A Quest to Serve All Learners, Everywhere, Anytime

A hybrid is something made by combining two different elements.  My earliest understanding was that of the mule, the result of crossing a horse and a donkey. In the field of education, hybrid learning is best defined as some students participate in person, whereas others are online. Educators teaching virtual and in-person learners at the same time.  

Though often used interchangeably, hybrid models are not the same as blended learning.  Blended learning is resultant when educators combine in-person instruction with online learning activities, completing some components online and others in person.  A hardly foreign approach in technology-rich schools.  

In an article authored by Celisa Steele titled, “Hybrid vs Blended Learning: The Difference and Why It Matters,” further distinction is made.  “Both types of learning involve a mix of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in the two scenarios. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different individuals. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in person and online.”

360° Accommodation

The pandemic ushered in a necessity for renewed flexibility and inversely spurred creativity to strategically design schedules to accommodate all learners wherever they may be, at whatever time.  The terms synchronous and asynchronous more than mere buzzwords, were essential to take into account.  

Amidst a background of more questions than answers, scheduling becomes anything but dichotomous. Dr. John Spencer illustrates five different models for structuring hybrid learning.  

Differentiation Model:  students at home and in-person engage synchronously on the same lesson.  The two groups frequently interact with one another.
Multi-track Model: students work on the same lessons but they are divided into cohorts that exist in separate tracks. The cohorts rarely interact.
Split A/B Model: students alternate days between being at-home and being in-person.  Most at-home learning is asynchronous with a few opportunities for video conferencing.
Virtual Accommodation Model: When the group at home is small (3-4 students) they can function as a virtual small group but use video chat to join the in-person classroom.
Independent Project Model: When a face-to-face lesson doesn’t work off-line and only 1-4 students need to work virtually, an independent model works best.

Spencer recognizes how every model has strengths and weaknesses.  Further he comments, “As educators, we need to be strategic about which model we select based on the needs of our students.” Furthermore, Spencer attests to the importance of being intentional if hybrid learning is to work. A one-size fits all approach could not be justifiable, equally choices must be made instead of kidding ourselves that every model might be implemented with success.

Various Hybrid and Blended Models Mixed to Make a Jambalaya 

Currently, we find ourselves ushering in a sort of Wild West.  If nothing else, a spirit of innovation prevails and we must remain optimistic; to at least give things a try.  Yet, upon first or even second glance, some ingenious scheduling options, might leave an educator wondering about their skill set and abilities to nimbly bounce between different modalities; designing lessons and supporting learners in-person, while at the same time virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously.  A reality where some schedules may be a combination of hybrid and blended models.  Possibly three of Spencer’s models, and an overlooked delineation of the difference between hybrid and blended learning.  In effect, models proposing eighty minute lessons with a combination of physically distanced learners in-person and virtual synchronous but also asynchronous learners; cohorts on A/B days; and sixty minute entirely virtual synchronous and asynchronous lessons.  One may tire reading about such a schedule, so the exhaustion in implementation is unimaginable. Further, some families may be weary of sending their child to school, resulting in some learners always virtual in real-time, whereas others remain in different time zones and always asynchronous.  And to spare a bit more confusion in schedule design, we will not examine what it might mean when educators similarly do not feel safe to return to in-person instruction and remain entirely virtual.  

Amidst the jambalaya, some educators as well as families may question the very nature of a school and its identity, especially if a variety of hybrid and blended models overlap.  The motivation is apparent, complex scheduling for the sake of providing access to all learners. Though a noble hill to die upon, an analogy of diversification may not be so far-fetched.  Would Nike ever expand to brand potato chips?

There is legitimacy in questioning, “Who are we?”  Especially so, as educators tethered to the values of excellency constantly dedicate themselves to honing their craft.  Some may be filled with intimidation, wondering if in our attempt to be everywhere, at all times, for everyone; might we be spread thin?  The result is one of mediocrity, where some learners are served, in some places, some of the time?”

