Leveraging Your Learning Community

So this past week we held our faculty and staff Festival of Learning, which is our annual culminating event showcasing and highlighting the work, learning, and passion that we have all given to our Professional Learning Communities initiative throughout the school year…and it was awesome! I was a part of an incredible group of educators presenting work and learning around our commitment to social justice, but I also managed to get around and listen to over a dozen or so other inspiring group presentations, and truthfully, I was left speechless by what I saw. 

All of the groups presented their collaborative learning in their specific chosen format, and the positive impact that their work will have on student learning moving forward is going to be staggering and transformational. This year our general theme was under the umbrella of “Agency”, and giving our faculty and staff their own agency to choose areas of passion and interest around that particular theme made all of the difference, as it allowed for deep ownership and purposeful self direction from all involved.

It reminded me so much of our Lower School Inspiration Projects, a structure where each student gets to present their passions and inspirations on four occasions during the school year. With that structure we intentionally turn the learning over to the kids, and what they come up with and present to the community always leaves our heads spinning in awe. Well, the Festival of Learning last week had a very similar feel to those student showcases, as it really did turn into an Inspiration Project opportunity for adults, and just like with the kids, everyone left last week’s event inspired and proud to be a part of such a rich and committed learning community. 

I often speak about how the best professional development that schools can structure, suggest and support lies right at their fingertips within their own community. Faculty and staff teaching each other and learning from one another can be profound, empowering, and an inexpensive way to move a school forward in immeasurable ways. It takes strategic planning and structuring for sure, and a time and calendaring commitment, but wow is it ever worth it. I certainly see how sending educators off to great PD workshops and conferences and school visits can be super beneficial, and bringing in consultants can be transformative as well, but let’s not ever forget about what is lying right under our own noses…each other! 

Leveraging our internal learning community is always a great idea and the right approach, and it is something that schools should prioritize each and every year in my opinion. From what I just witnessed last week here with our faculty and staff, it was absolutely the right decision to allocate numerous faculty meeting times to this endeavor, and from what I saw everyone left the event feeling inspired, excited, and well, all the better for it. You see, everyone wins if we take the time to learn from each other, inspire each other and share our individual and collective expertise…especially our students! Thank you to all the groups who gave so much to this initiative, and please know that each presentation really did have a deep impact…so good! Have a great week ahead and hang on for the final sprint to the end everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about 

-Margaret J. Wheatley

Related Articles – 

All Things PLC

Learning Together Strategy

Professional Learning Networks

The Power of the PLN

Creating Effective Communities 

Inspiring Videos –

7th Grade Hero 

Inspiring Sports Stories

Longtime Gravedigger 

Harvard Law School 

A Lesson in Friendship

From Far Away…

Or perhaps from not so far away… These books showcase stories from a variety of cultures and countries that all show how similar we really are. Whether you need courage in Pakistan or a friend in Afghanistan, we all share similar feelings and needs. Through books, we can learn from each other.

Ang Mahiyaing Manok by Rebecca T. Anonuevo and Ruben de Jesus, is a lovely illustrated picture book told in two languages: Filipino (Tagalog) and English.

Onyok is a young rooster who just can’t crow like the others. They are experienced and know just what to do. The old roosters crow day and night. But no matter how hard Onyok tried, he can’t do it and gives up, feeling quite worthless.

His mother and the old roosters support him. They show him just what to do and encourage him to keep trying. And when Onyok finally manages his crow, he vouches to help other young roosters when he grows older. ISBN 971-508-074-X, Adarna House

Crescent Moon Friends

Crescent Moon Friends by Wadia Samadi, Mo Duffy Cobb and art by Lisa Lypowy is a gentle story about Aisha who has to leave her home in Afghanistan, and Amelia who likes to look at the moon. When Aisha joins her class, Amelia becomes her friend. They discover how much they share in values and interests. The girls as well as their families learn much from each other and are enriched by their new friendships. ISBN 978-177-3660967, Acorn Press

Silent Music, A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford is a skillfully produced picture book for all ages. Ali lives in Baghdad. He loves playing soccer on the dusty streets. But most of all he loves practising calligraphy, just like the legendary calligrapher Yakut. When bombs fall on Ali’s city he, too, fills his mind with peace by practising the flowing words. A beautiful story of peace amid a city in turmoil. ISBN 978-1-59643-276-5, Roaring Brook Press

YouTube Read Aloud:

Malala Speaks Out is the acceptance speech given by Malala Yousafzai upon receiving the Nobel Peace Price. This book should be read by any student and educator. “Instead of painting our hands with hanna flowers,” Malala says, “my friends and I used to paint them with mathematical equations.” When ‘education went from being a right to being a crime’, Malala decided to speak out. Her strong voice recounts situations for more than 60 million girls across the world. This powerful speech can inspire many and help them to realize the importance of education. Commentary in the back of the book, by Clara Fons Duocastella help to put events into context. ISBN 978-1- 77306-916-6, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author of many multi-cultural books for children. She is currently taking bookings at International Schools for the 2023-24 school year.


