of processes all working together, and usually in some required order. There is a tendency for people to focus on a single link in the chain and the over develop that particular area. When this happens, the solutions and/or design weakens as a whole.

For example, assume someone is designing the security system in an elevator. The default process is to use a simple card swipe. Someone decides to make the product and solution more modern by removing the card swipe and switching to bio-metrics. This requires the use of fingerprints for everyone who is known to work in the building. The technology works, but many challenges start to appear:

  1. Dust on the surface is tough to manage
  2. The scanner is not adjustable, and not accessible to people who are in wheelchairs or on crutches
  3. The fingerprint database has an additional cost due to backups and emergency power
  4. A by-pass has to be installed for VIPs who may take the wrong elevator, thus allowing anonymous access
  5. Updating the system is slow, and requires all security guards to have an additional 6 hours of training

This example is not entirely fiction. There are many case studies on situations like this where people over develop solutions.  An older example, but truly timeless in my opinion, is the Denver Airport Baggage System. I will not go into details, but it is worth a read.

Another consequence of over designing and over thinking is stagnation. Good ideas simply never get off the ground. The desire for perfection starts to consume the project, and eventually, the momentum fades. People will generally find a solution or work around for their problems, even if that means compromising in areas that should be held to a high standard.

When solving a problem or developing a new idea the best rule to follow is to look-up and look-out. Explore the world and the ideas of the past and present. Find the same idea, or similar idea, and ask questions. Get the story, including the anecdotes, because facts and function are rarely where the secrets live.

 

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The Story You Don’t Know

So I had a really interesting experience the other day that I wanted to share. This experience inspired me to make a point of reaching out to people, and connecting with others, even people that I don’t necessarily know that well, so that I can share in their joy or be a source of comfort in their lives.There is no denying that kindness and human connection are powerful uplifters, and these two things might just be the most important things that we can do for our world, and for each other…to connect and to be kind. Everyone has a story that we know nothing about, a joyful one or a struggle, and in many cases these stories are dying to be shared, and the people dying to be heard. I made an unlikely connection just a few days ago that changed that particular day for the better, and will continue to put a smile on my face in the days that lie ahead.

 

Last Wednesday morning I woke up really, really early, like I do every morning, to head out for a run. It was a struggle for sure as my energy was low that day and I felt more tired than usual. I had a lot on my mind, and the thought of heading out into the pouring down rain and wind and cold almost made me hit the snooze button. I managed however to crawl out of bed and hit the streets, hoping that the music from my headphones might supply me with some much needed inspiration. When I was about five minutes into it, and freezing and soaked to the bone, I saw something in the distance that snapped me wide awake. It was a person, an elderly woman as it turned out, jumping around crazily the middle of the road, and at first it looked like she may be in trouble or possibly mentally ill, because who is out at 5:00 am in the morning, in the pouring rain, jumping around in the middle of the street?

 

As I got closer I slowed down, and recognized her as the same woman that I see every single morning of my life…the older lady who is always waiting at the bus stop at the same time that I run by. I’ve seen her practically every single day for the past year and a half, but of course I knew nothing about her. As I got to about fifty feet away I turned off my music and took out my headphones, because it was then that it finally hit me…she was dancing and singing at the top of her lungs! I had slowed down to a walk at that point, and as she was twirling around, she saw and approached me, saying something in French that I didn’t understand. I told her that my French really wasn’t that strong, so she immediately broke in English and told me that she just found out the night before that her son, who she hasn’t seen in almost ten years is finally coming home for Christmas, and she can’t stop dancing…so, I did what any of you would do…I grabbed her by the hands, and the two of us began dancing around in the middle of the road together…in the cold and the dark and in the pouring down rain in the suburban streets of Paris, and you know what, it changed my life for the better.