Time will only tell.

As we embark on what appears unchartered waters, a spirit of voyage hopefully seeps into our being.  A focus on the potential and not the peril.  One of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Ernest Shackleton attested to the “need to put footprint of courage into stirrup of patience.”

Poised and positive we set sail.

Global Books

In this column I share my favourite books to read aloud, curl up with and put into the hands of young readers. This week, a look at books about libraries and books.

The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is perhaps my all-time favorite book about libraries. I can’t decide what I like more – the words by Carla Morris or the pictures by Brad Sneed; but the result of this combination is a heartwarming love song to librarians. Melvin grows up surrounded by books. The librarians encourage him to be curious and to look for answers in books and online. Their investment pays off in a perfect ending that I won’t give away. You will have to read this book for yourself.. or better yet, to your students. ISBN 978-1-56145-391-7, Peachtree

Library Lion

The Library Lion by Michelle Knudson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, looks and feels like a classic. It’s the wonderful story of rules made to be broken, of a librarian who is not easily ruffled and of a lion who loves listening to story. A must-share with young readers in a school library! ISBN 978-0-7636-3784-2, Candlewick

Lady with the Books, The: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman

The Lady With The Books, Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance is based on the true story of Jella Lepman, a German Jewish journalist who believed in building global friendship and understanding through children’s books. She traveled around war-torn Germany with a display of international books, and initiated the International Youth Library as well as IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, a global organization that still promotes children’s books around the world today. A wonderful fictional read complemented by nonfiction details in the back matter. SBN 978-1-5253-0154-4, Kids Can Press

It's a Book

It’s A Book, Lane Smith. A book doesn’t need a mouse, it doesn’t need to be charged. A book may not need wifi or be able to tweet, but a book can draw you right in. For hours… You may like a book so much that you don’t want to give it back. And even then you won’t need to charge it. Because it’s a book. A hilarious story to share out loud. ISBN 978-1-59643-606-0, Roaring Brook Press

A Child of Books

A Child of Books byJeff Oliver and Sam Winston is a fabulous ode to stories. The art is made of papers and typeset words. “I come from a world of stories, and upon my imagination I float…” shows a child on a raft floating on a sea of words that a reader will recognize from many classics. The book shows a world made from stories and lends itself to be read to children of all ages as well as used with high school art students. A great gift for booklovers of any age. ISBN 978-1-4063-5831-5, WALKER

The Undercover Book List

The Undercover Book List, Colleen Nelson is a fabulous middle grade novel. It’s a story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship. Jane loves to read but misses her best friend who moved away. Tyson is into video games and does not like to read. But through the secret messages left in books in their school library, both main characters change and make new friends. A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friend. Also perfect for the teacher to read aloud.  ISBN 978-1-77278-187-8, Pajama Press

Rebel in the Library of Ever

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander is a fictional novel about Lenora who is curious. In magical, fantastical adventures she travels through the ages and around the globe, all entering a library. Hired as the Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian, Lenora climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading. In the sequel – Rebel of the Library of Ever – Lenore has to free knowledge from the shadows. Your upper elementary students will love these smart, sci-fi page turners. ISBN 978-1250169174, Imprint.

Ban This Book: A Novel

Ban This Book, Alan Gratz. No column about school libraries would be complete without this title which deals skillfully with the difficult topic of censorship of books in an elementary school library. While showing both  sides of the issue, Gratz leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. The book also manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life.   A great read, even for teachers. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1

Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian is a Camel, a nonfiction book about unique mobile libraries around the world. She conducts author presentations at international schools.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World

Duolingo teaches language – and perhaps a bit more

In January 2013 I started my first language course on Duolingo. Little did I know just how many hours I would spend over the next eight years! Right up to this morning, in fact, during my walk with Gilligan, our koiru … chien … Hund … cachorro … perro …

Along the way I’ve used Duolingo with high school students in language classes, with graduate students in courses about language classes, and as support for forays into language, by using Klingon, High Valyrian, and Esperanto as examples of constructed languages. It’s a fantastic hobby.

