Out Yourself



Presenting at the International School Counselor Association 2019 Annual Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

This post is the first of a two-part series on coming out.

I presented at the International School Counselor Association 2019 Annual Conference in Brussels earlier this month. The enthusiastic encouragement of my research on inclusive schools for gender and sexual minority students (sometimes called LGBTQ) astonished me. It was within recent memory that colleagues would blush, clear their throats, and look down at their shoes at mention of my work. However, I was even more surprised by the number of attendees who turned up for the session. It was right after lunch on the last day of a busy conference, and I thought it might be just me and a precious few. I was wrong: 40+ counselors packed the space to learn how to support gender minority students (sometimes called transgender, gender non-conforming, gender diverse, non-binary, etc.).

A common question during my trip to Brussels was around the international element of supporting gender and sexual minority (GSM) children. Surely the recommendations for American schools aren’t applicable to those of us working in countries where, for example, homosexuality is criminalized. What can we do then?

I’ve got several answers to that question, but the first is always: keep your students and yourself safe. You’re no good to anybody if you’ve been thrown out of the school (or the country). And you must absolutely never put children into a dangerous position. I try to avoid absolutes like always and never, but this seems an appropriate circumstance to break that rule.

The second recommendation is to out yourself. I do not mean for GSM professionals to come out – that’s an entirely personal decision. I am recommending, however, that you come out as an ally. Evaluate the security of your role within the school and your community. Reflect on your level of credibility, and how well you appreciate the context you are working in. Understand the risks you are taking, and your level of comfort with this assessment. At that point, consider ways of coming out.

Straight, cisgender people carry the privilege of not having to worry about coming out. Cishet (short for cisgender, heterosexual) people don’t need to correct those who wrongly assume their gender or sexuality. They don’t have to plan the when/where/how of their many comings-out (to family, friends, colleagues, new friends, new colleagues, etc.) Cishet people aren’t burdened with concerns about how others may react, or what the personal and professional consequences might be when they reveal that they are bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex, or queer.

In contrast to coming out as GSM, outing yourself as an ally is a relatively minor reveal. Still, safety comes first, and you’ll want to evaluate how and when to do so. Here are five fairly simple and innocuous suggestions for how to come out as an ally.  

Five Ways to Come Out as an Ally

  1. Hang a safe space poster in your classroom or office. (These are readily available to print online, in many languages.)
  2. Stock your bookshelf with queer-friendly books.
  3. Wear rainbow gear, such as a lanyard or pin, or put rainbow decorations up in your work space.
  4. Stand up for others when you see or hear discrimination. (And refrain from laughing when people make jokes at the expense of GSM people.)
  5. Show your ally pride on social media by posting on the topic, liking others’ posts, or making note of it in your profile.

While many of these gestures are subtle, and may go under the radar for many, the gender and sexual minority kids in your school will notice, and it can make a significant difference to them. When GSM students can identify even one supportive adult at school, they experience improved mental health outcomes and even have better attendance records[1]. You could be that supportive adult.

How do you show you are an ally for gender and sexual minority students?  

[1] Seelman, K. L., Forge, N., Walls, N. E., & Bridges, N. (2015). School engagement among LGBTQ high school students: The roles of safe adults and gay-straight alliance characteristics. Children and Youth Services Review, 57, 19-29.

A Collection of Tales from the Road: #4 Austria

Austria was the second country of nine cycled across in six days during the world record attempt called ‘9in9’.  Here’s a newspaper article about it. I remember whizzing down sunny mountain valleys from a high lake at the border with Italy, north and then west to Liechtenstein.

I was joined by two teaching colleagues and a friend. It was the springtime in the Alps and after a rough patch in my life, I had just learned that I would be moving to teach in West Africa, so I was full of optimism and excitement. We crossed the start line in a ceremonial roll-out in front of some press and many red uniformed students at the Priory School in Hertfordshire, before getting into a packed minivan support vehicle and heading to the English Channel. I also felt good embarking on this serious physical challenge with a purpose having raised a lot of funds for the Children with Cancer charity, as one of our students had been battling the disease.

