A semantic difficulty for school reform

Paul is working with ScrumAlliance on the first agile certification specifically for educators: the Agile Certified Educator. 

For the better part of a year I’ve been working with a small group on a new approach to teaching and learning. At least, we believe it is new. But sometimes we question ourselves.

Here’s the issue.

As we move away from the norm – away from our regular experience with education – we start introducing more and more new terminology to describe our vision. It doesn’t take long before what we’ve written isn’t terribly clear, because of the new terminology. We then rewrite using terminology more familiar to us as educators. Then the text is clearer, but … we find that it is clearer because readers relate with the text by understanding it as their regular experience with education. And that’s not the goal.

This in turns introduces a new level of concern for us. Originally we were worried that using language common to education would impede readers understanding the unique quality of what we are proposing. So we introduced new terms, which make what we are saying hard to understand, leading us back to common terminology, which waters down our vision. As we continued working, we began sliding back and forth along this continuum.

Now we have to ask ourselves if our vision may simply not be all that grandiose a departure from our regular experience of education because of our ability to move back and forth on a continuum. If on one end of our semantic continuum we are able to describe in words familiar to educators what is already familiar in practice, is the other end of the continuum, expressed in unfamiliar terms, actually different in practice? Are we really breaking new ground or are we just renaming things? (We believe we are going beyond renaming.)

I imagine this is a common problem with new ideas. Namely, there isn’t quite the right words to describe them. New terms sound contrived and are hard to understand. Current terms reinforce current understandings, which isn’t really the point. Arriving at any understanding tends to mean arriving at current understanding. Again, not the point.

Maybe this is what folks mean when they say they can’t describe something, but they’ll know it when they see it. And maybe that provides a bit of the answer to the problem. We need more people actually seeing the different teaching and learning we are writing about. We may need examples of what this new manner of teaching and learning is before we try so hard to describe it. Short of actually experiencing it, perhaps we move forward by describing real examples more and the theory less. Then with time the terminology may come.

Interested in pulling agility into education? Contact Paul at pmagnuson@las.ch.

Summer of 2020: Once in a Century Opportunity

This summer holiday is an exception, it is once in a century that schools are closed and there are no travel plans! No frantic last-minute packing, no reminders set for online check-in, no travel maps downloaded and no one waiting for you on the other side of the globe. The ‘Summer of 2020’ is ushering a massive change for the international schools’ community. Every summer we disappeared into destinations across the earth to rejuvenate and reunite with loved ones. With travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, the best way to spend summer 2020 is not to travel! So what do we do? Let us for a moment think of this as an actual opportunity to do three very simple things that will prepare us for the next academic year and give us a refreshing experience without having to travel.

Learn to fail

As a teacher how many times have you said to a student-It is ok to fail? Honesty, I do say it but with hesitation, thinking, if the students learn to be comfortable with failure it will be a disaster. But on second thoughts, if someone is afraid of failing they will never try out new things. And this summer is about trying out new things like learning to program an app, ride a bike, cook pizza, edit videos, play a new instrument, sing in front of an audience…the list is inexhaustible, the idea is simple to learn from failures. This year have been an epic failure for many industries, organisations, business etc. across the world. While they are trying to recover from the pandemic, the aftershocks are already being felt in most sectors. In the education sector, many schools have closed, teachers have lost their jobs and students have lost their alma mater. Everyone talks about how failure is hitting us hard, and yet life goes on, we fall, we rise and we learn. Hence there is no better time to get used to failing. This summer is an opportunity to learn to rise from failures. Also to try something new and keep trying repeatedly-It is ok to fail!