Every now and then it strikes me that something or other that Duolingo is doing with its app leads to a good thought about how education works. And why not? Duolingo has a huge database of user experience, coupled with their inspiring mission statement: to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available. Here’s a few examples of some recent insights.

Motivation. Duolingo uses gamification to keep me doing Duolingo. This morning I was reviewing Italian with the standard short quizzes on the platform. I kept failing to complete the lesson I was working on, but I kept trying to redo it. Why? Because I failed to finish (by making four mistakes) only after I had done enough of the lesson to earn 20 points. Silly? Maybe. But the fact that my fail – as low as just over 50% correct – still earned me positive feedback (20 more points added to my total XP) was enough to get me to try again.

How often is 50% right rewarded in our classrooms? How often does 50% right get communicated as 50% wrong? What does that do to motivation?

There are many other clever tricks to motivate Duolingo learners. I’ll mention one. The podcasts Duolingo has produced in Spanish and French are on a par with shows from National Public Radio in the US. They are really well done. I’ve listened to them all. With a recent platform update you can now earn points for listening to a podcast. So, yes, I listened to them all again. I’m essentially putty in their gamified hands. But I’m getting a whole lot of language practice.

Does this mean that education should be based more on points? No. The lesson for me is that education should be more about value-add and less about how far students are from getting 100% on their work. The podcasts don’t grade me for misunderstanding 30% of what was said (oh, a C!). My work does not become a result on a rubric (Student understood 70% of the information; oh, a 3!) The podcasts simply reward me for listening to them.

Short and often … and choice. The language learning on Duolingo is broken into very short segments. The podcasts are arguably the longest single learning exercises, running around 20 minutes. The other exercises are generally very short. Learn a little, get some feedback, learn a little, get some feedback. Tight iterations of learning, with feedback, under my control. 

You can choose to do a successful lesson again, which is arguably a bit harder because the next level will use harder skills, e.g. asking you to produce more language instead of reacting to language the lesson produces. But it’s your choice. You can also move ahead to a new set of exercises at the easier level. Or you can review lessons you’ve already completed at all levels. Or you can switch the activity type … or even the language. Or you can quit because you’ve used up your energy for language learning. What are the parallels here we could explore with the way students all over the world are doing school right now? Even more interesting, what about the way we do school is not parallel with Duolingo’s user experience and what can we learn from that?

I’d share more, but that’s enough for now. I’m feeling the need for a little time with the silly green owl … and all those wonderful words and interesting grammatical moves I discover along the way. And of course some pretty darn good insights for my personal philosophy of teaching as well.

Breaking Boundaries

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on Canva.com

This September, it will be one and half years since I crossed any international border. Being an international school teacher, one of the much-awaited times of the year is the summer or winter holidays, when expats like me cross many boundaries to reach our destinations. I remember a time when I took 14 flights in 40 days to cross some rustic, some familiar and some sought after boundaries. Many a time I was asked uncomfortable questions, like “How did you get the visa?” or ”Why are you travelling alone?”. There was even one time when my son and I were detained by the airport immigration authorities for 2 hours as they wanted to verify our details! Privileges I have enjoyed being a person of colour. Yet it still didn’t deter me or my family from crossing or I would say Breaking Boundaries

Incidentally, Breaking Boundaries is a Netflix series on safeguarding the future of the planet. I would like to use it as an analogy for safeguarding the present state of the planet. Boundaries were created to bring peace and order to the world, but have they? Boundaries have created weaponised armies, infantry and artillery, discrimination, xenophobia and genocide. This imaginary line has only severed the umbilical cord of humans from humanity.  It’s high time we consider Breaking Boundaries, literally and metaphorically.

