The 3-2-1 of middle school Transition

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I will be taking on the role of IB Middle Years Programme (for 11 to 16 years) Coordinator starting this academic term. I have been the IB Diploma Programme (for 16 to 19 years) Coordinator for a long time now, so this is a big transition for me. Taking about transition, my first goal is to put together a transition programme for primary students coming into secondary school. While I am planning for the two weeks of transition, I made a list of transition tips for parents, teachers and students. It is necessary to include parents as it is an equally challenging transition for parents as it is for the students. To keep it simple I will follow a 3-2-1 strategy.

Three Tips for Students

Be organized: The most significant survival skill in middle school is self-management. There is no time for procrastination. Make sure you have a calendar, have a plan and stick to it. Use technology to keep on top of things, like setting up notifications on the calendar for important deadlines, saving homework on the cloud for easy access, and putting reminders on the alarm function of your phone to complete homework or tasks. These simple strategies will ease your transition phase.

Be vocal: Communication is key when you are experiencing issues related to change. Talk to parents, friends, and teachers to communicate your challenges and seek advice. Voice your anxieties and apprehensions; you will realize many of your peers are in the same boat and your parents/teachers have also been in the same boat once in their lives. Hence they will understand your situation and can help. Use technology for effective communication, learn to write formal emails to teachers; establish chat boundaries on social media apps, for example, do not feel the pressure to respond to messages immediately; and ask questions if you have a concern for example if you need more time to complete an assignment ask for it.

Be social: Middle school is a lot of fun as you will start to experience the freedom of choice and voice. With freedom comes responsibility, therefore learn to manage responsibilities by participating in activities outside the classroom. Play sports, join music or art clubs, have fun and make friends. By being social you will get rid of task-related stress, and you will learn to be a team player. You will understand other people’s perspectives and develop an open-minded approach towards problem-solving. Be bright, be social, be happy!

Two Tips for Parents

Be a friend: Take a deep breath, stop being a parent who only reinforces rules, try to be a friend to your child who supports, understands and helps during challenging times. Remember most children hit puberty during their middle school years, they not only deal with environmental change but also physical and emotional changes. This is the time to be a friend, philosopher and guide to your child, take off your rigid parenting hat and don a friendly one to reassure your child that they have a friend in you. This will help your child to develop the confidence to share any issues or challenges they face during transition.

Be involved: Take time every day to know more about your child’s day in school. A strategy that has worked very well with me is to ask my son to go through his timetable for the day and tell me what happened in each lesson. This way I get to know my son a lot more and he gets to share details of his school life while developing trust and a bond of understanding. Be involved in your child’s life in school and outside school. Participate in school activities, communicate regularly with teachers, be present when needed. Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved with the school, perform better in school.

One Tip for Teachers

Be present: A primary student has constant attention from their classroom teacher, but this changes in secondary. Many students have reflected negatively about their transition to secondary school citing reasons such as teachers not being friendly or attentive to their needs. In today’s context teachers might not be physically present in the classroom true but teachers need to make their presence felt by being engaged, caring and interested in solving student issues, academic and non-academic. This means, as teachers, we need to be there for the student’s academic, social, psychological and cognitive needs. Being ignored by the teacher is the most negative emotion a student experiences leading to multiple behaviour issues. Hence teachers please be present and present the best version of yourself. You are the catalyst of a magical reaction that happens in the middles years and shapes the future of a child.

Therefore I think of transition as a 3-2-1 process with key stakeholders playing their role in putting together a happy and meaningful middle school experience.

An Alluring Cryptic Future

Technologies continue to outpace us.   As a society we are often unable to keep up.  Take for example the task of explaining the differences between cryptocurrency, blockchain, and a ledger?  We may have heard of each but do we understand them well enough to teach? Or, on an even deeper level, are we able to comprehend the implications they likely will have not just in the financial world but also into education?