Learn to empathise

Another important exercise is to take care of emotional and mental wellbeing. When it is hard to socialise, go to the movies, see new places, meet new people or meet people you know, it is very stressful to deal with being at home. To take care of one’s own mental wellbeing is a symbiotic process, one has to be caring and empathetic towards others in order to e treated the same way. Recent conversations on racism, xenophobia, discrimination have lodged a sharp wedge into the human psyche and made us doubt everything, from the use of masks to origins of the pandemic to people walking on the streets. These are signs of a deranged human society that does not trust its own inner voice which tells them to be empathetic. Hence empathy has to be taught! While schools are focusing on teaching empathy, it will also fall upon caretakers, guardians and parents to teach the same to children/students during the summer holiday. Teach them to care; care for the little plant in the pot; care about their personal hygiene; care about the neighbours; care about their friends and family, call them once a week; care about keeping the locality clean; care about pollution; care about anyone and everyone. Learn to trust, learn to relate to other peoples’ problems and care about it, learn to empathise.

Learn to know yourself

This is a great time to discover a whole new person, that is you. Learn more about yourself, start by keeping a journal, it can be digital or a physical. A journal helps you to understand what you enjoy the most, it is an indirect way of reaching self-actualisation by reflecting on your interests and skills. Ask questions, interview yourself, take pictures of things you enjoy, organise your thoughts to get clarity on what describes you and defines you. This is a meditative process of self-healing by connecting with your inner self. Once you have enough evidence on yourself, read your journal, you might be surprised what you have discovered.  A simple self-reflection exercise can be a groundbreaking realisation for discovering yourself. Clear your head disk, declutter your thoughts, get clarity on your aims and objectives, this is a great time to do it. Even though it is summertime, it is a great time for spring cleaning both spiritual and digital. Clean that drive, desktop, device to get rid of unnecessary digital dross and dregs. Next step is to organise your headspace and disk space. Once you have done all of this a clear picture of you will emerge, free of worries, stress and anger, ready to face the next academic year.

So put on your seatbelts and experience the journey of failure, empathy and self-discovery as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity-‘Covid19-Summer of 2020’

Juneteenth & the June Issue

How’s your neck today? Me, I’m feeling the whiplash. As editor of The International Educator newspaper, it’s my job to stay abreast of events that impact our sector so I can help to keep all of you informed in turn. Hence the neck problem.

I’ve got to be honest: in the midst of the massive upheaval that has surged at the juncture of COVID-19 and the brutal legacy of 1619, my best efforts will necessarily fall short. There is simply too much of import to report, and it’s all happening so fast.

TIE was never in the business of covering breaking news. Since its inception almost 35 years ago, our quarterly publication has changed little in format over the decades. Sure, we adopted a supplemental June issue and have developed a dynamic online platform to complement our print edition, but even through these changes we have maintained an unharried pace, publishing your stories at a sort of reflective remove from the present moment.

As educators, I think we can all agree that there is a lot to be said for mellow reflection and careful deliberation. When crisis strikes, however, or in the throes of a global awakening over racial injustice such as the one we’re experiencing today, mellow and careful just don’t cut it.

Today, we all need to take immediate action, performing a probing and critical examination at the individual and collective levels to identify the ways in which systemic racism is baked into all of our institutions—TIE included—and devise a concrete plan for rooting it out. To be sure, this is work we should have been doing yesterday, just as it is work we will need to do again tomorrow. And the day after. And every day going forward, as we learn to make antiracism a daily practice in striving toward a just and equitable world.

Tricky as it is figuring out how to meet this monumental moment with the means at hand, I feel very fortunate to be able to place at your disposal our newspaper as a forum well-suited for fostering the deep reflective work so needed within our community. Let’s use this platform as a safe space in which to pursue a sustained conversation about how we get to authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion—a conversation I heartily invite you to join.

Back in March—or was it five years ago?—when planning the June edition of the newspaper, we decided to devote the entire issue to your wildly impressive and phenomenally resilient students, offering them the chance to tell the international school community what they’d learned and felt in the move to remote learning. They blew us away.

So when you’re back from the protest and have a quiet moment for reflection, please take the time to read these thoughtful and moving articles by tomorrow’s leaders.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

— Meadow

“You don’t understand, Dad, your skin is white!”