Whilst we cannot get rid of this imaginary line, we can make it less rigid and easy to break through, and this has to start in our early years, as early as possible. Most of our formative knowledge is constructed in school, therefore, action needs to be taken in educating children for Breaking Boundaries. 

Language – Learning different languages is a great way of breaking boundaries, it teaches compassion, tolerance and a perspective to understand the world. We can never have one language for all and we can never learn all languages to understand all, but we can have one way of understanding all languages-empathy. The fact that at the core of every conversation is a need to be understood. Teach children to communicate and listen to other people, teach them to collaborate across boundaries to blur the lines.

Sports – The recent Tokyo Olympics has been exemplary in reminding us how team sports helps in breaking boundaries. It reminded us that borders cannot define us even though we are segregated, grouped and claimed by borders. The team spirit and the spirit of camaraderie wins the overall differences created by borders. Sports teaches us the value of sacrifice, the contentment in celebrating other people’s achievements and recognising the empathetic side of the human spirit.

Interdisciplinary teaching – Training the brain to bring in separate ideas is the main objective of interdisciplinary learning. It is the type of learning that breaks the subject boundaries to bring together separate disciplines around common themes, issues, or problems. If we train our students to learn from an interdisciplinary point of view, they will look beyond boundaries and come together to work around issues plaguing humanity. They will not hesitate in breaking borders for the better.

At the core of Breaking Boundaries lies a key message of action – come together for breaking boundaries that limit, discriminate and determine human identity. Don’t scar the Earth with ugly boundaries, blur the imaginary line to imagine new frontiers of friendship, collaboration, empathy and above all survival.

To Be A Kid

So I have been spending a lot of time this week trying to get to know the names of our new students, which incidentally might just be the most critical aspect of my job as we begin the new school year. I have been eating lunch with them and hanging out with them at recess, and tracking kids down on the playground before school, and you know what, it’s given me plenty of time to reconnect with an undeniable and absolute truth, which is…kids are awesome! 

In my opinion, It is next to impossible to interact with a bunch of kids and not have your heart be filled with joy and love and hope. The other cool consequence is that you can’t help but to be transported back to when you were once a kid yourself, as you start to feel that sense of wonder, imagination, creativity, and playfulness that we all sometimes struggle to connect with as adults. 

This past week I’ve been playing tag, and playing school, and telling jokes. I’ve been in the mud kitchen and on the swings and on the slide, and I’ve been making up imaginary communities on the moon…so fun! I even had a chance to jump in a shallow puddle outside the early childhood area much to the delight of the little ones, as well as to the delight of my own inner child. It’s been one of the best weeks that I’ve had in quite some time, certainly since the pandemic began, and the takeaway for me is that obviously my inner kid has been bursting to come out, and I bet yours has been too.

We are so fortunate as educators to have the opportunity to be around young people each and everyday, and I know that collectively we are much better than most at letting our inner kid flags fly, but over the past 18 months or so it’s been very easy to be in constant adult mode as we all deal with the world as it is. Spending this past week purposely engaging with kids at play, and finding a way to become a part of their world, has been refreshing and in many ways therapeutic. Honestly, I actually think that I needed this past week as I jumped and sang and splashed around, and with how I’m feeling now, I’m going to keep it up next week too! 

Anyway, I highly recommend finding some time over the next couple of weeks to head down to the mud kitchen, or to take part in an Art lesson, or to even take a swing on the swings with kids daring you to go higher and higher. We all need to reignite that beautiful little kid spirit that is still deep down inside, and to reconnect with the beauty and joy of children…we have so much to learn from their approach to life, and from their ability to find inspiration in life’s simplest and smallest of pleasures. How lucky are we to have the opportunity to learn from children for a living…don’t take it for granted. So, get out there and play! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week….

The most sophisticated people I have ever known had just one thing in common: they were all in touch with their inner child – Jim Hensen

Related Articles – 

Be a Kid Again Day!