Austria, in hindsight became the cause of the reason why I am not an official Guinness World Record holder. We had meticulously prepared the paperwork and the necessary details as stipulated by Guinness in advance of the ‘Epic Journey’ attempt. However, the official record still stands at seven countries in a week, not nine as we had covered. Guinness told me in retrospect that we required police testimonies from each town stating that we all arrived and left by bicycle. This was a horrible surprise to say the least. It was the first mention of a need to involve police in the attempt. It would certainly have been time consuming and a headache to have done so, and therefore may be one of the reasons why the old record still stands.

Whenever I think back to our ride through Austria, one split-second springs to mind. As we approached a tunnel on the mountain road, surrounded by packed snow and ice, we noticed a policeman in his car in a bay by the road. I had researched ahead of time, and knew that it was legal to cycle through this tunnel, but this tunnel looked a bit too dark and tricky, so a flashing thought about stopping came to my mind. But we did not stop to ask the policeman for an escort. Had we done so, and had we known to ask for evidence from him that we had cycled through, maybe I would not always feel angry when I hear any mention of Guinness World Records. Maybe I would be one of 4 official record holders. We know we rode the entire way, and we know that it makes us record breakers, but alas, our names are not carved in stone.


School Visits – Great PD

So this week we are hosting a Middle School MUN event with over 250 students from around the world, and I managed to have lunch with a couple of teacher chaperones from Panama yesterday on campus. We started talking about the amazing and powerful learning opportunities that these trips can provide for kids, but then the conversation turned to the opportunity that trips like these actually afford adult educators as well. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that some of the greatest professional development a teacher can receive is through visiting other schools. The power of school visits are immeasurable, and the take aways for educators can be profound. It’s almost impossible to leave a school visit without some new and fresh ideas, some inspiration, and of course some new human and collaborative connections that quickly build your personal learning community. 

We left in agreement that when thinking about professional development, we universally don’t think of school visits as a traditional top priority… but maybe we should. Obviously there is value in attending the right educational conference, and of course bringing in the right consultant can move us all forward professionally, and the best professional development might just be in our own buildings with teachers teaching teachers, but what about going to see other schools in action? I think we should start creating networks across the the regions so that we get into the spirit of home and away visits so to speak….setting up targeted visits with both public and international schools to work more closely together, to learn from each other, to create meaningful collaborative relationships, and to leverage the power of reciprocity. 

Thinking back on my own professional development experiences throughout my career, the times that I went on school visits, either on an accreditation team or with another colleague or two, truly stick out in my mind as some of the best learning that I’ve ever had. Last year for example, I had the opportunity to visit both IZL in Switzerland and IICS in Istanbul, to see their outstanding early childhood programs in action, and later this Spring I’ll head to AIS Vienna and hopefully ASL London to share and learn about our individual approaches to student inquiry, and some innovative ways to report out on student learning. I always return home from a school visit with new ideas, plenty of inspiration, and some new professional connections that make me a better educator and a better leader. I want to start encouraging teachers to consider school visits when thinking about their annual PD, and to find schools (and other teachers working in these schools) that can help to improve their practice, and provide a boost to their current day to day classroom experience…you really can’t go wrong if you choose the right school and the right colleague. 

Anyway, yesterday’s conversation with my new Panamanian friends was a great one, and I was excited to hear that they have found inspiration from a few things that we are currently doing here at ASP. It feels good to know that this experience has been a good one for their kids, but also an enriching one for them. I guess I’m asking you all to think about your current approach to personal PD, and start to begin thinking about a possible school visit to add to the possibilities…you won’t be disappointed. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out- James Bryant Conant

Inspiring Videos – A Girl and her DuckGender RolesWhy Be Kind?Their Autistic SonMotivation

TED Talk –It’s Okay to be Bored

STEAM/STEM Core Skills

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Developing STEM and STEAM programs (Science Technology Engineering/Art Mathematics) is very exciting, but I have noticed recently there is a lack of cohesive standards to measure progress.

Like many people, I am working on building a set of standards. Some are customized, and some are licensed.

