What We Can Learn from a Wiliwili

~A Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

We seem to drown in distractions, our phones the greatest culprit of all. At this moment, the palm of my hand remains empty as I sit and listen to a well-respected speaker. Yet my attention is clearly diverted, my eyes on the horizon as the sun dips into the ocean. The descending light drawing silhouettes of what is my captured  fixation;  lone wiliwili trees, Erythrina sandwicensis.  Though their name translates as “repeatedly twisted” in Hawaiian, describing their distinctive seed pods, it is their resiliency which marvels, only matched by their beauty and strength.  Somehow they defy life’s odds, thriving where less than an inch of rain falls in a nine month period. Steadfast, they reach out of barren and harsh volcanic fields of basalt.  Standing as a sentinel, it is difficult to look upon a wiliwili  and not consider its wisdom.

Amidst the environs of a dry forest, I came to learn more about how the interaction of land and culture contributed to the sustainability of island societies hundreds of years ago. The speaker was a brilliant septuagenarian professor of science from a decorated university and his modus operandi was one of lecture. He clearly was motivated by a desire to share with the people gathered, his audience, the importance of spaces, places, the past and present.  Not unlike the wiliwili, he was a bit gnarly, surely rooted in the wisdom that likely came from life experience.  But this evening was more about knowledge. Graphs, tables, and images of archaeological excavations accompanied an array of text stacked in bullet form as he talked and the people listened.  

As he talked and the people listened.

As he talked and the people listened…

The evening did not exactly align with what is known in Hawaii as “talk story,” or a time to explore ideas, opinions, and history.  Amongst his many messages were facts such as how mica minerals from Asia’s Taklimakan Desert blew over and were contained in the strata of the island’s soil. Another fact was how pre-contact, the island population was larger than the current census. Yet, Hawaiians were entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy, food, and water. After nearly an hour, the scientist was interrupted by a few emboldened individuals in the audience. They wanted to ask questions. This appeared to just happen, not necessarily part of his plan. However, an allowance was made for a few questions and then the final slides and knowledge was imparted.

This was not the end however.

Earlier in the evening, a not-for-profit organization was alluded to and now it would be represented by two women.  However, they would do so much more than talk at the audience.  As founders they could wax poetic about how they were helping preserve and also restore land not far from the desert in which we sat. Or, they could make a plea for support. Instead, a completely different approach was taken.  Instead of launching into the known, they invited the unknown. Ironically, between the two of them their accumulated years did not match the scientist. And yet they appeared to stand rooted with and in wisdom.

“What would you like to know?” one of the woman asked in confidence. The predominantly white-haired audience seemed stunned for a moment. Foreheads wrinkled and necks kinked backwards. As if to say, “The gumption to ask us this? Just tell us!”

I made a mental note to reflect more upon the moment.

What happened was in step with traditional classrooms and a passive approach to “learning.”  Comfort in being told how the world works.  Acted upon. Purely knowledge based and never before was it more apparent how this could be juxtaposed with the natural world. The wiliwili does not just stand and wait. If it did, it would die!  Instead, it actively searches out what it needs to thrive, not knowing where to find it but sensing rather.  

The approach of the two women was as empowering as it was flipped. Inviting wonder, questions ensued.  Questions about nearly everything, from the origins of the organization to how to get involved. Suddenly the audience was alive.

When it was time to go, we walked out under a darkened sky.  I perceived the wiliwili looking upon us. The two women by our side, the scientist long gone. Hawaiians pre-contact navigated across the oceans using nothing more than the stars, sun, and moon. We asked the women if what we saw was Pleiades (Makalii in Hawaiian). They confirmed it so, and shared how just two days prior, the constellation marked the start of the New Year and Makahiki. A time of celebration but also appreciation.  A reminder to take care of the land and all resources.

I continue to think about those lone wiliwilis in the desert and their resiliency. I also reflect on the evening. Of the importance of an invitational approach towards enquiry and the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Surely the ancients knew the difference.  Might we begin to understand as well.

