All posts by Barry Déquanne

Barry Déquanne is currently working in Switzerland as the Director of the International School of Zug and Luzern. His blog explores topics in K-12 education and school leadership within the framework of five focus areas: Academics, Activities, Arts, Leadership, and Service. The blog also explores professional articles and highlights recently read books. Blog:


“Light precedes every transition. Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door or the flash of an idea, it is always there, heralding a new beginning.” — Teresa Tsalaky

I have been thinking a lot about transitions lately. We recently hosted the incoming Head of School for a one-week transition visit. I am also preparing to transition to Switzerland and the exciting changes associated with working at a new school and living in a new country. Like other international schools, we are preparing to say goodbye to beloved teachers, students, and families as they transition to other parts of the world, while also looking ahead and confirming the details for new teacher and family orientations. It can sometimes feel that life in an international school setting is one of constant transition where change in the norm and not the exception. While this seemingly perpetual state of transition is inherently filled with challenges, the opportunities for growth and new experiences are significant when we are able to effectively manage our transitions.

When a thoughtful colleague, David Chojnacki, heard that I would be transitioning to another school, he recommended I read William Bridges’ book, Transitions. I am grateful for this reference as Bridges’ book is a must read because, in some form or another, we are all going through a transition! The book’s main message is that all of life’s transitions embody a similar pattern and, by recognizing and accepting these patterns, the tough times associated with a transition will not only make sense but will be more bearable. To that end, it is important to differentiate between “change”, which is what happens to us, and “transition”, which is how we manage our feelings while we wade through these changes throughout our life journey.

Transition is an internal, emotional, and psychological process. In contrast, change is external, situational, and does not require those affected to transition. Transitions are longer processes that require those affected to gradually accept the new situations that result from the changes. Bridges’ frames all transitions in terms of a three-phase process involving an Ending, a Neutral Zone, and a New Beginning.

An Ending recognizes that a transition begins with letting go of the pre-change reality. In international schools, a significant number of teachers, students, and parents begin the process of letting go each semester as they prepare to move on to new endeavors. Depending on each individual, Endings are usually characterized by emotions such as denial, shock, anger, frustration, and stress. Emphatic listening and open communication for all involved are important strategies for getting through and supporting those who are experiencing an Ending. Recognizing that an Ending is about letting go is an important step towards what the author calls the Neutral Zone.

The Neutral Zone represents the bridge between the old and new in which we can still be attached to the past but also looking ahead to the future. The Neutral Zone is a place of uncertainty where people wonder about how they will adapt to the change they are currently experiencing. It is during this time that we can experience feelings of self-doubt, fear, anxiety, and skepticism. In contrast, the Neutral Zone can be a time of real growth and represent an incredibly rich time in our lives, as is beautifully illustrated through Danaan Parry’s trapeze metaphor.

The New Beginning phase is one where new understandings, values, attitudes, and identities are established. It is during this time that we emotionally and psychologically commit to the new reality that has been created through the change process. This commitment is usually accompanied by feelings of acceptance, importance, hope, and enthusiasm. This is also a good time to recognize and celebrate the third phase of the transition process.

William Bridges’ writings remind us to recognize that life’s transitions follow a similar pattern and to embrace our endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings. As we look ahead and begin to prepare for the end of another semester, I would like to wish everyone and all of our schools the very best as we embrace the positive changes and transitions that are such an integral part of international communities.


Twitter: @dequanne

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo Hernán Piñera: 
Niebla / Fog

Parent Partnerships

An effective educational program requires full and shared participation from students, parents, and the school. Similar to a tripod in which all three legs are needed to provide support, a student’s development and realization of potential will not be fully achieved if even one of the legs – students, parents, and school – is not fully engaged in the learning process.

While we often talk about the role of students and schools in education, it is also important to reflect on the role parents play in student development. To that end, I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of our community, our deep levels of gratitude for the positive difference parents make in the development of EAB’s programs, contributions to our school’s growth, and the learning experienced by our students.

What does an effective parent partnership look like? The Inclusive Schools Network emphasizes that effective parent partnerships are built on three guiding principles: Respect, Responsibility, and Relationships.

With a primary focus on meeting student needs, an effective partnership is one that is built on mutual respect in which both the school and parent contributions are valued. Together, the family and the schools’ perspectives are invaluable to the educational process. This is why the focus on parent involvement in decision-making processes and the commitment to seek parent feedback is of paramount importance. With respect also come recognition of limits and an understanding of corresponding responsibilities.

Joyce Epsteen, the director for The Center of Parent School and Community Partnerships at John Hopkins University, effectively frames the focus on responsibility: “Our charge is to create parent-friendly schools and school-friendly homes”. A parent-friendly school is responsible for ensuring an inclusive environment that is committed to working with all students and families and creating structures that enable parents to be full partners in the learning process. A school-friendly home is responsible for reinforcing the school’s values and educational program. There is also a key responsibility for both partners to ensure that communication is constant, two-way, and meaningful. The large number of parent participation, workshop, and feedback opportunities offered by EAB and the similarly large number of parents who attend these events is an encouraging indicator that there is a high degree of responsibility assumed by both the school and parents towards the development of our students.

