Write the Speech

SJobs giving speech

We often talk of how important reflection is in our work. But did you ever write “The Speech?” Have you ever sat down for an hour or two, preferably with your favorite coffee mug close by, and committed it to paper? I’m not asking you to write anything like Randy Pausch did several years back when he was dying of cancer, but it’s something that is inside each one of you, and needs to come out. There’s the “If I ran this place this is how it would work” speech, the emotional “death of a colleague or student” speech and a wide selection of personal themes depending all on your mood, your message, and what you need to share. Whatever speaks to you. My favorite is the “final speech,” the last lecture in its purest form, a look back on all that you’ve done, tried to do, succeeded at, failed at, and hoped for. I visualize my colleagues and students while I write it to gauge their reactions. The things I thought were funny, the things I learned from, the stuff that I wish I could change but cannot, the people I needed to thank. But mostly, the feelings and reflections on what happened over the past four years.

It was harder than I thought. There are things people have said that you want to correct, actions you’ve taken that you want to clarify, people you’ve hurt with whom you want to make amends, students who inspired you who you want to thank. Giving credit where credit was due. Opening yourself up to criticism, judgment, observation. Stephen Barkley, a lecturer and teacher trainer, said at the April ECIS Conference in Berlin that “teaching is a team sport and a public act.” It was astonishing to hear it put in such a way. When do we ever express that feeling? So, I imagined my audience of peers and colleagues as I wrote, some shifting uncomfortably in their seats, some smiling with acknowledgement, some maybe even puzzled. But when I finished it felt cathartic. There it was. Four years of work. The goods, bads and the uglies. What I learned from it, what I hoped to take away, and what I even regretted. All in the context of hoping that I made a difference.

If you cry at least once while you do this, you’re on the right track. Get writing.

Market Day Memory

So at last Friday’s Market Day I had a wonderful moment………one that’s going to stick with me for a long, long time to come. I was eating one of those deliciously fresh bagels that were on sale when I began looking around and reflecting on the journey that we’ve all been on this year together. It’s no secret that the vision that was rolled out at the beginning of the year was an ambitious one, and the effort and commitment that was asked of you all was enormous. We rolled out a few very important initiatives simultaneously as you all know, which were to have a tremendous impact on our school’s culture, our collective morale, and of course, student learning. Just to refresh your memory let’s take a look back………..we began our commitment to C.O.A.R, we rolled out the new report card, we implemented the word press student electronic portfolios, we started learning from each other in our monthly SIPS, we introduced our daily sustained silent reading program, we became a member of the National Junior Honors Society, we ramped up our commitment to service learning with two wildly successful fundraising campaigns, we started a recycling program, we went through our WASC accreditation self study, and we worked hard to align and articulate our curriculum…….all of this was going through my mind on Friday when I sat back and watched and listened and marveled at the school that we’ve become…….

Teachers were out in the courtyard enjoying the sun, as well as each other’s company……….students were smiling and playing and laughing out loud………parents were out and about speaking with friends, teachers and kids, and adding very much to the overall community feel…..and the seniors were celebrating their last day of High School before their IB exams. I got a little emotional honestly, because I know first hand what it took to get us to this point. If someone had asked me at the beginning of August what my idea of a successful year would be, I couldn’t have wished for anything more than where we are right now. Not only have we rolled out these initiatives successfully, we’ve managed to find a common purpose which is so difficult to develop in many schools. We have teachers not only owning what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, but flourishing as individual leaders as well……..with many of you being inspired and empowered to use your passion and expertise for the betterment of us all. We’ve had teachers lead EARCOS electronic portfolio workshops, we’ve had teachers organize a city wide Math Counts competition at our campus, we’ve had many teachers step up and deliver incredible Professional Development presentations to our faculty, we’ve had teachers spearhead wonderful service learning campaigns, we’ve had teachers commit to our growing House System, and advisory program, and NJHS, and student council, we’ve had teachers speak openly and honestly about where we need to focus our attention next, and we’ve had teachers find the educational courage to push back and have the hard conversations with me and each other in a respectful and professional manner………..I could go on and on and on………it’s been amazing.

