Congrats! But…

When international educators are seeking a new position, most will reach out to their professional networks in search of advice and information about schools. What do you know about this school? Has anyone worked with this administrator? What are the working conditions in xyz country? It is fitting that in a community as closely-knit as this one, educators will be looking to each other for advice.

But sometimes, we simply don’t want to hear what others have to say. We have our own reasons for seeking a particular school, location, or position, and we’re not interested in what people think of our choices.

And yet, advice and opinions abound. We hear the anecdotes and stories, perhaps accidentally, perhaps because those who are holding them make sure to tell us. Some people feel it is their duty to shove more information at us, even though we haven’t asked for their feedback or insight.

I have a friend who recently accepted a new position and was, naturally, super excited about it. It didn’t take long for word to spread amongst her colleagues, and soon, she was flooded with visitors. Except here’s the catch: nobody wanted to congratulate her. Instead, all of them were clamoring to tell her the negative things they’d heard about her new school. “It frustrates the heck out of me,” she told me one day. “I don’t care what their experiences are or what opinions they have about this school. I have a good feeling about it and think that I will be really happy there, and I don’t need people trying to bring me down.”

I’ve heard similar frustrations expressed from others in my own professional network. They might choose a particular school based on the availability of an elusive position they’ve been seeking. They might find the school’s mission and vision directly in line with their own. They might choose a school because they really want to be in a certain city or country. Or they might choose it simply because they had a natural, positive connection with the administrator during an interview. Whatever the reason, one thing is always the same: they’ve just concluded their job search, and they are relieved and happy. Jubilant, even. But there will no doubt be somebody, somewhere, who has had a negative experience and will be eager to share it. Their intentions are good, of course, seeking only to forewarn a friend against a possible bad situation. But when your friend has already committed to the job, this is far from helpful.

If someone is asking for information about a school prior to interviewing or signing a contract, by all means, give them that information. Tell them what you know, IF you know it recently and first-hand. If you have personal experience with the school in question, know what your friend is looking for in their next post, and don’t think it’s a match, tell them. If you feel that they need to be steered another direction, steer them gently. Unfortunately, more often than not, the opinions and anecdotes that people choose to share are outdated and passed through the grapevine. If we’ve simply “heard” that a school is not good, or an administrative team is weak, we’re really in no position to offer advice in the first place.

If, on the other hand, your friend or colleague has just signed a contract with a new school, congratulate them, no matter what you’ve heard about the school. Tell them that you’re happy for them. Don’t share the story about the guy-you-once-worked-with-who-used-to-work-there-and-hated-it. Your friend doesn’t need nor want that information. They have just committed to at least two years working at this new school, and now is not the time to ruin their happiness and excitement with negative quips. Keep it to yourself. Schools change. People choose schools for different reasons, and their reasons may be different than yours. You may not understand or appreciate their motivations, but the factors that pull educators to certain schools are as unique as the educators themselves. Let your friends celebrate their new jobs. Don’t sabotage their joy with unsolicited horror stories.

Looking for a new job is a stressful time for everyone in this network, from a first-year teacher to a seasoned head of school. When we finally get to the end of our own personal recruiting season and have committed to a school, we want to relax and let that fact sink in. We don’t want negativity to chase after us like an angry swarm of wasps. To everyone recruiting this season, best of luck in finding a perfect match. Once you sign with the school that you feel is right for you, relish in the fact that your job search is over. Ignore the naysayers who may try to steal your joy. Be at peace with your decision. Enjoy the moment. And congratulations.

 

I’m Not In Love…Your Job Search Survival Guide

This is a difficult and glorious time of year. And I’m not talking about going home and dealing with the family you haven’t seen since summer or gift shopping in Dhaka. I’m talking about those of you looking for work in the next phase of your international adventure.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. Especially as the number of the schools in the world grows exponentially and the education landscape is more complex than ever and schools are grabbing people up like Halloween candy.