Photograph by Sachin Clicks @ Pixahive 

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GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

I am often asked about my favourite books of poetry. I love rhyming picture books. Sharing poetry aloud with young children is a powerful, important tool to help them develop their sense of language with repetition, rhyme and alliteration. But perhaps my favourite genre is free verse poetry: novels written in poetic format without using rhyme. Here are some of my all time favourites because of their use of language ánd because of their content.

Gifts

Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart with plasticine art by Barbara Reid, is one of my very favourite picture books to share, especially at international schools. As grandma travels the world, she sends home gifts from different countries to her granddaughter. Beautiful poetic text celebrates special sights, sounds, foods and landmarks. Through the art, we see grandma growing older and when the granddaughter is an adult she, too, is traveling the world and sending home gifts to inspire the next generation.  ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5, Scholastic

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz won a Newbery Award. It’s an unusual book. Most of the voices in the book are written in beautiful, skilful rhyme. The book gives a plethora of information about the Middle Ages, including the Crusades, the life style, social standards, clothing, food, work and much more. But this book was also written to be performed as a stage play. Students can each ‘be’ a voice and share the history lessons they learned by performing this incredible play. Using this book will allow you to combine literacy with social studies, history, performing arts, and art to create backgrounds and costumes.  ISBN 978-0-7636-1578-9, Candlewick Press

Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is the beautiful told story of Kek, who has never seen snow or America. But he arrives as a refugee from Africa and has to learn everything. The sparseness of free verse poetry lets this book use just the right words, giving the story amazing power. If you are talking about migration and refugees in class, be sure to include this title. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6, Square Fish

Burying the Moon

Burying the Moon by Andrée Poulin, with gorgeous art by Sonali Zohra, is the touching tale of Latika in India. Having access to clean running water and a toilet is common for many but unfortunately not for all people. Latika is angry that her sister can no longer go to school because she turned twelve. She’s angry because her little cousin died from drinking dirty water, and she’s angry at the moon for exposing her when she has to deposit her waste in a field because there is no toilet building in her village. Latika overcomes her shyness to speak up after a kind engineer comes to her village. Through her courage the village will eventually build a toilet building. This simple but powerful free verse novel shed light on global issues and is an eye opener to living conditions in India. At the back of the book, websites are listed for organizations that help address the issues and to help kids take action. ISBN 978-1-77306-604-2, Groundwood Books

Pearl Verses the World

One of the most touching free verse books I know is Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, with lovely illustrations by Heather Potter. Do poems have to rhyme to be poetry? Pearl’s teacher wants the class to write rhyming poetry. But Pearl does not have it in her. Her heart and mind are at home where her beloved grandmother is sick in bed and dying. Grandma always read her books and talked with her. Now, no one does. Pearl feels alone and refuses to write. This is a story about a child coping in the world, learning about sorrow and loss, about the importance of friendships and following your heart. A story that always brings tears to my eyes and that can serve as a powerful tool for kids in a similar situation. ISBN 978-1-921150-93-7, Walker Books

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children. Her favourite workshop at international schools is creating nonfiction poems with students. www.margrietruurs.com

From Hard Conversations to Opportunity Talks

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled, “What’s In a Name?”, where I suggested that schools might want to think about reimagining traditional course and subject names, and that post got me thinking really deeply about the how and why behind the naming and labeling of lots of things all across organizations. For example, the other day I had a super supportive friend and colleague of mine ask me how I was doing because he knew that I had just come out of a school day loaded full of what he called, “hard conversations”. 

After I said thank you and started to head for home it struck me that on its face the label that we use to identify this kind of courageous human interaction really does have a negative connotation, and after thinking critically about it over the past week or so I’d like to advocate for a change from calling these interactions “hard conversations”, to a more positive and compassionate labeling where we call these conversations, “opportunity talks”. 

In my opinion, a simple name change like this would re-frame a person’s mindset, approach and inevitable visualization of what’s to come from one of nervousness, defensiveness, and fear (on both sides of the table) to one of openness, understanding, and compassion. In my experience, just about every hard conversation that I have ever had with anyone, and I’ve had many, has deep down at the core been about recognizing an opportunity. An opportunity that we have for growth, or clarity, or repair, which ultimately is a very positive and beautiful chance for a particular person to do better, and to be better…and what could be a greater opportunity than that?

