Building a Striving Scaffold

While helping an elementary grade level order classroom library books recently, I came across sets of books labeled: “Books for Striving Readers”.  Reading the fine print, these were books for students who needed a bit of scaffolding to reach for the on-grade-level texts. These particular books were high-interest, but written at a slightly lower level, which allowed students to build their skills toward fluently reading grade level texts.  This idea of a “striving scaffold” got me thinking about the work we are doing in schools around the world.

Why?

Because, schools who strive, thrive.

While schools where striving turns to struggling end up not only not reaching the level they’d hoped, they might find there is the dreaded “summer slide” in buy-in, skill development, and momentum. (Worst case- you are further behind where you started.)

As the end of the year push begins, it isn’t hard to feel people wobble. Whether it is exhaustion from a long first year, a sense that a particular class or grade level is ready to move forward, or simply the need to close up and celebrate the end of this year’s initiatives and goals, people are in many ways done.

As administrators though, we have to keep looking forward. We must continue to plan and to build for next steps; but not blindly and not without real consideration for the path we are on, always asking: Is this the right thing to do, right now?

This is the first step in building a striving scaffold, assessing where we are against where we need to go and analyzing whether or not the path/plan initially created is the right one to take now. (Now that we know more, now that things have changed, now– right now- at this particular point in the year.)

From there, we need to plan for steps in the process which take us from here to there, and lay it out in enough detail that we can really see what it is we need to do. Just like striving readers, striving schools will sweat the small stuff.

A striving reader, has a planned pace, has clearly identified needs, is assessed frequently to make sure he is still in the right text and is guided and monitored. His scaffold is manageable. Do this, then this- first one step than the other. We don’t hand over The Old Man and the Sea and say… “You can do it, good luck!”

Striving schools too will reach for what they don’t currently have, by making sure to push, pull, train, support, communicate and direct toward that same goal: that sweet-spot between something new and challenging to do which is a success, and something doable enough to allow the wheels on the bus (day-to-day teaching and learning) to keep turning.

However when does striving become struggling?

For the reader (like the school), it is when there is too much to do and the path can’t be clearly seen. (Sure steps can be taken two-by-two, but then there might be another scaffold in place like a handrail to help guide and support the climb.)

Striving schools:

  • Plan for and show teachers what the path is – this is where we are we going and why. 
  • What the terrain looks like – this part is going to be bumpy, this part will be smooth.
  • What scaffolds will be there to support the journey – here is where there will be training; here is where there will be help.

Striving is working toward an attainable goal, which is clear enough to stretch out toward. It feels good, like that perfect run or set of laps in the pool.

Struggling is being buried in and feeling bad about the efforts you are making. You can’t see how to get there and therefore, how you could possibly be successful. Struggling is lifting weighs, which are too heavy and hurt your back or running sprint after sprint and getting that stich in your side.

Striving makes you want to do more. Struggling makes you want to quit.

We aim to help every reader strive and thrive with scaffolds to assist. Can we do the same for our schools?

School Breaks and the International Educator

 

Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia
Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia

We’re in the Home Stretch
With the school year winding down, teachers at international schools, and schools everywhere, are operating on a fever pitch to get everything done in order to conclude another school year.  From class trips, to school projects, to report cards and other administrative tasks, we are in the final countdown to summer break and the pace is full-steam ahead.  The excitement is palpable among students and teachers alike and everyone at the school is on a mission to make the end of the school year not only fruitful and productive, but fun and festive to celebrate the successful conclusion of students completing their current grade and moving on to the next.  At an international school, it’s not just saying goodbye to students who are moving up a grade or graduating, there’s the added emotion and drama of saying goodbye, to people (students, teachers and friends) who will be moving overseas to their next school or assignment.

Summer Vacation – the Ultimate Break
All the hard work and stress of the final weeks brings with it a handsome pay-off – summer vacation.  Yes, the break of all breaks. Perhaps this time-honored tradition is one of the greatest perks of the teaching profession.  Two whole months of rest, relaxation, and a time to reflect and enjoy family . . . it doesn’t get any better than that!  Of course many teachers utilize the time for professional development, while others may even pursue a second job over the summer for additional income.  For many international teachers this is a highly anticipated holiday because after almost a year of being overseas, many look forward to going home and spending time with family or taking the opportunity for extended travel and excursions.