 

As I continued on my run that morning, I reflected on not only how surreal that experience was, but how in life it’s so easy to co-exist with other people each and every day of our lives but to not know anything about them…at all. I got thinking about all the other people that I see every single day, like the cleaners and the guards at our school for example, who I know nothing about. People who have stories and struggles, like we all do, and who might need a human connection or an act of kindness that can easily come from me. We all have people like these in our lives, and there are dozens of missed opportunities each and every day to make a connection that might just change someone’s day for the better. As children we are told not to talk to strangers, but I’m not sure that same rule should apply to adults. I’m thinking that we should all go out of our way to engage with a stranger or two, and to make a new connection each and every day…it won’t just put a smile on their face, it will put one on yours as well…I guarantee it.

 

Gettin back to my new friend (whose name incidentally is Celine, as I came to find out the next morning when I stopped to talk to her at the bus top), we now share this special moment, which brings a smile to both of our faces everyday when I run by and wave. She stopped me to say thank you by the way, the day after the dancing incident, and shared that what I gave her, by stopping and dancing with her, was the most beautiful gift that she has received in a long, long time. She had nobody to share her joy with as she is very much alone, and the fact that a perfect stranger, relatively speaking, had stopped to share in her joy was an act of kindness that has restored her faith in the world. Well, seeing her dancing like that in the rain did the same for me so I guess we owe each other. It’s funny to me that pure inspiration can come from the most unlikely and unusual places, so you better be ready to receive it…and of course, you need to remember to give yourself plenty of opportunities to have your day changed for the better simply by making a human connection, or by simply being kind. Have a wonderful week everyone, only two left until the holiday, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

– Mark Twain

 

Inspiring Videos –

Hit and Run

Believe in Someone

West Jet Christmas Miracle

Surprising Strangers

Random Acts of Kindness Triathlon

 

Related TED TalkKio Stark (How to Talk to Strangers)

Inspiring Poem –  Katherine Perry (Everyone Has a Story to Tell)

 

Related Articles –

The Importance of Connections

Being Kind Benefits You

Kindness Feels Good

Talk to Strangers

The Joy of Sharing Joy

 

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Just wondering how we went from Thankshaving to Thanksgiving.

For me Thanksgiving has little meaning. Being French, Thanksgiving is not something that I have grown up with. While I studied it at school, from a civilisation point of view, it really is not something that resonates with me. However, what we experienced as a community a few weeks ago and for the second year in a row, is powerful especially when we look at what it used to be until two years ago.

Until 2016-Thankshaving

Before November 2017, thanksgiving at Academia Cotopaxi was the occasion for the whole school community to have a lovely meal together on a half day and then everyone would go home at midday. We would have a typical Thanksgiving meal at school with some turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes etc. Students, teachers, administrators, support, maintenance and security staff, we were all eating together. Administrators would serve food to the rest of the community, we were thanking one another and it was lovely indeed!

But, wait!

A team of educators starting questioning what we were doing. Eating turkey in the morning before sending people home to eat some more. So we used  some critical thinking and applied it to this community practice. Did we really need this? Did our community need to dedicate a whole morning to have a giant meal together? Were there some other communities out there who could benefit from our support during Thanksgiving time?

From 2017-thanksgiving

In 2017, a National Honor Society student shacked things around. She started working with a local organisation to support families in need in Quito and Ibarra areas and then began a whole community effort. A school wide holiday drive to collect food and toys. All donations were centralised in the different divisional offices in the school and on Thanksgiving day, in the morning, students and teachers all worked together to organise the donations for each family. According to how many family members and how many children per family we made boxes with food, toys and added holiday cards that our younger students designed.

This year, we got even bigger as we supported some Venezuelan communities and an Ecuadorian community in the Andes. Several families took part in the delivery of the food and of the toys. On Saturday, my family and I took part in the delivery about 3 hours from Quito. The local, Italian priest and Olga welcomed us in the community center and explained to us that the truck that we finished loading with food and toys the day before had not arrived due to a technical issue. However, a previous toy and food delivery from our school had arrived the week before so we were able to give every child a gift. But what was the most amazing is when the children arrived at the community center, they all came to shake our hands and they even had prepared a dance and a couple of songs for us. It was beautiful and very touching indeed.