It took me a long time to change my approach and mindset regarding these difficult discussions, and if I’m being honest, I used to shy away from them until they became absolutely necessary. I was never one for conflict growing up, and like most people, addressing difficult issues was something that I didn’t look forward to for many, many years because well, they are hard! Over the years however, I have started to embrace these opportunity talks as I am now acutely aware of the fact that good leadership and good schools are connected tightly to what people in the organization are willing to address. Now I actually find myself much more comfortable with these types of conversations because I know that an organizational culture depends on them, and I have learned throughout the years that they are an integral part of building solid and trusting relationships…and as we know, relationships are the foundation of all human organizations, especially school environments.  

I’m not saying that these conversations aren’t difficult, they certainly are, and they require practice, practice, practice and a developed skill set to manage them well, that’s for sure. So to begin that work as schools let’s start with a simple change of name so both parties enter into the conversation with a focus on the opportunity that lies ahead, and a focus on what ultimately matters, which is doing and being better for our kids and for our community. 

Anyway, If nothing else, this name change would reframe our mindsets around these interactions, and shift how a day full of “hard conversations” doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad day at all like my friend assumed and suggested, in fact, it can actually turn out to be a very good day or even a great day. You see, a day full of “opportunity talks” is a day full of growth, relationship building, deeper understanding, stronger connections, and a day full of strengthening our culture as a school…that’s a great day indeed! Have a fantastic week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 


Quote of the Week…
At work, at home, and across the backyard fence, difficult conversations are attempted or avoided everyday – Douglas Stone

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We Can Heal

Image generated by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

A lot of harm, a lot of hurt,

A lot of anger, and a lot of sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing after harm, healing after hurt,

Healing from anger, healing from sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We cannot heal if we let the harm take over,

We get more hurt if we keep picking on our wounds,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Our wound is scabbing and trying to heal,

Our anger keeps removing the scab and exposing it raw,

Our sadness stops the wound from healing, we keep probing the wound,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing from injustice, healing from bias, healing from discrimination,

A lot said and a lot done,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We heal when we find peace, we heal when we take the leap of faith,

We heal when we do not do to others what they did to us,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

You against me and me against you and against each other,

Not stopping till we bring everyone down, us and them,

Injustice will rejoice in its victory, for it turned us into them,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

If we keep hurting, we will keep hurting, revenge cannot heal,

Till the hurt engulfs us and we become what we wanted to fight,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

We heal by finding our space to grow, they take it away, our place to grow,

We keep finding it as we want to heal, we want to grow,

 We can heal.

Our hate, our hurt, and our harm cannot stop us from healing,

Our courage of pure surrender to justice will dismantle systemic injustice,

 We can heal.

Not naming and shaming, not crying and not shying,

But doing and moving and growing,

Being the better and the bigger person,

 We can heal.

This is a long fight, the fight of color,

Fear is the color of hurt and harm,

As it flows red if not contained,

Not in our veins, not on our hands do we want the red,

 We can heal.

Let in the soul force, not the sole force of blame,

Heal with love, heal from harm, heal for peace

For only truly healed us will heal the world.

 We can heal.

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Nonfiction and Fiction: here are great new books for middle school readers. Both novels and information books are full of interesting stories and are all page turners!

The Late, Great Endlings: Stories of the Last Survivors

The Late, Great Endlings, Stories of the Last Survivors by Deborah Kerbel with art by Aimée van Drimmelen is an unusual nonfiction picturebook. Written in rhyme but complemented by information each animal featured in this book was the last survivor of a now-extinct species. From Lonesome George the last Pinta Island tortoise to Turgi the last Polynesian tree snail. And while a book about extinct animals is sad, it also offers information on how kids can make a difference. 978-1-4598-2766-0, Orca Book Publishers

How to Become an Accidental Entrepreneur

How to Become an Accidental Entrepreneur by Elizabeth Macleod and Frieda Wishinsky is a fun book full of interesting facts and information that enterprising kids will love. How do you start a business? Can you make a living by doing what you’re good at? How did Steven Spielberg become one of the world’s most renowned movie makers? How did Tom & Jerry’s idea to sell ice cream turn into a thriving business?  And did you know that the super soaker water gun was invented by a NASA engineer? From environmental issues to medicine and technology, many of the best entrepreneurs in their field share their stories, experiences and advise with young readers in this book.  ISBN 978-1-4598-2833-9, Orca Book Publishers

Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution

Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution by Elaine Kachala takes a close look at artificial intelligence and wearable technology. Half a billion smart watches have been sold so far. By putting on devices we can test, and assist, brain power and even change our physical abilities. VR goggles add fun to video games. But how safe or invasive are these gadgets? Some can change lives – Jordan has only half an arm and uses a 3D-printed prosthetic arm. But should we have micro chips implanted? Is all technology safe and how should we use it? This nonfiction book is full of information that tech savvy kids will love to explore. ISBN 978-1-4598-2827-8, Orca Book Publishers

The Soggy, Foggy Campout #8 (Here's Hank)

Here’s Hank – The Soggy, Foggy Campout by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver is an early-read novel with a twist. Not only is it a fun chapter book about getting inspired by nature to write poems, it is also a book set in dyslexie font. I had never heard of this but this particular font apparently helps kids with dyslexia to read the letters and not mix up the order. It’s an interesting concept with details about the font here: www.dyslexiefont.com ISBN 978-0-448-48660-4, Grosset & Dunlap

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For by Mahtab Narsimhan, is a page turner for middle grade. The story perfectly illustrates the dangers of entering unknown online sites and befriending strangers. Eshana’s world changes when she goes in search of friends, only to realize she already had important friends around her. Besides being a good read, this hi-lo read is a good reminder to be aware of cyber safety.  ISBN 978-1459834002, Orca Books

Murder at the Hotel Hopeless

Murder At The Hotel Hopeless by John Lekich is another title in the Orca Soundings series: short novels with high-interest topics of 12 years and up. Using humour, wit and intrigue, Lekich spins a tale that involves a cursed diamond, an unlikely detective, even a hearse ready at the crime scene. ISBN 978-1-4598-3349-4, Orca Books

Weird Rules to Follow

Weird Rules to Follow by Kim Spencer is a fascinating read. This middle grade novel has a fictional main character. However, the short chapters – or vignettes as the author calls them – are a memoir of growing up in a northern Canadian community as a First Nations girl. Going to (a mostly white) elementary school with her best friend, the author touches on many details from the 1980’s. The story is a rare glimpse not only into a First Nations home but also an intimate look at a (pre) teenage girl regardless of race. Well written and interesting to readers of all ages, not just kids. ISBN 978-1-4598-3558-0, Orca Books

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian writer of 40 books who conducts author workshops at International Schools around the world. www.margrietruurs.com

A Structure for Student Voice

So after a brief departure from running our school-wide professional learning communities (PLC’s) with faculty and staff due to Covid, we are back this year with more exciting and engaging opportunities for all. We have structured our PLC format this year around the umbrella theme of AGENCY, and the research and deep inquiry projects that are underway across the school are definitely inspiring. It’s so important to have educators not only learning and growing together, but having some voice and choice in their professional development experiences as well, and I’m looking forward to our next session in a couple of weeks. I also cannot wait for the end of the year learning showcase where we get to benefit collectively from everyone’s hard work and passions, and reflect on how these groups have helped to enhance agency across all aspects of our school.
 
Our return to these PLC’s have got me thinking about how this particular learning structure could be adopted, adapted and applied to our students, and rolled out as a form of “student learning communities”, or SLC’s. I posted a version of this idea several years ago and I think it’s time to revisit and reshare, as I believe it deserves some significant thought for all schools who are thinking about ways for kids to take more ownership of their educational experience. 
 
All good schools that I know of are always trying to find creative ways to engage students in their learning experiences, and looking to implement structures which allow kids to drive their own learning and personal growth forward. These schools have also purposefully structured time for teachers and teacher teams to analyze and discuss individual student data, and to use this data as a foundation for a more personalized and differentiated approach to goal setting and curriculum design. But why not set up a situation where students get a chance to go through the same powerful process? 