Finding Your Inner Child

Live Like a Kid Again

Why You Should

Doing Childish Things More Often

TED Talks – 

Talks for Your Inner Child

Take The Time To Play

Inspiring Videos – 

Clean Slate

TheThank You Letter

Best Friends

Another Pep Talk

The Notion of a Growth Heartset

So last week at our new family orientation event, I ran into a joyfully bright eyed and eager second grade girl who could not have been more excited about starting her new school life at ASP. She was mostly excited about the idea of making new friends, and she went on to tell me at length all about her foolproof strategy, which made me tear up and burst out laughing all at the same time. She said, “making friends is easy for me because I just show them my heart, and that’s all you need to do!” 

Of course I thanked her for sharing that, and mentioned that I was absolutely sure that her strategy would indeed work well for her this year. Sure enough, on the first day of school this week I saw her buzzing around the playground spreading joy and love and positive energy everywhere she went, with kids completely and helplessly drawn to her and following along, as she left rainbows and sunbeams all around them in her wake. 

That interaction with my new student inspiration got me thinking about the notion of a growth “heartset”…which is ultimately a kindness of the heart approach to life and school. This approach is something that we could all use a little more of these days as we begin another school year. I found a wonderful definition of heartset in one of the articles that I’ve included below, and it defines it as, “an energy field of self-awareness, non-judgment (acceptance), peace, caring, positivity, giving, forgiving, and compassion that allows us to more freely and proactively be a force for good. A growth heartset creates an emotional environment in which we and the young people we teach can flourish in spite of the uncertainties and challenges that are so prevalent today.” 

Well, this notion aligns perfectly with the commitments that we have made as a faculty and as a school over the past few years, and in my opinion, having a growth heartset is what quality teaching and great schools are all about. I know we’ve done incredible work with our kids over the past several years around the importance of having a growth mindset, which is a frame of mind, and now I think it’s time to extend that work to include this important notion of a growth heartset, which is a frame of the heart, and to start using the term heartset with our community.

It really is a fantastic word to use with our kids, as it encompasses so much of what we are trying to do in our approach to teaching, learning, and school. Having a growth heartset ties in so nicely with our motto of, “You Are the Weather”, and even though the culture and climate of our lower school is super solid, there is always more that we can do to enhance our daily interactions with our kids and with each other. So, my challenge to you as we begin a new year, a year that is full of promise and possibility, is to be even more like our new ray of sunshine in second grade and simply… show them your heart…that’s all you have to do! It really is a foolproof strategy. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

When you lead with your heart, love and connection will follow

-Unknown

Related Articles – 

Transforming Teaching and Learning

Lead With your Heart

The Heart of Teaching

A Mindshift for Teachers

Starting the Year Off With Joy

Community Building Ideas

Inspiring Videos – 

Hokey Pokey

No Plans To Retire

Made Us Smile This Week

Opening Doors 

Find Your Voice

You Belong Here

@emilymeadowsorg www.EmilyMeadows.org

Safe Space signs are used to signal that the room they adorn is, well, a “safe space” for all people, particularly including LGBTQ+ folks. These signals are important because, while many organizations and institutions claim to welcome everyone, this too often means that they welcome everyone except openly LGBTQ+ people. A Safe Space sign that explicitly names LGBTQ+ people as included can make a significant difference in signaling to gender and sexual minority students that they are part of the ‘everyone’ schools refer to[1].

While these signs are valuable, the wording of ‘safe space’ can be misleading. We, as educators, cannot guarantee that any space will be safe for LGBTQ+ children, who have a long-documented record of being targeted for bullying and harassment in schools[2]. Indeed, to claim that a learning space is safe for all children when the curriculum, for example, does not reflect positive representations of any LGBTQ+ people, can come across as disingenuous or even gaslighting. Indeed, while our intentions may be fervently inclusive, intent and impact do not always align. As we work to build real equity, safety, and inclusion in international schools, we can also, always, affirm a child’s right to belong.