My Life as a Pracademic

Image created by Stable Diffusion with the prompt: “fantasy university building.”

I’m not sure if English needs another portmanteau. After brunch and spork all others fall a bit short. But the term pracademic struck a chord with me when Ruth Kane, University of Ottawa, shared the dissertation of Trista Hollweck (now also a faculty member at the same university) that explores what it is to be a pracademic. I thought to myself as I read it: That’s me! There’s nothing like finding out that you have like-minded colleagues out there.

Trista’s definition of a pracademic is not simply a person working in both K-12 education and at the university at the same time. It’s not just that someone works at two locations, of course, but that a person’s mindset situates one professionally in both worlds: “the ethereal world of academia as a scholar and the pragmatic world of practice” (Walker, 2010, p. 1). Another term that comes to mind is research practitioner.

Third culture kids operate in multiple cultures and therefore feel, sometimes, that they don’t really belong in any. So, too, with an educational pracademic. You understand academia and you get the practice of teaching – or do you? If you are like me, when you are with more mainstream academics, you are very aware that your own university ties (as an adjunct, in my case) are perceived differently by those you are with. In the conference program or in the byline of a publication, when I use my high school affiliation, I faintly hear in my mind the children’s song “One of these things is not like the other.” And yet when I’m with my colleagues in the high school, where I teach occasionally but tend to fill other roles related to professional development, I’m similarly not quite part of the group. 

I’m a third culture academic instead, part of the tribe that Ruth and Trista introduced me to, the pracademics.

To an extent, all of us in education are pracademics. Trista uses the phrase identifying as a pracademic about herself, which seems particularly apt, as it recalls for me a more modern fluid identification of gender and the respect we strive to show for individual choice in finding one’s comfortable spot on that continuum. In this area of my professional life, I’m identifying as a pracademic, with a strong influence of both academia and practice making me who I am.

Below  is my  “ethereal world as a scholar,” the part of  me playing university while I work as a practitioner of high school at Leysin American School (LAS). In a nutshell, the academia side of my life as a pracademic:

Supporting students

  • teaching international teachers online with Moreland University; 
  • creating new courses for K-12 program as a consultant; and
  • mentoring colleagues working on a dissertation, sometimes by being on a committee, but more often as an ad hoc reader because a colleague wants to share their work.

Supporting colleagues

  • meeting with other Moreland faculty members to both give and receive help;
  • reading blogs and papers, co-authoring, and helping LAS colleagues get published; and
  • occasionally taking a class for a colleague or visiting a class as a guest.

Presenting and publishing

  • presenting at conferences, often with colleagues who have previously spent time at LAS as visiting scholars;
  • blogging about themes that arise at LAS, Moreland, and through the steady stream of ideas online;
  • submitting articles and book chapters; and
  • working as a peer reviewer.

Organizing professional ways to share work

  • serving as director of LAS Educational Research, or research department at LAS;
  • networking, both bringing others together and meeting new people through the recommendations of others – often with the assistance of LinkedIn;
  • maintaining a website of the publications in our research center; and
  • organizing a regional conference; and
  • scheduling informal brown bag meetings, which we call Laser Focus talks.

Professional membership 

  • advisory activity, or a bit more, with ECIS, ISN, Outstanding Schools, and other groups.

That’s me, surrounding myself with a bit of university life here at my international boarding school. It’s probably you, too, in your personal intersection of academia and practice. It’s a great place to be, really, even when the footing is sometimes slippery.

Please reach out if your pracademic positioning leaves you looking for your tribe. I’d be happy to connect.


Walker, D.H. (2010). Being a Pracademic – Combining Reflective Practice with Scholarship.


Leysin American School Educational Research

A Return to Authenticity

I don’t remember anyone ever using the word “authentic” back in the 1990s. Now, we hear about being authentic in how we lead, traveling to experience the authentic, and even how to cook authentic pasta. The push towards greater automation and artificial intelligence possibly propels us further toward falsity and maybe has us yearning for authenticity even more.  

Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Maybe this infers a need to increase human levels of consciousness, from an approach of a concentric circle, starting with oneself. The choice to take a step back and authentically “audit” our lives. Releasing ourselves from the stranglehold of technology is a fantastic starting point. Thankfully, we are already beginning to see a march toward an inevitable tipping point. An evolution of sorts, where an invitation to remove the tethering to a phone, computer, tablet, or wearables, is accepted with greater willingness and alacrity.

