Unschool

Like so many parents across the world, I’ve been watching, and occasionally helping, my 9-year old navigate online learning. I have it pretty easy, with all of the resources one needs, a fourth grade curriculum that isn’t too demanding, a spouse that is doing a greater share of the work than me, and a wonderful, progressive teacher. I’m also observing a child who is confident, self-motivated, eager to learn, and willing to go with the flow. 

So I’ve got it really easy.

I also had the unique chance to watch her move from face to face school, to an online version of that school, and into a two-week spring break. What an opportunity amidst all the uncertainty and suffering. A bit of a silver lining.

What I’ve noticed is that there is no clear difference in Chloé’s learning behaviors when school is in session and when it’s not. With online school, she is busy for perhaps an hour per day, on average. We print some materials, lend our phones for her to make videos, sometimes sit next to her. And when spring break came and there were no longer any school assignments, not too much really changed. 

One of those days during spring break went like this.

Chloé woke up late. She joined me in the living room and read Harry Potter for a good stretch of time. Then I made breakfast.

Because I was working from home, after breakfast she was able to join me at the table. She had recently started a touch typing tutorial (typingclub.com). Together we typed, side by side. In hindsight I was modeling by doing email and the usual sort of writing tasks one does. I didn’t give any instruction, but every now and then she told me of a success with a new letter or a new fastest speed. This went on well over an hour.

We took a break to play our newest sport: hacky sack. No soccer clubs will be calling, there are no YouTube videos in our future. But we laugh and celebrate small successes. 

She tinkers afterwards with a combination of hobbies, playing the piano and using a composition tool I’ve been experimenting with (noteflight.com). She doesn’t have regular piano lessons, but now and again my sister, a professional music teacher, listens to her play over Skype. Because I was writing some piano pieces, Chloé wrote one, too. A question about different keys had become a full on music theory lesson a few nights before. Now she wanted to use Noteflight to write down her original song. I gave her my computer. Chloé began writing and moving back and forth from the table to the piano. Together we learned more about how Noteflight works. (It’s pretty slick.) 

That evening she helped make dinner and set the table. We ate as a family (all too rare when life was “normal,” a sobering thought), and then we played a board game, as a family. The offline activities are a welcome balance to the various online options. Chloé has learned Settlers of Catan, adopting a preference for the ore and development card strategy, if you are familiar with the game. We cannot cut her any slack, she wins now a fair amount of time.

To fall asleep we read together, she more of Harry Potter, me something else. She filled me in on the latest plot twists. She shared a passage that she found funny. 

That day was not atypical. It was like all of them during that two-week break, though her focus moved between different activities. (Currently she’s been drawing with Art for Kids Hub, on YouTube). I didn’t homeschool. I didn’t monitor learning. There were no assessments, at least not in the way we think of school assessments. There wasn’t vertical or horizontal alignment of curriculum, classroom hours, balanced subjects, test preparation, none of that. There wasn’t teaching, at least how we commonly think of it with school. 

But there was learning. Not learning I could predict, at least not exactly. She reads. I figure she’ll read. When she wants to. She’s curious about the piano. Whether she plays or not is up to her. Learning about music composition – well that’s neat. We’ll share that interest as I prepare for a class I agreed to teach next school year. Touch typing? Great skill, why not!

And hacky sack? Not really part of the school curriculum. One could make it so by talking about physical coordination and number of required kicks and how to use the knee and top of the foot and then an assessment… no, let’s not go there.

This was Chloé’s Unschool. Yes, I recognize again all the affordances in her favor. But still … Weaned from several hours of school a day to just one hour, and then to none during spring break, did not stop learning. It opened learning up. What it stopped was school. Learning became more individual, more self-regulated, more pertinent, more enjoyable, more relaxed, more exploratory. 

Now just as I finish writing this, Chloé has completed a project for online school, which started again this week. She has prepared the traditional Swiss Birchermuesli, by herself. Compliments to her teacher for the assignment – and for Chloé for doing this activity just like all the others during her “break” – independently, joyfully.

There are lessons here for us that we don’t want to forget post-pandemic. I’m going to think about that – after I try the Birchermuesli. 