Take a breath. A deep breath.

First of all, enjoy the holiday. I know many of you are making a quick holiday exit to one of the January fairs, but take some time away from that email and focus on the most important reasons you are living the life you lead besides job searching. The hunt goes on well into March and even April. (And that doesn’t include hiring in North America or other parts of the world).

So, here’s my survival guide for you staff and teachers and even administrators looking for that next post. I’ve had lots of experience on both sides of the proverbial table and have learned truly what it feels like.

So, here goes…

1) Be clear about who you are and what makes you special as a teacher. In other words, stand for something. This seems a bit odd for #1, but I read a LOT of CVs that seem to say the same thing over and over. Accentuate something that you’re really good at and passionate about and drive it home.

2) Stop job jumping. I know there’s not a lot you can do about that now, but I (and many Heads) skip right past the 2,2,3,2,2, years at posts. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be at a place that you feel is a big mismatch, but you only get one, two max on that one. Otherwise, you really need to come up with a better plan to stick around at a school or have a very clear reason why you are moving on. It’s okay if it didn’t work out but you need to differentiate yourself from the teacher tourists. And if you are a teacher tourist, you are at the end of the line!

3) Personalize your experience by telling a STORY. Don’t just talk in generalities about your skills. And be honest in that story, about your mistakes, your setbacks, your ability to overcome, your generosity of spirit, the who you are and how you handled it. Recruiters love that.

4) Do NOT interview or apply to a place that you cannot envision yourself at for FOUR YEARS minimum. That’s right. Four years. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to the kids that deserve the BEST teachers in the world. If in your heart you cannot imagine yourself at the school for a minimum of four years, then find a way to get out of the process. It’s better for everyone.

5) ALWAYS include your Head of School or Principal as a reference. I know it’s hard sometimes, but we recruiters get really suspicious when your only line managers are department heads and coordinators. That sends off a red flag and we call the Head anyway. Yes, we know that there are some mean directors and principals out there, but the reality is that you need to get on good enough terms to put them down on your list.

6) At LEAST read the mission statement of the school and tailor your candidacy towards what you believe the school stands for. I know that a lot of the statements are the same, but you need to familiarize yourself as best possible with how the school presents itself and how you put yourself towards it as a match.

7) Don’t fall in love. Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with a school. If you REALLY want a job, act as though you don’t, or at least that you have other options. Keep calm, present yourself in a light that is balanced and enthusiastic, but not desperate. In other words, SKIP the recruiter/candidate mixer. I’ve seen too many people embarrass themselves at these awkward events and you need to keep yourself together.

That’s all. Best of luck. Stay focused. Remember that if you are good, you’ll definitely get a job. And ALWAYS remember that everything you do is about making the world a better place for future generations, not so you can go mountain biking or skiing.

Best of luck, and here’s one of my favorites to keep you balanced in the search…

Science as a Political Statement

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

I had the honour of meeting with a group of scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this summer, and I can tell you that it’s no secret within the organization that using the term ‘transgender’ in your budget proposal this year doesn’t fare well for funding prospects. This isn’t necessarily a brand new barrier; deciding what gets studied (and published) has always been a matter of politics, often favouring the dominant narrative and priorities of those in power (not typically transgender people).

Harvard palaeontologist, Stephen J. Gould, writes in his thought-provoking book, The Mismeasure of Man[1], about a history of “scientists” using the platform of their profession to further political agendas. For example, 19th century Europeans conducted “studies” attempting to prove the fallacy that certain races are genetically superiour. Gould explains the ways that bias and falsification can turn “biological evidence” into dangerously misleading “facts”, and how readily these distortions may become justification for discrimination. While we like to think of science as apolitical, it isn’t. What we decide to study/fund/publish is driven by the values of those in charge of bringing research to light[2]. Gould makes a case that power maintains itself through science.