I think it’s time to set up a structure that allows all students to collaborate together, every so often, to talk about their learning with their peers, to analyze their own feedback and assessment data, to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, to learn from each other, and to provide important feedback to their teacher or teachers about how they best learn. Once a cycle or once every week or two, students would get into their student learning community group (grade specific or subject specific, or ultimately, passion specific that isn’t tied to grade level bands or subject areas) and collaboratively reflect on their day to day experience of school. They would listen to each other talk about their successes, they would learn from each other, they would teach each other, they would talk about some struggles that they might be having, they would set goals and hold each other accountable, and when the trust has been developed, they could share their own assessment data and feedback from teachers to see how and where they might be able to improve. 
 
 
 
All of this would be documented and shared with the teacher as feedback for them, which would help the educator in the room to better plan a differentiated lesson, to better understand if a student needs some extension or some intervention, to get a much richer idea of what each individual student truly needs, and to receive feedback on their teaching too…a personalized insight from the people who we often forget to include in these conversations, the kids. Of course, during this SLC the teacher or teachers would walk around to each group and engage in the collaborative conversations, getting immediate feedback on how each lesson or unit is going, and checking for conceptual understanding. 

It shouldn’t be only focused on academics by the way, it would be a wonderful portal into each student’s social and emotional well being, both inside and outside of school. The students could be directed and encouraged to talk about relationships, their home life if they’re comfortable, their sense of belonging within the community, issues that they need support with, and how they feel about themselves as people and learners. These SLC’s would provide incredible insight into each student’s individual experience, and would help individual students, teachers and schools to dig deep into the personal perspective and feedback from the kids, giving weight and action to student voice and student agency across the school.

Anyway, PLC’s as we all know have been incredibly powerful in moving schools forward, so why not bring students into the mix? It seems so simple, doesn’t it? SLC’s might just be the perfect extension of the PLC model, and a way to get the most important voices into the conversation. It’s a structure that would absolutely bring kids into the learning conversation, and provide a mechanism for students to truly have a voice in their educational experience. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…
Half the curriculum walks into the room when the students do – 
Darnell Fine

Related Articles – 
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Student Voice and Student Wellbeing
Bring Student Voice to the Forefront
Making a Student Voice Heard

Book Recommendations – 
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With Wisdom We Invite Hybrid Life and Learning

It is absolutely legitimate how a student might gripe about feeling locked up or locked down by school schedules and returning to bells and desks. Especially when considering how some students may have experienced success with balancing work and school. Yet, now with school “back in session” and “normal” working hours, this may mean forgoing the opportunity to earn $20,000+. The 40-hour work weeks are no longer possible. Ample evidence exists of how many adults continue to feel the absurdity of springing back to how things were pre-pandemic. Regimented time back to being a governing force. The feeling of never an unoccupied moment. An overplayed alchemy of monopolized time and boredom. In schools or workplaces alike. Though we know this, we continue to climb into the hamster wheels before us. The predictable. The “safe.” The traditional. But must we have to?

Some Schools and Business Places are Learning

Nick Bloom, Stanford economist and cofounder of WFH Research, professes that “pulling off hybrid work is far from one size fits all.” Bloom cites how different industries like Salesforce and Lazard are getting hybrid work “right.” This is not unique to just the business world but the education sector as well. The World Economic Forum reported in January of 2022 how the United States tops the standings with more than 17 million people being enrolled in online learning. India follows with 13.6 million online learners. Though there are varying predictions for the future, whether online or hybrid, it might make more sense to entertain choices. For, there no longer remains much question as to whether or not there will be (already is!) a shifting in how we imagine time and space. Our reality is one where we can learn and work anytime, anywhere, with anyone willing. And this is exciting!

Small Changes Requiring Intentionality

​​Parent-teacher conferences usually happen once or twice a year. Though brief meetings between 10 and 30 minutes, they are opportunities to leverage parent support. Though educators understand the importance of a collaborative approach, not always does the way we organize events depicts this. Intentionality is required. There are a variety of ways in which we might structure parent-teacher conferences. First, we must begin with a purpose. Why are we meeting? Then, we might ask, who should be present? Not ensuring the presence of students is akin to playing the Telephone Game. A teacher’s message is possibly distorted when or if it gets back to the student. How to gain forward momentum if the driver isn’t in the conference?   