Reaching Out

So just about a week ago I woke up to the news of the mass shooting in my home province of Nova Scotia, Canada. With each new tragic update and gutting confirmation that what had happened was actually real, my heart shrunk and my mind went numb. That first day was dark indeed, and my joyful spirit felt dislocated as I thought of all those so deeply affected and forever changed…I felt hopeless and a little stuck in place honestly, until I received a short text message from a faculty member and friend of mine, who reached out and simply thought about me, and in that moment, the darkness of the day got a just little bit lighter. It’s funny the power that a simple act of kindness can have, and how the small gesture of reaching out to someone can have such a huge impact. I needed that text message at that moment, and it kickstarted my journey from despair back to hope. 


I don’t know what the world is trying to tell us these days, and it’s hard to make sense of it all honestly. With the tension and isolation of the global lockdown growing, and a tragedy in the unlikeliest of places in the unlikeliest of times…it’s certainly been quite a week. I do know one thing however as I struggle to make sense of it all, we need each other during these days, and we need to reach out. 


I’ve been trying hard this week to reach out to as many people as I can…people in my life who need to know that someone is thinking about them, and there for them if they need support, and I’ve done this for two reasons. I want to be a light in someone’s life who may need a kind voice right about now, and I need to find some support and light for me as well. Reaching out to others not only helps them, it helps you too, and a kind voice or an unexpected connection has tremendous healing power. 


It’s been a difficult week trying to process it all, and like everyone who has been affected by this, I’ve gone through a range of emotions including sadness, anger, confusion, and ultimately…hope. My hope is that my hometown community, as well as our global community will find strength through these difficult times, and emerge stronger together. Just like that simple text message helped to snap my dislocated spirit back into place last week, reaching out to others will make a huge difference, and we’re all capable of being that sunshine for others. Reach out this week to the people that you love, and people who you haven’t spoken to in a while, and let them know that you are thinking about them. Send an email, make a phone call, set up a Zoom call, whatever…just make that connection. I guarantee it will change your day for the better, and it will certainly impact theirs as well.


Teachers, check in with each other this week and share some joy. Reach out to your students and their families too and check in on them, as we’re all struggling in one way or another in this new reality. To my Nova Scotia community, know that the world is wrapping its arms around you virtually and squeezing tight. Rally around each other and find strength in community, and support each other. We will eventually emerge through these difficult times, and when we do, we will be stronger together. Reach out everyone…it’s what we all need. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

We rise by lifting others – Robert Ingersoll


Inspiring Videos –

 Prom 2020 – SGN

Times Like These

For Nova Scotia

California Restaurant

Thank a Hero

Angel

Ubuntu: “I am because we are” 

The Covid19 pandemic has been a turning point in the history of education, industry and technology. It has also ushered the best and worst in humanity. The worst being, instead of looking for a solution to conquer the fierce enemy-the Coronavirus, countries are engaged in finding a scapegoat for their own lack of combatting this issue, politicians are busy playing the blame game for vested personal interests, and people are displaying increasingly disturbing xenophobia. Is this humanity’s new avatar revealed by an invisible enemy?

When I think of humanity, the African philosophy of Ubuntuism or the word Ubuntu echoes into my conscience and makes me ponder what should have been the true face of humanity in the time of this crisis. Having lived in Africa for a long time, I came to use and relate to the word Ubuntu which means, ‘I am because we are’. In many sense, it explains the purpose of humanity that is to coexist and define each other by discovering the interconnectedness and relationship between humans and that between humans and the world around them. I would like to interpret Ubuntu in the context of Covid19 to talk about the need to educate with the purpose of achieving Ubuntuism.

Let us envisage Ubuntuism as the educational philosophy for the future. This means education will aim at inculcating the ideologies of Ubuntuism. Here is my interpretation of Ubuntuism integrated into educational values. This will serve the future generation by preparing them better to deal with any crisis at a global scale.

Consensus over conflict
Ubutuism explains the interconnectedness of one human with the other, the reason of existence of one because of the other, with this aim the first thing to do is abolish the root of all conflicts: unhealthy competitions, ranking, grading, constant need to be the best. Students should compete with their own abilities to improve and become a better version of themselves and not compete with others to become clones of each other. Competition kills creativity and harnesses jealousy, anger and a constant desire to prove oneself. This gives rise to conflict, while the need of the hour is consensus. Curbing competition and the constant need to be the best will have a solid positive impact on the decisions students make when faced with challenges, they will seek to find a solution and not find a scapegoat. They will seek consensus over conflict.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing an unhealthy conflict globally to prove that one country is better than the other, one religion, race even profession is better than the other; there are even tests and research being conducted for racial profiling of Covid19, a pandemic. An unhealthy response to a health issue.

