Just wondering about a life-changing encounter.

As I am flying out to a recruitment fair, I would like to share a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, when I attended my first job fair as candidate in London. I have been sitting on this story for a while and I feel that it is a good moment to share it now.

Back then, in 2004, I lived and worked in London and after four years it was time to go and discover the world a bit more. I knew very little about the international school circuit and I attended a late fair in London. It was very convenient for a first time as it was a train ride away from home. As I often say, job fairs have a very special flavour. There is actually something quite unreal about them: such a concentration of people looking for the best fit for their schools or for their lives is quite incredible. Some people love it, others don’t. I really do like this atmosphere but thirteen years ago I had no idea what I was going to experience. On my first day, the fair buzz hit me and on that first morning, after different interviews, I had three strong options. And as I was going to take a break and ring my wife to talk about the options  ahead us, I got into this elevator. An English teacher was already there and as we were going down to the hotel lobby and he looked at me and he said to me with a big smile:

“So, what do you have?”

It was probably obvious than I was very excited. Then started a conversation about international schools in the hotel lobby. He had been in the circuit for a while and he had a genuine interest to give me some hints. What an opportunity for me since I was so green! To his first question about what I had, I told him about the three schools: school A, school B and IICS in Istanbul. Right away, he told me to not jump on anything but he shared that according to him school A was not necessarily a great choice for me (he shared very detailed reasons), that school B was a good IB school, but that it could be difficult for my wife to get a job in the local French school as it was very small. And he finished by saying that IICS was a great choice, that it was also an IB school and that I would learn a lot there. In my memory, the conversation ended at that moment, I have no recollection of other discussion points and the English teacher somehow vanished. I was left with my three schools on different continents and I was just given some critical advice. The research that I did confirmed all of the English teacher’s  sayings and I signed with IICS the next day. I started as a French and Spanish teacher, learned about the MYP and DP and left after eight fantastic years with a five year experience as IB DP coordinator. That was indeed a great choice and as years go by I still thank this English teacher who gave me so valuable advice. I can’t remember his name (did we even exchange names?) or where he was from, but I remember that he was an experienced English teacher well versed in the international teaching circuit. If he is out there reading this post, then I want him to know that he changed my life after this five minute conversation. 

I have since then worked with many more colleagues who gave me fantastic advice and I am now humbly trying to support and give tips to colleagues as much as I can. I am convinced that our lives are intrinsically collaborative : for teachers and recruiters to have a good fit we need to exchange to make informed decisions that involve not only us, but our families and our communities.

For those of us going to fairs over the next couple of months, let’s not forget to re-connect with former colleagues, PTC instructors, TIE folks  etc obviously, but I encourage all of us to talk to people we don’t know. You might encounter an English teacher in an elevator who will change your life.

Wishing you all a fantastic new year. 

For what it’s worth…

What to Read in 2019

So last week I turned 49…nice! I had a great birthday and I was spoiled rotten by friends and family, and the best gift that I received (the same gift that I get every year) came from my beautiful wife…money for books! You see, we have this deal that I’ve written about before, whereby I get to order books each year on my birthday, and if I finish them all before my next birthday then I get more money to do it all again…awesome! Anyway, I finished my last couple of books from 2018 over the holiday break, and I’ve spent the last two weeks or so compiling my birthday list for 2019…I’ve pored over book reviews and online articles, I’ve combed through book stores, and I’ve asked around for recommendations from friends and colleagues from all around the world, and I now have a preliminary list of 15 books that I’m super excited to read…see below.

I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small and simple life changes. Anyway, happy reading in 2019, and please let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can add it to my shopping cart…a good book can be transformative in so many ways, so please make the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

I guess there are never enough books – John Steinbeck

What School Could Be – Ted Dintersmith

Educated – Tara Westover

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Be Fearless – Jean case

Brave Leadership – Kimberly Davis

Dare to Lead – Brene Brown

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

Loonshots – Safi Bahcall

Brave New Work – Aaron Dignan

Fully Human – Susan Packard

Nine Lies About Work – Marcus Buckingham

The Culture Solution – Matthew Kelly

10 Perspectives On Education Innovation – Todd Whitaker

Unlocking Creativity – Michael Roberto

The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor

sweet to be home

Five months ago, my mother died, and I broke off my engagement with my fiancé. About a month later, I decided to quit international teaching and move back to the US. At the time, my Head of School asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this? ’ He cited some famous psych study that lists the most stressful [not physically violent] things a person can experience, and puts ‘death of a family member’ at the top, followed closely by ‘change in relationship status’ and ‘move’. I said yes.

Yes, living abroad is an adventure. Yes, I feel incredibly privileged and thrilled that i’ve been able to have had this experience, in two countries and two regions of the world, over the past six years. Yes, it’s financially very lucrative compared with public or private school teaching at home in the States (um, my school pays my rent, for starters– eat that, Park Slope). Yes, I’ve seen wonders of the world (Jersualem! Cairo! Petra! Mountains and deserts in South America!) and made amazing friends and had incredible conversations, and learned much about myself and my own culture in the process.

But i haven’t been *home*. Yes, I’ve visited twice a year for six years, but those short tours no longer suffice.