In my research, and through various networking engagements, I have settled on a set of core skills that need to be incorporated throughout the STEAM environment. The standards are being built around these skills.

I have found more engagement among students if the skills are presented first. The skills tend to fuel the desire for hands on work. I also want students to not focus on grades and common rubric models. I want them to focus on creating and going through the design process.

These skills have been developed by the MIT FabLab Program. The FabLab has been operating for well over a decade, and many FabLab partners have developed programs for younger students as well.

The overall philosophy is to learn the skills at every level, but increase the difficulty and complexity within the projects as students gain experience.

The List


Looking at this list, it might seem impossible to imagine a Grade 3 or even Grade 8 students accomplishing these in a meaningful way. I would argue that all are achievable at least at the planning and design thinking stage. Most of these are achievable with the correct level or equipment and/or some creative outsourcing.

The Game

Gamification has been a buzzword at conferences for some time. I have finally found an fairly universal way to “gamify” the list and formally track progress.

As students learn a core skill at different levels, their progress as a class or individual can be color coded.

Sample Using Colors

For better analysis, the color bands can also connect to numeric values. There are many ways to approach tracking. Even curriculum mapping systems can do this.

The best part about this structure, is each school can decide what their levels mean for their students.

I look at this as age independent. It is very possible for a grade 5 student to be a beginner in many skills, and have completed others at a level. It is also very likely that many older students who have never attempted STEAM topics, would fine they can quickly master Levels 1-3, while struggling with the final two levels.

As a student, I would like to see this type of grid and work towards being in the all green club :).

As a teacher, I would like to have students be all green, and after the smiles settle, add Level 6.

If you are inclined, share how you are measuring STEAM and STEM skills or standards. You can do this in the comments, or email me directly. I will post all ideas and give you full credit. ~ tony.deprato@gmail.com

If you are going to be anything, be compassionate

Yesterday will go down as one of New Zealand’s darkest days.

My mother back in Christchurch messaged me to check the news. I had a hundred and one things to do at school that day, most of which remain on my to-do list. I was shocked and saddened by what had just happened in my hometown and my mind was elsewhere.

In an international community like the one I live and work in, on any one day someone in our community will be shocked and saddened by something that is happening in their home country. Yesterday was the turn of the New Zealanders and the way that it stopped my wife and I got me thinking. If we all took on each other’s shock and sadness, we would all be paralyzed and incapable of helping each other. And we need to help each other.

We need to act with compassion. Which I have learned is different from empathy which is different from sympathy.

Empathy means that you feel what a person is feeling and sympathymeans that you can understand what the person is feeling. As much as it saddens me to think about those caught up in this nightmare, it is impossible for me feel their pain. And given that I have never had a loved one taken by an act of violence, been victimized for who I am or what I believe in, or had another person’s life in my hands, I do not think I can even begin to understand.

Compassion is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another person. You do not need to feel or even understand someone’s suffering to relieve them of it. In fact, in many cases, it would be better if you did not. If a psychiatrist felt the pain of each client, she would be of no use to anyone.

Because compassion does not rely on personal experience, we can develop it in a classroom. It is very important that we do so if we are to expect our children to confront the ecological, sociological and technological problems that threaten our very existence. The solutions to those problems call for people that are able to see beyond themselves and those like them. They call for people that are willing and able to support and be supported by others.

For our children to be able to act intelligently, compassionately and with strength, we need to infuse academic challenges with the following global competencies:

  • the use of concepts, knowledge, skills and languages of various disciplines to research current global issues;
  • the understanding of economic, political, technological, environmental, and social systems worldwide;
  • the understanding of multiple perspectives; the valuing of diversity;
  • the ability to communicate with multilingual skills, through fluency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening and through the use of technologies;
  • engaging in responsible action and service to improve conditions both locally and globally; and
  • the ability to function effectively in an interdependent world.

We have high expectations of our students and they will achieve academically. And our message to them must be: If you are going to be a scientist, be a compassionate one. If you are going to be a lawyer, be a compassionate one. If you are going to be a soldier, be a compassionate one. If you are going to be a politician, be a compassionate one.