Altruism over Egotism
Altruism is the ability to think of others before self and it can be linked to Ubuntuism as in the later the definition of self is in relation to others so you think of others first in order to think about yourself. When faced with a global crisis the only redeemer is the ability to think of others before self, that is how the health care workers would have powered on in spite of the looming danger of getting infected and possibly dying. The need to care for others first can be taught and this will be our biggest saviour against an invincible enemy. Egotism the very opposite of altruism is leading to the delay of developing a cure for the Covid19 pandemic. Countries need to come together to fight the global threat, fighting alone is not the answer neither the right response to the situation. This reminds me of the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ which means the whole world is one family and truly it is. Altruism can help us align to the idea of one world hence it needs to be an educational value.

Social equality over equity
Since Ubuntuism is about bringing together everyone to see each other as equal, it would demand educational aims and values to be directed towards equality and not equity. Equality in terms of opportunity is the need to give equal opportunity to all citizens of the world irrespective of caste, gender, religion, nationality or colour. Equality alone can bridge the gaps created by tensions during an apocalyptic situation. Equity is about helping others in the time of need but equity is not the answer as it will lead to widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, how? Well, simply because it again creates the situation where one is capable of giving and the other is at the mercy of the giver. To bridge the gap it has to be filled not widened. Equity is providing too little to those who need it and too much to those who do not, this can further exacerbate the inequalities we see today. Equal opportunity is the solution, teaching students to be entrepreneurs and to create jobs is a better skill than teaching them to indulge in charity. The current situation is a stark reminder on how charity is not the answer but sharing resources and opportunities to survive, is the only option.

Pluralism over monism
Pluralism philosophy encourages duality of ideas, thoughts and perspective, in terms of the society it celebrates diversity, racial and cultural differences; on the other hand monism philosophy unites into sects or groups by dividing under common beliefs for example religion. When it comes to Ubuntuism, if we consider the very core idea of one’s development in conjunction to another, it automatically reinforces pluralism and teaches to understand multiple perspectives and learn from other people’s experiences rather than just believe in oneness and unity which ultimately is used to segregate on the basis of colour, race, beliefs, geography, food and gender. The Covid19 crisis would have been dealt with better without prejudice and bias. The virus does not segregate it just keeps attacking the next human being without bias or prejudice hence is more successful than those trying to contain it with hatred and xenophobia.

Soul over self
At Nelson Mandela’s memorial, United States President Barack Obama spoke about Ubuntu, saying,
“There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailers as honoured guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.”

Ubuntu speaks about the soul, to oversome the self and be human in the time of crisis. Ubuntuism is the way forward, a world not divided but a world as one family, opening up borders, getting rid of economic domination, racial supremacy, roots of discrimination and cold calculated xenophobia. Only by revising educational aims and values can we survive the future, the future of coexistence with an understanding and respect for each other.

Covid19 has given an opportunity to policymakers, philosophers, politicians and heads of countries to rethink how to shape the future of the world. Creating a whole world, not a fragmented world, by acknowledging Ubuntu-I am because we are!

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What Big Disasters Tell Us All.

A small gathering of people, heads bowed, sit on makeshift benches in the open air of a small town in the American West, surrounded by the rubble of what used to be their church. A powerful nation, wounded by a brazen and public act of violence that crumbles two symbols of its economy, impulsively reacts with rage and violence.

There’s nothing like crisis to expose us for who we are and what we value (and don’t). It’s cathartic, like a near death experience. (Which unfortunately is what this can be).

In schools, we like to think we’re ready because we plan (fires, cobras yes that’s a thing, earthquake, gas leak, military coup, invader, etc.). I’ll never forget the time in Switzerland when the local fire department made me enter a simulated smoky room tent and follow recorded screams to the other side with a fire extinguisher in my hand as I tried to spray a burning stove. My heart was beating out of my chest, my tie nearly caught fire, and no plan in the world was going to help. It was terrifying (and awesome).