Is this the end of Spring Breaks?
The upcoming break has got me thinking about this past year and the wonderful opportunities I’ve had, not just professionally while school is in session, but personally during the various breaks throughout the school year. The most notable and recent one for me was last month’s spring break. Ah, Spring Break . . . just the term alone conjures up certain images of American college students partying on the beach as if there were no tomorrow. Last year, in my senior year of college, I was celebrating a lot of lasts. My last homecoming week, my last final, my last class, my last spring break . . . I thought this is it – I’ll be entering the real world where I’ll have to kiss those cherished breaks good bye. But then I entered the world of international teaching where spring break is brought to a whole new level.

This is Not Your College Spring Break
In this, my first year out of college, I had three ‘spring break’ vacations already!  But these are not the spring breaks of college days with senseless partying in the sun and sand, but the kind that is a real adventure filled with travel and personal growth.   At first I thought as a teacher the breaks were really for the students and that teachers’ breaks would be filled with reading, reviewing curriculum materials, student reports, and catching up on work for the week ahead.  Was I wrong! For teachers at international schools, spring break, more than any other, is a time for travel! Right before break students get very excited for the upcoming vacation, but it’s not just the students — teachers get just as excited for the vacation time, if NOT MORE! 

I think it’s because as expats living in far flung corners of the world, everyone it seems, has made elaborate travel plans. The opportunities are incredible when you’re living overseas, so we tend to get very excited about the upcoming trips.  Moreover, it’s part of the culture of international teaching to use your time off to travel and expand your horizons by seeing new countries and learning about their history and culture.  This exposure only helps you as you interact and relate to your students and their families who hail from all over the world.  

A Trip to Vietnam
Last month these travels took me and two of my teacher-friends to Vietnam, where we set-out on a journey that stretched the length of the country starting at the Capital of Hanoi, and traveling down the coast via overnight trains to Ho Chi Minh, where we stopped and stayed in the cities of Hoi An and Nha Trang in between.

Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with lush, tropical vegetation, a verdant countryside, beautiful beaches, busy and bustling cities, and some of the most delicious food I have ever enjoyed.  I would have never imagined the immense beauty of this ancient land, based on the images and portrayals I have seen in movies and the media, nor would this have been on my list of places to visit. But thanks to living and teaching in the nearby Philippines, and to friends ready and willing to try something new, I was able to see first-hand what an amazing place Vietnam is.  I found this country so compelling and beautiful that I know I want to return here and also come back to see the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos.


 

Trapeze Bars

The end of each school year is marked by a series of celebrations designed to highlight and appreciate individual and collective achievements while also honoring the unique nature of our communities. The end-of-year celebrations also represent a period of key student celebrations and transitions, such as kindergarten to Lower School, Grade 5 students to Middle School, and Grade 8 students to High School. The end of May will also be highlighted by the graduation of our senior class, which represents a culminating experience for EAB students as they prepare to move beyond high school to seek new challenges and growth opportunities. While we are still a few weeks away from these important events in our lives, it is also important to prepare for these periods of transition.

It is often easy to overlook the transition phases of our lives and, in our future-orientated approaches, focus only on the next stages. However, what if it is during these periods of transition that we are presented with the most profound and enlightening experiences associated with who we are and what we value? In our rush to move through transitions as quickly as possible, we may be missing the most important experiences of our lives. Author Danaan Parry has articulated these thoughts through the use of a trapeze bar metaphor:


Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily), swinging along, I look ahead of me, and what do I see? I see another bar swinging towards me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must totally release my grip on the present, well-known bar and move to a new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab a new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of knowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto the old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place where real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time old my buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “nothing”, “a no-place” between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real to. But the void in-between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorientating “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where real change and real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell on the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we may just learn to fly.