With 7,800 cryptocurrencies currently in existence, it is difficult to imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out they have all just disappeared  Further, their establishing more than a foothold is evident in headlines such as Forbes March 31, 2021, “Goldman Sachs To Become Second Big Bank Offering Bitcoin To Wealthy Clients.”  The ubiquity of crypto is becoming more and more apparent.  Currently there are 38,460 Bitcoin ATMs in the United States. Or, on an even more prosaic level, the subject of an email I received from a local coffee company here in Thailand read, “NEW ROAST COFFEE BLENDS & SAVE 50% WITH CRYPTO PAYMENTS.” 

A great deal of my learning about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the ledger resulted from listening to my nephew’s high school capstone project three years ago. I was quick to realize how much I did not know and have since, paddled hard to stay afloat in the current of change.  True to what Sir Wiliam Haley suggested would be a much more effective education. “…if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”

It makes sense to define each before considering how they may serve education as an institution.  First though, more important than crypto being a derivative of the ancient Greek κρυπτός (krúptō) which means, ‘I conceal,’is the linchpin or what it all really comes down to.  In a word, de-centralization. Think internet. Or, another illustration might be, how workplaces and classrooms were forced to “flatten” during the pandemic.   Everyone suddenly has more stake and more voice, working together instead of the more traditional top-down passive and reverence for power approach. 

Definitions:

This explanation is contrary to a quote from the creator of Bitcoin.  Using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto he quipped, “If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.”

Cryptocurrency: a form of digital money, called this because the consensus-keeping process is secured by strong cryptography.  The “secret writing” is secured by math, instead of people, governments, or trusts.  Like the example of coffee above, you can pay for items (or NFTs, as shared in an earlier post) electronically, similar to how you might with any other currency.  Recently after Amazon posted  how they were recruiting for a ‘Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead,’ much speculation followed regarding the company beginning to accept cryptocurrency.  Also of prominence are recent reports of how some countries are adopting cryptocurrencies as national currency.  “A step too far,” according to a recent IMF report.  But, what are some of the  “pulls” of moving in the direction of cryptocurrencies?  As international teachers we either have first hand experience or peripheral knowledge of these two examples:

  • Wire transferring could be likened to travelers’ cheques in its being outdated.  Wire transfers can take more than a few hours or sometimes even days.  Plus the added cost.  Currently, transfer fees from my bank in Thailand to the United States is more than USD $30.  In the case of cryptocurrency, banks/brokers are not able to take “their cut.”
  • Financial inequality continues to grow globally.   An outdated McKinsey & Company article titled, “Counting the world’s unbanked,” cites how 2.2 billion unbanked or underbanked adults live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. They do not have access to financial services. 

Blockchain: According to Dummies, where complex concepts are made easy to understand, blockchains are distributed databases where groups of individuals control, store, and share information. This is done in blocks.  The blocks are then linked, or chained, using cryptography. What makes this especially powerful is that any change is time stamped and visible to all.  Ultimately this assures transparency but also authenticity.

Ledger: In business, ledgers are written or computerized records of completed transactions. In error, many people use “blockchain” and “ledger” interchangeably. One big difference is the distributed ledger is free from blocks or chains. Furthermore, blockchain data is publicly available in the form of a public key, along with a  digital wallet address. This means no permission is necessary and anyone can view transaction histories and participate in a blockchain operation. Whereas, the distributed ledger requires permission to complete a transaction. 

All tech talk aside, why ultimately should we care?

Past, Present, and Beyond

It is difficult for students today to comprehend the world many teachers grew up in. B.G (Before Google).  Or, actually pre-Smartphones and even the Internet! “What, there was life before the Internet?” Equally I remember dreaming as a child, of a phone I might be able to see my aunt and uncle on, though the idea of portability and carrying the phone in my pocket evaded my imagination.  Yet now, as fast and far as we have come, we seemingly accept the digitized world as commonplace.  So too, will be the future of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and ledgers.  In 10, 20, or 50 years it may be similar to the internet and it will be impossible to imagine a world without them. 

We need not look far to recognize diminishing trust in institutions and governments. School as we traditionally have known it as well.  Centralization is flailing. Best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin shared in a blog post, “Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.” In its place is what is being called, the shared economy.  Peer-to-peer connections as evidenced through the use of Airbnb or Uber are examples of a cultural shift towards decentralization.  A similar decentralization in how information and currency is stored and also shared. A movement that is expected to only get bigger in the coming years and appears here to stay. 