So forget about the neat lines of elementary kids quietly walking down stairs in rows to the pre-planned fire drill on a sunny day out through the cafeteria and lining up on the football pitch. This ‘stuff’ is for real.

Remember how dysfunctional your communications were before the pandemic? I bet that got sorted fast. Remember those needy and at risk students before the lockdown? Are they worse than ever? Possibly. Remember how much difficulty the science department had collaborating when they were in person? How’s that working out now through a screen?

All of those things that we either ignored but knew could be problems, hoped to get to later but never had the time and wished would fix themselves, are now screaming at us like one huge virtual siren. Similarly, so is the great stuff. I bet those popular pep rallies are better than ever on Zoom!!

Economics pundits are recording with fascination how the work universe is re-sorting itself. Visionary businesses like Amazon and Netflix are gobbling up the opportunity while the insecure or unprepared are suffering. (Maybe we didn’t need all that oil after all). Same goes for us.

If your organization over-promised and underdelivered before the crisis, you’re probably in trouble now. If you didn’t properly support or train your teachers before the crisis, you’re in trouble. If you didn’t build trust with your parent community before March, you’re really in trouble. If you didn’t build a culture of transparency and respect and yes, love, before, then the current shutdown for you might extend well beyond when things open up again.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, these current times are leadership gold. They are providing a clear path to us about not only what is really important about learning, but what we are made of as institutions and what cannot wait for the next accreditation cycle.

Of course, a lot of schools and businesses might pick up right where they left off. There may be socially distanced parties, unveiling of statues built for lower elementary and Pre-K teachers, and an increase in community building. But things might just drift back to the way they were.

Don’t let that happen. Even if things were good.

This is the greatest scorecard of all time. It’s better than accreditation, a PhD from Bath, and a Klingenstein Fellowship rolled into one. It’s the mirror, looking straight at our unshaven and unkempt faces, telling us exactly who we are and what is our potential.

Don’t waste it.

Why Kanban?

In the previous post I mentioned that my daughter Emma’s Kanban board was demonstrating three basic Kanban principles. These are making work visual, limiting the amount of work you are doing at one time, and managing workflow.

Making work visual

I’m chuckling as I write this because it seems like putting all the work you intend to do in one spot might bring on a whole lot of stress! Perhaps if all our tasks were just an unordered collection (or even a long To Do list?), stress might well be the outcome.

But the Kanban board neatly shows which work is at what stage. Much work is there, but only some is getting worked on. Other work might be waiting for someone else, so it’s not something you need to worry about now. And of course, some work is done, a nice reminder that tasks waiting to be started will indeed be Done one day. 

Seeing all the work at once also removes the sense that you are forgetting something – that something is going to sneak up on you and upset the apple cart. It’s all there, there’s an order to things, there’s an invitation to get started on …

Limiting work in progress

… one thing. You can see the whole work load, but you are probably most effective when you work on one thing at a time, in the moment, with focus. The simple structure of the Kanban board invites you to pull a task into the Doing column only after you have finished the previous task. Now the board is giving you the right to quit thinking about the previous task and to start thinking about the new task. You’ve chosen it, now commit to just that task until it can be moved to a new status. 

In practice, limiting yourself to one task needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But the general principle is sound: limit the number of tasks that feel active, pressing, and required right now. It’ll make you feel much better and you may see both your process and product jump a bit in quality.

In sum, The Kanban board let’s you see your workload, gives you permission to work on one thing at a time, and the process it’s supporting …

Managing workflow

… allows you to manage your workflow. You know what tasks are out there waiting for your attention, which you are working on now, and which are finished. You also have a tool for quick prioritization (and re-prioritization) of your tasks, because you only have one To Do item per sticky note. Reordering them is a snap. 

Communicating your workflow to others is also easy. My friend and mentor Bill Tihen liked to tell a story of his boss rushing into the office with a new project that was “top priority.” Bill walked him to the Kanban board and said, “OK. Which of these other tasks in the TO DO or DOING column should I take off the board?” “No, no,” the boss exclaimed, “those are all top priority, too.” “But that doesn’t work,” Bill answered, pointing at the board. “There’s a limit to what we can work on at one time. You’ll have to choose the top top-priority.”