As we collectively plan for the end of the school year and prepare for each of our personal transitions, it is hoped that we will have the opportunity to savor the transition itself. If we follow Danaan’s advice about the importance of embracing transitions, then we may just experience, “the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.”

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Don’t fake it till you make it–try honesty

Over the last few years I’ve been pulled aside by a few respected colleagues who’ve told me to be less self deprecating and more confident in my abilities. I’ve taken their advice, but for the longest time I had a compulsive need to confess any mistakes I made—as if telling people that I lost my cool, or some quizzes, would absolve me of my carelessness. I wore my mistakes openly in search of comfort and commiseration.

But most of the time my confessions were met with non-committal shrugs, polite smiles and few “there, theres,” all of which made me feel more isolated and less competent. It took me several years and a few different schools to realize, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes or has weaknesses, I’m just one of the few teachers in my experience, who feels comfortable admitting them.  Many tend to stay quiet, adhering to a fake it till you make it mentality, rather than share their own blunders or concerns.

I’ve since learned to restrain myself and interestingly enough, I feel like I make fewer mistakes.

But I wonder why we have this fake it till you make it mentality where teachers and administrators feel that admitting what they don’t know, or that they’ve made a mistake, will make them vulnerable. I wonder how productive it is, ultimately, in creating a collaborative (and honest) community.

I know faking confidence is an essential and effective strategy that can get us through situations that make us nervous–like that first day with a new class of 20 discerning faces. Amy Cuddy gives a great TED talk on faking confidence through body language and how it increases testosterone levels in the body, which can lead to improved performance.

But what I’m taking about is the faking, fronting and posturing that is done in private conversations between colleagues, or between teachers and administrators at faculty meetings, a posturing that is born from competitiveness and a fear of looking weak.

To be fair, I think the international school system fosters these qualities in teachers. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of international teaching is what I call the rate of acceleration. The learning curve is fast and steep and the rate at which a classroom teacher can get promoted is exceptionally quicker than the systems back home where a teacher may be expected to move slowly and carefully up the ranks. In the international system, I’ve seen classroom teachers promoted to principal positions and higher within their first or second contract year.  This is a great opportunity for educators with natural leadership abilities (and there are many); but it’s also the perfect stage for those who fake them.

The issue is system wide. New international schools are being built all the time, the turnover rate for teachers and administrators is high, and the expectation to do something beyond your demanding teaching job–to leave your legacy, to innovate and initiate–is intense. We’re encouraged to be stars in our profession, to have exciting and active web presences, and to demonstrate a commitment to issues affecting our local, national and international communities. For 2-3 years, anyway, before we pick up and do it all again somewhere new.  The emphasis, it seems, is on working as hard as we can to get noticed so we can build our CVs for our next position.

It’s understandable, then, why we are sometimes competitive and resistant to showing weakness. For example, if teachers or administrators are promoted before they’re ready, without appropriate guidance or mentorship, they may feel forced into faking their comfort level, experience and confidence in their new positions.

But like most weaknesses in the school system, the students are the ones who are most affected by a fake it till you make it mentality; if we can’t have productive, non-judgmental conversations about our weaknesses and concerns with the teachers and administrators with whom we work most closely, then the quality of our growth and development may be compromised, despite our great new jobs and promotions.

The antidote to the fake it mentality is to find acceptance in what makes us uncomfortable about our practice and to recognize that discomfort often leads to growth.  Finding the courage to talk openly to each other will connect us as educators, and will likely reveal that what we see as mistakes are actually just the day-to-day stuff of the teaching profession.

As teachers, we encourage students to fail forward because we know that failures will make them stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate people. As teachers, I hope we can also fail forward by nixing the fake it till you make it mentality and instead, try a bit of honesty.