If you are going to be anything, be compassionate. Our future more than likely depends upon it.

Bloom, Paul. Against Empathy: the Case for Rational Compassion. Vintage, 2018.

WASC Focus on Learning International Edition

Just wondering about PD booster shots

As we are planning for professional development opportunities for next year, here is one of my big take-aways. Sorry if it is too basic, but I am a firm believer that sometimes simple solutions can bring some meaningful changes. Schools spend lots of money on professional development and we constantly think of what are the best options to make the learning stick. Of course, schools may have some external requirements. For instance, IB schools have to train their Diploma teachers when the courses change. This is fair enough and schools have learned how to plan for those required costs that can represent a good chunk of their budget. But schools may also have the options to do some professional development with external consultants and with their in-house specialists. While those two ways of offering professional development represent drastic financial differences, we can note that both types need something absolutely crucial: the booster shots. When we work with consultants or in-house specialists, the one shot experience is usually not the best use of time and money. Schools who can afford it have modified their approach working with consultants for a few years now. They have internalised that flying in an external consultant for a few days to work with the learning community has limited long term learning impacts but it represents big sums of money. So, schools and consultants have developed long-term partnerships for more durable learning impacts. The financial and time commitment is usually bigger but the results are more long-lasting. Now that we have tools that allow us to connect with people everywhere in the world, the partnerships may include not only physical visits to schools but also video-conferencing, webinars and so forth.

For in-house professional development, it needs to be the same. In High School, this year, our goals are connected to three main concepts: collaboration, communication and instruction. Some of our targeted in-house professional development opportunities are about developing strategies to support our learners with specific needs and our English language learners. Of course, we started the year with professional development offered by our awesome in-house specialists, but it was crucial for us to think about ways for us to give them some more time. Some booster shots. To maintain the sense of urgency. To keep working together. To model this idea that we all learn every day. To confirm that, together, we are simply better than on our own. And, in fine, for all our learners to keep growing with our support. Therefore, this concept of booster shots is essential for all kinds of professional development and time must be allocated to do this regularly. Otherwise the good intentions and the benefits one time workshops may just get lost in the day-to-day school life.

For what it’s worth…

Connected, But Alone?

As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?

This is the question clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle asks in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, which is based on 30 years of her work studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. While she is not anti-technology, Turkle presents a compelling case that our current communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships.

Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and workplaces, Turkle argues that many of us, “would prefer to send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call” (Turkle, 2015, p.3). Her concern is the cost associated with this new type of connection and how technology allows us to find ways around conversation. She argues that “face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy” (Turkle, 2015, p.3).

Reclaiming Conversation argues that, while technology presents us with seemingly endless possibilities to improve our lives, it also allows us to hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. And, it is this loss of connection and conversation that should give us pause and cause for concern. In having fewer meaningful conversations on a regular basis, we are losing skills such as the ability to focus deeply, reflect, read emotions, and empathise with others, all of which are needed to actually engage in meaningful conversations.

Turkle further argues that the ability to have meaningful conversations also depends on our engagement with solitude and self-reflection. If we are always connected, then we may see loneliness as a problem that technology needs to solve and that being connected is going to make us less lonely. However, Turkle cautions that it is actually the reverse: “If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely” (Turkle, 2015, p.23).  Research in this area indicates that being comfortable with solitude and, correspondingly, our vulnerabilities is central to happiness, creativity, and productivity.

Building on these considerations and thinking about Turkle’s writing in the context of ISZL, the book presents several compelling arguments for any school and community to consider, particularly given our collective work to support student learning and development. On a personal note, the book challenged me in several ways in terms of my own relationship with technology and my practices as a father, husband, educator, and community member. By way of an example, the following passage from the book has led me to further consider the implications of the presence of a cell phone during conversations:

“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us ” (Turkle, 2015, p.20).

A central question emerged during the reading of this book: Are we unintentionally inhibiting our students’ development in terms of the skills and tools that are crucial to friendship, love, happiness, work, creativity, and sense of worth? Like anything that is of deep significance, there is no simple response to this question as we continue to understand the benefits and impacts technology is having and will have on our lives.