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Like many international school educators, I have found myself confined to a distant country during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In my case, Myanmar, where borders have closed, flights into the country have ceased to exist, and departures are limited to relief flights organized by embassies and INGOs for people not anticipating a return in the short term.  As a result, I’ve watched from afar the recent protests and demonstrations that have rocked my home country, the United States, in recent days.  Each morning, I wake up to notifications on my smart phone telling the story of unrest that has spread across the country, and then the globe, as we begin to grapple with the soul searching sparked by the gruesome death recorded for us all to see of a black man at the hands of a police officer on a previously unknown corner of a street in South Minneapolis.

The needless death that appeared in that video held a particular poignancy for me.  Watching it, I realized I recognized the location where it took place.  It was just over a block away from where I had lived for several years.  It was just a few blocks north of the elementary school I had attended as a child, and little more than a mile north of where I had lived for five years when I was growing up.  It hit home for me, and, like I imagine it did for many others, has caused me to look inward, to re-examine some of my own experiences and ideals, and to question my own beliefs about myself and my perspectives as a white person, a white man in this world.

People who know me are aware that several years ago my family took in a nine-year-old street boy who had been living on the streets of Yangon.  Through a series of circumstances, I brought him home one day with the intention of helping him out and providing him a sort of safe harbor he could make use of as needed.  Instead, he stayed, and over time we gradually made the decision to adopt him into our family.  When he first joined us, we were surprised how quickly and how easily he seemed to fit right into our lives.  He became a part of everything we did, and seemed to thrive on the time he spent with us.  Early on, we bought him a bike.  He wasn’t attending school at first, so would ride that bike to the school where we worked every morning to have lunch with me, and then return home for the afternoon to wait for our return.  We would spend the afternoons and weekends engaged in play.  We would swim in our pool, where he would climb on my shoulders to dive into the water and swim to the other side.  Some days, we would go on long bike rides through the city, dodging the traffic, and stopping to explore the zoo, the local markets, or sites known to him from his days on the streets.  At other times, we ran around the yard, hiding out on the roof top, or in the garage, shooting at each other with nerf guns.  There were games of basketball and one-on-one soccer.  He has a great love of fishing, and we would often go fishing in Yangon, and later in Minnesota where we go for the summer.  In all fairness, I should say he went fishing.  I spent most of my time unraveling incessant knots in the line, or getting his hook loose from the rocks and weeds in the water.  In every way, this small boy who had at one point seemed to have an incredibly rough exterior became a member of our family, fitting in alongside our other three children.  We grew to love him, and guided him as he began to navigate many of the same kinds of challenges we experienced with our other children – homework, making friends, keeping his room clean, household chores, and contributing as a member of our family.

As my son grew older, his interests began to change, as they do with kids.  He began to exert a level of independence.  He no longer was as interested in hanging out with dad.  He would go off with friends on his bike.  He discovered malls, arcades, and laser tag, venturing to these sites with friends, and began to pay closer attention to how he was perceived by others.  We witnessed a change in his dress and his social interactions, and his smartphone became a permanent appendage.  The most noticeable difference for me as this was happening was the gradual lack of desire to be seen with us.  I think I felt it most as I seemed to go from being the center of his world, to suddenly being a bystander watching his world go by. 

I believed that what my son was experiencing was the normal maturing process children go through as they get older.  I understood this and excepted it, but there was a part of me that missed the way he had been when he was younger.  I would often joke with him, asking if he was sure he didn’t want me to hang out with him and his friends.  He would respond jokingly, and with a fun sense of humor.  At one point though, I became a bit serious, reminding him of how much he used to want me around, and I asked what had changed.  He grew very serious as well.  Looking at me, he stated, “you don’t understand, dad, your skin is white.”

I was completely surprised by this statement.  My surprise was partially because the statement was so unexpected.  I had never really thought of him in terms of skin color or of ethnicity.  He was simply my son and a member of our family.  Clearly, it was something he was thinking of though, and was somehow playing into his need for independence and desire to do things that didn’t include us.  I was surprised for another reason though.  I had always considered myself fairly enlightened and open minded when it came to race.  As a child, my family had specifically moved to a neighborhood where the first schools were being integrated through bussing so my sister and I could attend school there.  Growing up, I had many friends of color, and believed I was sensitive to the challenges they had experienced.  As an adult, I had worked for a while with children from multi-racial backgrounds, and my wife and I had specifically chosen careers that exposed us to a myriad of different races and cultures.  Really, how could my son now say that I didn’t understand him because of the color of my skin?