Next steps

While Academia Cotopaxi will continue the Holiday drive for food and toys next year, I also hope that we can sustain some strong links with the communities that we are helping. That we can organise more trips like those. That we can also continue to reflect upon what we do. That we develop more meaningful service learning opportunities. 

It really feels that we have gone from Thankshaving to Thanksgiving and that is Thanksgiving that resonates with me.

For what it’s worth…

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | Leave a comment

Somebody’s Son, Somebody’s Daughter

So over the last several weeks as a family, we’ve been joining other parents, students and teachers in the heart of Paris to give out food, clothing and toiletries to the homeless. It’s an initiative that was started by an inspiring 6th grade boy, who wanted to make a difference in the lives of others who are less fortunate and struggling. It’s a wonderful example of how one person with a beautiful idea, and a desire to act, can have a profound and positive impact on a local community. It hasn’t just changed the lives of the homeless men and women that we meet, it has changed us as a family as well, as my own kids begin to internalize the responsibility that we all have to give back and to pay it forward.

 

The last time that we went I began to feel a small connection with some of the regulars, and I even started to engage in conversations with a few of them, which of course impacted me greatly. Seeing them on the street as you pass by is one thing, but to start truly seeing them as people, with stories and families of their own is quite another. As an educator, it’s easy for me to start thinking about what it might have been like when they were just little kids, and to begin wondering about their lives leading up to this point, and about how they got to a place where they are now living on the street. Once they were young boys and girls, going to school and playing on the playground, with friends and teachers and mothers and fathers, and dreaming about a future that was very different than their current reality. They were and still are somebody’s son and somebody’s daughter, and it is heartbreaking to see them struggling so badly…it certainly makes you want to act, and to find ways to help ease their struggle even if it’s only for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning.

 

All of this of course, makes me wonder about the responsibility that we have as a school to make service learning a huge part of our culture, maybe even the biggest part, so that all of our students become involved in projects and initiatives that impact the lives of others who are less fortunate. Like most international schools, we are made up of very privileged families who have the means to affect incredible change locally. At ASP we’ve always had a culture of service, and we have fantastic service projects happening all the time, which makes me proud. This year however, we’ve been working very hard to create and expand many impactful initiatives, and to align these across the divisions so that they are “school-wide” opportunities for our students and families to give back. Not a day goes by lately that I don’t walk past boxes and boxes of clothing and food donations stacked up in the foyers, or hear about student led groups raising money or making sandwiches or donating their time to find ways to give back. It’s something that seems to be gaining momentum in our school, and it feels like culturally, it’s gaining traction.

 

We have an opportunity this year, as we start work on our new strategic plan, to really commit to the idea of service learning, and to make it a pillar for our school and community in the years to come. We can look for ways to embed service into all that we do, and to make it an expectation, and a reality, that all our kids, teachers and families give back in one way or another to benefit and positively impact the lives of others. One student last week wrote, when asked what he wanted for the future of our school, that ASP needs to find something to really believe in and and to stand for, and through this give all students a chance to be a part of something that is larger than just themselves…well, what about service? It’s my opinion, that building an intrinsic motivation in kids to give of themselves is one of the most crucial things that we can give them as educators…talk about affecting change, not just when they graduate and head out into the world, but right now while they are in school. There are opportunities everywhere we look to make a positive difference in our world and we have a responsibility to act.

 

Anyway, I’m excited about the direction that we’re heading as a school with regards to service learning, and I’m thrilled that we are using the strategic plan work to think about how we can bring it even more to life in the future…exciting times for sure. Have a wonderful week everyone, only three more before the holiday, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others

– Mahatma Gandhi

 

Tenille Townes – Beautiful Song and Video

Somebody’s Daughter

 

Inspiring Videos –

Making your Mother Proud

My Morning Coffee

Returning the FavorFull Episodes

Compassion for Strangers

Pay It ForwardOldie but Goodie

 

Related Articles –

The Power to Inspire

Leader in Me

Service Learning in Schools

What the Heck is Service Learning

Purpose and Goals

Practice Kindness

 

Service Learning Websites –

Good Character

National Youth Leadership Council

Global Issues Network

Service Learning Projects

129 Great Examples

 

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than straight teens (and why we need to include everyone in sex education)

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

It’s true: lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than those who identify as straight. Also, gay males are more likely to be responsible for a pregnancy during their teen years than straight males. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research backs these numbers up[1] [2].