The third guiding principle is relationship building, which represents the foundation of any effective partnership. With a strong focus on trust, collaboration, and communication, we must ensure that there is an opportunity to contribute, make a difference, and feel valued as members of a dynamic community.

Yes, this can be hard work and there may be times when everyone may not always be in agreement. However, it is the common goal of providing our students with the best possible educational program that reinforces our focus on the ideals associated with respect, responsibility, and relationships.

Finally, in relation to the theme of parent partnerships, I would like to thank our parent volunteers as the extent to which they support EAB is both heartening and inspiring. The support from parents in the last few weeks alone has ranged from the work of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO), to the organization of Silent Auction during last weekend’s World Fest, to serving on the Canteen and Food Services Committee, to donating to EAB’s Envision program, to serving as members of EAB’s Board of Directors, to name but a few examples. The hard work and commitment of our parent volunteers makes a real difference in our school and is greatly appreciated by the EAB community.


Twitter: @dequanne




Parceria Com os Pais

Um programa educacional eficaz requer a participação plena e compartilhada dos alunos, dos pais e da escola. Semelhante a um tripé, onde as três pernas são necessárias para fornecer apoio, o desenvolvimento de um aluno e a percepção de seu potencial não serão alcançados se, mesmo uma das pernas, alunos, pais e escola, não estiverem totalmente envolvidos no processo de aprendizagem.

Embora muitas vezes falemos sobre o papel dos alunos e escolas na educação, também é importante refletir sobre o papel desempenhado pelos pais no desenvolvimento do aluno. Para isso, gostaria de aproveitar a oportunidade para expressar, em nome da nossa comunidade, a minha profunda gratidão pela diferença positiva que os pais fazem no desenvolvimento dos programas da EAB, nas contribuições para o crescimento da nossa escola e o aprendizado vivido pelos nossos alunos.

O que torna uma parceria eficaz? A Rede de Escolas Inclusivas enfatiza que parcerias efetivas com pais são construídas com três princípios orientadores: Respeito, Responsabilidade e Relacionamentos.

Focando primeiramente nas necessidades dos alunos, uma parceira eficaz é aquela construída sobre o respeito mútuo, no qual tanto a escola quanto as contribuições dos pais são valorizadas. Juntos, a família e as perspectivas das escolas são inestimáveis para o processo educacional. É por isso que o foco no envolvimento dos pais nos processos de tomada de decisão e, o compromisso de buscar o feedback dos pais é de suma importância. Com respeito também temos o reconhecimento dos limites e a compreensão das responsabilidades correspondentes.

Joyce Epsteen, diretora do Centro de Escola para Pais e Parcerias Comunitárias da Universidade John Hopkins, enquadra o foco na responsabilidade: “Nossa responsabilidade é criar escolas amigas dos pais e casas amigas da escola”. Uma escola favorável aos pais é responsável em assegurar um ambiente inclusivo que se compromete a trabalhar com todos os alunos e famílias e criar estruturas que permitam aos pais serem parceiros de pleno direito no processo de aprendizagem. Uma escola-casa amigável é responsável por reforçar os valores da escola e o programa educacional. Existe também uma responsabilidade chave para ambos os parceiros em assegurar que a comunicação seja constante, bidirecional e significativa. O grande número de envolvimento dos pais, workshops e oportunidades de feedback fornecidas pela EAB e o número similar de pais que participam desses eventos é um indicador encorajador de que existe um alto grau de responsabilidade assumido tanto pela escola como pelos pais em relação ao desenvolvimento dos nossos alunos.

O terceiro princípio orientador é a construção de relações, que representa a base de qualquer parceria eficaz. Com forte foco na confiança, colaboração e comunicação devemos garantir que existe uma oportunidade de contribuir, fazer a diferença e se sentir valorizado como membro de uma comunidade dinâmica.

Sim, isso pode ser um trabalho árduo e haverá momentos em que nem todos vão estar de acordo. No entanto, é o objetivo comum de proporcionar aos nossos alunos o melhor programa educacional possível que reforça o nosso foco sobre os ideais associados ao respeito, responsabilidade e relacionamentos.

Por fim, em relação ao tema parcerias entre os pais, eu gostaria de agradecer aos nossos pais voluntários, pois a forma com que eles apoiam a EAB é encorajador e inspirador. O apoio dos pais nas últimas semanas incluiu o trabalho da Organização de Pais e Mestres (PTO), a organização do Leilão Silencioso que ocorreu no World Fest no final de semana passado, o Comitê da Cantina e Serviços de Alimentos, até a doação feita ao Programa Envision da EAB associado ao desenvolvimento e levantamento de fundos, e ainda serviram como membros do Conselho de Administração da EAB, entre tantos outros exemplos. O trabalho árduo dos nossos pais voluntários faz uma diferença real na nossa escola e é muito apreciado pela nossa comunidade.



Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) Flickr photo by Christopher 

Stronger Together

“We are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them.” ~Prime Minister Trudeau

The recent horrific and tragic attack at the mosque in Quebec and the subsequent categorical response from Canadians and concerned citizens around the world is a poignant reminder of one of our primary purposes as educators. As learning institutions, we must model and live by the highest standards associated with tolerance, empathy, and understanding while categorically rejecting all acts of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. The unique opportunity to serve as an educator includes an unwavering commitment to model and stand up for the values we hold dear in our schools.