Implications on Education

Currently there is no system for reliably recording a person’s educational achievement.  In our accelerated world, alternatives to the traditional ways of education are likely to continue to bloom.  Credentialing is quickly becoming the norm.  One million, or to be exact, 967,734.  That is how many unique credentials are in the U.S. alone.  The beauty of this increase in degrees, certificates, and badges is that there are more options.  Yet, according to Credential Engine,“There has never been an efficient system to collect, search, and compare credentials in a way that keeps pace with the speed of change in the 21st century and is universally understood.” Blockchain technology is an efficient and consistent way to keep track of a person’s entire educational history and is likely to be of increasing importance. 

American Council on Education to lead the Education Blockchain Initiative (EBI) was launched in 2020 in effort to re-think our educational system and how to utilize technologies like the distributed ledger. For example, Blockchain protects against falsified credentials but also allows students to be in control of their own transcripts.  One well-known university’s registrar outlined the process for a student to obtain their transcript as:  “Between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. place your request at Registrar Services, first floor lobby. The transcript fee is $10.00 per copy for processing within three (3) business days.”  To think a busy college student or graduate would have a thirty minute window to make a request and have to wait three days is archaic to say the least.  EBI continues to evaluate ways that blockchain might improve the flow of data but also empower the individual.  So transcripts are not under a lock and key or on a high hill.  This flow seeks to decentralize information so communication is within and across institutions and into the workplace.  

In the Midst a Shifting Culture

Nearly four years ago Tom Van der Ark of Getting Smart reported how Scott Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium.  “The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.”  In programs such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium a motivating force is students being empowered to drive their own authentic learning. This is purposeful for students but also to universities and employers.  Manoj Kutty, CEO and founder of Greenlight Credentials remarked, “The big future opportunity is a marketplace where universities can search for applicants by category and credential and invite them to apply (or even offer acceptance based on verified credentials).”  In an interview with Van der Ark, Kutty asserted, “In 20 years, students won’t be applying to colleges; colleges will be recruiting students.”  However, we need not look into the future to comprehend the cultural shift clearly underway, as employers are becoming more interested in the trusted and verifiable skills a person possesses.  At one of the most sought after job places in the world, Google, ‘college degree’ has no place in its official guide for hiring employees.   

Decentralization will continue to gain traction. As freedom, transparency, transference, and a person’s competencies are valued more, Blockchain and similar technologies will be as vowels are to the alphabet. We are in the nascence of a new “language.”  Blockchain is clearly a catalyst of change and already we are in the midst of a significant shift.  

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GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

There is an expression that says ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ – meaning that you cannot understand someone else’s struggles and problems until you have tried to see things from their side. The following books let you ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ – and see what it is like to be confined to a wheelchair, to be homeless, have an abusive parent or face many other obstacles in life.

The King of Jam Sandwiches by Eric Walters is a fictional story but very much based on the popular author’s own childhood. Living with only his father, Robbie leads a double life. He tries to hide his domestic troubles from his teachers and friends. No one knows that his father often disappears for days. How will Robbie survive if he doesn’t return? He lives in constant fear of how his father will react to anything he says or does. His new friend Harmony lives in foster care. Meeting her changes everything and, eventually, helps Robbie to overcome some of the obstacles he faces. ISBN 978-1459825567, Orca Book Publishers

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite novels for young readers about homelessness. Felix is twelve. His mom struggles to hold on to jobs. When she can’t pay the ever increasing rent, the two live in their van, just for one summer month. But when school starts in September, they still live in their van and Felix needs to keep their homelessness a secret. A realistic, endearing and almost humourous story about a very real problem that gets solved in unexpected ways.  ISBN 978-0735262775, Random House