We All Play a Part

So I received an email this past week from a former student of mine who wanted to check in and catch up. He’s just now finishing his degree in sports medicine, and at the end of the message he thanked me for playing a part in his success, and for helping him grow into the man that he has become. It was a beautiful and emotional letter, and it got me thinking about the part that we all play as educators in the lives of our students as they slowly grow into themselves. He wrote appreciatively about how the school had provided him with opportunities to shine, as well as avenues outside of the classroom to discover and develop his love of helping others and giving back to the community. He found his passion and his spark with the help of his teachers and the many school programs that were offered, and he eventually married the two things that he loved the most to find a vocation that he’s desperate to begin…and I wondered…isn’t that what education is all about?

Coincidentally, on the same day that I received his message, I opened up the latest Marshall Memo and I read an article written by Marc Prensky, where he discusses the true goal of education. Prensky writes that “the real goal of education, and of school, is becoming—becoming a “good” person and becoming a more capable person than when you started”. I thought about this statement carefully, and I have to say that I agree with it almost to a fault. I used this article to take stock of the opportunities and avenues that we are currently providing our own Middle School kids, and I have to say that I like where we are. Let’s look at the programs that we offer to our students, which will no doubt help them find their passions, and their sparks, and the road that will lead them to the person that they will eventually become. Programs like Model United Nations, the Global Issues Network, Math Counts, the National Junior Honor Society, our Leadership/Student Council, the Student Run Television initiative, our Outdoor Education Program, the creative writing club, our robust service learning program, our character education focus and advisory program, and all the rest. By providing meaningful opportunities for our students to discover their passions, and to find success, we are essentially helping them grow and discover and work to find their best selves…and “become” who’ll they’ll eventually be as adults.

Like Prensky goes on to say in the article, this in no way diminishes the incredibly important academic learning that happens in classrooms throughout the year, or in their daily lessons, he just thinks that “knowing stuff is hardly today’s ambition for most of us or our kids”. He also writes how “very few educators or parents have learning or scholarship in their hearts as the endgame for their children, except in the sense of their kids’ getting good grades. Most of us would prefer our children become the very best people they can be, capable of effective thinking, acting, relating, and accomplishing in whatever field they enjoy and have a passion for”. This is exactly why I am so proud of our current faculty…you are not simply “classroom teachers” of a particular subject, you are coaches and mentors and surrogate mothers and fathers and role models and inspirations. You play such an important role in the “becoming” of our kids, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch everyday.

When I think back to last week’s China Trips, this idea is brought to life in a very real way. I watched our students interact outside of the normal school setting, and I saw them explode into themselves. I watched them come to life as they held and played with the kids at Bright Connections (Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome), I saw them push their limits and challenge themselves on their hikes and when they camped in the rain forest, I saw them take risks and stretch themselves out of their comfort zones, and I saw glimpses of who they might become as adults…man, I wish I had a crystal ball! Of course if I did, the message that I received from my former student the other day, and the messages that I know that you have all received over the years from yours, wouldn’t be as meaningful. We all play such an important role in the lives of our kids, and when they “become” adults, and go on to set the world on fire, we can share in their success knowing that we played a meaningful part and helped to truly pave the road…I would suggest that there’s no better feeling than that for an educator…that’s what it’s all about! Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
The things that make me different are the things that make me, well…ME!
– Winnie the Pooh

Attachment – What’s the True Goal of Education? (Marshall Memo) What’s the True Goal of Education
Marc Prensky Article –
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/05/06/30prensky_ep.h33.html?qs=the+goal+of+education+is+becoming
TED Talk – The Drive to Keep Creating (Elizabeth Gilbert)
http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_success_failure_and_the_drive_to_keep_creating
Interesting Articles –
http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/how-to-ignite-passion-in-your-students-8-ways-educators-can-foster-passion-based-learning/
http://seenmagazine.us/articles/article-detail/articleid/3515/fostering-passion-&-purpose-in-your-students-and-schools.aspx
http://www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct12/vol70/num02/Practices-to-Engage-All-Learners.aspx
http://cte.udel.edu/instructional-topics/engaging-students.html
http://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/engaging-students-in-learning/

Having Children Overseas

Jamie and I began our international school teaching careers just a year after we married.  Children was certainly in our future, but the unknowns of having children abroad was unsettling at first.  What would the healthcare be like? How will they get a passport? How will we deal with grandparents and family back home being separate from our children? All of these questions and many others ran through our minds before embarking on our first international teaching job in China.