While it is not the role of a teacher to promote and impose personal political views and beliefs, it is a teacher’s responsibility to denounce, without exception, all comments and actions that are not in full adherence with the school’s focus on valuing plurality, difference, understanding, respect, and tolerance. As intolerance is usually a result of fear and fear is often generated from a lack of understanding, the focus on learning in schools plays an ever-important role toward deeper understandings. The hope is that the suspicions and uncertainty that result from a lack of understanding or knowledge will be replaced with curiosity, support, and appreciation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the shooting was a call to action and the coming together as a nation: “We will not stand for hatred and bigotry. Together we will ride from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before. That is who we are… love, always love, instead of hate.” It is also heartening and inspiring to witness the commitment of our education colleagues and the focus of so many schools and organizations to take a stand against all that divides us. The message is clear in that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. By way of example, Asger Leth’s video, Three Beautiful Human Minutes, is a moving testimonial conveying the message that there is more that brings us together than we think. Teachers are also regularly seeking ways to embrace and learn from our differences. Alison Schofield recently posted a helpful article entitled, “How Teachers can Honor and Nurture all Students’ Languages and Cultures within an International School.” The University of Minnesota, where I am currently engaged in graduate studies, just launched a “We All Belong Here” campaign, with five key messages: 1. Our differences drive our greatness, 2. Respect everyone every day, 3. Rise above intolerance, 4. Stand up to injustice, 5. Strive to be inclusive.

This work is not easy, though it is of paramount importance. The studies of a colleague at the American School of Brasilia, Gavin Hornbuckle, highlights one of these challenges. Gavin conducted extensive doctoral research in the area of intercultural competencies. The results of his study and others indicate that “while teachers often believe that they possess the intercultural skill-set required to [help students to develop intercultural competence], in reality, this may not be the case” (Horbuckel, 2013). The research also stresses that the majority of educators have more of a monocultural mindset, while our students show evidence of being more sophisticated in their intercultural development” (Cushner, 2012). It is a fact that intercultural competence does not come naturally and is an area that we, as educators, need to continually work at, particularly as we seek to understand, embrace, and celebrate our differences.

Returning to Prime Minister Trudeau, one of his recent statements may serve as a guiding principle for our schools: “If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, then we do not actually end up any safer. Fear does not make us stronger, it makes us weaker. We are bound by one, unwavering, unshakable truth: we are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them”.


Twitter: @dequanne


Cushner, K. (2012). Planting seeds for peace: Are they growing in the right direction? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(2), 161-168.

Hornbuckle, G. C. (2013). Teachers’ views regarding ways in which the intercultural competence of students is developed at an international school in Southeast Asia: a mixed methods study. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) Flickr photo by Roel 
Wijnants (Painting):

Students Helping Students

What does it feel like to be mentored by a national champion who is ranked among the best in the world? To find out, you are invited to visit the American School of Brasilia’s afterschool chess club.

Meilin Hoshino (Grade 6) and her sister Karen (Grade 10) are considered to be elite chess players on the world stage, with Karen recently recognized as the top female chess player in Japan. It is the juxtaposition of a student competing in the 14-day World Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan and the same student offering a chess activity for lower school students that highlights an international school’s sense of community, the wide range of learning opportunities, and the value of diversity.


During my afternoon walk around campus today, I observed several other instances of students learning from other students. Some of these examples included cooking classes, guitar lessons, art projects, talent show preparations, Jiu Jitsu practice, reading program, robotics, and an after school running club. These are some of the many ways in which a school offering a pre-kindergarten to grade 12 educational program benefits from the wide range of student ages. The younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students while older students have the opportunity (and challenge!) to serve as positive role models and mentors while also learning more about their own abilities and strengths.


It is this building of community through mentoring, coaching, and collaboration that personifies the American School of Brasilia’s motto of “Learners Inspiring Learners.” The basis of all schools should be that of a community of learners and, for this reason, we are committed to further developing peer mentoring programs such that all students are benefiting from “students helping students” opportunities. To that end, I would like to thank Meilin and Karen for sharing their impressive talents and experiences with other students and for exemplifying the ideals associated with our school’s mission in which learners are inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.


Twitter: @dequanne


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Peter Miller:

Viva Voce

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” –Marcel Proust

Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “with living voice” and represents an insightful way to describe one of the highlights of our school year. The dual reference of “with living voice” to signify both the concept of “word of mouth” and an oral examination, such as a thesis defense, accurately represents students’ experiences associated with our culminating International Baccalaureate (IB) Extended Essay experience.

The IB’s Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed work of research that is concluded with the writing of a 4,000-word paper. Through the process of investigating a topic of special interest, the IB highlights how students develop skills that include the formulation of a research question and the corresponding capacity to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge.

While the completion of an Extended Essay is an impressive accomplishment in itself, the American School of Brasilia extends the experience and learning through an event called Viva Voce. This special event may best be described as the verbal counterpart to the student’s written essay when our IB candidates literally talk about the passion and challenges they experienced when writing their essays. A three to five-member panel, usually comprised of parents, teachers, and students with expertise or interest in the subject, carefully read the essay and formally engage with the IB students during their presentations. The Viva Voce event is also open to our community to participate as a silent audience and, given the full attendance, there is clearly a high degree of support and interest.