The Washington Post this week reported that the Trump administration is prohibiting CDC officials from including some specific words on budget proposals: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based. There was no explanation accompanying the announcement, so the CDC and the rest of us are left guessing why. The mission of the CDC is to, “Protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.” The organization covers all things health-related from general well-being to very specific, urgent zika virus research, and pretty much everything in between. (They also host an extensive resource on traveler’s health.)

According to the Washington Post article, in lieu of the terms ‘evidence-based’ or ‘science-based’, CDC analysts have been told to use the phrase: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”. Which community does this refer to, I wonder? Probably not the transgender community – just a guess. While I understand that a political administration has some leverage within U.S. public organizations, I would also hope that the professionals in charge of carrying out their mission to protect the health and safety of a nation are encouraged to do so in a way that is both evidence-based and science-based, not discriminatory or politically-motivated.

May educators everywhere continue to teach their students about the scientific method, about the pitfalls of biases, about the critical importance of reliable and valid results, and about the inclusion of underrepresented populations. Perhaps the CDC of today is being dissuaded from working on such projects, but I hope that our current students, when they are professionals in their fields around the world, will gain attention and funding for their studies about populations that are vulnerable, issues of diversity, transgender people, and other under-researched topics, and that they may do so openly using evidence-based and science-based methods.

[1] Gould, S. J. (1981). The Mismeasure of man. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

[2] Suhay, E. & Druckman, J. N. (2015). The Politics of science. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658(1), 6-15.

A Lesson in Perspective (Happy Holidays)

So it’s a busy time of the year as we speed toward the holiday break, and it can seem a little overwhelming at times I know. With comment writing and reports, holiday concerts and performances, final summative assessments and feedback, end of semester parent and student meetings, recruiting conversations, and all the rest…it’s sometimes hard to keep the right perspective with regards to what’s really, truly important at this time of the year. When there is so much on our plates these days, it’s very easy to lose sight of how magical the month of December can be, and sometimes it takes something small to snap you back to the absolute beauty of this holiday season.

For me, that little something small came walking into my office on Thursday morning of this past week, and delivered to me a much needed lesson in perspective. I was standing at my desk, hammering through email, and lamenting the fact that there was no way that I was going to get through my to-do list for the rest of the week, when a smiley and spirited little girl came bouncing in through the door and asked, “Hey, Mr. Kerr, what are you doing, writing your list to Santa? I already wrote mine but my Mom says it’s too long but I don’t think so because I’ve been really good to my brothers and I sometimes clean my room and make my own breakfast…what are YOU asking for?” Well, the cuteness of that moment stopped me in my tracks, and literally made me laugh out loud with the quick realization that my perceived troubles and anxiety over work, and how seriously I was taking life and myself in the moment right before she walked in was borderline ridiculous. So I stepped out from behind my desk, and sat down at the conference table with her to go through my Santa list…it was the best 10 minutes that I have spent all semester.

As we were talking (mostly about her list as it turned out) I came to realize that what she was most excited about were the gifts and cards that she had made for her family. She very maturely told me that, “you know what Mr. Kerr, I love getting presents but I think that I like giving presents more…it makes me feel really good, like how Santa must feel when he gives presents, but his job must be so hard because there are a lot of people in the world who are good you know”. I agreed that Santa’s job must be hard, and yes, there are lots of good people in the world, and all the while I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. Anyway, she bounded away just as quickly as she arrived, and she left me there smiling and happy and very much re-calibrated for the day. A must needed lesson in perspective from one of our world’s greatest teachers…a child.

She reminded me of what I love most about this time of the year…the opportunities that we all have to give of ourselves to others, to reconnect with the people that we love, to reflect on the year that was, and to recharge and refocus for the upcoming year ahead. We also get a chance over the next couple of weeks to share a little holiday cheer with others, and to spread some of that holiday magic around to everyone we come in contact with, especially our students! I want to casually remind you all of the beauty of this time of the year, and with less than two weeks to go, I’m asking that you take some time over the next several days to slow down and to take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students, and from each other…..let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around!