Our fears were immediately relieved once we arrived in China and discovered that they too, in fact, have children born there! Kidding aside, we met many couples who had children in China or in Hong Kong, and they all had positive experiences.  We learned more information about parents visiting, Skype calling, how to obtain passports and birth certificates, and how to deal with the family separation. We quickly realized that having a child abroad would not be as bad as we originally imagined.

We learned what a TCK (Third Culture Kid) actually was and taught several of them. The thought of having a TCK scared us a little but learning more about how various families dealt with this unique situation helped us. What we learned is that it isn’t really that unique after all and TCK children live exciting lives. The pros and cons of living abroad become exponential once you have a child, but what we learned is that having a child abroad certainly isn’t a difficult situation at all.

Like any other family, once you have children, your lives change forever.  Teaching internationally brings different changes. Some of these make your lives more difficult, but some of them make your lives easier. For example, our school here in Saudi Arabia provides a free nursery. Where in the U.S except at large companies will you get that? We save thousands of dollars of year just in day care.  We are able to bring our boys to work with us and pick them up in the afternoon literally about 100 yards from our classrooms. Jamie was able to nurse them during the day. The nursery itself is outstanding and perhaps the best benefit that is offered at the school.

Another benefit is the lifestyle you will be able to provide for your children. Their vacations will be spent in places like Rome, Paris, Bangkok, Istanbul, Maldives, and Tanzania.  They will have study trips with other children to exotic locations or Habitat for Humanity trips where they learn about service. They will probably learn a foreign language easier and be more culturally sensitive because they will have children in their classes from 10 different countries.

Some negatives include traveling. Because you will travel more, you will spend more on hotels, flights, food, and attractions.  This might limit your travel more than it would when it is just the two of you backpacking through the Philippines. Some families with three or more children only take one or two large vacations a year. Jamie and I without children took five or six. We will still take that many per year because we value the traveling. We’ve become quite adept at traveling with small children.  Our 2 year old has already been to 8 countries and has had over 30 flights.  The United States this summer will be our youngest child’s fifth country.

The most obvious negative of having children abroad is the distance they will be from family. They might only see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins one time a year. Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, and other social media programs have really helped us stay connected to family, but it obviously isn’t the same. Once we are back home for the summer or perhaps a winter break, we complete the circuit of seeing family and friends which makes for a ton of traveling and living out of a suitcase.  Children are flexible, but parents have to have some patience and flexibility too.

The birth abroad process was very smooth for Jamie here in Saudi for the most part.  Doctors’ bedside manner will not be what you expect, but the care is fine and you and your baby will be in good hands.  Our health insurance covers Jamie for a private room and our out of pocket cost was less than $100 for both children. You simply won’t find that anywhere in the U.S.  She had two very different experiences with our boys but overall the healthcare and the facilities were very good.

Every country will have its different procedures for obtaining the birth certificate and ultimately the U.S. passport. In Saudi, here was the procedure we had to go through before our boys were given a U.S. passport, which meant they could leave the country.

  1. Certificate of Live Birth – this is a Saudi document that we received at the hospital basically stating that a baby was born in their hospital.  Documents required: mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  2. Saudi Birth Certificate – This was done by our government relations (GR) and was all in Arabic, which is actually a pretty cool looking document. Documents required: Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  3. Saudi Birth Certificate Translation: Again, our government relations department did this.  It was needed for us to attain the U.S. Passport.  Documents required: Saudi Birth Certificate, Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  4. U.S. Birth Certificate: We had to go next door to the U.S. Consulate here in Dhahran for this. It is actually a Certificate of Birth Abroad issued by the United States State Department.  If a child is born in the U.S., their birth certificate will always be on file at the state level.  For children born overseas to U.S. citizens, they issue this document instead. Anyone born abroad who loses their original birth certificate will have to go through the U.S. State department at receive another one. Documents required: application, money, Saudi Birth Certificate and its translation, mother and father’s passports
  5. Saudi Iqama: This is completed by the GR once the U.S. Birth Certificate comes back in.  The iqama is basically the residency permit for non Saudis working in the country. Documents required: child’s U.S. passport, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  6. Exit/Re-entry Visa: This is completed by GR and allows for anyone to go in and out of the country freely.  The child is not permitted to leave the country until this document is finished.  Documents required: child’s Saudi Iqama and passport