First, rewind. In the summer of 2017, I was leading a two-week student expedition in Iceland. As a part of orientation, we proposed a tech fast for a day. “Give yourself a break. A chance to fully be present. Instead of rushing to take a photo or send a Snapchat (mind you, this was a year before TikTok merged with Musical.ly and became available in the U.S.).” To see 15 pairs of teenage eyes bulging and turned upwards in disbelief is a site to see. It was further compounded by one bold student’s “authentic” quip, “Why?” With an added emphasis on fully drawing out the “iiiiiiiii.” Needless to say, it was a tough sale.  

Not Entirely Connected

Fast forward six years and the expectation on these same expeditions is a tech-free first seven days. Further, it is something students and families agree to. The statement being made is one centering on being intentional about technology, so students can fully engage in the experience, build a stronger sense of community in their group, and strengthen skills in creating interpersonal relationships. All are critical to an increasing need for connection. The irony is that in a hyper-connected world, digitally, there are many signs on the wall that we are feeling less sense of human connection. Of belonging.

Senior writer of the New York Times, David Leonhardt, imparts how academic research provides evidence for how digital technology is leading to less happiness, especially for teenagers. Yet, despite the magnitude of findings, “Sometimes, the totality of the evidence is stronger than the average correlation across a group of artificial experiments.” 

To Do What is Right by Children

So, what might schools and parents do? Instead of what appears a happenstance default to, if a phone can be afforded, and a child wants it, put it in their hands. Critical is for adults to step up. To educate themselves on the advantages and pitfalls of a world being overrun by technology. A world where “typical” American teens supposedly spend half their waking hours on smartphones. A component of stepping up is taking back ownership of the decision-making process. This need not be contested by children as more often than not, it is the adult responsible for shelling out the hundreds of dollars for the device(s) and monthly internet charges. In essence, “children’s phones” are simply on loan. So, it is the adult who rightly can, and arguably should, make such decisions as how much screen time is “right.” When Lisa Damour, psychologist and author, began to implement tech use in her home, the response of her children mirrored a sentiment I recently witnessed on recent outdoor outings with teens. Not only did they not put up a fight but the response resembled a sense of relief.  Damour elaborated how “it did wonders for our family to limit screen time. They are coming back to life. They are more social. They talk instead of shrug and when they get home from school they don’t run up the stairs and close themselves in their rooms. They seem happier and aren’t in such a rush to get back to their phones…and my thirteen and fourteen-year-olds actually went outside. To play. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.”

Similar results were found at Chatelech Secondary School in British Columbia after a 5- month revamping of cell phone use at school, “We are seeing improved mental health, we’re seeing decreased bullying, we’re seeing more engagement in class, we’re seeing more social interaction, kids are playing again instead of being on their phones and we’re seeing increased academic success.” The response when the policy was introduced was also similar. Some students were angry and upset, while others, “were extremely relieved.”

Awakening to What Truly is Authentic

If these examples are not enough to build credence, it may prove beneficial to examine the paradox happening in Silicon Valley where for the last few years, more than a handful of billionaires have said no to screen time for children. A few quotes to ponder include the likes of Melinda Gates and Steve Jobs.

“Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the emotional tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exacerbate the difficulties of growing up: learning how to be kind, coping with feelings of exclusion, taking advantage of freedom while exercising self-control.” ~Melinda Gates

“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” ~Steve Jobs

The dawning days are behind us. We need not be confused by the likes of ChatGPT and popular media proposing all things artificial intelligence. Rather, there is an awakening, a return to authenticity. A world of purpose. Of balance and intention. A world of far greater connection. Connected with our surroundings, with each other, and to ourselves. Free from the complexities that technology often presents. Lives of “authenticity.”


Professional Learning Showcase

For several years, teachers at Leysin American School (LAS) have formed their own professional learning groups on topics of interest to them.

In the final weeks of the school year, the research department brings the faculty together so the groups can easily share their learning with each other.

We start with a shout out for all types of professional learning. Then at least one member of each professional learning group sits at a station with information about the major takeaways of their meetings. The rest of us visit the stations in a loosely coordinated exchange of accomplishments, ideas, and future goals. It’s informal and informational both.

Faculty start arriving in the library early. Aaron, our coordinator today, has organized croissants, juice, and coffee. Faculty naturally form groups of three and four. The French teachers are speaking French to my left, a bit further away three faculty members are talking with our current visiting scholar, Bilge, a professor from Türkiye. Some people take seats near the screen – we’ll be starting with faculty recognitions soon. Some take the more comfortable couches and easy chairs at the back of the room, by the windows, where a few of the stations will be located. 