With a new year upon us, I have created a collection of fresh posters for international educators to welcome students with a message of belonging. The posters, free to download, print, and share, feature the classic rainbow flag (updated to include transgender people and people of color), with translations in several languages. I designed this poster collection initially to offer educators options for inclusive signage in their international schools. Once I published it for my Twitter contacts, it became a heart-warming community project, with educators chiming in from around the world to offer additional translations for their local context, or to gift translations to others, and the language options have continued to grow. Further, I have enjoyed the way collaborators overcame linguistic challenges that come with translation, working together to nail down interpretations for ‘belonging’ to capture the sense of the meaning, even if a direct equivalent does not exist in their language. 

In addition to these welcoming posters, I encourage LGBTQ+ educators and allies to seek training and resources to make their schools more equitable and inclusive (call me for ideas). A poster is a brilliant start, but it is only the beginning.

*Link to download and share the free You Belong Here poster collection

*I’d be delighted to tailor-make a poster in any language that’s missing from the collection; please send the translation of ‘You Belong Here’ with your request to: EmilyMeadows@gmail.com


[1] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective  School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[2] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

Are You a Reflective Practitioner?

Image created on canva.com by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner?

A reflective practitioner reflects on practice in order to improve their performance. A teacher who develops a habit of reflection to get more knowledge and experience and apply it to classroom planning and instruction is a reflective practitioner. This includes critically reflecting upon their teaching practice to develop practical instructional strategies.

Why should teachers be reflective practitioners?

Teachers have a job of planning instructions and delivering them in the classroom. John Dewey explained this as theory and practice in education, he focused primarily on experiential and reflective learning. He explained that a theory cannot be understood unless it is practised hence experience is very valuable in practice (Dewey, 1923). Long before John Dewey, many educational theorists and philosophers like Lev Vygotsky and Confucius have written about the benefits of reflective teaching and experiential learning as the best strategy to attain knowledge and understanding.

Teachers get an opportunity to improve their teaching if they can look into their successes and challenges to make necessary amendments. This process is reflection. Since experience and reflection are interlinked, reflection denotes an experience as a reflective experience. “Reflection is a way of converting ready-structured experience into the newly structured actions we call the professional practice” (Silcock, 1994, p. 278).

Teachers should be reflective practitioners as they will be able to combine knowledge and expertise empowering themselves to be change-makers and thought leaders in education. Teachers need to be reflective for professional growth as well as for the growth of pedagogy.

How can teachers be reflective practitioners? 

Teachers can be reflective practitioners if they have developed a habit of documenting the teaching and learning process in three simple stages:

  1. Reflections before teaching a concept, content or competency
  2. Reflections while teaching a concept, content or competency
  3. Reflections after teaching a concept, content or competency

One of the tools that I use is Kolb’s Model of Reflection (1984). This model requires teachers to follow four simple steps to reflect on their practices:

  1. Concrete Experience: to answer the question what you did?
  2. Reflective Observations:  to answer the question what do you wonder?
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: to answer the question what you learned/so what?
  4. Application: to answer the question now what? 

The process of reflection helps in creating focused learning strategies for differentiation, addressing student needs, planning collaborative tasks, creating authentic assessments and selecting meaningful content. As practitioners of pedagogy, we need to reflect on our practice to ascertain if we are informing our pedagogy with our practical experiences in the classroom. In many ways, this is a design thinking routine that teachers should implement in their instructional planning.

The big advantage of being a reflective practitioner is the idea that the habit of reflecting on practice makes the teacher a lifelong learner.