We might also examine if conferences follow the traditional approach, an “information dump.” Generically packaged with simplicity to either be like a tattle tale session. Or, on the positive, purely celebratory. The challenge is for schools to develop cultures where processes and conversations are cornerstones. Sure, it is easier to not be present as a student. To take the passive approach and stand aside, so “the adults” can talk about you. However, this is 2022! Students need to show up. Maybe even lead.

Change, Choice, and Principles

Aside from the presence of students in “their” conferences, more schools are turning to an online option for conferences. Sitting in one’s living room may provide more focus than swimming in a gymnasium of simultaneous conferences; a competitive cacophony of noise, as each person attempts to hear the other across the table. Furthermore, for international boarding school parents or even traveling parents, dialing into the conference is now made possible. Many schools report how online conferences had higher attendance than in previous years when offered face-to-face. Regardless of a parent’s preference, it might be wise to not just default to how things were. Instead, planning intentionality leaves an enormous amount to be discovered. Survey parents. Find out which options are likely to work best for them. Then, instead of one or another, build schedules embedded in options. Stephen Covey says it best, “There are three constants in life… change, choice, and principles.” The pandemic gifted us with an understanding of the importance of flexibility. Might we move with principles, into an ever-changing future, where choices are prevalent?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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School Admissions, What’s Wrong?

Have you found joy in completing a school enrollment or admissions form? Did you find yourself smiling after submitting a school tour inquiry?

Probably not. 

As a CTO, I have seen, tested, purchased, programmed, and implemented numerous software packages to support the Admissions Process. I began my journey with these applications in 2009. 

These programs have grown in expense and features. Fundamentally though, are they delivering the outcome that schools need? Is this technology producing deeper waitlists and higher levels of future commitments?

I love forms and a good automated workflow. I have built them and watched as my creations have streamlined chaos. 

Technology as an appropriate tool saves time, creates opportunities, and allows for accountability. 

Technology developed to solve the wrong problem creates a universe of problems. If it gets popular, everyone uses it and has no idea why they are using it. People eventually feel like they have to have something because everyone else has it.

Let’s define the School Admissions problem. 

In an unknown economic condition (inflation, etc.) how do we grow our school and maintain a healthy waitlist?

Prospective parents are likely to be more discretionary with their income. They are investing in their children. How do we should them our value?

Will an expensive forms-based admissions system solve this problem or is this a human-to-human problem and a confidence problem?

Schools can build confidence by connecting new people to people who are already invested. Schools need to associate the existing with the new.

It’s not about the school tour and showing a few pristine rooms. It’s about getting parents to share stories and ideas with other parents. 

The technology needed to connect with prospective parents isn’t in a web form or workflow, it is in data analytics. 

Using Business Intelligence (BI) tools (Google Data Student, Microsoft Power BI, Amazon QuickSight, etc.), we can look at zip codes, addresses, enrollment dates, grade entry points, etc, and find clusters of people who joined the school. These clusters would be non-traditional locations. For example, the neighborhood across from a school is traditional. Everyone there knows about the school. However, a cluster might appear 30-minutes away, indicating that people moving into that area seem to prefer our school. 

After extrapolating some clusters, the next best tool to have would be a crowdsourcing solution. Existing parents in the clusters need to be offered an opportunity to host events in their communities with support from the school.

At this stage, resources are shifting. Budgets are being used for something other than software. This is the main reason to address the admissions software. Is the current resource we are paying for a potential problem? Is this resource impeding our ability to be creative and agile? Consider that two things could be true at the same time: the software works, but may not be solving the real problem. 

The investment isn’t really in software to help with admissions. The investment is in someone else’s idea of how you should do admissions. 