Aaron gets our attention and asks faculty to stand who, during the course of the academic year, were involved in any of these activities:

  • professional learning communities for teachers in their first year at LAS;
  • attending or presenting at a conference;
  • professional meetings, job-alikes, workshops, and certificate courses online;
  • IB or AP training;
  • school accreditation;
  • publishing blogs, articles, and book chapters;
  • working on a project as a resident scholar (long term passion projects);
  • graduate work; and
  • learning French (LAS is located in Suisse Romande).

A few of these opportunities were pursued by just two or three faculty members, e.g. graduate work and being on a NEASC accreditation team. Most of these activities were pursued by ten or more teaching faculty (out of approximately 50 teachers with partial or full teaching loads).

Nicola, in charge of our resident scholar program, announces next the passion projects for the coming academic year. Faculty members with accepted proposals will be exploring simulations in history class, reading across the curriculum, flipped math classrooms, the use of graphic novels for world language learning, and executive functioning. These are year-long projects that represent the best features of professional learning – these faculty members will be working with a great deal of autonomy as they collaborate with others, learning directly in their own classroom or work setting, over a significant stretch of time. They will receive a stipend for their work and several of them are likely present or publish their work during the course of the next academic year.

We moved quickly, the meeting started less than ten minutes ago. Aaron and Nicola now turn the meeting over to individual professional learning groups. Each group posts at least one of their members at their station and they begin sharing their experiences as the rest of us choose whom we would like to speak to. I visit the stations, too, taking notes.

Peer coaching

Four faculty members continued a peer coaching model initiated by a faculty member the previous year. The teacher at the station expresses how she doesn’t know how to balance the need for further trust in the students, something she would like to do, with the need to prepare them well for the assessments of the off-the-shelf curriculum she is working with. Another member from the group mentions how helpful the videos were, since we don’t often have an option to see ourselves teaching, nor to debrief our teaching with colleagues. She reports that she changed how she asks students questions, from “do you have any questions?” to “what is your main question right now.” 

“It makes a difference,” she tells me and the others at her station.

Tech for learning

Three faculty members chose to work on aspects of technology for their own classes with the support of the coordinator for educational technology, Keri. Keri often provided individual assistance, helping faculty members with tools like Kahoot for world language classes and AssessPrep in an English class. Faculty members interested in tech supported each other. One member left the group during the year because she was also pursuing a graduate degree. The consensus was that what was accomplished was worthwhile, but that more could have been accomplished, too. 

Assessment: Moderation

A group working on assessment Identified needed changes to the system we adopted over the last five years. They identified two main problem areas. We are running a standards system … sorta. There are inconsistencies across departments and even within departments. Secondly, while the teachers in this group were able to identify the main issues, they didn’t feel they were in a position to effect change in assessment practices across the school. An administrator hears their concerns during the course of the session. Perhaps this is the little push that is needed to move concerns about the assessment system higher up on the priority list for next year. 

Practices for exceptional learners

Much of the conversations of faculty members in this group focused on how to provide additional assistance for students in ESL, math, and science, by considering ways in which to bolster academic support during evening study halls. (LAS is a boarding school.) How best can the school differentiate instruction by providing one-on-one tutoring to those who need it, not just those who can afford it? The group has focused on gathering further information through surveys, taking their work into the next academic year.

Building connections with the local community

For the second year in a row a group of faculty members have chosen to work on bringing our school into closer communication and collaboration with the local community and other potential partners in our region of Switzerland. Our teachers have become more involved with volunteer activities (seed swaps, eco projects, repair clinics, volunteerism) in our town, with other international schools (SDG simulation and badminton leagues), and with universities both in Zurich and Lausanne. Being a good community member – and leveraging the resources around us – is a rising tide floating all of our boats.


This is the largest professional learning group, with nearly twenty active members. The group scheduled meetings at various times throughout the year, sometimes with just a few members attending, sometimes with nearly everyone. They felt that the successes of the committee (e.g. the gender inclusive restrooms on campus, the progress on a new inclusion policy, more inclusive English/French internal communication) were a tribute to the many people involved and the sure hand of the experienced leader of the group, Nunana. Because there was so much interest in being involved with the DEIJ group, they have often worked in self-organized subcommittees this past year, too. 

Theory of Knowledge

This group was mainly composed of faculty members who teach either the IB course Theory of Knowledge (TOK) or the parallel course Foundations of Learning and Knowledge (FOLK). They formed a group which ran, in essence, TOK/FOLK department meetings. Since TOK and FOLK teachers tend to work across multiple departments, they hadn’t been able to meet regularly as a group for several years.