Beyond this framework, what makes the Viva Voce experience so profound is the high degree of passion and engagement that students clearly convey for their research topics. It is not uncommon for students to write much more than the required 4,000 words. The following is a sample of some of the research focus areas:

  • Economics: Government’s Management of Brazil’s Electricity Sector
  • World Studies: Sustainable Fashion
  • Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s influence in film
  • Macro Economics. The effect of the Greek economic crisis in the EU.

This year, I had the honor of serving on Carolina’s panel, a student whose research question investigated the ballad structure in Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” While Carolina spoke to the panel and audience about both her findings and her learning, I could not help but be impressed by her reflections on how her research changed how she sees literature, human relations, and the world in general, but also by her depth of knowledge and understanding of Wilde’s work, as represented by her concluding statements:

“The author uses a poetic method as a tool of offering palpable representation of life at Reading Gaol, which causes people to feel sympathy and sadness. The convicted men inside prison are hopeful, therefore although the initial feeling is that of pity, the author transforms it into a soothing, otherworldly environment, one that proved the human soul capable of conquering the harshness of reality.”

Well done Carolina! And, well done to all Viva Voce students!


The deep learning experiences demonstrated not only by Carolina but all of our students is not the only factor that makes Viva Voce such a special experience. It is also the fact that teachers, parents, students, and members of the greater community are also participating in the learning experience. As it was the first time I had read Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, I was grateful to Carolina for sharing her analysis and introducing me to such an important work of literature. I had similar feelings last year when serving on a panel for an outstanding economics paper and was seated with a talented economist from the British Embassy and the World Bank Country Director for Brazil. While I would like to think that I made some meaningful contributions to our conversation about economics, I have no doubt that I was also a learner on this day.

While these are my personal stories, I am confident that I speak on behalf of everyone who has participated in the Viva Voce event when sharing how meaningful and transformative the experience has been for students, teachers, and parents. To that end, Viva Voce is a good example of how learning can be personalized, relevant, and meaningful. In terms of school culture, Viva Voce also embodies and exemplifies the spirit of our mission statement: Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.”


Twitter: @dequanne






Wellness and Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz

It was a morning filled with everything you hoped to see at a wellness event. Students, parents, and teachers were actively engaging in activities that included CrossFit, judo, Muay Thai, and yoga, all capped with the development of a few circus-related skills at the end of the day. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the wellness activities and their time with friends and family while the problems of the past week quietly drifted away. It is this characteristic that I particularly admire in Brazilians – the ability to fully live in the moment while temporarily letting go of their anxieties. I believe this is what the Persian poet Rumi refers to as surrender or, in more recent times, mindfulness, which does not necessarily come naturally to someone like me, who has a cultural bias towards a more future-orientated view of the world. This is probably why the photo from the wellness event of the two students enjoying a humorous moment with the orange traffic cones brought such a smile to my face.


One of our school-wide goals this year is a focus on wellness: To ensure a secure learning environment in which all stakeholders are physically and emotionally safe to learn and grow as individuals and members of the EAB community. 
The Sábado Legal, or Cool Saturdays program, has regularly provided our community with opportunities to realize key aspects of this wellness goal, not only for students but also for faculty, staff, and parents. As adults, we also have the responsibility of modeling wellness and mindfulness for our students and ourselves. We are only able to best serve our communities when each of us is at our best through our own foci on wellness. This fact is highlighted by our teachers who regularly lead yoga, dance, mindfulness, and running activities with students and adults at our school, which has clearly made a difference in the health of our community.

In the spirit of our mission statement focus on “learners inspiring learners”, I am grateful to our two wonderful students in the photo for reminding the adults about the importance of mindfulness and how to enjoy a moment.


Twitter: @dequanne

Portuguese Version / Versão em Português

Bem-Estar e Conscientização do Momento

“Ser Mindfulness é simplesmente estar consciente do que está acontecendo agora sem desejar que fosse diferente; apreciar o agradável sem se prender as mudanças (elas ocorrerão); passar pelo desagradável temendo que não haja mudança (pois haverá).” – James Baraz

Foi uma manhã com tudo o que se esperava encontrar em um evento voltado ao bem-estar. Alunos, pais e professores estavam envolvidos em atividades como CrossFit, Judô, Muay Thai e Yoga, além de algumas atividades circenses no final do dia. Todos pareciam estar se divertindo com as atividades e com o tempo passado com os amigos e familiares, enquanto os problemas do passado eram deixados de lado. Essa é uma característica que eu, particularmente, admiro nos brasileiros – a capacidade de viver plenamente o momento deixando temporariamente de lado as suas ansiedades. Eu acredito que é isso que o poeta persa Rumi se refere como Surrender (entregar-se), ou recentemente como, Mindfulness (Consciência do Momento), o que não necessariamente é algo natural para uma pessoa como eu, que tem uma visão voltada para o futuro do mundo. Talvez por isso que a foto do evento, onde dois alunos se divertem com um cone de trânsito, trouxe um sorriso para o meu rosto.