I am tired of living a temporary existence. At age 38, as my father astutely observed, I am interested in finally ‘settling down’. I want to both build, and to deepen. I have 10- and 15-year old friendships in New England that I want to cultivate. I have interests in teaching and history and psychology and the arts that I want to explore. Instead of running away from the political mess that is the United States right now, I want to re-engage and see how I can play a small role in highlighting the positive, encouraging the youth, and doing annoying performance art in front of the White House as often as I can stand it.

I just don’t think it’s very viable to do all that while living overseas. Schools overseas too often overlook pedagogy in favor of pedigree (some schools in the US do this also). And expats overseas often seek short-term pleasures instead of long-term lives. We live outside our normal society, so we outfit ourselves with different morals. We aren’t fully a part of the place where we live, so we hold ourselves apart. This is what I want to get away from. I want to have roots.

I learned from my disabled mother that taking responsibility isn’t a bad thing, despite what the zeitgeist says. Even though I did sometimes resent the fact that I was her primary care-giver for the better part of ten years, over that time, I grew to accept it. I didn’t expect her to remember my friends’ names, but I still told her about them. I knew she wouldn’t stay awake for the new Muppet movie, but I took her anyway. I bought her clothes and scheduled her appointments and plucked her chin hairs and played Scrabble. It doesn’t matter if I thought some of it was boring. This is what life is.

I don’t need to always be seeking the highest mountain in South America or the most remote and secluded beach in Brazil. I want to also be content with the view of the trees at a local park and the taste of a toasted bagel with butter from a close-by cafe. My adventures will be eavesdropping on passers-by and chatting with taxi drivers about the weather, finding a lecture series at a nearby bookstore, going to hear live music in a bar the size of a closet, bringing a friend ingredients for soup and making it at her house, inventing new words with her 1-year old child. I can still enjoy new and fast and loud, but I resolve to also relish the small, and slow, and quiet, and sweet.

A New Year’s Carry Over

So I cannot believe that it’s already the year 2019. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all stressing about the roll over to the new millennium, and wondering what the year 2000 would bring to the world? In some ways, those two decades since seem to have blurred all together, like time tends to do as we get older and older. One truth that I’ve learned for sure in my life is that the days go by way, way too fast, and if you don’t stop and hit the pause button every once in a while it will speed you by without warning, and more crucially, without notice. The start of a new year is an easy and obvious chance to do just that…to stop and reflect, to pause and consider, and to take stock in your life. It’s a natural opportunity for people to think about where they are both personally and professionally, and a chance to make goals and promises, or resolutions, to do better, to be better, and feel better about where they currently are. 
The problem that often comes with these “resolutions” however, is that they are usually framed in the negative, and unrealistically, often setting people up for failure. They tend to lean toward what’s wrong in your life, and toward areas that need improvement. Recently, resolutions haven’t felt right for me, because I found myself always starting the new year in a negative mindset, focusing on things that I am not currently doing, which in my mind, I should be doing. This ultimately made me feel bad about myself. I’m sure many of you have gone through a similar experience, and maybe you’re feeling that way right now. Well, this year I’m taking a different approach to the new year…entering into 2019 with a different and positive mindset, which so far feels really good. 
I remember staring out the window in northern Norway this past New Year’s Eve, just a couple of weeks ago, and going down my usual road of reflection as I marveled at the fireworks that were lighting up the midnight sky. I was thinking about all the changes that I needed to make in my life, and how I need to eat better and exercise more…how I need to drink less and spend more time with my family, and how I need to take more courses and maybe a doctorate degree in something so I can continue to learn. It was at that point that I caught myself starting to get a bit depressed and frankly, a little sad. I remember noticing this negativity and quickly shaking my head, and as I looked around I saw my two amazing kids, my beautiful wife, and this incredible light show, and it was then that I challenged myself to think about all that’s right with my life, and not about all that I perceive to be wrong with it. 
Well, talk about beginning the new year on the right foot! I spent the next day or two finding moments throughout the day to focus on all that was right about the previous year, and all that is going well in my life both personally and professionally, and I finally thought, okay, I’ll just keep doing that for 2019…I’ll take all the good things that are working, and that are making me happy, and I’ll carry them over into the new year…a new year carry over can be my so called resolution. Of course over the next few weeks and even months I’ll try to eat better and exercise more, like I do after every extended holiday, and I will find new ways to learn because I’m passionate about learning, but I guess my point is this…Instead of beating yourself up about the person that you currently aren’t, and all the work that you need to do to feel better about yourself, change your mindset…even if it’s just a little. 
Take stock in all that’s right about your life, and about who you are as a person, and start 2019 by celebrating that! Begin the year feeling good about yourself instead of bad, and you know what, I bet that this positive energy and outlook will be a better foundation and starting point to achieve any goals that you might have for the upcoming year. I’m willing to bet that if you begin from a place of celebration and gratitude that any changes that you want to make will be more sustainable in the long run. Anyway, happy new year everyone and I truly hope that 2019 is your best year to date! If we look closely enough, I bet all of us have areas in our lives that we are proud of and happy with…carry them over and make those positive aspects your focal point in 2019. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 
Quote of the Week…
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year
–  Ralph Waldo Emerson
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