That’s it!  The entire process takes about 6 weeks.  This is only frustrating because you can’t leave the country until everything has been processed.  Once it is though, your little darlings can begin their journey to becoming world travelers.

 

Relationships and Learning

One of my highlights each week is the eighty-minute Leadership Class I teach to high school students every second day. A pedagogical foundation that I always hope to include in the class is the application of theoretical constructs to practical situations through experiential learning opportunities. It was during a meeting with students this week, to follow up on their collaborative project work, when they concluded that the key to the success of their project was their focus on relationships. The students were referring to their decision to structure and lead learning activities for the lower school students who arrive at school at 08:00 during the Professional Wednesday late starts. During their first classes, the Leadership Class students struggled to run effective activities. However, after some coaching and reflections, the classes gradually became more effective and engaging. I asked the Leadership Class students about the reason for their success. The students’ eyes lit up when reflecting on the question and quickly recognized that their newfound success was based primarily on the fact that they had established deeper relationships with the lower school students.

Fundamentally, effective teaching is dependent on the ability to build strong relationships that are based on trust, mutual support, and understanding. In fact, it can be argued that relationships are the single most important factor associated with effective teaching and learning. Extending this concept, it can also be claimed that a school community is only able to collectively support student learning at the highest level through the relationships that evolve in terms of a partnership among parents, students, and the school. It was, therefore, encouraging to see so many parents participating in this week’s parent-teacher coffees and the lower school assembly (an estimated 100 parents were in attendance!), in addition to the gracious and generous efforts of the PTO and the U.S. Embassy to host a teacher appreciation event.

The week of May 5-9 is designated as Teacher Appreciation Week at EAB, representing an important moment in the school year when we recognize the outstanding work of our teachers. EAB is fortunate to work with a talented and committed group of teachers who make a difference every day in the lives of our students. Recognizing that my opinion is obviously biased, I do see the work of teachers as a “calling” for those who have a passion for working with students. In Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, he corroborates the concept of teaching as a “calling” through his statement, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” The focus of this week has been to celebrate the identity and integrity of each teacher at EAB and the passion, talents, and professionalism they correspondingly commit to EAB’s students. Please join me in celebrating and thanking our wonderful teachers.

Among EAB’s greatest strengths are the relationships that are developed throughout the school community, which is representative of one of the most important factors contributing to student learning.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

A mountain to die on

“Maxed Out on Everest”

Memorial for Sixteen Sherpa Victims of Avalanche

As one who lives and works at 1300 meters, I cannot help but relate our mountain environment to our profession of teaching and learning.

The obvious ones are “reaching the summit” and “setting goals” which are quoted often to our mostly sea-level student body.

I recently had a conversation with a world famous mountaineer and friend, John Harlin III (www.johnharlin.net), who told me only days before the tragic avalanche that killed 16 sherpas, that Everest was becoming a much more dangerous place due to its paradoxical accessibility and attraction for tourism.

He quoted a climber friend of his, Mark Jenkins, (see article above) who said that he had “summited Everest but not climbed it.” And then when the tragic event took place, it made me think about how this attitude of “summiting” completely undermined the process of climbing and how that could relate to education. Yes, this leads to more cliches around “the journey not the destination.” I will resist going into that pool and wasting your time.

The mountain I think is worth dying on is the cultural one as it relates to international schools. That’s the story of climbing versus summiting. That’s what separates international schools from everyone else. That’s why international schools matter so much.

The Sherpas.