Unbound, Judith Scott, Melissa Sweet. This is the true story of Judith Scott, born with Down syndrome and undiagnosed physical handicaps. Her twin sister is healthy and, as young children, not aware of her sister’s differences. But once Judith has to go to live in a home, life changes for both girls. It is not until many years later that the sisters are reunited and that Judith finally gets the opportunity to express herself through art. Art that eventually becomes well known and in demand. An impressive book that helps us realize how much has changed over the years, and how much still needs changing. This brand new picture book was illustrated in fabulous at by Caldecott winner Melissa Sweet and is great to use with all ages. Every art teacher should have a copy! ISBN 978-0-525-64811-6, Random House

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen is an older title but still as important as ever. What is it like to move to a new town where you don’t know anyone? This is what Trevor did and he wonders how he will make new friends. What is it like to spend your life in a wheelchair, unable to communicate because you have cerebral palsy? That’s what life is like for Petey. This is the story of an unexpected friendship and discovering how the human spirit can triumph over physical obstacles. ISBN 0-7868-1336-9, Hyperion

Out Of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a similarly powerful story of a child in a wheelchair. 11 year old Melody is the smartest kid in school. She knows the answers to all questions. The problem is, no one knows it. Melody cannot speak. She has no way of communicating with others. The teachers think she cannot learn. But Melody understands everything and has a photographic memory. Trapped inside her own mind and body, Melody needs the friendship and skills of a special ed teacher who slowly helps to unlock the door to Melody’s mind. A great read for kids, but also for all educators. ISBN 978-1-4169-7171-9, Simon & Shuster

I love the two view points in Counting on Hope by Sylvia Olsen. This is the story of early British settlers on Canada’s west coast, but is also a universal story of colonization. Letia’s family has always lived in their traditional summer camp on an island. One day a British ship arrives and settlers, who were given land by the Queen of England, move in. The families each warn their children to staying away from the dangerous others. But whose land is this and how can it be shared peacefully? A beautiful, skillfully told story from the view point of two children. ISBN 978-1-55039-173-2, Sononis Press

Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at international schools. Her books have been published in many languages.

Results 2021: What It Takes to Get THE Perfect Score

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Earlier this week the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (grade 12) results were published. Our school students made us proud with amazing results, the highest was the perfect score of 45/45 (100%). Amidst all the celebrations I reflected on the students who got the perfect scores. There are a few common behavioural characteristics and approaches to learning that I was able to identify. Knowing these attributes can clearly help high achieving and their teachers to get the perfect score or perform to the best of their ability. Here are my top 5 tips for getting the perfect score!

Intrinsic Motivation

A perfect score is more than ability, it is about interest and motivation. The motivation is not linked to materialistic interests rather linked with an innate desire to be better and know better. Students who choose their subjects as per their interests and abilities stay motivated throughout the journey as they truly seek to understand the complexities of the subject matter. Hence, they are intrinsically motivated in spite of challenges even failures, these students always bounce back and get the perfect score.

Teachers also have a big role to play when it comes to keeping students intrinsically motivated. They must focus on positive reinforcement and value addition to the students’ purpose of learning. This fosters a sense of working towards a bigger perspective or a meaningful goal that is above and beyond the perfect score. Here I would like to reinforce that grades or scores are a result of achieving the actual purpose of learning, not the actual purpose in itself. Hence the reward for the student is to achieve satisfaction and self-worth.

Superior Self-Management Skills

Thomas Edison quoted a long time ago, “there is no substitute for hard work”. This applies even today. Hard work in today’s context means being ahead of the curve by developing superior self-management skills. For example, always completing work on time; always being well prepared for lessons; always organizing work effectively; always managing time with a rigorous plan; always creating a strategy to avoid burnout. The word ‘always’ is necessary as consistency is key.

Teachers can help students to organize themselves better, for example, by sharing effective planning tools, using cloud space for increased accessibility from anywhere, anytime; initiating the good practice of using the calendar to set reminders; introducing them to tools like Evernote, OneNote, Dayone, etc.

Quality over Quantity

Students must know to prefer quality over quantity. Instead of searching and using many sources and texts, they need to use one recognized good quality source for practising their academic skills. Sometimes students antagonize using expensive textbooks or online resources, they look for cheaper options, this approach needs to be curbed. They need to invest in themselves. Quality resources come at a price and are worth it. Having one go-to resource also saves a lot of time which is usually spent in finding free resources or texts. Remember higher the investments, the higher the returns.