The group focused on developing a shared understanding of TOK and FOLK assessment – mirroring one of the other professional learning groups. They’ve also begun work on adapting the TOK and FOLK curriculum to next year’s new school schedule and are making improvements to the unit planners for FOLK to maintain its vitality and rigor. The faculty members continue to integrate in-class instruction with the autumn TOK/FOLK senior cultural trips. The focus this year has been developing reference materials and activities for students to complete during their visits to Florence, Rome, and Venice.

A current TOK examiner for the IB, the school librarian, and a member of the Social Studies department joined the group to improve understanding of the fit of the courses across the school curriculum.

Writing across the curriculum

This interdisciplinary group had several quotes from participants at their station. This one resonated with me: “Once we stopped worrying about having an end product we were able to focus on having meaningful conversations.” Wow. Is it okay to have professional learning that doesn’t have an end product? I realized right away that I was asking myself the wrong question. With a bit of reflection I changed my own query to: In what ways are meaningful conversations between colleagues a valuable end product? Bingo.

Innovative teaching and learning

In recent years, the school committed to furthering innovative programming. The idea is both appealing and broad. A few teachers were excited to come together to puzzle out what exactly a commitment to innovative teaching and learning might be.

They concluded that there are lots of existing pockets of creative teaching and learning. What is needed is a coordinated vision, which they felt they could contribute when they first created their group. However, they haven’t yet been able to gain much traction. In their case, meaningful conversations didn’t seem like enough, because the group had expectations of influencing the direction of programming. Perhaps their input will still deliver value; they intend to share their work to date with those who are in leadership positions. The showcase activity this morning contributes to that effort.

Wrapping up

For nearly an hour faculty members have learned from each other, talked about issues that they chose to work on themselves, and shared successes and frustration in the honest way one can when you are able to select your conversational topics and partners. No doubt there were also side conversations, related both to work and play, as people moved among the stations and the table of croissants and other refreshments. 

Faculty members finished with a short feedback form they picked up from a QR code and the library emptied. Classes are starting soon. Aaron, Nicola, and I debriefed as we stacked chairs and cleaned up. What sticks in my mind is this:

If we would like creative teaching and learning to continue spreading through our classes, we need to be modeling exactly that when we meet as a faculty. While self-directed professional learning groups, filled with autonomy and collaboration, are by no means the only way to run one’s professional development program, the model certainly provides a good based for all of us, full of differentiation and inquiry. The library this morning was filled with talk, discussion, trust, agency, support, dissent, success, and failure. This is learning.

The power of sports: two lessons

A few years ago my son’s basketball team won the Swiss national championship. There was much celebration, social media posts, pride and joy. How much does victory teach us though?

The next season was a different affair: the team got to the semi-finals and the match was a palpitating affair, hanging on a knife edge with one point in it. It came right down to the wire as the expression goes, literally the last fraction of a second as the final buzzer went off, my son, who is a point guard (so his job is to take the 3-point shots) received the ball. His team was two points behind, and as he released the three pointer and the ball soared through the air, time seemed to stand still. I remember watching the mighty parabola carve out space as the ball spun high up and then hurtled towards the hoop, only to bounce off both sides of the rim and then down to the ground. The shot was missed, the match was lost.

Lesson 1: camaraderie

My son was in tears and so were his team mates, but they quickly huddled around and owned the defeat together. Later, as we made our way back from the match, they laughed about it and commiserated with one another. That was the first lesson: camaraderie. I’m not sure which academic subjects or formal assessment protocols teach this, but team sports does, and the deep lesson of solidarity, support, followership and leadership, empathy and friendship that is brought about is extremely powerful and much needed in a world where we must come together to face the planet’s problems.

Lesson 2: learning from the past 

After mourning the loss – and it did take some time, my son picked himself up and drew conclusions from the loss. He had to work on his shot more and so he went outside to the village basketball hoop and practised every day over the holidays. This ability to pick yourself up, to show resilience in the face of challenge, to learn from an event and turn whatever disappointment there may have been into a lesson, is another powerful lesson that  sports can teach you. That comes down to coaching, the moral messages that sports coaches give their students, the emphasis on the long game, on looking past temporary failures to the ultimate objective  – ideating an objective till it becomes a reality.

Coaches: the unsung heroes of education

Both of my children are top performing athletes. It is less the physical prowess that is important in what they have developed than the competences. So much of this comes down to the wonderful sports coaching they received at school, something for which I am forever grateful. To this day, years later, they still speak about their coaches.  Sports teaches you important values: self discipline, self knowledge, collaboration, stress management. But this does not happen by itself, it is communicated by coaches who show a dogged commitment and investment that is heroic. The idea that physical education is seen as less important than traditional academic subjects is not only wrong, it is ridiculous in a world where it’s increasingly clear how important all the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that sports give you are for human flourishing. 