Remember as well to keep your perspective everyone…it’s busy I know, and with what’s coming up it can feel a little overwhelming, but ultimately, we’ll get there together. Just like my little friend told me, there are a lot of good people out there you know, and over the next few weeks they all deserve a little bit extra joy and love and happiness. Please also remember that the holidays can be difficult for some people, so our extra joy and love and kindness is the best gift that we can give. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and magical for each other.

Holiday Videos – Take a break and watch these!

The Greatest Gift

The Fox and Mouse

The Wish Writer

Lily and the Snowman

The Snow Globe


My Favorite Holiday Poem – 

Holidays –
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

Lessons from Starting a New School

New

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Since the summer of 2017 I have been working with some very committed administrators, staff, and of course teachers to start a new school in Jeju, South Korea.

Going through this process has been challenging, frustrating, disappointing, and at times confusing. The professional development is illimitable, and in a year I probably will not recognize myself (or most of my peers). We will be better in every aspect of our practice.

Without reference to anything other than this experience, and my life experience, I would like to list a few lessons that apply to school administrators, teachers, and even students. These lesson would apply to any new situation where the landscape, demographics, rules of engagement, and/or expectations are different to a person’s current status quo.

There’s No Oxygen on Mars

That is not exactly true. According to Space.Com the Martian atmosphere is about .13% oxygen. However, if you were planning a trip there and everything you needed to survive depended on the existence of oxygen then you will probably have a bad time.

As with anything, taking previous expectations, plans, schedules, curriculum, etc. to a brand new experience should be done with extreme caution. What anyone needs to thrive in a new challenge is what they learned from the previous experience, not the items they accumulated.

What a person knows in one environment could be completely useless in a new environment.  In fact, unless people are collaborating and tapping into one another’s ideas, success will consistently linger over the horizon.

Even The Rock Tapped Out

Dwayne Johnson, The Rock (aka The People’s Champion), may have seemed undefeatable in the ring, but he did tapp out on occasion. Any adult would critically explain that WWE ring action is scripted. I would agree, and then remind them that a superstar like The Rock had to agree to, and even help write, that script. Why? He wanted to succeed. He wanted to entertain. He wanted to be “human” to his younger fans. Whatever the reason, he knew when to go from doing one things (dominating everyone), to losing a few.

Knowing when things are not working, that comes fairly quickly. Developing the courage to tell a new team that your plans are failing, that comes much slower. It seems everyone’s initial reaction is to keep doing the same thing over and over. The sooner that cycle is broken, the better.

Good leaders adjust in chaos. Good team members read those adjustments and make their own. Having a preconceived plan that fails badly in a new environment is normal, and not, in itself, a failure. In any new situation perspective changes what is, and is not, success.

There’s No Need to Remind Everyone About the Apple Tree

Imagine taking a group of people to an orchard to pick apples from an old apple tree. Upon arrival the tree is gone. Cut down. The tree is no more. There are peaches, pears, and a few random cherries, but there are no apples. What do you do? You eat the other fruit.

When people move to another country or situation they initially try and replace their previous environment. Once informed that a thing or resource is not available, or impossibly expensive to obtain, the next step should be to look for a replacement.

If a replacement cannot be found, then a new solution has to be found. Asking over and over for the apple tree is not going to bring it back, but it will waste the time of the people who can help with the other fruit.

Do Not Search for Ice in Antarctica 

I have never been to Antarctica. I do have family and friends who have been. I have seen their photos. It seems fairly certain that finding ice in Antarctica is about as easy as finding a horse or cow in Kentucky.

In Antarctica I need to worry about food. I need to worry about staying warm. I do not need to worry about everything I can make from ice.

When people arrive at a new school, or any policy driven institution, they bring previous policies. Many of these policies address problems that do not exist in the new location.

Without noticing the things that do not apply, it is easy to slip into the habit of solving problems that do not exist.