In teacher workshops when I ask if they’ve ever experienced anything similar, everyone nods. I’m sure anyone, in any job, has had this feeling. Having a simple tool to manage this feeling (and the reality of how you go about getting things done) seems pretty worthwhile.

Chloé’s first Kanban board

Here’s an example from my younger daughter, Chloé. She has seen examples of Kanban in my office and, most recently, in her sister’s room. So she went and made one for herself. I wrote out her first tasks (on the pink speech bubble stickies) and she did the rest. The three colors at the bottom, she explained, are the type of stickies she is going to use for each of those three areas of her life: school, gym(nastics), and other, once she’s used up the pink ones I made. Color coding is, in fact, a common Kanban process. Chloé has also included a column here that I find very stress-relieving, the column called Stuck. I use it for tasks that I have completed up to the point where someone else now needs to act before I can continue. Those tasks are done, but only temporarily. It’s easy to occasionally scan the stickies in the Stuck column and to send reminders to colleagues that I’m waiting on them. Then when they’ve completed what they needed to do, the task is unstuck and I can move it back to TO DO, waiting for when I have time, directly to DOING, or if there is nothing more required of me, right to DONE. Simple.

Now, I just need to go talk to Chloé about including both” Harry Potter” and “Bike Ride” in the TO DO column at the same time …

Riding the Wave: A Disruption Epiphany

There comes a point in surfing where you either commit to where that force of nature is going to bring you or you duck under and hope for another day.

It feels like we’ve been ducking under for a long time, let’s say since 1999 clicked to 2000. Has that been long enough waiting for the perfect wave?

Covid-19 has brought the fogginess attributed with stress and the crystal clarity that comes with crisis. As educators, this is our surfboard moment, that disruptive peak where we, finally, have to decide if we’re going to hang ten and do something about the promises of 21st century learning (before we start talking about the 22nd). Here’s my list, subject to change and certainly debate.

Homework to Quarantine

I hated it as a student, hate it as a parent, and find it laughable when my child is literally home all day. What are we going to call it when school re-opens, school work? A hard stop to schooling at the end of the school day, (except for pleasure reading and doing something outside) seems like a nice post-pandemic practice. (IB/DP students are exempted from this rant).

Carnegie Units and Choice

We talk a lot about choice, but we don’t really mean it. Now that students are more or less off schedule, can mute teachers, and decide when and what they want to study, it feels like we can’t go back to math on Tuesdays at 9am. This is seriously going to shake up the control freak schedulers and force us to rethink how we relegate time and for what and who makes those choices.

Death Knell of the SAT

Well, well, well, looks like universities CAN decide college admissions without the antiquated SAT score? This is going to be interesting. Yes, I know that grades are inflated and GPAs laughable. I don’t have the perfect “one size fits all” metric but I do know that relying on the SAT as an indicator of future success is like saying that car ownership is an indicator that you could win a Formula One race.

Social Distance the Subjects

Has the world finally learned the lessons of The Great War? The Roman Empire? Dividing fractions? The interactions between matter and energy? (Okay, maybe that last one is important). My point is that now that we’re home, everything has blended into one gooey mess and what we are learning about seems trivial at best.

We no longer walk down the hall to math, then music or design, physically moving ourselves from one thing to another. As virtual students, we have big blocks of time to make sense of a bunch of stuff in one place. We aren’t doing students any favors by throwing work at them that is completely disconnected between subjects. It’s time to admit that secondary schools aren’t very good at being “university lite” and to once again re-think what it means to be a thinker and a learner. Literacy, regardless of the content is important. Conceptual analysis and critical thinking skills, regardless of whether a kid can divide fractions, is important. Introducing learning skills relevant to the existential crisis raging outside our computer screens is important.

Teachers are Gold

No online course or webinar will ever, ever, ever replace the invaluable magic of a human being facilitating a titration experiment or mesmerizing an audience with a dramatic scene. When this pandemic is over (and it will end), I’m imagining our teachers being paraded through the streets like the Apollo astronauts in convertibles through Times Square in 1968.