In my opinion, it’s relatively easy to have an idea or a vision about how to bring a school to life, and it’s not that hard to “talk” about what needs to happen in order to turn a school from good to great………..it’s another thing altogether however (and ridiculously harder) to make the fairly tale come true. I know that we’re not where we ultimately want to be just yet, and I know there’s work left to be done…….but this week, before we all take off for China Trips, I’d like you all to reflect back on what you’ve accomplished this year. Ideas and visions cannot ever be realized unless you have the people who are willing to do the work……and the belief that the journey that you’re on is what’s best for our kids. To say that I’m proud of you all, and what we’ve accomplished this year, would be the world’s biggest understatement and really I cannot put my thanks for who you are into words. This year (as Bret likes to say) we’ve laced up the shoes so to speak. Next year we will take the time to tie the laces tight, and tie them into double knots so that what we’ve introduced this year will truly become the fabric of who we are…..then we can continue to look at the data to see the overall effect on student learning. We’re getting there everyone, and you should feel great about your contributions. I’m off to spend the afternoon with my family on this beautiful spring day and I cannot wipe the smile off my face. I won’t forget that Market Day for a long, long time everyone and I hope you feel that sense of pride like I do. Have a fantastic week and remember to be great for our students and good to each other….

Quote of the Week………
We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.
– Frederick Keonig

Attached Article #1 The Ideal Workplace (Marshall Memo) The Ideal Workplace
Attached Article #2 –  Four Keys to a Thriving Workforce (Marshall Memo) Four Keys to a Thriving Workforce

Article #3Essential Attributes and Characteristics of Successful Schools

TED  Talk – What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work (Dan Ariely)

“I appreciate you in advance”

LAS students show appreciation
LAS students show appreciation

Listening to NPR podcasts is one of the ways I keep my toes in my past American life. In fact, “This American Life” is one of my favorites. I recently listened to a February story about Harper High School in Chicago’s South Side and its culture of violence. 29 students current or former were shot this past year and 8 died. One person in the story said if this happened in most parts of America even after one death there would have been panic followed by mourning followed by hopes it never happened again. At Harper, it has become a way of life.

What caught my attention was the Principal. Principal Leonetta Sanders. I have worked in violent and drug plagued schools. Not to the extent of Principal Sanders, but the traumatic experience as a dean of students came back to me all the same. During one point in the story, a social worker breaks down crying, not because she wasn’t accustomed to the job, but because as she said “You never know where it’s going to come from at any time and you cannot stop it.” That’s exactly how I felt.

What a far cry from the experience most of us have in international schools.

Principal Sanders is a hero to me. In the audio, she often complimented students or even disciplined them with the phrase, “I appreciate you in advance.” Reflecting on this comment, she went on to say one of the hardest things about her work is that you never know if what you did made a difference, made the students do better, made them make good decisions and make something of themselves. You just do the best you can and hope for the best.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. We never get to see that, do we?

Our students are highly transient. Maybe on occasion a famous alumni will come back to give a speech, thanking the school and possibly leaving a grant. Of course recent college grads filter through to see their favorite teachers. But past that, do we really know? Are we able to, like Steve Jobs, hold up that I-Phone and say, “This thing really works and it’s good and it’s going to change your life.” Not exactly. And yet we have to bring that passion, that hope, every day.

Well, I am going out on a limb. Principal Sanders, you ARE making the world better. You ARE making a difference. And I appreciate YOU in advance.

Is Certification Required by International Schools?

A question very often posed by experienced teachers seeking an international assignment, is whether international schools require “certification” by a state agency (in the USA), or their home country’s educational authority.

The short answer is “Maybe!”

Some of the more American-based international schools do still require certification before they will hire a teacher. But a growing number of international schools, many with an American orientation, do not require certification for a teaching position. For sure, not being certified should not prevent any experienced teacher from applying for and securing an outstanding international posting.

Successful teaching experience is, in fact, the major criterion on which most of the best international schools base their hiring decisions. Thus, for example, an outstanding teacher with only private school experience and no state certification will have many excellent opportunities to join the ranks of international school teachers, with their excellent benefits, salaries and savings opportunities.

Moreover, even those schools that have certification requirements (notably in Central and South America) do so to satisfy accreditation agency restrictions. But there are also ways in which certification status can be secured, or even waived in some cases, when one of these schools wants to hire an uncertified teacher.

In my 18 years as a headmaster of three (3) international schools, I hired at least 500 teachers after interviewing several thousand candidates. Frankly, the lack of certification never affected my hiring decisions, which were based on perceived competence, personality and demonstrated impact on students and their learning. And whenever we hired someone who wasn’t certified, we always found a way to work with our US accrediting agency, which did insist on teacher certification.

Accordingly, no teacher with at least one (and preferably two) years of successful teaching experience should ever be deterred from seeking an international school assignment. And even at this late date, there are new vacancy listings every day at www.tieonline.com.

The Mission’s Position

If America’s President Kennedy had adopted the current school template in 1961 for declaring his mission to the moon, Neal Armstrong might never have had the opportunity to say he made a small step for man. There would have been inclusive statements about aerospace excellence in propulsion, broad declarations of lunar gravitational aptitude, and surely something about an individualized return to a home-like environment. But getting to the actual moon and back? Not so much.