Um dos nossos objetivos esse ano é focar no bem-estar: Garantir um ambiente de aprendizado seguro, onde todas as partes interessadas estejam fisicamente e emocionalmente seguras para aprender e crescer como indivíduos e membros da comunidade da EAB. O Sábado Legal traz, regularmente, oportunidades para a nossa comunidade participar dos pontos chaves do nosso objetivo de bem-estar, não somente para os alunos, mas para o nosso corpo docente, funcionários e pais. Como adultos nós também temos a responsabilidade de molda o bem-estar e consciência, para nossos alunos e para nós mesmos. Nós só poderemos servir a nossa comunidade da melhor forma possível quando cada um de nós focarmos, da melhor maneira, no nosso bem-estar. Isso é destacado pelos nossos professores que, regularmente fazem atividades com os alunos e com os adultos em nossa escola como Yoga, dança, atividades de conscientização e corridas, o que claramente faz a diferença na saúde da nossa comunidade.

Com foco na nossa Missão “aprendizes inspirando aprendizes”, eu sou grato aos dois alunos maravilhosos da nossa comunidade que aparecem nessa foto e lembram a nós adultos da importância da conscientização do seu estado de espírito e sobre como aproveitar cada momento.


Twitter: @dequanne


Our Human Tapestry

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

The most moving and important testimonials about learning and school culture also come from parents, whose voices are critical to our collective partnership in support of student development. To complement last week’s post, Our Obligation, which focused on inclusion from a student’s perspective, this post shares a poignant parent reflection on the same theme.

Alex Ellis is currently serving as the British Ambassador to Brazil. Following his son Thomás’ recent graduation from the American School of Brasilia, Ambassador Ellis published the following reflections, which focus on the culture of learning and inclusion in schools.

Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

There are parents all over the northern hemisphere who in these weeks have watched or will watch their child go through this ritual, in many different forms, in the case of our son through a flick of a tassel. Each family has its own memories and stories, both similar to those of others and peculiar to themselves.

Our story includes a moment, at an earlier time, spent in a still, grey room, with sensible Flemish doctors telling us in sensible, Flemish English that our son is on the autistic spectrum. There’s no number to confirm this, no blood test. It’s the product of observation and judgment, and that knot of anxiety which has sat inside our stomachs from when Tomas’ first kindergarten teacher wondered if he might be a bit different, the apparent difficulty in hearing (tested, unproven), his slightly awkward walk, his focus on a few toys but not his classmates.

Before he was diagnosed Tomás passed through a series of small schools, mainly with the help of kind teachers, next to whom he was often standing. The diagnosis came after, at very short notice, we had moved from warm, fun Madrid back to Brussels. He plunged into a large school which quickly declared him “ineducable”. It doesn’t sound much nicer when you hear it in French. Which I did, twice, for bureaucratic reasons which were legally impeccable, financially advantageous and inhuman.

I wondered, when Tomas was diagnosed, what would happen next. “Tomorrow” is the best answer. He hadn’t changed and we hadn’t changed. We fell, and then got up. Tomas carried on, much happier at a school that took him, rather than rejected him, for who he is. The labels — Asperger’s, on the autistic spectrum, he’s quite bright but different etc — helped in the first interaction with schools. They were ready to adjust before he walked in.

Tomas got from there to here, 11 years later, because of some things he was born with; confidence, a sense of humour and a good heart. Lots of other children have those characteristics, autistic or not. Tomas had a lot of help as well. Help in the form of classroom support, and crucially from teachers who “got” him. Who saw him as different, not special, as a person, albeit in teenage form, rather than a syndrome.

This, we learnt, starts at the top. Schools are no different from any other organisation in the importance of the leader in determining and living its values. We had luck, and a bit of choice, in the two schools where Tomas spent the best part of a decade. Both heads thought that a school would gain more than lose from a boy like Tomas in it, that this was part of the world of difference in which pupils should learn. Almost without exception the pupils shared this attitude. On a rare occasion when a classmate tried to bully him, his confidence and humour dealt pretty comfortably with it.

The head teacher at the ambitious, academic school where Tomas stayed longest told me, after chatting with him, that he would take him into the school, but there would be some who wouldn’t be so keen to have him there. So it proved. Some teachers welcomed him, some wanted him out of their class. This wasn’t determined by Tomas’ abilities, but by the teacher’s confidence. Over time some teachers excluded him from classes in which he was relatively strong, whilst others kept with him in subjects (maths) in which threats, tears and bribes could not move him — I know, having tried, and failed, with all three. As exams loomed bigger, some teachers, and in rare cases some other parents, wanted Tomas out of the class for fear that he might undermine the grades of other pupils. In such situations the real values of a school become apparent.

Tomas is not easy to teach. Like a lot of kids on the autistic spectrum, he’s pretty autodidactic (and I should thank The Simpsons, Futurama and Cartoon Network for their significant contribution to his education). And he tells it as he sees it, which can be uncomfortable. The new music teacher in one school, fresh from university, might have hoped for a different opening to his career than Tomas asking to see his qualifications.

But the good teachers, and there were a lot of them, got past this or better still embraced this as part of what Tomas brought to the classroom, to the school — and also knew that the second is a lot ore than just the first. Last week, after Tomás stepped up to get an arts prize, to his father’s bursting pride and his own mild indifference, a teacher referred to the support for him from “the school community”. She was quite right. It did, for our son, take just that community to help get him through his education.