Technology Has Its Limits

I cannot wait to see how many schools are going to shelve the laptops once this is over and send their IT directors on well deserved vacations. I sort of predict that there is going to be a techno whiplash from parents, teachers and students once this is over. Libraries are going to spring up like daisies again and I-Pads will be used as cafeteria trays.

People over Product

Schools are generally good at this already, but I have a feeling socio-emotional wellness is going to a new level after this crisis. Talk about coping skills and resiliency!

If there has ever been a time in recent human history where we need to think outside of the proverbial box and reset our priorities, it is now. Let’s please ride the wave together in this vacuum of uncertainty and see where it takes us.

Whilst on Lockdown – praise to the educators!

Whilst on lockdown.. Hail and praise be to all Educators!

No one would have ever believed that in 2020 we would be globally fighting an invisible enemy that would bring schools as we know them to a standstill and would force us to come together and really bring 21st century thinking skills to life. As an educator, I have been part of a school of thought that was making noise about the need to act and stop talking about changing our educational space. Before I knew what had happened, it had happened. I am the first to raise my hand and say that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was and I was still going about my business visiting schools, operating in 20th century mode. Now all that has changed of course, forcing me to go back to the original thoughts of differentiating between education, teaching and learning and schools.

There has been an automatic synergy between these concepts for the longest time, but the reality today is that we are now forced to think differently in international and national education, and accept that how we run schools (‘an institution (physical) at which instruction is given’..Oxford) is not sustainable and really relevant to our current lives.

Enter virtual education. Praise be to all school leaders and teachers who were able to organise themselves as everyone reacted to the pandemic that was forcing us to stay at home and operate differently for our own safety. Teachers, parents and children have had the opportunity to continue teaching and learning through whatever gadgets and means they have at home and were forced to use most elements of the 21st century skills such as: Learning and Innovation; Digital Literacy and Career and Life. But the key words here,no matter our age, are that we were all forced to learn together and act immediately to ensure that learning was continuing.

And lessons for school leaders? You have been forced to be fast thinking and visionary, flexible and trusting of your teaching staff and to believe that most if not all your teachers want the best for their students. Virtual school communities should be about learning and output and not what you can see. It should be about space to make mistakes and to try again. It should be about celebrating small successes and not looking to point out failures because right now, no one is failing and everyone is trying to do the best they can with what they have. What happened to the Growth Mindset? We are all required to be creative, think out of the box and on our feet, carry on living, and try and explain to ourselves first, what we think is happening, and then to make a serious effort to understand it and the most difficult is to explain it to those we are leading in a way that it makes sense, without showing our fears and insecurities. While all this is happening, we also have to consider the wellbeing of ourselves and our families. International educators are spread all over the world, far away from their families and holding on to dear life to the school family that they have and can only be in touch with virtually. This is probably the toughest challenge for our school leaders on the ground as you are required to show your leadership not only to your teachers, but to the students, parents, board of governors and your non teaching staff as they all look to you for answers you probably don’t have yet, especially about next steps and the future. You as the school leaders need to stand strong with your leadership team to ensure calm, continuity and trust. You need to show strength and commitment and most importantly support and honesty at this time. You have taken the baton to show respect, authenticity, empathy, care and be eloquent communicators at this time.

How will we survive this onslaught into what we thought we knew about education? The answer is we don’t really know because as we were forced to react and put contingency plans in place, we don’t know how long it will last and if we will be opening our physical schools or not in the fall of 2020.

But the most important questions to ask ourselves are: how relevant was/is our education yesterday, today and tomorrow? What do we really mean when we talk about education? What do we want to achieve and how formal and structured does it have to be? Are we assessing learning in the best possible way, or are we still confined to assessing learning in more traditional ways?. After our present experience, how will we collaborate as a global society to educate our students in more meaningful and practical ways to truly prepare them for a tomorrow that is not guaranteed and most importantly, unknown? What will have changed when we think of education when we return to our school buildings?

Hail and Praise be to all educators!!

Just wondering about why we do not need empathy, thank you very much.

According the Oxford dictionary, we can define empathy as « the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc ». In the same dictionary, sympathy is defined as « the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody’s problems ». This already sounds more like what we need right now. And finally, the word compassion is defined in those terms: « a strong feeling of sympathy for people or animals who are suffering and a desire to help them ». Help. There you go.