With reforms to transcripts , like the Ecolint Learner Passport and the work done by the Coalition to Honour all Learning, we must continue to broaden assessment and to recognise athletic disciplines for their extraordinary life-worthiness. And next time you walk past the physical education department or your school or university’s sports coaches, thank them for the profound gift they give to their students.

AI Deep Fakes Media Literacy

In today’s digital landscape, we are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information and media through various channels, such as smartphones, laptops, and social media. While this has certainly transformed the way we consume news and information, it has also raised concerns about the authenticity of the content we encounter. The advent of deep fake technology is exacerbating this issue, where manipulated images and videos can be created to appear real and spread rapidly across online news feeds.

As AI continues to advance at an unprecedented rate, the potential misuse of deep fakes to spread misinformation and propaganda poses a growing challenge to democratic processes. Election campaigns and public opinion are often targeted by malicious actors seeking to sway outcomes through the sharing of fake news and manipulated images and videos. This, in turn, erodes public trust in many organizations and institutions and the capacity for communities to find shared consensus on many issues.

To address this, developing the skills and dispositions necessary to identify and discern deep fakes from genuine sources is an essential skill. This includes the ability to evaluate information sources critically, identify any biases, and understand the technical aspects of digital media manipulation. Without these essential skills, students and educators are at risk of not being able to identify deep fakes and other forms of disinformation.

As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare students for the digital world and equip them with skills to navigate the ever-changing media landscape. Media and information literacy skills foster an informed and engaged school community, empowering students to make informed decisions based on accurate and reliable information.

However, the rapid changes in information consumption and media communication tools have created a new and unfamiliar landscape for many educators. The rise of AI and deep fakes has amplified the need for providing professional development opportunities for educators to support effective teaching of media and information literacy.

Schools can ensure educators have the necessary skills by offering professional development, allowing them to equip students with the skills needed to navigate the evolving media landscape and become responsible consumers of media, active participants in civic life.

Strategies to support educators to identify deep fake pictures or videos

(source: https://elearningindustry.com/teaching-children-about-deepfake-technologies https://www.media.mit.edu/projects/detect-fakes/overview/

  • Teach to evaluate the source of the picture or video. Look for reputable sources and consider the context in which the picture or video was taken.
  • Be aware of any alterations in the picture or video. This can include identifying inconsistencies in the lighting, colors, or shadows.
  • Listen carefully to the audio in a video. Deep fake videos may have audio that is not synchronized with the visuals.
  • Look for signs of manipulation. This can include identifying glitches in the video or noticing any unnatural movements of objects or people in the video.
  • Cross-check the information in the picture or video with other sources. This can help verify the authenticity of the picture or video.
  • Become familiar with the technical aspects of digital media manipulation. Understanding the use of facial mapping and other techniques used to create deep fake videos.

Further approaches to explore with students

  1. Teach critical thinking skills by asking questions about the content they consume. Analyzing sources for accuracy, objectivity, and bias is a key part of this process. Guide students to approach information with a critical eye.
  2. Use real-life examples of deep fakes and misinformation, and challenge students to identify them. Recent news articles and examples from social media can be useful in illustrating the concept. This approach helps understand the real-world impact of deep fakes and misinformation.
  3. Create hands-on activities where students create their own content, such as short videos or social media posts. This gives students experience firsthand of the technical aspects of digital media manipulation and the impact it can have on the authenticity of the content. Creating their own content also helps students develop the skills to evaluate information critically.
  4. Collaborate with other teachers to integrate media and information literacy skills across different subjects. Include deep-fakes. Explore the technical aspects of deep fakes, and through critical thinking skills & activities analyze news articles and sources. These cross-disciplinary approaches support students to better understand the complex multifaceted nature of media and information literacy in the age of A.I. cohabitation.