Slowly, though, I began to realize that this was the issue.  Yes, I had been exposed to others and had integrated with others, but I couldn’t understand them.  I couldn’t understand because I can never experience things from their perspective.  From this short statement my son had made, I began to look at things differently.  I began to realize that I don’t fully understand what it is like to be him, I can’t understand, and in reality, I never will.  To be honest, any contradictory thinking on my part just isn’t reality as he has a set of life experiences and perspectives that are beyond my ability to fully comprehend.  However, I began to realize there are things I can do.  Since that time, I have come to realize the importance of listening, and truly hearing him as he expresses his personal perspective.  I have come to realize the importance of making sure he knows we appreciate his perspective, and that we value his experience.  I have come to accept that when he says he doesn’t want me around, it isn’t about me, it is about him needing to be him and needing to feel comfortable being himself. 

As I adhere to the current orders to stay at home during these difficult times and watch the scenes of protest unfold around the world, in the U.S., and in my old neighborhood, I can’t help but think about what is happening in relationship to what I have learned from my son.  As a white man, I can’t ever fully understand the challenges people of color face every day in this world.  To pretend that I can is not being honest.  I can listen though, I can appreciate the sacrifices others are making and the experiences that have brought them to this point, and I can make sure I value those experiences.  As an educator and as a fellow human being, I need to be committed to this.  These are things we need to do if we are going to begin to see change result from the events unfolding around us.  I really believe that this is the first step.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Racism alive in 2020- As school leaders what are the lessons we are teaching our international school communities?

As the sun goes down in beautiful Surrey tonight, tensions are high in my multi cultural household of 3 people. A caucasiian husband, african black mother and a biracial child who identifies strongly with both cultures, and is comfortable with who she is. We are all processing the events of the past week from our individual perspectives as well as the family collective ones. Some conversations have been safe and exploratory whilst others have been heated and unforgiving. Our daughter is an activist on social media with very strong opinions on social injustice and is feeling that it is a wee bit too late for big corporations to be making statements of support, she is asking what exactly they are doing about it besides making a public statement for positive publicity. How will their actions actually make a difference to how black people continue to be treated in this world?

As an active and vocal international educator who has for years tried to make other international educators understand and be conscious of the discrimination people of colour contnue to experience in recruitment practices from recruiters, school boards of directors and school leaders; with one breadth, I am grateful that the conversation has been forced upon us by the recent events in Minneapolis , and I am saddened that in 2020, little has changed in this space. Racism is alive and bubbling and it continues to be systematic. I am grateful that those that have been silent all these years can no longer continue in their ignorance and discomfort and that they are being forced to delve deeply into their consciousness and reflect on what they can do to change practices, understandings and perceptions of white privilege and how they can support others.

Our role as international educators has never been more important as it is today. We have a moral duty to all our students to model leadership as activists and also build community, love, empathy, respect, understanding and all soft skills that will open the door for better communication and collaboration access for all cultures, races and peoples.

What is sad? I have not seen any statement from international schools or recruiters, making a stand against racism especially as many of our students globally are affected by what has happened in recent days.

Passport – race – accent – inequality- culture -black lives matter – people of colour – international mindedness – diversity – white privilege – implicit biases.


Leaders of Color Launch “I Am Not a Virus” Campaign

The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color decries anti-black discrimination in China prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and insists that schools respond.

By Meadow Dibble
TIE Editor

Medical experts understand the importance of properly naming what ails us. That is why the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses went to the trouble of bestowing a distinctive name on the novel coronavirus that first manifested in Wuhan, China at the cusp of 2020. Identify a disease and you can diagnose it. Diagnose it, and you stand a much better chance of effectively treating it.

In the absence of an International Committee on the Taxonomy of Discrimination, however, it was left to the hivemind that is the internet to come up with “coronaracism,” a term describing the particular brand of anti-Asian hostility that has frequently been reported since COVID-19 outbreaks began flaring up outside of China.