I have been reflecting quite a bit regarding how we manoeuvre through those troubled times as parents, educators, teachers, administrators, friends, colleagues, spouses, etc. Since many of us are confined in our homes, the boundaries between those roles and responsibilities are becoming blurrier than ever. Since March 13th, in Ecuador, school and life is happening at home and I am noticing a growing number of people attempting to showing empathy, sympathy and even compassion. But sometimes, the loud voices are somewhere else. Some teachers might consider that their load is more challenging now than ever, (this is absolutely accurate) and that kids and parents could or should do a bit more or differently. Some parents, however, are considering that they are doing quite a bit of extra work at home to support their children’s education (this is also absolutely accurate), and that teachers are working less than before. Some teachers might forget that many parents have to juggle with their own professional responsibilities and all the stress related to perspectives of lower revenues. Other parents do not always realise that many teachers are also parents and they are also juggling between continuing education for their students in a different environment that they may or may not be ready for and supporting their own children at home with their school learning.

In those times of doubts and where death has been knocking on so many doors around the world, we need more than empathy. We need more than understanding the feeling of others. While being empathetic might still be a challenge (see above) for a handful, we actually need to be compassionate and think about ways that we can help others. From an educator’s perspective, here are some things that we are doing at Academia Cotopaxi to support our community at home.

-we have noticed that some students have struggled a lot to attend synchronous sessions and we are making a point to set up virtual meetings with students and parents to discuss strategies to engage students more.

-we have realised that some students have legitimate issues with their internet connections at home and we work on individualised approaches to support students through those complications.

-some teachers have connected with me to tell me that Little Johnny is getting behind with their work. Even more than before, we are asking teachers, learning support and EAL specialists, to personally reach out to Little Johnny to establish a plan to move forward.

-some teachers are more comfortable than others in covering their curriculum through distance learning and our Tech team and instructional coaches are providing tech sessions on specific tools. 

-with my fellow Principals, we agreed that in the first weeks, we would not join the synchronous lessons to avoid adding pressure to an already stressful reality. But now that we are in our 4th week of distance learning, I feel that being compassionate is to also go and visit « virtual » classrooms and support teachers through the Marshall’s rubric.

-our CAS coordinators have created and shared resources to help students and parents understand that not only CAS should continue at home, but it is also the sane and healthy way to go.

-our athletic coaches are still in contact with their teams to encourage motivation and share ideas of workouts, recipes etc.

-our student council (Associated Student Body-ASB) is launching the ASB Challenges this week for students to get involved, be more active, spend less on their screens and win points for their houses. Our ASB President and Vice President are going to introduce those during our first virtual assembly. 

-our counselling team is running countless one on one connections with students to support them through those times with limited social opportunities.

The list is obviously not complete and we will continue to learn how to best support our learning community through conversations with colleagues and workshops with PTC, NEASC, ISS, AAIE etc. So, this is the challenge that COVID-19 is offering us, educators and beyond: being empathetic is not enough and we must strive for compassion and therefore grow our desire and multiply our actions to help others in a meaningful manner. And since we do this, let’s celebrate this and make this voice the louder one.

I hope that you are healthy and safe and that you can continue support others.

For what it’s worth…

A CHANGED WORLD: UNIVERSITY 2020

It’s been 10 weeks since I started teaching online. While the world is learning to deal with this colossal change in approaches to teaching and learning, being an international school teacher in China I am already feeling the fatigue and anxiety that comes with teaching remotely.

My peers will agree that not a single training or a professional development was ever put in place or completed to deal with a crisis of this scale and magnitude.

Apart from teachers, this crisis has also impacted the students who are persevering to learn through online classes. Since February, when the schools in China closed down indefinitely, my senior students have been living life on tenterhooks. This is primarily due to the uncertainties they had to deal with all throughout this crisis: how to learn online; how to prepare for exams; how exams will take place; how this will impact the final grades; how it will impact the university admissions… High school graduating students have suddenly woken up to a changed world!

In this changed world, the university admission decision has been the most excruciating dilemma students are facing, right now, as you read this blog. Whilst there is a general relief that exams have been cancelled, there is also rising anxiety as to what the future holds for them. High school seniors have realized that once this pandemic is over they will have to deal with a changed world–especially with university admissions and studies.
In my capacity as a university counsellor, here are a few scenarios I have been discussing with my graduating class and my students worldwide who are facing the same crisis.