Articles framing the context

What are deep fakes – and how can you spot them? 
Deep Fakes Explained MIT Sloane School of Management

Resources to support educators and students

Teaching Children About Deepfake Technologies
Overview of some strategies to explore and use in the classroom to support children
Media Literacy in the Age of Deep Fakes
A in depth look at Media Literacy in the context of Deep Fames by MIT educator literacy project
Deepfakes: When you can’t believe your own eyes
Explaining how deep fakes are.
Deep Fake Literacy: Creating, using , misusing and detecting Synthetic Media
Webinar walking through the steps of detecting deep fakes.
From Time Magazine an article to support students understanding deep fakes
Deep Dive into Deep Fakes: Media Literacy in a World Where Seeing Is no Longer Believing
The School Library Journal in-depth look at Deep Fakes through the lens of information literacy
Lesson plan; Detecting deepfakes — don’t be fooled by disinformation
A lesson plan to support this topic for MS and HS students
Deepfakes: Resources for All Age
American Library Association Public Programs Office share a portal of resources on the topic of Deep Fakes
Skin Deep: Deep Fakes and Misinformation
An in-depth look and resources to build lessons witgh students and/or activities for educators PD on the topic of deep fakes
Media Literacy: Deepfakes
Louisiana State University Library resource page to better understand Deep Fakes and information literacy

Novels – about Life and Death

Books – what better way to learn about life and death situations? Whether real or fictional, historic or futuristic, these books can help readers reflect on feelings, emotions and learn about life situations.

Cleaning Up, Leanne Lieberman. This was a YA novel I really enjoyed. The writing is great and brought the characters and settings to life. Jess is coming of age despite her druggie mother and alcohol addicted father. She has common sense and a plan for the future. 

What she had not planned on is spending the summer in a tent away from the jobs she had lined up. But Jess stays grounded, finds a new job that helps her save money for college but also has her meet new friends and a lost diary. Who wrote this diary? Based on what she knows, Jess starts to create a much needed friend in her head. When reality turns out to be quite different, Jess can reply on those around her. A great read for teens who can recognize themselves in the character. ISBN 978-1-77306-806-0, Groundwood Books

Jacob’s Dilemma by Daphne Greer is a story that draws you right in. Jacob struggles with the death of his father but has recently been reunited with the grandparents he didn’t know he had. And he has Maggie who plans on adopting him. Until his birthmother unexpectedly shows up, complete with all the struggles that made her give him up. Starting at a new school, in his new home town, is hard enough but Jacob soon makes new friends and, eventually, finds out where he belongs and how strong he really is. A well written story that will speak to young teens struggling to find their own way in life. ISBN 978-1-77471-152-1, Nimbus

When The Dikes Breached by Martha Attema is an admirable, realistic historical fiction novel for teens. This book focuses on real events that had a major impact in Europe for years to come. Placed in 1953, the southern provinces of The Netherlands are under storm watch. Klara is the oldest daughter in a large Christian family. When the unthinkable happens and the dikes break, Klara and her family find refuge on the second floor of their farmhouse while the water continues to rise. Will the family suffer the same fate as the nearly 2,000 others who drowned during this flood? Tied to a strict religion, the family copes with the hardships that follow and Klara discovers a dark family secret that will change her life forever.

In the book’s back pages, the author gives websites to see real, historic footage of this devastating flood. In the Netherlands a museum is dedicated to the catastrophe. ISBN 978-1-55380-674-5, Ronsdale Press

Catch Me If I Fall by Barry Jonsberg is reminiscent of Tomorrow When The War Began, which is aimed at older readers. This dystopian novel is set in Australia after it has been ravaged by climate change’s wild fires and storms, leaving the population distinctly split between poor and rich. Sheltered by their parents’ wealth, twins Ashley and Aiden are turning 13 as they become aware of problems facing others. A series of unsettling events lead to a shocking discovery that will change their lives forever. Readers who like dystopian tales combined with futuristic settings and a sprinkle of AI will enjoy this riveting story.ISBN 978-1-77306-891-6, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author of over 40 books for children. She conducts author visits to International Schools.


Earth Day Books

Earth Day was celebrated recently around the globe. What better way to celebrate than with books that create a lasting impression and support readers of all ages.

Garden Wonders: A Guidebook for Little Green Thumbs

For young students and budding gardeners, here’s a perfect picture book to celebrate the abundance of gardens. Garden Wonders, A Guidebook for Little Green Thumbs by Sarah Grindler shows how plants grow, what is needed to help plants to flourish, how you can feed the soil with compost, what plants do for nature and much more. The book has activities and is perfect to use if you have a school garden. It even comes with a package of wildflower seeds! This title complements the Little Explorers series which includes Seaside Treasures and Forest Magic. ISBN 978-1-77471-143-9, Nimbus Publishing

A Tree Is a Home
One Well: The Story of Water on Earth

Books I reviewed previously but perfect to use for Earth Day, include A Tree is a Home by Pamela Hickman and Zafouko Yamamoto is a beautiful picturebook to share with young readers when looking at the importance of all things tree-related (Kids Can Press). One Well, the Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss focuses on the water on earth in all of its forms and how it effects all life (ISBN 1525302361, Kids Can Press).