How many of us in our busy international school “pods” completely forget what is outside our gates? In fact, for many of us we even forget what is inside them. Just yesterday, I was passing by the apartment of one of our Serbian support staff whose daughter was keeping an eye on my daughter. I wanted to rush in, get my daughter, and leave to attend to the day’s chores. I was summiting. Instead, she called me in, made me sit down with her family who all work at our school, and enjoy some delicious food and drink at their table. Over thirty minutes passed before I left. They made me climb. It disrupted my afternoon but it didn’t matter. I was living our mission statement. The summit didn’t matter as much.

I wonder how well the climbers who had hired the Sherpas on that fateful day knew them, talked to them, learned from them? Maybe they wouldn’t have gone. Maybe they would have. But I would bet that the focus may have turned to the climb rather than the summit.

How many of us are so focused on IB exams, admissions numbers, internal politics, and budgets that we completely forget to live the part of our mission statements that is supposed to mean the most? How many of us forget who is carrying the load so that we can complete the journey? Can you see the parallels between the corporatization of Everest and the corporatization of our schools? Where are the cultures that comprise our community and what is our connection to them? Who is profiting and who is not? And most importantly, what are we learning from this?

That’s a mountain worth dying on.

Honest Inquiry

What is the most common question we ask a child? My bet is it’s “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I know I’ve asked it myself a number of times. I’ve even answered it when one of the smallest on our campus innocently enough thinks I’ve still got time to become someone or something else. (My response is always what it was when I was five, a big rig truck driver. Or, if that doesn’t work out… Zorro.)

But how often do we ask it of our schools? Who do we want to be?

It certainly makes you think. It also makes you appreciate that we can (like me- when a 4 year old asks) become something new, better, or different.

However, to know what you want to be, you have to first know who you are. That knowing is never easy. It is difficult to be as honest with ourselves as we are with each other. But we have to be if we are going to know what we are dealing with.

Honestly inquiring into our organizations might sound like: What are we good at? What could improve? Who comes here? For what? What are our hopes, dreams and desires as a group? What are we afraid of, worried about, or don’t understand?

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s question “What is school for?”

If we know what our classes, courses, and campuses are for, and can honestly say we know what we are right now, it leads us to the topic of what’s next. However, then, it’s easy to just say: “I like what I’m doing now thanks. I want to be what I am.”*

Right? You’ve heard that before I’m sure.

However, deep down we all know that’s not enough. Things are and continue to change. From the climate to the gadget, from the need to memorize to the necessity to act, solve and create- we need to find a flexible resilience in what we do and what we pitch school as being for. (Flexible because we will change again. Resilient because we need to be strong enough keep changing, growing and discovering.)

In International Schools especially, we need to recognize our mission and unique position. We have the mission to educate children in a certain style (American, IB, standards-based, college prep, globally aware, etc.). However, we have an opportunity to educate for so much more. We are uniquely positioned to take advantage of our diversity, and/or our locales.

Honest Inquiry in International Schools might sound like: Are we taking advantage of our unique setting? Do our students and parents understand and value what is different about our internationally located school? Are we maximizing our own potential and not just mimicking what schools in our home countries are doing?

Who do we want to be?

Some schools are taking risks, trying on new paradigms and noticing the shifts. From there, it’s true there is a lot of work to be done to make risks realities. However, it is only with the planning, attempting and reflecting; then trying something different, that we can move our organizations forward.

As I head off to start the end of this year, I find myself wondering how I can help plan for five or more years of change, and yet keep the inquiry process alive and more important than adhering to the plan.

In a nutshell, how can we use questions to drive us to more and better questions, instead of letting our answers snuff out the inquiry?

*(Oh, how Plumbeam would have answered that! Photo above is from that famous and wise book The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater)

Performance, Not Results?

barry blog1Last weekend, I had the good fortune and honor to host professional triathlete Tim Don at my home during his four-day visit to Brasilia to compete in Sunday’s 70.3 Ironman triathlon (Race Highlights).  Since I was also training for the race, I was particularly enthusiastic about spending time with a triathlete who won four world titles, represented the United Kingdom at three Olympic games, and is currently ranked as one of the top triathletes in the world.