After a number of incidents in February led French Asians to inaugurate the #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, #IAmNotAVirus became a rallying cry for Asians everywhere as they found themselves the target of similar abuse on public transportation, in stores, and over social media, where President Trump’s inflammatory references to the “Chinese Virus” have only amplified prejudicial rhetoric.

What then shall we call the virulent anti-black racism endured by Africans, African Americans, and other people of African descent in China over the past few weeks? In effect, as certain regions have experienced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, this population has increasingly become the scapegoat’s scapegoat.

According to the Associated Press, which began reporting on anti-black discrimination in China beginning in early April, much of this abuse appears to be concentrated in the city of Guangzhou, home to an estimated 300,000 people of African origin. Many have been evicted from their apartments and forced to sleep on the street. Some, conversely, have been locked in their homes and prevented from leaving, subjected to a heavy-handed forced quarantine without ever having tested positive for coronavirus. Many more have been refused service at various businesses.

Name that racism

In launching a campaign to engage the international education community in efforts to put a stop to these incidents, Kevin Simpson, founder of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC), did not feel compelled to invent a catchy name or brand this egregious show of prejudice with a flashy hashtag. After all, the virus that plagues us may be novel, but there is sadly nothing new about the resurgence of age-old racist tropes in times of crisis.

Instead, this team of committed educators simply appropriated the existing #IAmNotAVirus hashtag, claiming for people of African descent the same right to a personhood free from prejudice to which Asians have lately insisted they are entitled. It is a subtle but powerful way of pointing out the devastating irony in the Chinese oppression of Africans even as the Chinese rail against the unfair treatment they have suffered at the hands of others. It is also, quite simply, an outstretched hand. We are not viruses, AIELOC insists. Not you. Not us.

Diagnosis: off the charts

Like those in the medical profession when faced with a disease, experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) often insist that the first step in promoting our collective recovery from the persistent social ill that is racism involves calling it out.

Among the many important principles listed in AIELOC’s “International Educator Equity Statement,” signatories pledge first and foremost to “Not wait any longer, but to speak up now about racism and all forms of discrimination in international education.”

Created in 2017 with the aim of supporting international educators and leaders of color and amplifying their work, AIELOC began as a Facebook page and has over the past three years developed into a dynamic organization focused on advocacy, learning, and research. Kevin and the other members of the leadership team—Geeta Raj, Marla Hunter, and Reem Labib—are hard at work to see that DEI principles are not only written into the DNA of international schools but are embedded in all their practices.

Racial discrimination is a common feature of the international education sector, according to Kevin, who spent 10 years as a classroom teacher—both in the U.S. and abroad—and another 10 as a professional development consultant, coach, and thought partner. It often takes the form of microaggresssions, he explains. Comments that present as compliments but mask a presumption of inferiority, such as, “You are so well-spoken.” Or, “Did you actually write this?”

The most powerful in this class of discriminitory practices is simply being ignored, Kevin feels. All of these he has experienced first-hand. What he learned from his colleagues, however, is that others have been subjected to worse.

Many are “not even given a chance to interview for positions,” the AIELOC statement reads, or to “speak or publish in the international school community.” Backing up even further, there’s a pipeline issue: are educators of color even familiar with this sector

Forging an entry point

Kevin Simpson figured his family and friends would be stunned when they learned he had accepted a job teaching overseas—and in Laos, no less! Strange as the choice would undoubtedly seem to some, and hard as it sometimes was to wrap his own mind around this new reality, in many ways it made perfect sense.

Growing up in Flint, Michigan in the 1980s, Kevin had spent a lot of time at his local library pouring over books set overseas and imagining what life might be like elsewhere. His mother’s family had been part of the Great Migration, moving up from the Jim Crow South to secure work in Michigan’s automotive industry. For much of Kevin’s childhood, his father was stationed in Southeast Asia as a member of the Air Force. It was at age 19, after winning an all-expenses-paid trip to Benin in West Africa, that Kevin was able to travel abroad himself for the first time. The experience was transformative.