Earlier this year, I published an article in the American Journal of Sexuality Education entitled “Sexual Health Equity in Schools: Inclusive Sexuality and Relationship Education for Gender and Sexual Minority Students[3]. In it, I argue that, while researchers do not know for certain why lesbian teens are at higher risk for pregnancy, it likely does not help that the vast majority of school-based sexuality and relationship education programs exclude gender and sexual minorities (GSM) from the curriculum[4]. Indeed, I point out in the piece that a number of issues that sex education aims to address, such as age of first intercourse and number of partners, condom and birth control use, and dating violence disproportionately (and negatively) impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as compared to their heterosexual, cisgender peers.

It is perhaps less surprising that gender and sexual minority teens are not responding to school-based sexuality education when we consider that they are essentially ignored in most programs. Of those that do make mention of anyone other than heterosexual, cisgender people, it is often through messages that are pathologizing (i.e. exaggerating the relationship between sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS), or the ‘information’ is downright inaccurate. A number of U.S. states actually mandate that their schools’ curricula be discriminatory against LGBTQ people[5]. GSM students do not see themselves reflected in most sex education programs, and might simply check out during those lessons, leaving them without the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture their sexual and reproductive health.

As most of the data supporting my article was collected in the United States, it is theoretically possible that other countries are doing a much better job at including GSM students in their sex education programs. This is unlikely, however, given the relatively restrictive legal, political, and social situation for GSM people in many parts of the world[6]. Also, of the few countries that have collected information about GSM students, none has shown that this demographic fares as well as their heterosexual, cisgender peers in outcomes targeted by sex ed[7].

Want to do better for your students? Consider adopting the K-12 Sexuality Education Standards published by the public health organization, the Future of Sex Education. The content of these standards is accurate, evidence-informed, developmentally and age-appropriate, and designed to be relevant to a diverse student body. These standards are being used to some degree in 32 states in the U.S., so international schools following an American curriculum in particular will appreciate staying up to speed with current best practice. Adopting an inclusive sexual health and relationship curriculum is one step toward a more just and fair education for all students.

You can link to my full, published article here.

How does your school ensure that gender and sexual minority students have access to sexual health and relationship information? 

 

[1] Charlton, B. M., Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Katz-Wise, S. L., Calzo, J. P., Spiegelman, D., & Bryn Austin, S. (2018). Teen pregnancy risk factors among young women of diverse sexual orientations. Pediatrics, 14(4).

[2] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2018.1431988

[4] The Guttmacher Institute. (2016). Fact Sheet: American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.

[5] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2017). State Profiles.

[6] Carroll, A. & Mendos, L. R. (2017). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalization, protection and recognition. International Lesbian and Gay Association.

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

 

 

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Why Theatre Should Be Core Education

A version of this article was published in the Spring, 2018 print edition of The International Educator.

Why Theatre Should Be Core Education

By Kassi Cowles

More than ever I feel that arts, and theatre in particular, should be part of the core curriculum for high school students. Even in the more holistic programs, like the International Baccalaureate, the arts are one of the only areas that students may opt out of. Language and literature, maths, sciences are mandatory—no escape–and I suppose the assumption is that these areas develop critical thinking and responsible citizenship more directly, or in a more predictable way. The IBDP mandates creativity through extracurricular pursuits which can have a lasting impact on students who already love the arts; but allowing students to opt out of studies in the arts as an essential subject sends the same tired message: the arts will always be on the periphery of language and logic, the subjects that comprise the core of how we prepare young people to contribute to and understand society.