Teachers should also set the bar high with resources. Make sure all textbooks are available to students, hardcopy and softcopy both. Make a case for purchasing quality resources for students. While assigning tasks keep in mind to prioritize the purpose over the amount of task. This helps save a lot of precious time, quality of task over quantity of task.

Debug Distractions

Design thinking routines help to get rid of bugs in the design cycle, similarly, students who practice enough to remove distractions are better geared towards the perfect score. These students are able to remove any distractions that divert them from their objectives. This is an essential skill to be academically successful, firstly identify the bug or distraction and next get rid of it. For example, some students mute notifications on their devices when doing intense creative and cognitive work. This is a great strategy to be in the present moment and deal with the task at hand without thinking about unnecessary matters.

Teachers can help by teaching students to increase their attention span, for example, plan for activities like meditation and yoga as a warmup or unwinding activity. These not only help to increase attention span they are also great stress busters. Technology can also come to the rescue, it offers great apps like Headspace, Calm, Unplug etc for meditation and mental relaxation, teachers must make good use of it.

Feedback Focus

High achieving students always ask for feedback and work on it to improve. This quality is rare in adolescents, but much required. Senior students like to believe that they know everything, or they know the best, thanks to their raging puberty hormones. Those who are able to win the battle over their id, ego and superego tend to seek advice and feedback from experts like teachers and parents. This quality is a defining attribute and those who have it have the edge over others.

Teachers have the responsibility to give meaningful feedback, it is what leads the student to the perfect score. Feedback aids in providing direction, solving problems and making meaning of learning. Feedback is the catalyst for students to apply their knowledge to solve real-life problems and gain understanding. I strongly believe focused feedback and focus on feedback are the two secrets for a perfect score.

As an educator, I do not set a goal for achieving higher grades only, in fact, the goal is always to gain understanding. But the students who gain understanding and go the extra mile, get the perfect score. Hence my translation of the perfect score is perfect knowledge and understanding.

What Was That All About?

~The Valuable Role of Reflection

As the world attempts to reinstate “normalcy,” there are clearly different baselines or targets amongst countries.  For the United States, Costco in the news provides but one example. Just before the start of summer, their plans included “beginning a phased return to full sampling,” after 14 long months without offering shoppers microwaved mini tacos for nourishment? Society definitely needs nourishment, though I’m not sure mini-tacos will do.  Or, what about Lollapalooza, a three-day music event that drew 300,000 people in 2015, returning to Chicago from July 29 to August 1? Regardless of what is happening or is planned to happen, I have felt maybe more than ever before, a near mandate to reflect on where we have been.  

As an educator, a sort of responsibility has enshrouded me.  To do due diligence and attempt to make sense, as best I can, of the past school year. To draw out as much learning as possible from the many lessons the pandemic offered, or “forced” depending on how you might see things.  Three immediate if not glaring points stood out:  Change, flexibility, and rebirth.  In this, humanity is in the midst of a quasi-phoenix moment; a rising from the “ashes.” As exciting as the past year was tiring, for some reason, reflecting as thoroughly as I may have liked, continued to be put off.  Not one to procrastinate, this baffled me.

Then the other dayI happened upon a tweet. A teacher tiraded how educators should be left alone, nothing more expected, this is OUR summer and we have done enough to get through the past year.  I understand this sentiment as for many, the past 18+ months maybe have felt like being held underwater and summer finally is a time to come to the surface.  To breathe.  The myriad of unforeseen and often uncompromising situations the force that held us under.  Still, I harken back to an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “You Make a Difference~The Value of Summer Reflection.” Here I outlined the pivotal role of reflection and realigning ourselves to our purpose.  Summer, the essential pause. Yet, also a time to reflect.

Summer’s Kick-off

The day summer school teaching finished and summer “officially” began, I received an e-mail from a former student from another school.  The message began, “Hey! Jennifer got stabbed in the leg by Wendell at the end of March which complicated the year..” Immediately, I was issued two parts opportunity to lend a consulatory response and one part the ability to gain greater perspective. The timing seemingly perfect, as I still had not done an “honest” job of reflecting on the 2020-21 academic year.  I desperately wanted get to the bottom of the question, “What was that all about? Another year of jostling between on-line and in-person learning.”