Thinking outside the box, and respecting data privacy (opt-in only), we can visualize the following:

  • A dashboard showing a map with hotspots of existing families and new applications
  • An app that allows existing parents to flag up dates, times, and locations to create fun and casual meetings for prospective parents
  • A self-guided campus tour that provides on-demand information (it works at the Smithsonian, it can work at a school)
  • Admission’s “offices” are located outside of the campus closer to where prospective parents are working and shopping
  • Tours booked so they are larger and happen when the campus is alive, messy, and real; tours need to be less frequent to increase demand
  • Build a system that allows prospective parents to contact the school with simple messaging (SMS, Social Media Messaging, etc); this system would be intelligent and would automatically handle some of the initial steps in providing parents options; lower the barrier for initial communication
  • Have application stations on-campus that are comfortable, coffee equipped, and allow people to get the applications started with the sense of support people need when delving into a serious investment; this eliminates most of the issues people have working from home

In this model, people become part of the community before they even formally enroll. Technology is focused on people. By the time the forms are being used, prospective parents have already decided to enroll. 

Doing two hours doing paperwork is now trivial because this new parent has invested in a lifetime of opportunities for their children. That feels like a good tradeoff.

Translanguaging in Practice: Part C

Parents of elementary students experience translanguaging firsthand at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China.

This is the third of a series of three blogs (although we may have to wrap it up with a fourth!) on the real world implementation of a mindset and practice. Paul and Patrice met as instructor and student at Moreland University. During the 2022-2023 school year, Patrice, fourth grade homeroom teacher and team lead at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China, is putting her MEd thesis into practice.

Patrice Thompson planned and organized this event for parents of elementary students at Shekou International School, Shenzen, China.

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to offer a parent information session in October. At first, I was under the impression that it would be online, due to China’s strict COVID restrictions. However, a week before the meeting I learned we would be able to meet in person with a cap of 50 people. Here is the English version of the flyer that was sent to parents. We had a Chinese version as well.

Parent invitation to learn about translanguaging, sent in both English and Chinese.

Within just a few days, the meeting was full. Honestly, I was surprised; I didn’t really expect there to be so much interest in one of our ParentEDU meetings about language, but I would soon realize just how wrong I was …

Changing from an online presentation to in-person engagement gave me the flexibility to bring a real translanguaging experience directly to parents, all of whom were bi- or multilingual. After talking with a few colleagues, I decided to create a full sample lesson, complete with an opener, a chance to “turn-and-talk,” a lesson about translanguaging, some stations at which parents could activate prior knowledge in one language to apply to another, an exit survey, and time for questions. Several of our rockstar colleagues offered their help, and before I knew it, I had an amazing, enthusiastic team ready to support the cause. With the coordinator of the French International Program, a Chinese language teacher, and a Student Academic Support teacher, we got ready to run the stations and field parent questions. 

During the session, this was the slide that addressed the elephant in the room:

A goal of translanguaging is to support the development of additional languages by leveraging the child’s entire linguistic repertoire.

Many parents laughed when they saw the title! It really resonated with them. More on that later.

The first station was about reading comprehension. I provided two stories, each in English, Chinese, and Korean. Parents were asked to read a story in one language, then answer reading comprehension questions in another. The questions, of course, were also provided in the same three languages. At this station, the parents experienced the fascinating challenge of processing information in one language before switching into another for output. Multilingual book talk questions were also provided for parents to use with their children. 

At the second station, parents were asked to watch and follow along with a 2-minute video on how to make an origami butterfly. They were then provided with a bank of words they could use to try to describe the process in English, which turned out to be quite difficult. The hands-on experience was fun, even if the butterflies didn’t come out quite like the example. 

And at the third station, parents encountered another manner in which to intentionally use multiple languages. In this lesson from the science curriculum, parents worked in small groups to match English vocabulary words about photosynthesis to the right places on a diagram hung on the wall. They were asked to discuss the words and the matches they were making in their native language. They were then asked to present the process to each other in English.

After gathering everybody back as a large group, I asked the parents to fill out a survey for feedback. The results were positive, with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

  • “It’s a very impressive presentation. I think I will be able to help my kid better at home. Knowing what is translanguage, I do see the value in this.”
  • “我覺得非常有用,而且跟老師溝通的過程中,了解更多幫孩子的方法,甚至是孩子在課堂的狀態,能更信任學校” – I think it is very useful, and in the process of communicating with teachers, I can learn more ways to help children, even the state of children in the classroom, and I can trust the school more.
  • “这次的非常棒,是高质量的parentEDU,受益良多” – This time is very good, it is a high-quality parent EDU, and it is very beneficial.