So this one goes out, yes, to the son I love. But it also goes out to every member of those school communities, teachers, administrators, security guards, classroom helpers, who saw in Tomas not a potential spoiler of grade averages or a “special” pupil to be kept in a “special” place but rather saw him for what he was — another flavour in the very wide variety that is the human race.

Link to Original Post: Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

Versão português:

Nossa Tapeçaria Humana

Os depoimentos mais emocionantes e importantes sobre a aprendizagem e cultura escolar também vêm dos pais, cujas vozes são fundamentais para a nossa parceria em prol do desenvolvimento do aluno. Complementando a postagem da semana passada, A Nossa Obrigação, cujo foco foi a inclusão de acordo com a perspectiva de cada aluno, a publicação abaixo compartilha a reflexão comovente de um pai sobre o mesmo tema. Alex Ellis está servindo atualmente como Embaixador Britânico no Brasil. Logo após a formatura do seu filho Thomas, na Escola Americana de Brasília, o Embaixador Ellis publicou a seguinte reflexão, que incide sobre a cultura de aprendizagem e inclusão nas escolas.

Tomás terminou a escola no último Sábado

Nessas últimas semanas, pais em todo o hemisfério norte foram ou vão assistir seus filhos passarem por esse ritual, de formatura, nas mais diversas formas; como no caso do nosso filho Tomás que passou a corda do capelo do lado direito para o lado esquerdo. Cada família tem suas próprias memórias e histórias, algumas semelhantes entre si — e outras completamente particulares.

Nossa história inclui um momento vivido alguns anos atrás, em uma sala ainda cinzenta, com sensíveis médicos da região belga dos Flandres nos dizendo, também de forma sensível, que nosso filho possuía um diagnóstico de espectro autista. Não há nenhum número para confirmar isso; nenhum exame de sangue. Essa conclusão é o produto único de observação e julgamento. É resultado daquele nó de ansiedade que tomou conta de nós, eu e minha esposa, quando a primeira professora de Tomás, no jardim de infância, nos chamou na escola e nos perguntou se ele era um pouco diferente; desde sua aparente dificuldade de audição (testada e não comprovada); ao caminhar um pouco desajeitado e o foco em alguns brinquedos, mas não seus colegas.

Antes de ser diagnosticado, Tomás passou por uma série de pequenas escolas, sempre com a ajuda de professores amáveis, dos quais ele quase sempre permanecia por perto. A comprovação veio logo depois que nos mudamos da quente e divertida Madrid de volta à Bruxelas, na Bélgica. Ali, Tomás foi matriculado em uma escola maior, que rapidamente o declarou como “ineducável”. Uma frase que não soa muito mais agradável quando você a escuta em francês.

Eu me perguntava, assim que ele foi diagnosticado, o que aconteceria em seguida. E o “amanhã” é a melhor resposta. Meu filho, assim como nós, não tinha mudado. Nós caímos, mas então nos levantamos. Tomás seguiu em frente, muito mais feliz em uma escola que o acolheu ao invés de rejeitá-lo por ser quem ele é. Os rótulos — Asperger, com espectro autista, “muito brilhante, mas diferente”… — ajudaram em sua primeira interação com as novas escolas. Elas estavam prontas a se adaptarem antes da nossa chegada.

Nesses últimos 11 anos, como fruto de várias características de sua natureza, Tomás adquiriu confiança, um excelente senso de humor e um bom coração.

Várias outras crianças também são assim — autistas ou não. Tomas também recebeu muita ajuda. Ajuda em forma de suporte com as atividades em sala de aula e, crucialmente, de professores que o conquistaram. Professores que o enxergaram como diferente, e não especial; como uma pessoa, ainda que adolescente, ao invés de uma síndrome.

Nós aprendemos algo desde o começo: escolas não são diferentes de qualquer outra organização no que se refere à importância de um líder que determine e estimule determinados valores. Tivemos sorte, e um pouco de escolha, com as duas escolas onde Tomás passou a maior da última década.Ambas as partes acreditaram que a escola iria ganhar mais do que perder recebendo um garoto como ele, parte de um mundo de diferenças que todos os demais alunos deveriam aprender. Quase sem exceção, todos os demais alunos compartilharam essa atitude. E na rara ocasião em que um colega tentou intimidá-lo, a confiança e o bom humor de Tomás lidaram confortavelmente com a situação.

O diretor da escola em que Tomás ficou a maior parte de sua trajetória me disse, depois de conversar com ele, que iria matriculá-lo, mas confessou que haveria algumas pessoas ali pouco ansiosas com a sua chegada. E assim foi. Alguns professores o acolheram, alguns o queriam fora de sala. Isso não foi determinado pela capacidade de Tomás, mas pela confiança de cada um dos professores. Ao longo do tempo, alguns professores o excluíram de aulas nas quais ele era relativamente habilidoso, enquanto outros continuaram com ele em disciplinas (matemática, por exemplo) em que as ameaças, as lágrimas e os subornos não conseguiam movê-lo. A medida que os exames foram aumentando, alguns professores e, em raros casos, alguns pais, queriam Tomás fora da classe — era o medo de que ele minasse os resultados dos demais estudantes. Nesses momentos, os reais valores de uma escola se fizeram presentes.