And so here I am. There is a ripeness to the moment where the catalyst is space more than time.  

Caught Up In The COVID Storm

Before the academic year came to a close, I did not entirely skip reflecting.  Oddly enough, it was something I asked students to do and also something I did with a colleague. Just not alone and to a depth that would appease.  In a final meeting over Zoom, a teaching partner and I met.  We attempted to simultaneously add our thoughts to a straightforward end-of-year reflection template that looked like this:

Biggest success this year:Biggest challenge this year:
Strengths data shows:

Areas of growth to focus on:
One thing I learned this year:

One thing I want to learn next year:
One change for next year:

One goal for next year:

Surprisingly, at least for me, was how off the cuff nothing immediately emerged as a goal for next year.  This was the dawning moment of how I was both exhausted but also how I had been caught up in the COVID storm.  My vision not quite 20/20.  Ultimately I had not fully come to grips with the reality of the pandemic and one of the greatest lessons I learned.  The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”  To remain flexible, adapt, and be forgiving.

Meta-Reflection

Over the years, I felt feedback received from students is a gift.  A window into their reality. A term I am coining here is “meta-reflection,” building off metacognition and thinking about thinking. Might we reflect on student reflections? It may even connect  well with a strategy many educators may employ with students.  Harvard Zero Thinking Strategy, “I used to think but now I think.” One question asked on the student reflection that led to more in-depth analysis was, “What are a few things in social studies class that I did to help you to learn?” A prevailing theme was evident, allowing for my own “I used to think but now I think.”  I used to think I was limited in doing meaningful project-based learning because of an overabundance of standards, but now I know that more wisely designed curriculum implementation is possible.  This I was able to deduce, as patterns emerged in student comments attesting to how they were reinvigorated in learning as a result of agency, authenticity, and purpose. 

The student reflections led also to a more philosophical goal. To continually remind myself to be the teacher one student envisions me to be, “You taught us in a way where you knew we would understand. You put yourself in our shoes and every day it felt like it was a brand new day for every student to do better and have fun.”  Comments are not all so glowing and when we model honesty in the feedback we provide students and invite students to do the same when  giving us feedback, there is a necessity to embrace vulnerability.   One student maturely commented in a way which resulted in pushing me to think more about a check-in routine I was using.  Her points not only honest but absolutely valid, leading to my immediate plan to discontinue the routine.. 

As a learning community, giving and receiving feedback is a skill we routinely practice throughout the year. In reading student end-of-year reflections I can say with confidence how students in 2020-21 stands out  for their high degree of insightfulness and graciousness. One individual’s honest yet humorous response is sure to not to be forgotten. The fill-in-the-bank question asked,  “If I were a middle school social studies teacher I would _________________.”  A common response for example attested to the role of collaboration. For example, “make more projects where students get to work together.” The particular student’s memorable response was but one word.  “Quit!”  Ironically he is also the son of two teachers.

A few years ago Rhonda Scharf was credited with posting on Facebook the following thought, “Teachers are not ‘off for the summer,’ they are ‘in recovery.’”  And if I can add, “in reflection mode.”

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GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

What difference can one person make? Have you discussed global warming, Black Lives Matter and gender equality in class? These books about activism are shining examples of how you cán change the world, one issue at a time.

I Have the Right to Save My Planet

I Have The Right to Save My Planet, Alain Serres and Aurélia Fronty is chock full of facts about climate change and endangered species. The book explains that every child on earth has the right to water and clean air as decreed by the International Convention on children’s rights. It spells out many of the problems the earth is currently facing but gives children ways to manage these concerns: get your family to buy less plastic, don’t eat cookies made with palm oil from trees that are replacing rain forest, etc. With an interesting voice combined with beautiful art, this book is part of a ‘Rights’ series. ISBN 978-1-77306-487-1, Groundwood Books

Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality

Walking For Water, How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Nicole Miles is a wonderful story inspired by true events in Malawi. Victor and Linesi are twins. They love going to school but at some point Lenesi is the one who can’t go anymore because she has to fetch water for the family. In school, the new teacher tells the children about gender equality. Soon Victor sees the unfairness of this and has a plan: he and his sister take turns going to class and fetching water. The changes have a ripple effect so that, soon, equality becomes not just something that is only talked about but practised as well.  ISBN 978-1-5253-0249-7, Kids Can Press

Small History of a Disagreement

A Small History of a Disagreement by Claudio Fuentes, with art by Gabriela Lyon. This story is based in Chile but is so universal it could take place anywhere. Children come to school, after the holidays, to find a large fence blocking access to part of their school grounds, including the tall Monkey Puzzle tree. The introduction explains that this tree is millennial, more than a thousand years old and endangered. But laws allow it to be cut down to make room for the much needed school expansion. Soon, the controversies and debates begin. Groups form in favour of development as well as in favour of protection. Who will win? And how will so many students ever agree? Focused on a school based issue, this is the universal story of debate, disagreement and reaching satisfactory solutions through research and debate. A book that should be mandatory for all politicians… ISBN 978-177164-707-6, Greystone Kids

How to Become an Accidental Activist

Following How To Become An Accidental Genius, Frieda Wishinsky and Elzabeth MacLeod followed that title with How To Become An Accidental Activist. The book shows how many people, from all corners of the world, may be accidental, but definitely heroic, activists by standing up for what they believe in. The book shows people in history but also today taking action against social, gender or racial injustice. It shows what young people do for the environment and against bullying. The book shares inside stories of well known people like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Greta Thunberg in Sweden, but also of lesser known heroes like Rigoberta Menchu Tum standing up for equal rights in Guatemala and Song Kosal from Cambodia advocating against landmines. This book shows that you are never the only one and never should be discouraged from fighting for change and believing in doing the right thing. ISBN 978-1-4598-2611-3, Orca Book Publishers

Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist

Growing Up Elizabeth May, The Making of an Activist, written by Sylvia Olsen with Cate May Burton – is the story of how a girl from Connecticut became the leader of Canada’s Green Party. Inspired by her mother to take action against injustice, Elizabeth studied problems she saw around her in the environment. She fought for what she thought was right and battled politicians to ban pesticides. Eventually, that young girl was named one of the most influential women in the world, showing other young people to take action for what they believe in. This inspiring book is supplemented with examples of young people’s actions against plasticide, air pollution and more. Even though this book is about one particular person in North America, it is also a universal story of what can happen if you follow your heart and stick to your convictions. ISBN 978-1-4598-2370-9, Orca Book Publishers

Margriet Ruurs conducts author presentations and workshops at international schools around the world. Contact her directly to book for your school.

The highschool hangover

We all know what a hangover is, and we all (almost) know how to get over one. But there is one hangover that stays forever, I believe it is the high school hangover. You suffer from the high school hangover if you have the following symptoms:

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  1. Tendency to keep comparing current education trends with personal high school norms; 
  2. Critiquing your child’s teachers and comparing them with teachers of your own time;
  3. Forcing your child to learn the way you learnt “back in the day”;
  4. When discussing pedagogy most of your sentences start with; “in our times”; “the problem is”; and “the standards have fallen”,
  5. Most importantly you are out of high school for over a decade and also have an obsessive-compulsive disorder of tracking, tracing or following high school friends (pun intended)!

If you have the above symptoms, you should continue reading this article or consider teaching as a career as these are the only two ways of getting over the Highschool Hangover (take it with a pinch of salt!).

Jokes apart, I have picked up this important issue as education has become the hot topic of discussion in recent times. Whilst it is good to have diverse perspectives and feedback on educational trends, it becomes frustrating when people start comparing with schooling in their times and education trends 10 to 15 years back or even before that; the high school hangover is rampant and real. It is dangerous as these discussions also continue at home without censors in front of the school-going children making them confused and cynical about schooling. Some common behaviour at home that actually ruins a child’s high school experience: blaming the school or the teacher for the child’s undesirable behaviour or performance; criticising school communication and expecting a minute-by-minute update from the school administration; demeaning the purpose of schooling by always evaluating school experience with school fees; comparing child’s performance with outdated benchmarks, for example, expecting them to memorise all mathematical formulae or all capitals of all countries! 

I hope you see where I am going; to make it more precise I quote one of my personal favourite, the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore: 

“Don’t limit your child to your own learning, for she was born in another time” 

And in the simple words of an educator, do not compare your schooling to your child’s, it will always be different. Do not expect your children to learn the same way you did, let them discover how they learn best or how they want to learn. Do not dictate career choices for your child just because you are successful in yours; let them explore. Do not force your child to take up classes just because they are in demand, let them explore their interests as per their skills. Do not let your high school hangover get into the way of your child’s schooling. Learn with your child, grow with your child. Next time you discuss 21st-century pedagogy or education trends make sure to avoid comparison, it will give you the purpose to find out more and learn more. 

Lifestyle desk. (2020). Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti 2020: Inspirational Quotes, Messages, thoughts that celebrate the great poet. Indian Express Archives.

Books & the environment

From simple concepts to complicated science; from preschool to high school, (picture)books can serve to discuss and discover information about the environment, including climate change and endangered wildlife. These books can lead to hands-on projects such as adopting a whale or planting trees. The books can also serve as examples to write your own classroom stories about your specific environment or favorite (endangered) animals.

Miss Rumphius

One of the earliest picture books about the environment is perhaps the ever popular classic Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. It is the story of a librarian who wants to travel the world ánd make the world a more beautiful place. She does so by planting wild flowers that form an everlasting legacy. A lovely story that can lead to a classroom discussion of “How will you make the world a more beautiful place?”. Students can start a school garden or plant seeds in pots. ISBN 0-14-050539-3

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback, written by Beryl Young, illustrated by Sakika Kikuchi. A gentle story to share with young readers, it compares where Humpback lives with her calf to a child in his own environment. Both are growing bigger, both need food and a clean environment to thrive. And both are learning new skills as they grow. A perfect picture book to install a love of, and respect for, nature. ISBN 978-1-77164-573-7, Greystone Kids

Sunny Days

Sunny Days by Deborah Kerbel features attractive collage art by Miki Sato. This padded board book celebrates a day outside for very young readers. Written in rhyme, it shows how to plant seeds, bake mud pies and splash in the ocean. Added activities in the back make children aware of the environment and simple science. ISBN 978-1-77278-197-7, Pajama Press

Forest Magic: A Guidebook for Little Woodland Explorers

Forest Magic by Sarah Grindler is a guide to all things forest. The text gently points out the miracle of seeds growing into tall trees, offering shelter to birds and insects. The beautiful art shows the difference between moss and lichen, explains how a nurse log propagates life and what you can do to support and encourage biodiversity. A lovely guide for young explorers in the forest. ISBN 978-1-77108-926-5, Nimbus Publishing

Outside, You Notice

Outside, You Notice by Erin Alladin, illustrated by Andrea Blinick. From the smell of rain to the feel of seeds – “the most important things in the world” – this picture book is a beautiful first introduction to the outdoors and helps to create awareness of the interconnectedness of nature. The book has a main text complemented by text boxes with more details as well as suggestions on ways to spend time outside: to parks, markets and more. ISBN 978-1-77278-193-9, Pajama Press

City of Water

City of Water, Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Katy Dockrill is for upper elementary and middle grade students. Where does the water in your tap come from? This book looks at all things water – from the history of aqueducts to how water treatment plants work. It highlights innovative ideas like turning salt water into drinkable water. I was interested to learn that “a bottle of water costs up to two thousand times more than the same amount of water coming from the tap, requires two thousand times more energy to produce and uses more water in the production process than an average bottle can hold!” Fascinating facts for budding environmentalist, and for anyone who drinks water. ISBN 978-1-77306-144-3, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is the author of environmental books like When We Go Camping, Amazing Animals, In My Backyard and The Elephant Keeper.

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching & Mentoring: Need of the New Normal

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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