Surprisingly, the most asked question is: “Will there be a graduation ceremony this year?”

Most schools may remain closed through the summer, this means the actual graduation ceremony may not take place, but the class of 2020 has exceptions! In case the schools worldwide reopen in June, this is still a possibility.

My school has decided to host the graduation ceremony virtually in case we cannot do it on campus! In China, preparations are on to reopen schools but public gatherings will still be restricted so more or less we are looking at relying heavily on technology to host a virtual graduation ceremony. In spite of challenges, the answer to this question should be a ‘Yes’ as the high school graduation ceremony is a once in a lifetime event!

Second most asked question: “Will the university accept the new adjusted grades?”
Most international students around the world will have to accept the grades generated by the educational jurisdictions as the exams have been cancelled. Students no longer have control over their final grades, hence they are anxious whether their final grades will meet the university requirements. The good news is most universities around the world are willing to be more flexible considering the current challenges students and schools are facing this year. Many universities have released COVID-19 updates on their websites to explain that they will accept the adjusted grades and honour alternative assessments completed in school or by the examination board. Again the answer to this question should be a “Yes,” unless there is a marginal difference between predicted and actual grades.

“What do we expect in September 2020?”
Every year, September is the time the world witnesses a massive migration of students who travel to join universities abroad, revving up the economy by adding to tuition fees, airlines tickets, accommodation, phone bills, and the list goes on… The first hurdle this year is the travel restrictions. If the travel restrictions remain, most students will not be able to reach their dream destination universities, hence some universities are looking into possible arrangements like online teaching to begin the studies in September 2020. The next challenge to join the university in September 2020 is getting the visa on time. Since visas need to be obtained a few months prior to September, I am advising all students to start the application process early this year.

“What if I do not meet the university predicted grade?”
It is a changed world–mostly everyone on this planet has realized it. Most universities that I have interacted with have confirmed that the predicted grades will be used to ascertain a student’s ability and will not be used as a benchmark, but there are exceptions to this rule for courses like engineering. Universities will also take into consideration teacher references and evidence provided by schools to support student applications.

“How do I prepare for my first semester studies at university?”
Students have been out of regular school for some time now, they are nervous about the academic rigour and expectations in the first semester of university studies. They feel underprepared for this massive academic transition. Hence my sincere advice to students has been to keep up with the online teaching and learning facilitated by their schools worldwide, this will bridge the gap of knowledge and also develop self-management and organization skills required for life in university.

Another way of preparing for transition is to start communicating with the university right now, find out about housing, induction programmes, student support programmes and join the social media page of the university.

“Will I still get transfer credits from my current programme of study?”
This is a question only the university will be able to answer; hence it is very crucial to be communicating with the university to avoid any last-minute surprises. Usually, each university has its own system of transferring credits and it will remain the same if students meet the admission requirements.

“What if I cannot complete the English language requirement as I cannot take the test?”
There are a few universities that have waived off the English language test requirement but most universities in the UK still need the IELTS to be completed due to visa requirements. They are monitoring the situation closely and will make a decision if the language tests cannot be administered from now till September. The best advise one can give to students is to communicate directly with their university and ask for clarification.

“And finally a silent question that is not asked but begs an answer: “Am I the only one feeling stressed, nervous and anxious?”
In these challenging and changing times, the topmost priority of teachers, school administrators, parents, and international education institutes around the world should be student well-being. COVID-19 has altered the way we think and approach life in future. As such, our students need to be supported to overcome this crisis without a permanent scar on their psyche.

Hence, even before I start answering students’ questions related to their uncertain future, I always take time to help them voice their anxieties and fears related to life after COVID-19. By just being able to voice their feelings, students realise they are not alone in this “changed world.” There are many others in this precarious situation wanting answers to questions and sometimes just reaching out to find another person with similar challenges.
Students globally should know that they are not alone in this fight! In this new world, it may not matter if you do not make it to a university but it will matter if you make it out of this pandemic!

One big realisation that I share with all my students is that the pursuit of knowledge will continue despite all challenges. Education will evolve and it has evolved after this pandemic, in fact the change in education has made the world a changed place, and hopefully a better place.