References

Dewey J., (1973), Lectures in China 1919-1920, Honolulu, The University Press of Hawaii.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Silcock, P. (1994). The Process of Reflective Teaching. British Journal of Educational Studies, 42(3), 273-285. doi:10.2307/3121886


GLOBAL BOOKS

Books About School

Children’s books, including picture books and novels, are not just for little ones. Some children’s books should be called ‘everybody books’. And some can be especially good for educators to read. Here are some that will work particularly well at the beginning of a new school year to share as read-alouds by librarians, classroom teachers, counsellors or administrators.

A wild and humorous book for school administrators to share with younger students, is the last book written by Dr. Seuss, finished by Jack Prelutsky: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. The principal worries that, if his students won’t pass the test, there may not be funding to keep their beloved school open. The classroom teacher and the librarian know better as they coax the students. A very funny read. ISBN 0-679-89008-4, Alfred A. Knopf

1, 2, 3 Off to School by Marianne Dubuc is the kind of picture book I would have savoured as a child. There’s lots of fun text, but it’s the images that you can study forever. Each double spread shows a school in a fairy tale setting: there’s Cattail Academy where frogs paint and sing. The sloths attend Sleepytime School and squirrels learn all they need to know at Lookout Heights. Throughout the pages, little Pom discovers how much fun kindergarten will be. She can’t wait to attend her own school. ISBN 978-1-5253-0656-3, Kids Can Press

Harley The Hero by Peggy Collins is based on a real classroom where the teacher has a service dog. The book celebrates the work of service animals and the normalization of neurodivergence. The author-illustrator brings Harley and his class to charming life and concludes with an Author’s Note about the real dog behind the fictional Harley who goes to school every day with Ms. Prichard to make sure she feels safe. Harley can’t play with the students while he’s wearing his work vest. They write him letters instead, and everything is perfect in the best, most quiet class in the whole school. Until the day the old stage curtains catch fire. As the fire alarm blares and chaos erupts, Harley remembers that Ms. Prichard isn’t the only human in his class who gets upset by loud noises. ISBN 978-1-77278-195-3, Pajama Press

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco is perhaps her best known book. This autobiographical story shows how the now prolific author struggled with reading as a child. Despite being surrounded by books she could not master the skill of reading until a patient, understanding teacher changed her life.  ISBN 0-399-23166-8, Philomel

By the same author, Patricia Polacco, is Mr. Lincoln’s Way – the story of an bully in Grade 5 and his principal. Despite personal lashings out, Mr. Lincoln finds a way to break through Eugene’s shield of anger by tapping into the boy’s one keen interest. Through books, patience and caring the two forge a bond that helps Eugene find his way.  ISBN 0-439-43011-9

Here is a picturebook recently self-published by teacher/librarian Sandip Sodhi: Ms. Chievus in the Classroom. Division O-O has so much misbehaviour that most teachers gave up. But not Ms. Chievus. She somersaults into the classroom and into the hearts of the rowdy students. In Pippi Longstocking-like fashion the teacher blows bubble gum bubbles and stands on her desk until the students teach her to behave better. A fun, turn-about way to discuss students’ behaviour in school. ISBN 978-1-7770218-0-1

Off To Class by Susan Hughes is a nonfiction book about the wide variety of ways in which children around the world get an education. From schools in refugee camps to finding text books in trash, this book shows the resilience of children and educators in many different countries.  ISBN 978-1-926818-86-3

The Report Card byAndrew Clements is a wonderful novel of a strong willed child who does not see the value of dividing students into ‘gifted’ and ‘hopeless’. She’s brilliant but wants to demonstrate how her best friend much feel when he gets D’s and she gets A’s. She does not want to stand out, blending in is much better. But when Nora fails her tests and the school librarian discovers the true level of her interests and knowledge, Nora has some explaining to do that might just lead to her teachers’ understanding of her concerns. Based on a true study, this is a timeless story. ISBN 0-439-67110-8

Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children including the nonfiction picture book MY SCHOOL IN THE RAINFOREST showcasing a variety of schools around the world including an international school, Boyds Mills Press, ISBN 978-1-59078-601-7

Embracing Wonder and Grace

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”    ~Epicurus

It was the first day of a new school year.  At lunchtime a message appeared in my inbox with the subject line, “Where will you be teaching in 2022?”  It would be errant to claim this to be the first wind I caught of peering into and “preparing” for the future.  Days prior, colleagues shared how they already registered with international recruitment agencies. A part of me was left reeling, falling perfectly into the “trap” of the subject line.  Wondering where might I be in a year’s time.  Try as I might, I wrestled with reality, asking, “Was it really already time to begin thinking about recruitment?”  