To relegate arts to the extracurricular fringes is to do a great disservice to students, and to discount the impact that theatre in particular can have is an even greater oversight. Theatre encompasses all forms of art and anyone with experience in theatre, especially in high school, knows that it’s ideal for examining all aspects of the human experience—there’s nothing theatre doesn’t touch. It provides the richest opportunity for self examination, for developing community, for understanding the physical and metaphysical infrastructure that hold communities together so they can create, which is what we were born to do. The very lessons and experiences that season us, that cultivate the virtues that will lead to a more peaceful world, they are all found in theatre.

I’ll start by suggesting that if students can’t study theatre as a year-long course, then they should at some point be part of a theatre production. Creating theatre means creating a society where everyone has a job and responsibility. Not everyone can be a performer and not everyone wants to be. Theatre needs mathematicians and architects, designers, technicians, musicians, managers, dancers, builders and movers, writers, philosophers, anthropologists, critics, and of course an audience to collaborate with. Students can access the experience of theatre from an entry point that most interests them, and realize what it feels like to be a part of a community with a common goal.

Through this process they will redefine what it means to be in a physical space. They will respect space. They will experience how something physical, the theatre, becomes something conceptual, cultural, spiritual: Theatre. The impact of this alchemy on young people cannot be underestimated; like house to home, it is the process by which community and belonging are embodied, where they become cultural and creative imperatives. Students who have been touched deeply by theatre will understand the synergy of creative communities and will seek the resonant feeling of synergy in whatever future communities they create.

This is because theatre increases awareness. Although it can be studied academically, theatre provides opportunities to move the educational experience into a space beyond the mind, which many students in rigorous academic programs desperately need. It is a physical art, and it asks, of performers especially, for an awareness of the sensory experience that can only lead to a better understanding of the performers themselves. As Rebecca Solnit says, “empathy is first of all an act of imagination.”

Empathy is also the practice of awareness. And this is where the most reluctant participants have the most to gain. They feel terror, doubt, embarrassment, alienation, to which I say, yes, good, feel it! Feel it deeply in this moment where you are safe. Perhaps the honest and palpable fear that theatre provokes in a student will help him to empathize with those whose fear and terror are not for play, and whose alienation is systemic. At the very least, theatre will teach students how to listen (for their cue, for their chance!), to examine the effect of their choices, and to broaden their field of perception. If this alone is the only gift studying theatre provides, then it is immeasurable, as the general dullness of our sensory awareness is what leads us to misunderstand ourselves and others.

Finally, theatre teaches service. It has a higher purpose. The more committed students are to collaboration the more they will fight to find points of resonance with the material, even if they hate it, and with each other, even if there’s tension. They will be vulnerable and they will extend themselves, creatively, physically, emotionally, philosophically, into unfamiliar realms so that they can reach each other and the audience, finding moments of temporary alignment even in the most diverse crowds. I tell this to my theatre students often when they have doubt or conflict as performers: in the end, this isn’t about you.  In the end, theatre is about communing with an art form that cannot exist without the community that keeps it alive.

And in the end, what’s left when the show is done is so much love. High school students fall in love with theatre precisely because their hearts and minds are primed for such intense experiences to leave a permanent impression. They cry and grieve when it’s finished because it can never be duplicated. In the process of creating theatre, students will have learned about community and collaboration, empathy, compassion, awareness for themselves, the material, each other; they will have pushed through barriers of doubt, frustration and fatigue, they will have touched on the subtle fluctuations of the human experience that they may not yet understand, and yet somehow in their bodies, in a way without words, they do understand.

For young people, theatre has the capacity to shape their perception about what it means to belong and to create belonging. And there is nothing more at the core of being human than this.

 

Posted in Forrest Broman | Leave a comment

Sex Ed and World Peace

A version of this article was published in the Fall, 2018 print edition of The International Educator.

Sex Ed and World Peace

“Sex and gender equality is so basic and essential to peace and security.”