Tomas não é fácil de ensinar. Como um monte de crianças com espectro autista, ele é muito autodidata (e eu deveria agradecer Os Simpsons, Futurama e Cartoon Network por sua contribuição significativa para a sua educação). E ele diz as coisas exatamente com as vê, o que às vezes pode ser desconfortável. O novo professor de música, recém saído da universidade, talvez esperasse um início diferente para sua carreira: com certeza ele não esperava que Tomás pedisse para ver suas qualificações. Mas os bons professores, e havia um monte deles, apenas superaram essas dificuldades ou, melhor ainda, as abraçaram como parte do que Tomás trouxe para a sala de aula e a escola. Eles entenderam que os ganhos eram maiores que todos os desafios.

Na última semana, depois de Tomás ganhar um prêmio de artes, para o orgulho do pai e para sua própria indiferença, uma professora mencionou o suporte oferecido a Tomás por toda a “comunidade escolar”. Ela estava certa. Eles fizeram muito pelo nosso filho e se engajaram no desafio de ajudá-lo no caminho pela educação.

Então, sim, este texto vai para o filho que eu amo. Mas também vai para cada membro daquelas comunidades escolares, professores, administradores, seguranças e auxiliares que viram no Tomás não somente um potencial de notas medianas ou um aluno “especial” para ser mantido em um lugar “especial”, mas sim pelo que ele era — um outro sabor na variedade muito ampla que é a raça humana.

Link para publicação original: Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo by James Cridland:

Inclusion – Our Obligation

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

It was one of those emails that catch your attention. Mauricio, then a fifteen-year-old student in a Brazilian school, sent an elegantly worded statement about how he taught himself English so that he could realize his dream of attending a university in the United States. Mauricio had been studying our website and, as he believed our school’s values were aligned with his, was determined to join our learning community. What I did not know at the time was that Mauricio was going to forever change our community’s perspectives on learning and our understanding of the world around us.

Mauricio’s application for admission to our high school was the first we had received from a blind student. While Mauricio did not seem to be concerned that his blindness would limit his learning, a reflection of his indomitable spirit that I quickly learned to admire and appreciate, our faculty did raise several valid questions and concerns.

The consideration of Mauricio’s application was framed and guided by a mission and set of beliefs that highlighted diversity and different learning styles as essential values. Through dialogue, learning, and understanding, the high school faculty committed to admitting Mauricio and providing him with the best educational program within our capabilities. Mauricio also supported us through this learning process and was always quick to remind us not to think of him as a blind person, but rather a person who happened to be blind.

During one of our admissions meetings, I welcomed Mauricio to my office with the greeting, “It is great to see you…” but cut myself off as I realized the insensitivity of my words. Mauricio smiled warmly and replied in a manner that conveyed wisdom beyond his years, “It is also great to seeyou.” While it was a seemingly minor moment of learning, it was also emblematic of our own collective growth. I humbly shared with Mauricio how it was likely that we were going to learn far more from him than he would learn from us. And, this was in fact the case. Four years later, Mauricio graduated from Graded, the school where I previously worked, and he realized his dream of attending and graduating from a top university in the United States. It was also during this time that we grew the most as professionals and as a community.

While Mauricio was a student at Graded, we had the honor of hosting two very special people, Bill and Ochan Powell, who conveyed a similar spirit of promise and a unique ability to instill an intrinsic commitment in others to be the best professionals and people they can be. Bill and Ochan scheduled time after their professional learning facilitation to interview Mauricio as part of their work associated with inclusive schools. I remember clearly how our faculty and I beamed with pride and a sense of purpose when Bill and Ochan highlighted and congratulated the team for their work with Mauricio and their efforts to ensure Graded was offering a highly functioning inclusive learning program.

The following two videos present clips from Bill and Ochan’s work with Mauricio.

Interview with Bill and Ochan:

Learning in a Science Classroom:

The videos highlight Bill’s talents and concern for others and, correspondingly, one of the many reasons why there has been such an extraordinary outpouring of sorrow, love, and admiration from around the world to the tragic news of Bill Powell’s sudden passing. Bill was a remarkable individual whose impressive professional capabilities were complemented with a warm heart and deeply caring nature.

A recent exchange of emails with Mauricio highlighted the difference Bill’s vision and unwavering commitment to student learning and inclusion can make in a student’s life. The following is an extract from Mauricio’s note to me this week:

Needless to say, if it were not for my inclusion at Graded and before, I would not be where I am today. I have worked at internationally recognized corporations, attended top educational institutions abroad, learned the importance of adaptation and persistence, and demonstrated to others that blindness does not define one’s capabilities.

It all began with education – an education that was inclusive, grounded, and rigorous. It all began with teachers and administrators who believed in my potential, and who required of me the same as was required of any other student. If one has education one still faces challenges, the difference being that without it we have no solution. Blind people must be able to make any choice they wish for their future, with blindness being only a circumstance and physical characteristic. As the Olympics are held in Brazil, so will the Paralympics. We apply the inspiration and values from all athletes into our lives as much as possible so that we may continue fighting for opportunity for all people.

The message of six years ago still stands: people must ask questions, so that their doubts may be resolved. On the other hand, those with disabilities must believe in themselves, strive for their best, and not for what seems comfortable, and never be let down by expectations by others. Others may not know our full potential, but I find that most people will be allies if we help them help us. And, schools cannot do it alone – families must understand that disabilities shall never define where one wishes to go.