Turkle believes that our regular connection to be online and “elsewhere” will likely lead to the erosion of the essential human qualities of empathy, generativity, and the mentoring of our young. If this is true, then there are obvious and compelling reasons for our school community to further our reflections, conversations, and actions associated with this challenge. These thoughts may perhaps be best summed up by Cameron, a student Turkle interviewed, when he shared what he sees around him: “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem” (Turkle, 2015, p.21).


Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Kindle Edition. Penguin Press.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo d26b73: i I i

Twitter: @dequanne

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Leveraging the Community

So as part of our strategic planning conversations recently, we’ve been talking and thinking a lot about how we can give our students more “real-life” opportunities as part of their school experience. Things like community based and regionally based service learning trips, experiential field trips, and internships, where kids can get out into the world as young people to not only affect some positive change, but to gain some rich life experience as well. I know that these experiences will absolutely help them to uncover a passion or a spark that will give them some added purpose, focus and meaning in their lives, and these experiences will teach them some important life skills that simply cannot be taught in a traditional classroom environment. 

We’re looking at this as a school wide initiative, beginning in the lower school and moving up through the grades, and it’s exciting to think about how we can leverage some learning opportunities outside the walls of our campus. I’m really intrigued by the idea of student internships and service learning projects that get kids out into the community for days or even weeks at a time. I know of some schools that frame much of their curriculum around the idea of community based learning, and their focus is to show students that learning doesn’t need to be confined to the classroom. In some school programs it’s actually the students who create their own learning experiences and schedules, and in many instances they spend more time away from the classroom than in it. I know that this looks very different depending on the age of the student, but with the right support and structures in place, I think there is definitely a way to get all of our kids benefiting from experiences like these in one way or another.

Obviously, there are plenty of ways to bring some “real life” experiences into the school as well by leveraging not only our local and global community, but technology as well. We’ve been trying very hard lately to give our students as much of this as we can by taking advantage of guest speakers and guest presenters but I think we can do even more. I know in the lower school we could take better advantage of the wealth of expertise that we have in our own parent community for example, and I know that there are some untapped resources that are just waiting to be discovered and explored. It’s all very exciting for us as a school and I guess I just wanted to get you all thinking of ways that we could leverage more learning opportunities like these for our kids. 

Send some ideas my way or pop in for a chat, or even try a few things in your own classrooms…then share! Let’s all start thinking of more ways to connect student learning to real life and real world situations, and please feel empowered to stretch the learning opportunities beyond the walls of your classroom and the school. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done

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A Collection of Tales from the Road: #3 Argentina

During a whistle-stop tour of South America I had the good fortune of meeting a guy with a bike in El Calafate, a town on the southern edge of the Patagonian Icefield.

Although brief, the day ride out and back from the edge of the town into tundra like flatlands, certainly gave me a taste of the place. I struggled all morning mainly because of the persistent winds upon which 3 metre wide condors soared above carrion, and worryingly, me.

I was in the region mainly to visit the vivid blue Perito Moreno glacier. One of the few in the world to not be receding. It was like a huge living creature. Creaking and cracking it’s chilly way down toward the lake. The relative calm of the noises that it made during the day we were there, were occasionally interrupted by a splash, as chunks from its face dropped off into the dark blue water. It was a pretty serene scene, but in 2016, a huge section of the face and the ice bridge it had created collapsed causing a tsunami.

On the way back into town I prepared myself mentally for the battle ahead against the dogs.

I’m not a big mutt fan, and being a cyclist I often feel that I am little more that two spinning dog treats, as far as they are concerned. I have never seen so many dogs and clearly the authorities were concerned by the numbers too, but I should never have been worried here. Although locals say that they belong to the town, none of these dogs seem to be owned. They do however remain well looked after, and are all coded by a coloured collar depending on their physical status, shall we say. They seem to be totally at ease, if anything, they seem to own the town, and as I pondered this over my Mate tea in a high street cafe, I remember realising what a remote part of the world I was in and how nature is nature, so maybe the balance of power the swaggering pack dogs have here is a good one.