                                                                                                            —Sex and World Peace

Years ago I told a colleague I was teaching The Kite Runner in my literature class. He immediately had a problem with it. He said, you can’t teach that book, there’s that awful scene where the boy gets raped. It’s not appropriate. But what about all the seminal texts we teach where women are raped or abused,I asked, (I listed several on our curriculum). It’s different, he said. Why? It just is.

I’ve only every worked in elite international schools. Over the course of my career not one school had an intentional and updated sex, gender, and relationship program, where we could examine these concepts in a holistic, interdisciplinary way.

Coincidentally, in several of the schools I’ve worked at there have been instances of sexual violation and coercion: teachers violating students, students coercing others into performing sex acts. There have been students recovering from rape and sexual trauma where we could offer no in-school support; I’ve witnessed the sexualized bullying of students identifying as LGBTQ; and I’ve taught students with such a misunderstanding of sexuality and reproduction that future sexual trauma feels inevitable.

And then I read the news.

The correlation between weak and non-existent sex Ed and examples of sex and gender inequality in society, is so obvious, we’re missing it. We’ve been too busy, in our elite programs, preparing students for success, preparing them for power. We haven’t taken the time to teach where power comes from and all the ways it can be stolen, lost, wielded, and recovered. Because sex, in a broader term, intersects with all the things that cause war: power, politics, race, gender, identity, tribalism, masculinity, money.

The book Sex and World Peace takes a holistic view of this complex problem. The authors claim that the barrier to a peaceful world is gender inequality, and that inequality is a form of violence. As teachers in international programs, it’s vital that we teach this now. Relevant and thorough sex Ed is one way to help promote equality and reduce sexual crimes in college, in the workplace, and in the home, because often the root of these actions is systemic ignorance. When sex is something we are afraid to talk about in school, students will seek answers elsewhere: from pornography, from youth culture and group think tendencies, or they will rely on the information (or lack thereof) that they inherit from their families, most of which is likely out-dated and insufficient.

Many international schools will say they can’t teach sex Ed because it goes against the values of the host country, the parents, or the school itself. Given the far and interdisciplinary reach of sex and gender issues, there’s also the question of who feels qualified to teach it. Despite these barriers, we cannot continue with fear and apathy, releasing students into the world without so much as a discussion on consent.

Since so many international students are graduating with little to no sex Ed, I argue that the change has to come from the programs themselves, not from the schools alone. In order to graduate, a student in the IBDP, for example, must complete a 4000 word EE, fulfill their CAS and TOK requirements; and now, imagine that they must also pass their Sex, Gender, and Relationship class—a course purposefully designed to teach them that understanding the complexity of sex and gender issues is responsible citizenship.

Will a class like this deter schools in conservative countries from offering the IB programs? In the end, I doubt it. International schools are in the business of making money–for profit and for better programs in their schools; and anyway, what are the implications for a school that drops their affiliation with an international program that believes that sex Ed is a human right? Sex education should not be considered dangerous or unnecessary. The #metoo and #timesup movements have cracked open a dialogue about systemic sexism and have revealed a desperate need for better education and healing around these issues.  And there are ways to adapt the content to different contexts without sacrificing core knowledge.

So what could this program look like? Core topics could include Sex and the Self (sexual health and identity), Sex, Power, and Ethics (a great time to teach consent), Sex in the Digital Age (a way to support students through the barrage of messaging and media). Deeper examination could include the history of sexual beliefs in different cultures–another great way to illuminate the relationship between sex, gender, and inequality. A strong TOK class pushes students to question the architecture of their beliefs; a strong sex Ed program should do the same.

Imagine if students graduated with an updated vocabulary with which to think and talk about sex and gender; with a sense of confidence in themselves as sexual beings—aligned, of course, with their own context and values; and with an understanding that sex and gender intersect with many other sensitive issues that they are likely to encounter in life.

Students shouldn’t have to wait until they reach university to deeply examine these issues, as most of their core beliefs about their sexuality will be shaped in high school anyway. They deserve support. The explicit choice not to educate students about sex increases ignorance, secrecy, shame, and allows for misguided people and collective behaviour to shape the understandings of vulnerable communities—and teenagers are a vulnerable community. If we want a more peaceful world (and who doesn’t?) sex education is vital.