On graduating college, Kevin had everything an aspiring international educator needs: a passion for teaching, a valid passport, and a deep curiosity about the world. What he lacked, however, was the first clue that this alternate reality that is international education even existed, or any indication that someone who looked like him would be welcome there.

It was thanks to a chance encounter while pursuing his master’s degree at Michigan State University that Kevin learned his teaching credentials could serve as a passport to the world. A new acquaintance from California mentioned in passing that he would be returning to London in the fall to resume teaching.

“I was like, wait a minute,” Kevin recalls. “You mean you’re moving back to L.A., right?” The young man assured Kevin that the school where he taught was in fact in London, England and let him in on education’s best kept secret—that there are loads of English-medium K–12 schools around the world looking to hire teachers like him. Kevin promptly invited his new friend to lunch and grilled him on the details.

It wasn’t any specific piece of information he learned that day that persuaded Kevin to eventually pursue a career in international education. “The most powerful thing,” he remembers, “was to hear all this from someone who looked like me—another African American. It was a real awakening.”

After getting his master’s, Kevin landed a job at a school in Fairfax County, Virginia where the wonderful diversity of the student body reinforced his conviction that, “where I live and work, I want to be around people who don’t think what I think, believe what I believe, look like me, or love like me. I want to always be in those places and spaces that are going to push me beyond my upbringing and beliefs and views.” Which is how he came to accept that first international position in Laos.

Today, Kevin is committed to helping educators of color not only find their way to international education but also advance into leadership positions. It’s work that involves a good bit of mentoring. Mainly, though, it’s about promoting a shift in the underlying conditions.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: The Sacrifice of George Floyd!

The George Floyd incident has sparked a worldwide debate on racism forcing people across the world to take action against unprecedented acts of discrimination, violence and irrationalism. Infact a closer look into the depth of this behaviour will reveal an insecure, irrational, inhuman face of the so-called ‘humans’. And interestingly there is another behaviour- that of fake sympathies towards the victim on all available social media channels! In the spirit of enlightenment let me ask a few questions to understand the human behaviour which led to the death of George Floyd.

How do we learn to behave in such a heinous, vile and monstrous way in spite of years of education, awareness, campaigning, protests, sacrifices to teach the world that discrimination in any form is unacceptable? Or is it a flaw in our education system which has sowed this seed of discrimination? In any case, it is clear that the animalistic behaviour of human beings takes over humanist behaviour with the slightest of opportunity, so did we ever learn to control it?

What role can education play to change the perception of inequality? Is it even possible? Can we expect a world without discrimination? From the beginning of time, the world has been shaped by the disparities, conflicts due to inequality, world wars due to discrimination and economic dominance due to racial bias. So will this ever stop? Is it a lost battle? History’s evidence in favour of George Floyd is very weak, it will not change the world, neither will people remember this filthy, disgusting, nauseating act of taking a life without remorse!

Why should we discuss this then? Why should we make our social media profiles black? Can an age-old idiosyncrasy be changed sitting in the comfort of our homes while donning face whitening masks, watching media mongers debate racism, inequality, injustice and hitting a ‘like’ to all solidarity comments on Facebook? Will it change anything?

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Are we inside Plato’s cave? The famous Allegory of the Cave by Plato explains the impact of education and the lack of it on human nature. This makes me realise that we are infact acting like the people in the cave due to the lack of education or due to the impact of flawed education systems. George Floyd’s death is the death of the man who tried to tell the people inside the cave to go out and breath in the open and let him breathe too! Floyd exposed the collective failure of society to educate itself. The lack of thinking in many of our education systems and policies which only breed hungry, lusty, jealous, money-making machines.

Where is the path to enlightenment? Will we learn to coexist with differences? The answer lies in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Peaceful coexistence has to be practised, in a slow and study manner. Do not expect people to learn or accept the idea of renaissance overnight. Education systems and policies have a mammoth task and enormous role to play, to eradicate this feeling of superiority due to gender, skin colour, nationality, language, culture or race. To teach to be human, to teach to coexist, to teach to accept differences, to teach to live, and to teach to breathe and let others breathe.