The session ended with questions and answers. After the hands-on experience at the three stations, the now experienced translanguagers were eager to know more about how to navigate their childrens’ language abilities at home. 

What fascinating questions we received:

  • “Should I push my child to tell me about her experience at school in Italian, even though school is in English and she wants to tell me about it in English?” 
  • “At home, we mix French and Arabic and I have noticed that my daughter has started doing that with her brother. Should I ask her not to?” 
  • “We speak several languages at home. My child is not particularly excellent in any of them. Should we just speak one so that he learns it very well?”
  • “If my kid doesn’t want to speak Chinese with me because it’s easier for her to speak English, what should I do?”

These are just a few of the thoughtful questions parents asked, and there may not be a right or wrong answer outside of “do what’s best for your family,” “talk with your child about why languages are good for their brain,” and of course, “don’t worry too much, children are amazing and they will figure it out!” 

I couldn’t help but think about how the comments of these parents are so representative of the world we are moving into. With the rise of international schools around the world, and an increasingly global economy, we are seeing so many multilingual and multicultural children who are going to grow up and be a significant chunk of the working population. We really have an obligation to do school right. Language inclusion is one area that we need to figure out. It’s a core part of making sure that we raise our children with a model and sense of compassion and mutual respect.

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

A brand new picture book is always a joy to discover. Share these titles out loud with your class or use them to encourage readers to discover new favourites about interesting topics.

Sun in My Tummy, Laura Alary, illustrated by Andrea Blinick. This is a picture book that looks at the magic of an ordinary breakfast. Did you know that the sun made the seeds grow that become your oatmeal? That blueberries grew because of sunlight, which turned them into sweet berries? Follow the magic of sunshine through familiar food to marvel at a miracle we take for granted.  ISBN 978-1-77278-241-7, Pajama Press

The Sinking of Captain Otter by Troy Wilson, illustrated by Maira Chiodi is picture book about many things. It’s a story of an otter who wants to be captain of his own ship. But it’s also the story of persistence, of believing in yourself, a story about bullying and about making friends. Most of all it’s a lovely story to share in the classroom and to discuss all of these different layers. ISBN 978-1-77147-311-8, Owl Kids Books

Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, is an old fashioned story of kindness and empathy. Daniel loves learning how to pour chocolate in his great-uncle’s chocolate shop. When a new girl comes to his class, in the old brick school building, he can see that she needs some cheering up. So the next morning he hides a beautiful chocolate in her desk. And, like magic, it makes her smiles. But more children need a special treat or encouragement so soon Daniel is hiding chocolates throughout the class. When it is Daniel’s turn to need some special care, he is surprised to find his kindness returned by many friends. A story about doing little things for others to build empathy and compassion, with the most delicious looking end pages I’ve ever seen! ISBN 978-1-77276-264-6, Pajama Press

Why Humans Build Up, The Rise of Towers, Temples and Skyscrapers. This book is written by Gregor Craigie and illustrated by Kathleen Fu, and it starts with a question most kids ask: ‘Why?’ Why did people start building higher and higher? The answers are interesting and sometimes surprising. Starting with the Tower of Babylon and going throughout history to the Burj Khalifa, the book takes a look at many diverse towers and highrises, including totem poles, temples and commercial buildings. Budding architects and any kid fascinated by towers, will enjoy the details. ISBN 978-1-4598-2188-0, Orca Books

Night Runners by Geraldo Valério is a surprising book. At first glance this wordless picture book looks like a Christmas story with its sparkly stars on the cover, and a leaping reindeer. Then it seems like a scary story when the rushing reindeer stumbles in the dark woods and is surrounded by wolves. But then the images surprise again by showing how kind and caring those scary wolves are! Once they have brought food and water to the injured reindeer, they all continue their pursuit of the sparkling star cicle in the sky and find more friends. Together they sing and dance and celebrate. Worldless picture books can lead to many oral stories and boost imagination. This one will do so on many different levels. ISBN 978-1-77306-569-4, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of 40 books for children. Her newest title is Where We Live, a nonfiction map book about children in their own unique neighborhoods around the globe.

www.margrietruurs.com