Regardless of the answer, any answer, I instead firmly plant myself in the present.  Teachers and administrators who have had “skin in the international game” for years may have the a priori belief that it never is too early to begin thinking about next year.  However, my experience in observing and listening to international educators for more than two decades, showcased how sometimes there was a sort of psychology of transition.  One that confirmed the necessity to be in the moment.

Like it was yesterday, I can remember how my first two years played out teaching overseas. The initial few months seamlessly fit with what is often called the honeymoon stage. The newness exciting to the cohort of teachers I entered alongside.  Differences such as conceptions of time, piqued our curiosity and were seen positively as stimulants. Later it would be these very items that would be irritants. We would settling in by winter break, still intrigued by cultural nuances and dedicated time to learn the language of the host nation. Friendships would continue to deepen. The first year was equal parts whirlwind and respite.  Life being lived in the present moment.  

Recruitment those days seemingly kicked into gear much later and so the start of year two was a continuation of positivity.  But, by March the second year some teachers in the cohort made the decision to move on. Seemingly overnight, there was a shift in mindset.  Certain friends became mere colleagues, ones I found myself no longer really wanting to even share conversation. Lightheartedness, laughter, and appreciation for any differences in culture were substituted for mockery and scorn. 

I wanted no part. 

It wasn’t until my second international post that I would be permitted a clearer window into what possibly was happening.  Again, a similar trajectory of experience played out.  From awe to contentment and then to frustration and even disdain.   Were there forces at play?  I was not sure.  But what I did recognize as truth was how there appeared to be a sort of uncanny coping mechanism, where individuals unconsciously deceived themselves.  As if darkness needed to exist to know light. Yet, it went beyond the paradoxical.  Little was in flux but the individual themselves.  The country was by and large the same.  The inhabitants, students, and school too.  Yet, ostensibly all that was celebrated the first year and a half, now was spoiled.

The aspirations of the “next place,” and far greener grass left some colleagues living in what might best be called purgatory.  Arguably they were living in two places.  Or possibly in no place at all.  What was certain was they no longer were fully present and appeared stuck. Of course this was and is not the case for all people in transition.  However, with each move I have witnessed a similar occurrence for some.  

And here we are.  Living in times where recruitment is no longer pegged to the seasons.  This is fitting as a result of the ubiquitous nature of so much in life, as we grow increasingly connected. Teachers for hire anytime, anywhere. A truly globalized world. Kind of like feasting on asparagus in Iceland in December.  Time and place no longer barriers. In the case of education; LinkedIn, Zoom and all the other platforms serve to displace the traditional recruitment fairs. Regardless, the subject line, “Where will you be in 2022” brought into focus for me, how there is a layering of beginnings.  Beginning a new school year, while already considering a beginning somewhere else. Simply becoming more aware of this, brought more contentment. Yet, this “layering” does come with some risk.  

The risk of living for today. 

What if instead of getting caught up in where we might be in 2022, we dedicated ourselves to doing as Will Richardson suggests?  “What if we committed to radical love, of one another and of the planet? It’s clear, I think, that anything less will prevent us from solving the problems we face. That and, of course, going out and jogging or walking or biking a few miles each week, turning off the narratives of strife and gloom, taking in the beauty that’s right in front of us, and honoring this current moment for all of its wonder and grace.”

Where will I be in 2022?

Hopefully still feeling grateful for my life, just like today. 

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