This is another good reason to review everything with a group of people while spinning around in the chaotic process of starting something new. Implementing policy in a vacuum is risky business.

Celebrate the Small Wins

Starting a new journey with a group of mostly strangers is exhausting. Everyday, for many days, will be challenging. Waiting to celebrate until everything is perfect or finished would mean never celebrating when celebration is needed the most.

Plan times to take breaks (non-optional breaks) just as intensely as you would plan everything else. Give everyone those way-points to work towards. Allow people to look at the clock and realize that today they cannot work late, because at 6:00 PM there is a place they just gotta be.

What a Beautiful Noise

So this week I want to talk about one of my favorite things about school…maybe my most, most favorite thing of all the things that I love about coming to work each and every day. It’s something that many of us fail to pay regular attention to I think, or even embrace, and maybe something that may be a little annoying or aggravating for some educators…something that traditionally we have tried to suppress, and something that kids sometimes get in trouble for. But if you take a step back, and drink in what it ultimately represents, then it might just become one of your favorite things too…I’m talking about the noise of a school. The beautiful noise that is the soundtrack to learning and of happiness and joy, and what a child’s life should really be all about. Creative, imaginative, messy, curious, and beautiful noise.

When is the last time that you took a few minutes and really listened to the noise of a school? Walking down the halls, or when doing recess duty, or being in a classroom when kids are working collaboratively, or just standing outside the gym when kids are at PE, or outside the music or art room…or even when they are simply spilling off of the buses ready to tackle another day with their friends…it’s something that will make your heart want to burst if you just take the time to listen. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a position to walk from one end of the Lower School to the other several times each day…visiting classrooms, discussing issues with teachers, catching up with specific students, and being a fly on the wall watching when kids don’t think I’m paying attention. Lately I’ve been soaking it up, this noise, and it fuels my soul everyday…the singing in French rooms, the songs from the early childhood kids as they transition down the corridors, the wild excitement in the discovery labs as kids work on experiments, the math talk lessons and the read alouds and the book clubs and the students sharing their writing…it’s so beautiful to listen to the learning that is everywhere, in every classroom and school space all the time.

I have to confess that the first thing that I do after a tough meeting, or a hard conversation, or an issue that I have to deal with that takes me away from being around kids, is to pop into the library to listen to a story, or head out to the playground or the cafeteria just to hear the noise of kids…it centers me and it snaps me back to what is the most important part of my job…the kids. Nothing is more joyful than the sound of a playground, with kids playing and making friends and taking risks and finding out about themselves and others…so good. It doesn’t stop there though, I also love the sound of teachers collaborating together around what’s best for kids and their learning…the creative ideas about how to extend students, and the concerns about how to intervene with struggling students…the sound of educators caring about kids is also music to my ears, and it blares loud at full volume every day…the beautiful sound of a school…how can you not love it?

This week, as we speed toward the holiday break, and with comments and concerts coming up, and with our lives getting busier and busier, I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, to take a few minutes to slow down and listen to the noise of a school. Take a second to listen to the kids at play, or just stand back in your classes and listen to the sounds of learning, or come down by my office in the morning and listen to the kids as they come in ready for another day with their teachers and friends…there is nothing more joyful or energizing and beautiful than the sound of a school in action. Take the time to listen everyone and it will fill your hearts like it does mine. It might just be the best thing that you can do with your days. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students, good to each other, and open to the beautiful noise of the school day.

 

Quote of the Week….

I think my happy is too loud  – 1st Grade student at ASP

 

Interesting Articles –

Because I’m Happy

Laughter and Learning

Happiness and Learning

Better Learners

Let them Talk

 

TED Talks –

Raising Brave Girls

Dangerous Things for Kids

Should School Start Later?

 

Inspiring Videos –

Traditional Schools

The Science of Empathy

5 minutes to Affect Learning

Design Your Own School (4 years old but still relevant)

Thinking About our new EC Playground