Tim won Sunday’s Brasilia 70.3 Ironman race setting a course record by completing the 1.8 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21 km run course in 3 hours and 46 minutes.  Yes, that is very fast!  Given that I finished my race 751 positions behind Tim, I thought I would ask him to share the keys to his success. Tim highlighted three essential factors associated with training and racing: consistency, communication, and performance.  What was curiously absent from Tim’s response was the focus on results, but more on that later.

Based on Tim’s successes and the fact that he has never been sidelined due to overtraining, illness, or injury, I wanted to discover what I could incorporate in not only my own training but also my professional and personal lives. This is what I learned.

Communication

The maxim, “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire” is not only apropos to sport but to all facets of our lives.  Tim’s approach is to address problems immediately and directly as soon as they are identified, rather than waiting until the same problem has surfaced on multiple occasions. Regular communication with his support team ensures that any potential injuries are identified and corresponding preventive actions are taken.

While everyone understands the importance of addressing problems as soon as they are encountered, the transference of this philosophy to practice can prove to be more challenging. The goal to ensure our students are receiving the best education possible is achieved through open, honest, and timely communication, which is dependent on the partnership between parents, students, and the school. This partnership is similar to a three-legged stool; if one of the legs is missing, the stool cannot stand on its own.  If an educational program is not standing on its own, then it will be difficult to overcome inevitable conflicts and challenges.  A passive aggressive or “head in the sand” approach to a problem will not resolve the issue.  It is only through open, honest, and expedient communication that we will effectively work together to support our students.

Consistency

Tim stressed that consistency does not refer to always performing at the highest level each week, but, rather, being faithful to a carefully established plan that is designed to move us forward, in an incremental manner, toward our goal.  His words reminded me of a prior blog post about the 20-Mile March and the importance of not wavering from a consistent and iterative approach.

When preparing for a marathon, we are not going to start training by running 30 kilometers on the first day.  Rather, we will start with a short distance and gradually build up our endurance over time through a consistent adherence to an established plan.  The concept is the same for students.  Deeper levels of learning are achieved through a regular dedication to study and class attendance, rather than trying to cram for tests during short, intense periods. The former approach will normally result in lasting development and understanding while the outcome of the later is, at best, a fleeting recall of the information associated with the test questions.

Performance

I was initially surprised that Tim focused on performance rather than results, especially given that his livelihood depends on winning. However, after reflecting on his words, his approach resonated with me. By way of example, there is a significant difference between finishing a race in third place, ten seconds behind the winner, and finishing in third place, ten minutes behind the winner.  While a third place finish is a good result, it may not necessarily equate to a good performance.  A focus only on results, with the accompanying pressure and stress, may often lead to burnout, injury, and diminished performance.  In contrast, your best performances will usually lead to great results.  In terms of his professional competitions, Tim states the following:

“Some of my best performances have come from races where I have not been on the podium but I have squeezed our every bit of what I had and, as they say, left nothing out there.  I truly walked away with a smile knowing that, sure the win would have been nice, but, on that day, that’s what I had. Control what you can control.  I really try to race like that in every race. I will sprint as hard for 40th position as I would for the win: that’s me, that’s what I do, that’s what I was taught to do.”

Reflecting on these words in the context of our student athletes who are currently competing at the Big 4 tournament, performance is the key.  While we hope students at  the American School of Brasilia (EAB) achieve outstanding results, it is their performance, both individually and collectively, that is of great importance.  Win or lose, we will have much to celebrate if our students are able to perform at their highest levels and “leave nothing out there.”

Transferring this concept to academics, EAB does not narrow the definition of teaching and learning to one where teachers only prepare students for tests (results).  Instead, education at EAB is about students developing in a holistic manner where the school supports the whole child to achieve his or her potential (performance).  Through effective communication, a consistent approach to learning, and a focus on performance, outstanding results will naturally follow, as exemplified through the impressive successes and achievements of EAB students.

Congratulations to Tim Don for his performance at the Brasilia 70.3 ironman race (Interview / 48 Hours with Tim Don).

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.