His ambitious but simple statement said it all.

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

I recently attended a conference that featured a session on school missions.
I found it informative and complex, the speakers well versed in the delivery of what a good mission should include. We all did our diligence and compared various statements, unpacking the good from the not so good. We had insight. We laughed at the hyperboles.

However, what grabbed me was the session’s introduction. The presenters showed a clip from Apple’s popular “Think Different” campaign in the 1990s that featured rebels, troublemakers, and non-conformists. Gandhi, Edison, Lennon, Robinson, Earhart to name a few. It was when they were still the upstarts, challenging the behemoths of IBM, Digital, and Microsoft.

And then we politely carried on about global citizenry and politically correct ambitions of academic excellence and earnestness. No one stepped across the lines. How could we? These things go on our web sites!

There was nothing wrong with the conversation. We had some laughs about the vagueness and language of the statements, trying to be all things to all people while being none of them. One of the sample missions caught my attention. It aspired to educate homeless children. Everyone in the room found it so refreshing. So clear. Like putting a man on the moon by 1970.

I felt like asking the presenters how they thought the characters featured in the opening video clip would have participated in our conversation. Would John Lennon have sat patiently while we debated the meaning of global citizenship? I pictured him doodling on a piece of paper, distracted with boredom, and then looking up through his round spectacles, in a Liverpool accent asking us what the students thought we did with them all day.

The great ones, the game changers always seem to do what they do not because of but in spite of the institutions around them. We all know about the famous Harvard dropouts and the other failures that changed the world. They didn’t have patience for the conformity of learning. What they had was unlimited creativity, a lack of patience and a hunger for something else. This is bad news for the school mission statement. To be fair, it was a big institution that put Armstrong up there, and the rest of Kennedy’s speech on that day was quite verbose, sometimes bureaucratic, and even uninspirational. But what stuck with everyone, and what actually got accomplished, was the part that was clear, coherent, and committed.

So, I rewrote our mission. It won’t appear on my school’s web site any time soon. But it stays on a post-it by my desk.

“Challenge each student to make the world a better place. Now.”

The Power of a Smile

So this week I want to talk about the power of a smile. I know it’s been a difficult week with what’s been happening in Boston, and with yesterday’s earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, and I get that smiling might just be the last thing on your mind these days……..but I believe that it’s during times like these when a purposeful smile is needed the most. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the contagious qualities of a smile, or an attitude, and how a person’s mood directly impacts the lives of others around them. There have been many interesting studies conducted over the past few years which speak to the magic and power of a single smile, and how something so seemingly simple and effortless can inspire, affect, and set the tone of a person’s day. As you all know by now, I’m a climate and culture guy, and I believe strongly that the positive ethos of an environment and faculty is the cornerstone of a great school. A smile breaks down barriers, it diffuses tense or contentious situations, it fosters positive intent, and it inspires a student’s or colleague’s perception of who you are and how you feel about them.

One of my favorite all time song lyrics comes from Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s, “Wooden Ships”………it goes “if you smile at me I will understand, because that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language”, and that rings particularly true for our environment. When you start the day with a smile you affect your entire class…..and their day……and their approach to learning. Your smile is contagious, and if you take moment at the beginning of every school day to really look around you……with your eyes truly open……you’ll see that it’s almost impossible not to smile at something.  I love to start my days greeting the kids as they come off the buses, and to watch them sleepily meander their way across the courtyard. I love to watch their faces light up when they see their friends, and it makes me smile when they wish me good morning and react to the goofy comments that I make as they pass me by. Our students are beautiful young adults who are trying their best to find their way in the world, and if that doesn’t inspire you or make you smile then I don’t know what will.

We had the 5th Graders up in the Middle School last week going through the “6th Grader for a day” transition event, and I watched them intently all week to see how they were doing. I also made a point of asking them how they enjoyed their experience and almost every one of them commented on how friendly and happy everyone seemed to be. It made me so proud to know that the environment that we’ve all created together in the Middle School is one of smiles, happiness, support, and kindness. I want to make it clear to everyone that I’m writing this week about smiles not because I feel like we are lacking in this area, but because I want to celebrate how pervasive the smiles seem to be. I want to essentially thank you for the attitudes that you bring to work everyday, and to the effort that you’re all making to give our incredible kids happy and healthy experiences. A mood is contagious…. so is a smile…. so is an attitude, and a student’s want and approach to learning is directly affected by the way that we interact with them each day. Keep smiling everyone, and keep looking for those silver linings which make it easy to find joy in our daily lives. I know it’s been a hard week with all that went on around the world……find the positive in it all, and look for inspiration in the beauty that’s all around us, and in the faces and hearts of our kids……you’ll be sure to find a smile or two in there. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
A smile is something you can’t give away; it always comes back to you – Maya Angelou

TED Talk – Ron Gutman (The hidden power of Smiling)

NPR Sound bite and Article –

The Untapped Power of Smiling –

The Power of a Smile –

Urgent Matters

Leysin's horizon
Leysin’s horizon

Tragedy always brings an immediacy to life. Being from the Boston area, this feeling brought new urgency when I learned of the recent bombing at the marathon.