 

Posted in Forrest Broman | Leave a comment

Child Safeguarding

So last weekend we hosted an international child safeguarding conference here at ASP, with over 150 participants representing 24 countries from all around the world, and you know what…it was really, really heavy. It was run by the committed and inspiring leaders of CIS (Council of International Schools), who hit us all very hard over the four days with the “why” behind this non-negotiable reality…that we need to make child safeguarding the top priority of international schools around the globe.

As a school, we arranged a half day release for our students so each and every english speaking faculty and staff member could go through specific sessions and keynotes, and we all left forever changed. The opening keynote began with the promise that “there is life before this conference, and life after this conference”, suggesting that the participants would be profoundly impacted as a result of what they learned…and they were right. It was intense, disrupting, and ultimately incredibly inspiring to know that we have embraced this initiative as a community to better protect our kids…what could be more important than that?

I came away from the deep dive session on Saturday evening feeling validated that we have a really strong safeguarding foundation in place as a school, but also a little overwhelmed by the work that we have left to do to become a leading school internationally in this area. As the designated child safeguarding lead for ASP, I am personally passionate about this work, and excited to engage with all of our stakeholders to ensure that we have put all measures in place to protect our kids from every possible angle.

Historically, International Schools have not done a good enough job of protecting our children from physical and sexual abuse and neglect, and we haven’t been great at identifying and reporting low level concerns…that needs to change. CIS is taking the lead as a organization, and as only the 2nd international school from around the world to take part in the CIS Child Protection Conference training, we need international school leaders to get in front of this right away…every school is affected by this in one way or another, even if they don’t know it yet, and the statistics and stories that were shared throughout the conference opened up our eyes to the urgency of this work…please go down this road as a school if you haven’t already…it’s a responsibility that cannot be ignored any longer.

Over the next several weeks we will be training our coaches, our French speaking faculty and staff, and looking for ways to ensure that every adult that comes in contact with our children (volunteers, interns, parents) has the proper safeguarding training, as well as a deep understanding of the “why” behind the work. We will also be meeting with an outside consultant to audit our facility spaces, to make sure that we haven’t left any stone unturned. I’m proud of our school for taking this on, and even though it will take an incredible amount of time and effort and resources, it will be worth every second and every penny. To save even one child from harm in the future will make this work worthwhile, but I have a strong feeling that it’s going to save many more than just one.

Thank you CIS for leading this out for our international world, and thank you in advance to the international schools who will bring a safeguarding conference to their community in the near future…don’t wait…your children’s safety is at stake. Here is a beautiful poem that speaks to the importance of rallying as a community so we are all in this together. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Whose Child Is This?

‘Whose child is this? ‘ I asked one day
Seeing a little one out at play
‘Mine’, said the parent with a tender smile
‘Mine to keep a little while
To bathe her hands and comb her hair
To tell her what she is to wear
To prepare her that she may always be good
And each day do the things she should’

‘Whose child is this? ‘ I asked again
As the door opened and someone came in
‘Mine’, said the teacher with the same tender smile
‘Mine, to keep just for a little while
To teach her how to be gentle and kind
To train and direct her dear little mind
To help her live by every rule
And get the best she can from school’

‘Whose child is this? ‘ I ask once more
Just as the little one entered the door
‘Ours’ said the parent and the teacher as they smiled
And each took the hand of the little child
‘Ours to love and train together
Ours this blessed task forever.’

– Jessie Girl Rivera

 

Quote of the Week…

Every child you encounter is a divine appointment 

– Wess Stafford

 

Inspiring Videos –

Some Gifts Are More Thank Just a Gift

Children’s Reactions

Become a Better Person(TED Talk)

Find Your Nearest Mom

 

Articles and Websites –

Council of International Schools Resources

Keep Kids Safe

Safety Rules

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment