Usually I post new book recommendations here every two weeks. This time, I’m traveling and unable to share reviews of new books. So I’d like to share a list of my favourite books about many countries around the world.

This list includes books for young people, and anyone else. Most are paired with travels to countries which I read about. Often, I found these gems in the country itself. They enriched my travels and my understanding of country and culture.

It is an evergrowing list, so you can check back at other times to find more titles.

Happy reading!

Margriet Ruurs is an author of many books for children. Her travel are often combined with visits to international schools to inspire children to read and write their own stories.

Reimagining Your Story @ Digital Learning: Three Questions

You stand at the water’s edge, looking out at the vast ocean of possibilities that technology holds for your school community in 2023/2024.

You look toward the horizon and see wispy clouds, seagulls…and wait, is that a giant digital clockface flashing 12:00? It is. It’s the infamous “blinking 12:00″ from VCRs of yore, encapsulating the frustration that arises when technology requires more cognitive load than users are willing to bear. When the perceived cost in time and effort exceeds the perceived benefit, resistance to technology ensues.

Which begs the question, so you ask yourself “Despite consistent and undeniable technological advancement, why hasn’t the enormous investment in educational technology over the past two decades resulted in anything more measurably significant in terms of student achievement gains than if we’d instead focused on using simple, well-known teaching strategies?”

You wonder: Could it be that technological transformation is far more a social process than it is a technological one?

Might the path to meaningful progress be high-touch as much or more than it is high-tech? You consider your school’s overall past performance in challenging established norms, dismantling paradigm paralysis, and encouraging innovation…and…what’s clear is a fresh approach certainly couldn’t hurt.

Dynamic school leaders see their role as serving their communities, as co- constructors of systems and workflows that prioritize the needs of students, staff and the community–the users—first. This is how dynamic school cultures do difficult things.

You know that organizations fall to the level of their systems far more easily and more often than they rise to the level of their goals so you realize you need to know which strategies to achieve “techno-social system transformation” have the best shot at moving the needle for gains in student achievement.

You smile as three question pathways appear before you:

What if you, ask not—“How do we get there?” but instead, “Where can we get from here?”

What if instead of setting top-down goals, you collectively envision a broad direction and cultivate an evolutionary mindset among staff by asking “Where can we get from here?”

Leadership, in its truest sense, is not about extracting from people; it’s about enabling people and teams to move forward by fostering a sense of collective empowerment and community. Hierarchical authority as it is in schools, however, tends to evoke compliance, not foster commitment. Commitment and collaboration will take your community farther than compliance so we must rethink our policies to motivate rather than constrain, drive change from within rather than enforcing it from above.

What if you elevated staff and students into active agents of change and ruthlessly went after systems and processes that are diverting energies to administrative Yak Shaving over student learning and support?

A pivotal first step towards meaningful progress is to engage everyone in collective inquiry @ system and process redesigns. Students and staff should be designing technology innovations, not just implementing them. Encourage teams to question deeply held assumptions, challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality, and examine systems and processes that are too often frittering away our most precious resource — human brain cycles.

Daisy chained, pieced together systems lacking stakeholder input from day 1 get put into place in ways that may seem locally efficient (for the IT Dept, Office staff, Admin) but make yak shavers of the users these systems are ostensibly supporting.

What if you deliberately re-balanced your digital ecosystem toward high touch support?

More than anything, we need to ensure that inquiry and experiments in digital transformation do not create an onerous burden for our community but instead provide meaningful, user-friendly, and beneficial change. Computational kindness, a concept that refers to the way we design and use technology in ways that are considerate of human factors, should be at the heart of our endeavors. This shift toward a “user focus” prioritizes high- touch integration support and proactive problem finding alongside the “reactive problem solving only” style of support that is the relatively prevalent norm.

By turning this inquiry into action we are in much better shape to write the next chapter.

Lead With Love

So last summer I was having dinner with a great friend of mine, John Stephens, who also just happens to be one of the best educators that I know, and we got speaking about (for fun and from our own unique perspectives) what the top priorities should be for teachers as they look to inspire learning this year with their students. We went back and forth for a long time discussing things like inclusive assessment practices and strategies, differentiated lesson design approaches like UDL, specific and timely feedback, and things like that. Finally I said, “okay, on the count of three, let’s both yell out our number one priority above all the rest. The one thing that is at the very top of the list without question, and the one priority that in our minds is the foundational pillar of great teaching”.

“Are you ready? One, two, three, Go!” And at the exact same moment without hesitation we both yelled out, “Relationship Building!” At that point we smiled big smiles, we grabbed another drink, and we immediately dove into an even longer conversation about why, in our heart of hearts, we both felt that way. It turned into a discussion that I’ll never forget, and it made me even more resolute in my belief that the relationship that we develop with each of our students is the foundational piece that must absolutely drive everything else that we do as educators…honestly, it’s all about relationships.

The interesting thing about part of our conversation though, is that we both admitted that when we were very young teachers, many moons ago, we didn’t necessarily see things this way. Back then we assumed that being a good teacher simply meant deeply knowing our content and curriculum and having solid lessons and strong unit designs, which of course good teachers do have and still prioritize, but the idea of prioritizing relationship building wasn’t something that was at the forefront of our thinking. We both understood that having a good relationship with a student would certainly be helpful, but it wasn’t something that we set out to purposely and explicitly target as an imperative. 

Well, things have drastically changed for us over the years, and we’ve both grown into this unwavering “relationships first” stance over time. It’s interesting too, that John has spent most of his career in public education back in Canada and I have spent mine in international education around the world, but you know what, kids are kids are kids everywhere you go, and all kids want to feel seen, valued, successful, and loved by the adults in their lives, and of course this absolutely includes their teachers. We both agreed that at some point in our growth as educators a shift happened in our thinking and we began “leading with love” so to speak, not just at the beginning of the year but at the beginning of all our daily classes and lessons, and with every one of our student interactions throughout the entire school year. 

We began prioritizing knowing the faces in front of us in deep and meaningful ways, and we began cultivating a classroom environment which was safe, secure, and inclusive. We made “mistake making” a celebration instead of something to be ashamed of, and we began seeing the students in our classes as little extended family members. In essence, we organically, and through great mentorship, shifted our perspective of what being a “good teacher” truly meant, and when that shift finally happened we were able to become the teachers and role models that our students needed, and the teachers that we always wanted to be. 

Not surprisingly, when this shift happened it was our very real experience that our students started to do better not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. The feedback that we received through our student surveys improved dramatically, and anecdotally the levels of joy, engagement, and freedom that we witnessed in our classes exploded. Personally, I’m really excited about the recent and heavy push from schools all over the world to prioritize wellness, social-emotional learning, and belonging within their communities, and their specific targeting of relationship building as a pillar connected to strategic planning makes my heart grow a few sizes. It’s absolutely the right approach in our disconnected, post-covid and social media driven world, and you know what, we will be all the better for it, especially our kids. 

You see, It doesn’t matter if you are a lower elementary classroom teacher, a middle school science teacher, a high school math teacher or in an administrative position at your school, the relationships first stance and the leading with love approach has to be our top priority. So with that in mind, and on the count of three, let’s shout it out together and smile our wide collective smiles…ready, set, go…relationship building! Let’s all lead with love as our default this year, in every interaction that we have with students and with each other as well, and watch how our school culture positively and beautifully responds…and you know what, it will. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Teachers who put relationships first don’t just have students for one year. They have students who view them as “their” teacher for life – Justin Tarte

Related Articles – 

Relationships First

Fundamentals of SEL

Essential for Students

The Cascading Benefits

A Sense of Belonging in Schools

Inspiring Videos – 

A Stranger’s Gift

Music Appreciation

10 Things that Made Us Smile 

Special Friendship

TED Talk – 

How AI Could Save (Not Destroy) Education

From Yesterday to Tomorrow: Embracing Education’s Changing Landscape

The emergence of innovative teaching methodologies continues to reshape the way we prepare the leaders of tomorrow. Though numerous events and ways of learning are unfolding, a sound seemingly rings out. One that is ubiquitous, a symphonic and synchronous echo full of hope, reminding me of the value of holding fast to what it might mean to be progressive. Global Online Academy, more flexible scheduling, Hunter and Gatherer Education, and Khan Academy all naturally command my focus.

Fostering Independence: The Teacher’s Path to Becoming Unnecessary

This semester I am teaching two courses for Global Online Academy, an “institution” predating COVID-19 by nearly a decade. With a mission “to reimagine learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society,” GOA is about reimagining learning. Currently, enrollment is at its highest, welcoming 14,000 students these past weeks. Students often are curious about the frequency of Zooms. For some there are memories, possibly not so positive, of 2020 when many schools just transferred classrooms to online, expecting students to be glued to their screens in a more traditional lecture approach. What students however quickly learn through experience and the bi-weekly Zoom usually is what is reflected upon as bringing so much connection and joy. Students from across the globe meet, are offered differing perspectives, and both provide and receive valuable feedback. Sometimes I am present and can help guide the session. Other times, students simply record the Zoom and share it with me. I have found that when I intentionally get out of students’ way, some of the deepest learning occurs. This is progressive. Educational theorist Thomas Carruthers was on to something when he shared how a teacher is “one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. 

The Four-Day School Week: A Bold Step Towards Greater Flexibility

Similar to GOA’s reimagining learning, businesses are beginning to entertain envisioning a different look to the work week. One which increases flexibility in new and different ways. A March 10, 2023 article in the World Economic Forum attests to the success of a pilot project where a 4-day work week was tried. Of the 61 UK companies taking part, ninety percent kept the shortened week going even after the trial period ended. Furthermore, 30 percent committed to a permanent 4-day workweek change. Similar results were found in the “world’s biggest trial of the four-day workweek.”  

Might schools be so bold?

Over 2,000 schools in 26 states have already made the switch to a four-day school week. Usually, the choice is either fiscally related or moral boosting for teachers and students alike. Researchers share how no statistically significant detriment evidence is found of four-day school week achievement impacts. Though it still may be too early to tell, the bigger “reveal” that behooves us to understand is that learning is not something that just happens in places we call schools. Case in point, hunter and gatherer education.

Reconnecting with Our Roots: The Role of Balance and Play

In the past two generations, we have witnessed a winnowing of children’s outdoor playtime. Screen time is one factor, as is a move towards greater urbanization and also adults structuring children’s play life. Oddly enough there sometimes is an almost overt convincing regarding the importance of children spending time outdoors. Are we so separated from nature? Annie Murphy Paul’s profound book, “The Extended Mind,” alludes to how humans are wired to thrive outdoors and that it is more than just enjoyment. Paul states that being in natural, outdoor environments helps to relieve stress and balances our equilibrium, which in turn makes our thinking more effective. Makes sense. We spent thousands of years outdoors and but a bit more than a century locked up in schools and workplaces!

Peter Gray, an American psychology researcher and scholar, makes a case for how childhood was better in the days of hunting and gathering. Gray purports that we should design learning environments around such values as autonomy and sharing. Furthermore, play has a very important role in that it is preparation for learning and life. “Gray has long appreciated how spontaneous, unsupervised play aids self-directed learning and self-assurance in children.” Dr Nikhil Chaudhary shares in an article in Science Daily how “Hunter-gatherer childhoods may offer clues to improving education and wellbeing in developed countries.” Around the globe, emphasis is not only being placed on improving learning but also on student well-being. Looking back to our origins, we have a lot to learn from hunter-gatherer societies. One such fact is how rare instructive teaching is. Instead, Chaudhary cites how children from around the age of two, spend large portions of the day in mixed-age (2-16) ‘playgroups’ without adult supervision. Play and exploration are integral, as children they learn from one another, acquiring skills and knowledge collaboratively. Strangely, I can see a resemblance to the Zooms my students have without me “in the room.” Yet, even more critical is the need to highlight the role of the unconventional. One analogous approach could be the respected paragon of outdoor wear, Patagonia. How Patagonia does business is anything but “usual.”  Patagonia prioritizes balance between work and play and the company values flexibility. A testament to this is their, “Let My People Go Surfing” flexitime policy which allows employees to “catch a good swell, go bouldering for an afternoon, pursue an education, or get home in time to greet the kids when they come down from the school bus”. A far cry from a world caught up in traffic, tests, and stress. A read of Cal Newport’s, “What Hunter-Gatherers Can Teach Us About the Frustrations of Modern Work,” alludes to lessons about improving jobs (and schools) today.

Redefining Mastery: Exploring Alternative Paths to Success

Last, evidence is increasingly abundant for how alternative pathways are becoming less and less “the alternative.” Just ask Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, an organization incorporated as a 501c(3) nonprofit back in 2008, a signature year in technology as Google Chrome entered the browser business. His mission? To accelerate learning for students of all ages. Khan’s free courses, test prep, and tutoring are now being utilized by more than 152 million users. Moreover, a recent precedent was set by the prestigious Caltech. Some students have not had access to required courses such as calculus, physics, and chemistry. In response to possible admission barriers, one alternative path is to take Khan Academy‘s free, online classes and score 90% or higher on a certification test. Permitting an alternative to prove mastery of the material is equitable and also a testament that quality education need not be constricted by tradition. 

Countless Promising Opportunities on the Horizon

The future has arrived. Many moves are being made. Global Online Academy, is an example of connection but also the possibility of learning with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. New structures such as the 4-day school week are being piloted, often in places where we might least expect progressiveness. We too are reminded of the millennia spent as hunters and gatherers. Might this inform the role of greater balance and play? And finally, the likes of Khan Academy illustrate a gaining of momentum for alternative pathways. Steve Jobs concluded his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 with the advice, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” And so might we, stay hungry and foolish, as the anticipation builds. Numerous are the promising opportunities that lie ahead.


Artificial Intelligence for Educators: Essential Podcasts

Understanding and navigating the complex layers of the rapid changes AI introduces can be overwhelming. These accelerated changes, brought on by AI, impact numerous aspects of our lives: from our professional and social spheres to culture, politics, technology, and ethics.

For educators, staying updated and engaged with this topic, amid our many other responsibilities and tasks, is a challenge. However, the influence of AI in education is undeniable and will undoubtedly play a crucial role in our students’ futures. Living alongside AI has become a reality of our time. It’s vital to craft learning experiences that not only offer the skills and knowledge to leverage AI’s potential benefits in the classroom but also address the necessary precautions these technologies demand.

Here’s a list of podcasts focusing on Generative AI, ChatGPT, and Large Language Models. This list serves as a comprehensive set of references on the subject, offering an overview and clarifying technical nuances. Moreover, from various voices and perspectives, it delves into the ethics and dynamics of these emerging technologies. Often, these discussions raise more questions than they provide answers.


Special places, special times, special people… Books can show you these and help you to understand things better than anything else. These wonderful books do just that. Use them for quiet reading or for classroom discussions.

The Little Green Envelope

The Little Green Envelope, written by Gillian Sze and illustrated by Claudine Crangle, is a wonderful story about a friend who moves far away. But if Olive can’t visit her friend, she can at least write a letter. Lost in a drawer, is a little green envelope which has also been dreaming of traveling. It feels very special indeed when Olive selects it to send her card to her friend. The journey of the little green envelope is full of excitement. It’s even fun to read all of the other envelopes shown in the art. This book is perfect to use in an international school with its theme of friendship, moving and travel. It can easily be paired with teaching activities using maps and writing to family and friends far away, or by corresponding with pen pals. The book includes instructions on how to make your own envelope. ISBN 978-1-77306-681-3, Groundwood Books

Chinese New Year by Jen Sookfong Lee is a useful, uncluttered information book about all things Chinese New Year. How did the holiday evolve? Why is Chinese New Year based on the lunar calendar and what do the Zodiac animals mean? The author, who grew up with the traditions, explores customs, food, decorations and much more. This book is part of Orca Origins series, together with similar volumes covering Diwali, Christmas, Ramadan and more. ISBN 978-1-4598-1126-3, Orca Book Publishers

Nutshimit: In the Woods

Nutshimit, In The Woods by Melissa Mollen Dupuis, illustrated by Elise Gravel is an intimate talk about nature by an Innu member, the First Nations people of northern Quebec and Labrador. Melissa explains how she learned from her ancestors about nature and invites the reader along as she relates creation stories and introduces trees and animals. She talks about the medicinal values of plants and how to use bark. Throughout the story shines a respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all living creatures. The story flows naturally from trees to animals, through the seasons, to natural uses of plants and berries, to recipes for maple syrup and much more. Throughout the text Innu words are used and a glossary in the back helps explain the words.  ISBN 978-1-0397-0180-9, North Winds Press, Scholastic

Peaceful Me

Peaceful Me, by Sandra V. Feder and Rahele Jomepour Bell is a close look at moods and feelings and what might influence them. A book for the very young, this can help children to identify how they feel and what might help a person to feel peaceful. Finding a seashell, collecting favourite things, having fun with a friend or finding a spot to be quiet – all these things can help to feel peaceful. ISBN 978-1-77306-341-6, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children on Canada’s West Coast. She conducts author presentations in schools around the world.

What I Know to be True

So at the end of last school year I helped to facilitate a leadership team activity that asked each of us in the room to think about one simple thing that we, as career educators, know to be true about ALL kids. We spent a few minutes organizing our thoughts and then we went around the table and shared our “truths” with each other. It was meant to be a short connecting activity to begin the meeting, as a way to ground us in the purpose of the discussion ahead which related to student belonging. This short activity however, turned into a beautiful and much longer conversation highlighting our favorite things about our students, and it resonated deeply with all of us. 

I want to share the seven truths that we came up with and discussed during that activity, and below I tried my best to capture the sentiment of what was shared by each of us. I also want to recommend that you try this activity at some point in the year with a team that you belong to. I’m sure that you will come up with many, many more than the seven listed here, and I can guarantee that the activity will bring you back and reconnect you quickly to your meaning and purpose as an educator. It turned out to be a fantastic inclusion activator that we titled, “What I Know to be True”. Give it a try…you won’t be disappointed 🙂 

What we know to be true about kids…

They’re Curious – We should marvel at the curiosity of our kids every single day. The way that they look at the world, the questions that they ask in class, the perspectives that they have on something that completely opens up our minds to another way of thinking, and the attention to detail that they give to things that we sometimes take for granted. Curiosity is something that some adults tend to lose as they grow older, and as they get set in their ways, but kids never ever lose sight of the wonder, and the beauty, and the mystery of our world. 

They Want to Achieve – Every student wants to learn, and every student wants to feel some measure of success each and every day. Kids are thirsty for new knowledge, and they are secretly (and not so secretly) clamoring to showcase their knowledge, inspirations, talents and awesomeness to you and to their peers. We need to structure our classes, our daily student experiences, our units, and our assessments to allow for daily student success. Every one of our kids needs to have the opportunity to find success in some school space every single day. All kids want to achieve, and as educators we need to consistently set up structures and experiences to allow for that to happen. Set the bar high and watch them rise to the height.

They Make Mistakes – This is where authentic learning comes from. It’s the process of learning from these mistakes that is so powerful for kids. It’s also how we as educators choose to react to these mistakes which will frame the experience in the mind of a child. Are all classrooms and spaces conducive to risk–taking and failing forward, and how do our students view their mistakes when they happen? Are they seeing mistakes as opportunities to grow and to learn and to develop, or are they ashamed or afraid or hesitant to take a risk and to stray outside of their comfort zones? Mistakes should be true celebrations for our students because this is what learning is all about. If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not growing as a person. We need all students to internalize this.

They’re Malleable – As we all know, kids are constantly learning and growing and questioning, and therein lies so much of their beauty. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to help develop them into not only the amazing adults that they are destined to become, but into incredible change agents for our world right now. We need to be heroes, role models, and searchlight souls for each and every one of our kids as they meander through their adolescent years. We need to stretch their thinking, challenge them to break out of their comfort zones, hold them accountable for becoming their best selves for others and their community, and guide them through this difficult journey…that’s our job as educators. We need to leave a lasting and positive impact on them simply by being who we are as the adults in their lives. Every experience that we have with a child is a chance to have them walk away a better human being, and a chance for them to feel better about themselves.

They Want/Need Feedback – They are desperate for it actually, even if they say otherwise. Kids are constantly watching us as adults, and trying to figure out who they are as people, and where and how they fit into the world. They need honest and authentic feedback about their learning, about how to become better human beings, about how to problem solve and how to make friends, and about how to approach difficult situations. Feedback is paramount to the relationship that we develop with each and every one of our students. Good feedback sets the stage for students to learn on their own and to find some independence and agency in their young lives. Everyone wants and needs feedback, and if we deliver it well it will make all the difference. 

They’re Beautiful – (This was my truth) If you don’t have our breath taken away by the beauty of a child at least once a day then you’re in the wrong profession. Any time that you feel yourself running out of patience, or feel your mood starting to sour, or if you simply need a “pick me up” in the middle of the day, then pop out to where kids are hanging out and open up your eyes and ears. The laughter, the learning, the interactions, and the unadulterated joy that spills out of kids truly is beauty personified. Children are a gift that all educators have been given, and sometimes we get so busy with our planning, our grading, our own professional development, and our relationships with each other that we forget to stand back and marvel. Nothing in our world compares to the beauty of a child, and it doesn’t cost a thing to be inspired by it. Stand back and take it all in.

They Need Us – Being a quality educator is like being a chameleon of sorts. You need to be different things to different kids at different times throughout the day. You may need to be their teacher, their surrogate parent, their mentor, or their role model, all in the span of seven or eight hours. We need to be giving them the best hours of their day, and we have to work tremendously hard to develop strong enough relationships with each of them so that they trust us to wear all of those hats effectively. Especially the kids that are the most difficult to connect with, because the kids that are the hardest to reach are the ones that need us the most. You can tell a lot about yourself as an educator by the relationships that you have with your most difficult students. 

Okay, there you have it. A good start but certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, so try this activity for yourselves and see what you come up with…I bet it will resonate with you like it did with me, and at the very least it will put you in the right frame of mind to talk about students and their learning before any meeting. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it

-William James

Related Articles –

High Expectations 

Why Teachers Matter

Inclusion Activators

Inspiring Videos –

School Bus Driver

An Old Mustang

Random Acts of Kindness

10 Things That Made Us Smile

TED Talk –

Mental Health Days

Inconvenient Truth – Uncomfortable Reality


As we come back to another school year, I’m sure that more than a few international schools have strengthened their commitment to teaching about the climate crisis. For those schools that have not, please consider doing so. We are in the midst of an existential crisis, there is no getting around that. The last thing we need is another generation of adults willing to deny our climate emergency. The challenge ahead of us is difficult enough without debating whether a challenge exists. 

Increasing the curricular focus on the environment is doing the right thing, the necessary thing. We have to teach ourselves and our students about the seriousness of our actions, the harm each political setback causes, and the startling trajectory we are on. (Look at the graph again and make the obvious comparison of the last 100 years to the 900 years before that.) We are living in the first and only time that a species on Earth has such an obvious capability to eradicate itself and others entirely. An inconvenient truth, as we know from Al Gore. 

Soon students will arrive at international boarding schools across Switzerland and the world. They’ll fly in, many of them from incredible distances. They’ll often come with parents and siblings. As my mind wandered during the first day of our faculty orientation, I imagined an interactive world map showing this incredible movement of students, driving and flying, arriving at their international school. It is all very exciting, quite wholesome, really. Yet it is not sustainable.

Completely distracted by that point, I missed whatever came next in the presentation. Not only do students cover large distances to arrive at school in the fall, many repeat the trip (there and back) for fall break, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break. During the school year, parents often travel to the school to visit their children. There is, again, nothing malicious in any of this. Nobody is at fault. But that doesn’t make it any more sustainable. 

This is a very uncomfortable reality. Let’s just imagine a single international boarding school, anywhere, it doesn’t matter which one. On the one hand the faculty commits to raising awareness about the climate crisis, making it part of their curriculum. On the other hand, their business requires students to fly in (and out and in and out and in and out …) to learn, among other things, about the climate crisis.

The situation is inconvenient. Is our example school willing to advise their families to keep their students at a school they can get to with public transportation? Is any school willing to do so? 

Quite simply, the answer is no.

Where does that leave us?


Do you live in a city? Have you ever moved to a different city? Books can shed light on the places we live but also on the reasons why we live there and how our surroundings influence our lives. The following books can serve as starting point for classroom discussions as well as inspiration in students’ writing about their own places.

Why Humans Build Up: The Rise of Towers, Temples and Skyscrapers

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

City of Neighbors

City of Neighbors by Andrea Curtis snd Katy Dockrill. Cities don’t need to just be concrete buildings and roads. Cities are places where people live. In this book, we learn about making cities more livable and enjoyable for all. Cheerful murals, wheel chair accessible buildings, parks where people can meet are all vital parts of a city. Find out how people make their cities more attractive, from Portland, Oregon to Tokyo, Japan. The back pages have suggestions for how you can make a difference in your city. ISBN 978-1-77306-816-9, Groundwood Books

Do You Remember?

Do You Remember by Sydney Smith. What if you had to move to a new city? This picture book shows strong emotions, both in text and in art. Written in two voices, the art shows ‘now’ in dark pages and ‘past’ in light memories as a mother and young son cuddle in bed and recall different times: a picnic, a bike ride, a car ride; the lovely picnic on a blue blanket; the red bicycle that flew into a hay stack; the teddy bear who showed the way in the car.  There used to be a father. Is he dead? Are they divorced? Why did they have to leave their home and move to a new city? Will ‘now’ become a memory, too? 

The present time, in a new place, shows us that it’s all still there – the blanket, the teddy, the bike. And yes, this, too, will become a memory to treasure no matter the reason. This picture book truly allows the reader to bring his or her own experiences to the story and to recognize their own memories in this universal story full of memories of love and a promise of endurance. ISBN 978-1-77306-986-9, Groundwood Books

Alone: The Journeys of Three Young Refugees

Alone, The Journeys of Three Young Refugees by Paul Tom and Mélanie Baillairgé is also a story of new beginnings in new places. This novel for slightly older readers is told in three voices. These are the stories of two boys and a girl, from Iran, Burundi and Uganda. For different reasons these children have to flee their country, alone. Facing hardships they never imagined, each finds their way and their voice en route to a new country. They also finally find freedom but at a high cost – leaving their homes and families they have to learn to live without a parent, learn a new language, make decisions no child should have to make. At first it might sound like fun not to have to go to school, but they soon discover that work, no food, and too much time is even harder than school. And what about once you arrive in a new, cold country where everything is strange? Told in a different format with lots of art, Alone is based on the true experiences of three refugee children. A touching, important account of both refugees and those willing to support them.  ISBN 978-1-77306-927-2, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children in Canada. She conducts author talks in schools around the world and has a book/travel blog:

Life as the Change Process

So a couple of weeks ago I moved to Vietnam to start a new adventure at an incredible school, Saigon South International School, and so far it’s been a dream. We love the people, the food, the school’s mission and vision and we’ve already begun to settle in. We are definitely in the honeymoon stage, where everything is new and exciting, and where people are going out of their way to support us and to make us feel welcome and seen…and you know what, it feels great. I have been through this enough times however, across 7 countries over 25 years, to know that at some point I will experience some lows, as I begin missing the people that I love from my last school, and from home (my son who just started college for example), and as I get quickly thrown out of my comfort zone having to learn so much about how things are done around here…it’s a process, and it’s a very real part of what comes along with a move like this. 

As international school educators we’ve all been through this in some form or another, and the more I reflect on it this week, and steady myself for the “Implementation Dip”, which is bound to come at some stage, I can’t help thinking about how the life of an international school educator in many ways mirrors the flow of a change initiative in schools. “Life as the Change Process” so to speak, where the parallels are just too striking to ignore. 

I’ve been helping to lead change initiatives in schools for the better part of two decades now, and like Michael Fullan and other change leaders often write about, there is a process that schools and educators go through as they strive for sustainability. It usually begins with a sense of urgency and excitement about what the change can bring to the organization, and in our specific case of working in schools, what it can do to enhance culture and student learning. Inevitably though, after that initial buzz and enthusiasm and excitement settles, there comes a period of time where complexity arrives (implementation dip) and the learning curve throws dents into our comfort levels, and it can get super tricky. Well, in many ways, the same is true of any major life change outside of the professional environment, and moving to a new school and to a new country certainly fits that roadmap. 

