Teaching Overseas — The Adventure Begins!

This afternoon I walked off one of the most anticipated flights of my entire life. From
the time I first entered college I dreamed of what this exact moment would feel like
and there is no doubt it exceeded all expectations.
The days leading up to my journey to the Philippines to begin my first job after
college, were filled with excitement and massive preparation. There were travel
documents that had to be updated, banking and tax documents that had to be
completed, along with medical records and a host of other formalities that had to be
submitted to the school before departing for my new job. Not to mention packing
which is always a challenge especially when you’re packing for a year!
Despite all these preparations and the excitement leading up to my departure,
nothing could have prepared me for the anxiousness I felt as the plane touched
ground in Manila, and a new chapter of my life was about to begin. Knowing my
flight had been delayed by more than 24 hours, I worried about figuring out my
transportation from the airport to the school. Walking off the plane, and heading
into baggage claim, my heart pounded faster, as I wondered what I should do if no
one from the school was there to greet me.
My fears were completely unfounded, as soon as I turned the corner to the baggage
claim area, the first face I saw in this unfamiliar airport, was a familiar one. It was
none other than David Toze, the superintendent of the International School of
Manila. Mr. Toze, the Head of School who interviewed me on a snowy February day
in Boston — the one who offered me the job, was the very same person who was
there to greet me at the airport, on a steamy hot day in July, in this tropical island
nation on the other side of the world.
What a relief! Right then and there I knew I had landed at the right place. As an
intern, I know I am the low man on the totem pole, so to speak, but to be personally
greeted by the head of the school, sent a very strong message to me on my arrival. It
told me, without words, that I am an important part of the team and I am a valued
member of the ISM community.

Attitude is Everything

So this week I want to talk about attitude and perspective….and in particular, the attitude and perspective that we all bring to work everyday, which greatly impacts the climate and culture of our school. In my opinion, attitude is everything. Perspective, or how we frame or re-frame our individual experiences, is something that we are all in control of, and something that (when put together as a collective whole) very much makes or breaks the ethos of our environment. The way we respond to any given situation, or any made decision is inevitably a choice that we all make, and that choice shapes not only who we are as people/educators, but who we are as a faculty. When thinking about attitude, I keep coming back to a great quote by Maya Angelou, which states, “if you don’t like something, change it…….if you can’t change it, change your attitude”.

I was reading a wonderful article the other day by Sam Glenn, who goes pretty deep into how profoundly important attitude is in/for our lives. I have to say that I share his view that attitude and perspective encompass all that we are as human beings…….. from the way we treat others, to the way in which we see the world, and to the way that other people perceive us as friends, colleagues, partners, and educators. Here’s a quick breakdown of how he sees attitude impacting and affecting our lives………

Attitude is how we treat others
Attitude is the way we approach life
Attitude is contagious
Attitude is how we respond to challenges
Attitude affects our health
Attitude affects our relationships
Attitude is our personal trademark
Attitude determines if we fly or fall
Attitude creates experiences for you and others

Another big piece to this as I see it, has to do with the opportunity that we have as a faculty to create something truly special for our students (and for each other). I’m not talking about over the top optimism, or an idyllic, rose colored glasses approach to life and/or where we are currently as a school. I’m talking about a simple shift, or re-framing, of how we collectively see our current situation here at SCIS. I’m talking about the way in which you perceive, talk about, and internalize where we are and where we’re going. It’s easy in my mind to focus on the negative, and to give this negativity life and strength through gossip, water cooler discussions, and subversive/divisive comments throughout the work day. All schools on this planet have issues and areas of need that call out for attention, and we’re no different. School climate and school culture is shaped by these daily interactions, and once again it comes down to choice…..or attitude. The courageous choice in my mind, and the challenge that I’m putting out to all of you, as we look to finishing this year strong, is to take a look at what kind of attitude you’re bringing to school everyday.  Is it an attitude that inspires students and colleagues? Does it focus on the vision that we have as an Upper/Lower School? Does it speak to the person and educator that you truly want to be, and how you want to be perceived? Looking back at Glenn’s article, the most impactful statement that he makes in my mind revolves around how that attitude is contagious. A school’s particular ethos can be soul sucking or it can be soul inspiring. It can make you want to sprint to work everyday or it can make you drag your feet. Well, looking at the opportunity that we have together as a community in the upcoming years, my pace is picking up, and I’m inviting you all to tag along.

Whether you’re a departing teacher (a mentor of Andrew Powell’s, Jean Vahey, says that the highest quality educators always leave a school the same way that they begin another), or an incoming newbie, you’re attitude is everything…….make sure it’s the right one for what we are trying to accomplish. Read the attached poem please, which speaks wonderfully about the power of attitude and perception, and take some ownership of how you’re attitude is impacting your life and the lives of others. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for your students and good to each other.

Quotes of the Week……..
Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you, but by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you, but by the way your mind looks at what happens. – Khalil Gibran

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein

Attachment #1 – The Greatest (Don Schlitz) The Greatest ­ By Don Schlitz

TED Talk on Perspective and Perception- Rory Sutherland

14 Steps to Make a School Even Better

Can we do better?

I have worked in some really amazing schools. This fact gives me optimism in my students’ future and the future of the planet.

Alas, the school year is over.  I have had the time to breath and reflect on how we as a learning community can do even better.  The following is a personal body of thought upon making elementary schools not only brain-friendly but ”human-friendly.” 

  1. A focus on Project-Based Learning. Read about the benefits of project-based learning here
  2. Each student composes music. Read about the effects of music on the brain here.
  3. The Arts… every day. View an inspiring news report here
  4. Life skills are not expected, but taught. UNICEF defines life skills as ”psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are loosely grouped into three  broad categories of skills: cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself, and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others.”
  5. Neurology Training: Teachers have a basic understanding of how the brain works. One of my favorite brain books is here.
  6. Maker Culture: Students create, disassemble and reassemble their own technology. Check out Maker magazine here.
  7. Teach kids financial literacy. Read 10 Steps to Teaching Your Kids to Become Entrepreneurs here.
  8. Chess tournaments. Check out the effects of Chess on the child brain. Chess is the “anti-Ritalin.”
  9. Poetry Matters: Poetry is all over the school. Read about my poetry heroine here.
  10. Classes are smaller: Class size is 16 kids per class. From my experience, this is the ideal class size for teaching 21st century students.
  11. More planning time:Student workweek is 4.5-days. Teachers workweek is 5.5 days.
  12. Balanced curriculum decisions: Curriculum is developed by children, parents and staff
  13. Stress is confronted: The CDC report on the dangers of toxic stress on childrenhere.
  14. A shift in professional development. I believe that teachers are to choose more of their own avenues for professional development.

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK

You can read my blog @ ExpatTeacherMan.com