In My Backyard

I wrote a book called In My Backyard (Tundra Books) which shows common critters that live in urban backyards. The art includes hidden animals and a ladybug to spot on each page.  ISBN 978-0887767753, Tundra Books

Tying into Earth Day and climate change are these two nonfiction picture books:

50 Climate Questions: A Blizzard of Blistering Facts

50 Climate Questions by Peter Christie and Ross Kinnard is an appealing book chock ful of fun illustrations and jokes but also dead-serious facts about the environment and the effect humans are having on it, as well as what we can change to improve. This is not a new title but, unfortunately, every bit as relevant today. ISBN 978-1-55451-374-1, Annick Press

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World

Trash Talk by Michelle Mulder is a great title in Orca’s Footprint series. The subtitle is Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World. This book, too, hones in on the amount of packaging we use and how we can change that, thereby reducing our waste. Besides facts and suggestions the book offers many real examples of kids and groups working towards a better world. ISBN 978-1-4598-0692-4, Orca Book Publishers

Two Degrees

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz. I was already a fan of Alan Gratz’ s powerful writing, especially in Ban That Book, a realistic fiction story about a school library and censorship. 

Two Degrees is a riveting read for both kids and adults. It brings home the message about climate change and global warming in an even more urgent way than any nonfiction book I have read.  

In his book Refugees, Gratz used tales of seemingly unconnected people, bringing them together in a skillful way at the end. He does the same admirable job in Two Degrees, showing that all places and people are ultimately connected. 

Using three different settings across North America, Gratz spins a realistic tale of what is happening to our planet right now, right here. Two boys in the Arctic face danger as polar bears are effected by think ice. A girl in Miami is caught up in the hurricane of the century while Akira in California needs to outrun a wildfire that is set on destroying her home and her life.

A fantastic read for anyone which brings home the urgent need for all of us to change our ways now. As Alan Gratz states in the very end of this book: “If the bad news is that humans are causing the climate crisis we face now, the good news is, we have the power to fix it. It’s your world, your future. It’s up to you to decide what you want that future to look like, and what you can do to make it happen.”  ISBN 978-1338735673, Scholastic

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author of over 40 books for children. She conducts author visits to International Schools anywhere.


Sustainability and Education

Planet earth has been in existence for 4.5 billion years. In the last seven to five million years of that period, human beings appeared and evolved to their homo sapiens form – essentially the way we look today- in the last 300 000 years. However, it has really only been in the last 60 years that human behaviour has started to influence the state of the planet, the so-called “Anthropocene equation” (Gaffney & Steffen, 2017).

This is really because the proliferation of economic growth and activity of carbon-emitting industries have expanded exponentially in the post WW2 period. Energy is the industry that pollutes the most, up to a staggering 35% of carbon emission, related to the burning of fossil fuels and relying on massive networks of transportation.  

It takes an extraordinary amount of bad faith and looking the other way to suggest that the carbon footprint left behind human activity is not damaging the planet and creating new inequities whereby those living off the land and in regions affected by natural disasters are not suffering terribly because of it.

Many forecasts suggest that if we continue this way, within the next 30 years we will be living on a planet that is extremely hostile to human life. There is simply no alternative but to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, as difficult as that might seem. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to conceptualise this is because the consequences are growing exponentially, and human beings think in arithmetic, not geometric growth patterns: we cannot see what is around the corner if it defies the imagination.

Caring approaches to the ecosystem, which typically belonged to ancestral knowledge systems, were displaced, often violently, with waves of imperialism and mercantilist ideology from the late Renaissance to the present. The myths of continued economic development, a never-ending supply of resources and an approach to the environment as something to be dominated and subdued rather than respected and loved, have taken us very far down a path of destruction and an entire world of thought processes, assumptions and behaviours are deeply ingrained in it.

What should our approach be in the world of education? I would put to all involved in teaching, curriculum design and school or university leadership that sustainability has to be at the top if not among one of the top priorities on our strategies going forward. In schools and universities, this can happen at three levels:

  1. The curriculum. Teaching regenerative systems, environmental custodianship, ecology, principles of sustainability, shared economies and carbon-neutral pathways.
  2. The operation of the institution. A mobility plan to reduce car use, more no meat days in the cafeteria, use of renewable energies in building design and the habituation of more environmentally sustainable behaviours (curbing the needless use of paper for example, thinking twice before sending emails, slowing down photocopying).
  3. Individual goals. Each person in the institution committing to a sustainable development goal.

At the International School of Geneva, we are placing sustainability high up on the agenda for a curriculum that is relevant and transformative. We will be supporting a sustainability lead to drive institution-wide projects and an international sustainability observatory. I hope that you will join us as we face the single most important goal facing the planet together.