Do we have this urgency in school? Do we have an immediacy sparked not by tragedy but the passing time of youth and knowledge in front of us? Certainly the IB/DP or AP teacher feels this sense more than most with its assessments and timelines. But what about the rest of us? How long should it take to learn? What drives innovation and why is it so hard to do?

I am in the midst of a two year project to disrupt the way we do things with a new course called “digital literacy.” Its pilot name was Flex but I had to change it so people could infer its intent beyond something akin to a rubber band. The urgency I am invoking is within a question I asked two years ago. “Are our students any more compassionate, responsible, or innovative (our mission) than when they got here? How do we know?” Nobody could answer it. And yet we all work so hard.

So, we are starting, ever so slowly, to introduce a curriculum, etc. to answer this question and put students in the hot seat to create something that shows they have attained, somehow, this goal. What mystifies me is the process. If, say, an automobile or high tech company had no idea whether or not their product was successful, then how in the world could they get better? Would they even stay in business? Maybe this is what in part sparked the accountability/testing movement in America. But many believe (and research is starting to show) how disastrous that has been for innovation and learning.

I live and work in a small village in Switzerland. We did a town ‘cleanup’ day for Earth Day. We all focused on one thing and did it really well. We agreed on the task. We participated. We felt a sense of accomplishment. We celebrated. Isn’t that what makes the human experience work? Do we feel that way in our daily school lives? Is it urgent?

We’ll see how this ‘digital literacy’ thing goes. It might cost me my job. It might not. But if we cannot answer those fundamental questions with urgency about whether our students are ‘getting there’ then you better start turning that aircraft carrier.

The Home Stretch

So here we are in the home stretch…….the Spring weather is here to stay, the fourth quarter is well underway, and the end is quickly coming into sight. In many ways this is my favorite time of the school year with our upcoming China Trips, the second round of the MAP tests (in which the comparative data is often times a true and tangible celebration of student growth and achievement), and the excitement of the end of the year graduation and its related festivities. The jackets are off, the shorts are on, the smiles are growing bigger and lingering a little longer, and there’s an extra hop in everyone’s step. For this year in particular, we have even more to celebrate as we head for home because of our successful WASC/NCCT accreditation visit that happened just last week. This rewarding and exciting culmination of over two years of hard self study work has made the home stretch even more inviting and pleasant for our entire community……but with that in mind I would like to issue a strong caution.

Sometimes, when schools and educators aren’t careful, there can be a tendency to take the foot off the gas so to speak when speeding toward the end of the year. It can become very easy to let complacency creep in, and to ease off on the work, the effort, and the attention to student learning. Losing focus and looking ahead to next year can quickly turn what has been a wonderful year into a disappointing end result simply because the finish wasn’t strong and the goals weren’t seen through to completion. I’d like to challenge us all over the next nine weeks to re-commit to our students, their learning, and to each other……..and to finish what we started. If you remember we began the year with an initiative (C.O.A.R), which was a clear attempt to bring us all together as a faculty and community, and to bring to life this incredible opportunity that we have to create something special for our kids. Well, we’re over three quarters of the way there, and in my opinion we’ve put ourselves in a great position to end the year on a high, and to be able to look back on the school year with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Enjoy the nice weather everyone, soak up the brightened smiles and lingering laughs, join in with the excitement that is emanating from our students, but don’t lose sight of the importance of what’s still left to do.

For those of you moving on to new adventures, remember that you’re only ever as good as your last exit…….and for those of us returning, know that students remember the educators that we are in June…..so let’s make sure they remember the best of what we have to offer. The WASC/NCCT team gave us many fantastic commendations and we should be proud, but they also cautioned us to not take the many wonderful things that we’re doing for granted. We’ve worked hard to become the team that we now are so let’s keep our foot on the gas as we rumble down the road to June. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…….make the home stretch the best part of this year’s journey!

Quote of the Week……….
The fatigue was there, but some people understood that putting it aside was the single most important factor in succeeding -Seth Godin

Attached Article #1 Finishing The Year Strong Finishing The Year Strong
Attached Article #2Twelve Factors in a Strong School Culture Twelve Factors in a Strong School Culture
Attached Poem – Spring Morning by A.A. Milne Spring Morning by A

TED Talk – Try something new for 30 Days (Matt Cutts)