The change to a new school is thrilling, and nerve-wracking, and if you are fortunate (like I have been at SSIS), it goes very smoothly from the beginning, and you can quickly find a sense of purpose and meaning, which will help you gain some important momentum. Also, if you are very fortunate, you meet people who understand the position that you are in and make a concerted effort to pick you up at every turn, and support you through it all. Because I’ve been through this a few different times throughout my career, I have learned what to look out for as the weeks move along, and I have learned to not go through it alone. Many change leaders talk about creating what they call a “guiding coalition”, which is essentially a group of allies who can relate to your situation and be advocates and guides for you as the weeks turn into months. 

A change like this can become quickly overwhelming as the honeymoon period begins to wear off, so having that support group in place is essential. The other thing that I have learned over time is the importance of communication. The absolute imperative of communicating and over-communicating how you are feeling, and what you are needing (indeed the same is true of change initiatives in schools). You see, as incredibly supportive as great schools and great communities are, there often comes a time relatively early on when students arrive and routines get started and people settle into their day to day lives both inside and outside of the school and you, the newbie, can become less of a priority to look out for. This is where and when it becomes of the utmost importance for you to reflect on how you are feeling and doing, and to use that guiding coalition to provide you with what you need. That implementation dip is a very real thing, and just like in schools, if you learn to embrace it and prepare for it then you’ll be in a much better position to climb out. 

So, for all educators this year who are arriving in new countries and in new schools, and for many of us, new continents, enjoy the transition and soak it all up. Put yourself out there and join in and find your coalition. Say yes to invites and lean on your fellow newbies as they can relate intimately to how you are feeling…both the good and the bad. Make sure to over-communicate and prepare for the lows that will surely come. It’s hard to leave a school and community behind, and there is often a grieving process that comes along with any major transition…that’s part of it and it’s okay. If you prepare for the inevitable bumpy ride of the first semester and maybe even the first year, and if you put your support structures in place, then the climb out of that dip, back toward your comfort zone won’t be as challenging. Eventually you will find your place, and your purpose, and you will find your voice as a valued member of the community…that’s the sustainability piece!

Now, for all you returning educators, who have come back to comfort and calm, I want to ask you all to keep your newbies on your radar. Not just for the first few weeks, but throughout the year. It’s easy to assume that people have settled in and are doing fine, but in my experience many adults can find it hard to reach out proactively, particularly when they are new, for fear of looking like you can’t handle things or for fear of judgment. We all want to be our best selves each and every day when we join a new community, and it can be easy to lack that vulnerability if we find ourselves struggling a bit. Check in on them early and often and support them in finding their way. The notion of “Life as the Change Process” absolutely rings true from my perspective and experience, and like I said, the process is real. 

Newbies, find your balance early on and keep it, and find some outlets that will keep you healthy and engaged. Make sure to speak to the people that you love back “home” and share your experiences, as it will help you meander through the ups and downs. Finally, get good at chunking out your time, and focusing on the day or the week ahead. Find gratitude in the little things that bring you joy throughout the days, and even if you have a difficult day, which you will from time to time, always search for that, “best part of a bad day”, which is always there waiting to help you change your perspective. Actually, these are just good life lessons for all of us if you think about it, because honestly, change is a constant in all our lives, all the time…some changes just happen to be a little bigger than others. 

Okay, I’m off to call my son back home in Canada to tell him all about my day…he’s a newbie too in so many ways, as he starts to live his life as a full-time Canadian for the first time. We are going to help each other, as a team, and travel through this change process that we call life together, and I can’t wait. All the best for a wonderful school year ahead everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. It’s going to be an amazing year!

Quote of the Week…

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change 

-Wayne W. Dyer

Related Articles – 

5 Steps in the Change Process

Overcoming the Implementation Dip


Tips for Joining a Community

TED Talks – (Newbies, find your voice)

The Danger of Silence

5 Steps

Work-Life Balance

Inspiring Videos – 

College Scholarship 


Dexter – Perseverance

10 Things That Made Us Smile