~ Mauricio

I am deeply grateful to Mauricio and Bill and Ochan Powell for the real difference they have made in our lives. Looking ahead, we hope to honor Bill’s significant contributions to the field of education and his dedication to the lives of others by ensuring a collective commitment to furthering his vision of inclusive schools where diversity, difference, and all learning styles are valued within the context of a plurality of thought and perspectives. Next Frontier Inclusion’s mission must also be our own: “to promote and protect the interests of children who learn in different ways or at different rates.” This is our moral obligation to Mauricio and all of the students, families, and communities we have the privilege of working with at our schools.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by lee: like a record…

Struggle & Triumph

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

“The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” ~ Olympic Creed

During this recent school break, I had the good fortune to spend time in Barcelona and made a point to visit the city’s track and field stadium, the site that hosted one of the most remarkable moments in Olympic history. During the 1992 summer Olympics, British athlete Derek Redmond was heavily favored to win the 400-meter event. While Redmond did not win a medal, it was his determination and courage that made his performance such an inspiration.

It was halfway through the 400 semifinal race when Redmond’s hamstring snapped and he fell to his knees in excruciating pain. After the other runners completed the race, the TV camera and the crowd return their attention to Redmond who somehow finds the strength to return to his feet and begin hopping down the track, determined to finish the race. It was at this moment that his father runs onto the track and tells Redmond that he does not need to finish the race. Redmond replies to his father, “Yes, I do.” His father replies stating that if Derrick was going to finish the race, then they were going to finish it together. The 65,000 spectators were on their feet cheering Derek and his father on with a deafening roar of support as they walked and hobbled forward and finally crossed the finish line.

Derek’s story embodies the spirit of the Olympic Creed and how the struggle in life is more important than the triumph. In this context, Yogi Berra’s words are apropos: Losing is a learning experience. It teaches you humility. It teaches to you to work harder. It’s also a powerful motivator.”  Michael Jordan has also famously spoken about how his failures have led to his success: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It is through adversity, failure, and challenge that we grow the most and realize a deeper sense of the human spirit.  While Derek Redmond did not win the 400-meter gold medal, his performance in Barcelona is considered to be one of the greatest moments in Olympic history.

The lesson is that there is as much triumph in defeat as in victory, particularly when triumph is in the effort and effort is everything. Redmond also reminds us that no takes an odyssey alone. Whether it is a family member, coach, mentor, friend, or teacher, we have all had someone who has supported us in terms of our growth, development, and achievements. It is through these lenses that we can view the start of another school year and our work as a community of learners.

All of us at EAB, in our roles ranging from that of a teacher, student, and family member, are on an odyssey of growth and development. EAB’s mission statement – Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision – highlights this belief. And, like Derek Redmond, no one is on this journey alone. It is our focus on relationships, the deep care for each other’s wellbeing, and a belief community, that contribute to making EAB such as special school and learning environment for our students.

The opening of the 27th modern summer Olympic games will be officially celebrated in Rio de Janeiro tonight and will represent an exciting focus during the coming weeks. The performance of the athletes will no doubt provide us with inspiration as we reflect on the relevance of the Olympic Creed in relation to our own context: “The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”



Esforço e Triunfo

“A coisa mais importante não é vencer, mas participar, assim como a coisa mais importante na vida não é o triunfo, mas o esforço. O essencial não é ter conquistado, mas ter lutado bem”. ~ Olympic Creed

Durante as últimas férias, eu tive a sorte de passar algum tempo em Barcelona e fiz questão de visitar o campo e a pista de atletismo no estádio da cidade, local que foi palco de um dos momentos mais marcantes da história olímpica. Durante os Jogos Olímpicos de Verão de 1992, o atleta britânico Derek Redmond era o favorito para ganhar a prova de 400m. Apesar de Redmond não ter ganhado a medalha, foi a sua determinação e coragem que tornaram seu desempenho uma inspiração.

Foi no meio da semifinal de 400m que o tendão de Redmond rompeu e ele caiu de joelhos com uma dor excruciante. Depois que os demais atletas completaram a prova, as câmeras de televisão e o público voltaram sua atenção para Redmond, que de algulma forma encontrou forças para ficar em pé e começou a pular, determinado a terminar corrida. Foi nesse momento que seu pai entrou na pista e disse que ele não precisaria terminar a prova. Redmond respondeu: “Sim, eu preciso.” O seu pai respondeu que já que Derrick iria terminar a prova, eles iriam terminar juntos. Os 65.000 expectadores ficaram de pé torcendo por ele e seu pai com um rugido ensurdecedor, enquanto eles caminhavam e ele mancava até eles cruzarem a linha de chegada.

A história de Derek incorpora o espírito do credo olímpico e mostra como lutar torna-se mais importante do que o triufo. Neste contexto, as palavras de Yogi Berra são oportunas: “Perder é uma experiência de aprendizagem. Ela ensina a humildade. Ensina a dar duro. E é também uma motivação muito poderosa”. Michael Jordan também ficou famoso em falar sobre como os seus fracassos levaram ao seu sucesso: “Eu perdi mais de 9000 lances em minha carreira. Eu perdi quase 300 jogos. Por 26 vezes contaram comigo para o lance final e eu perdi. Eu falhei várias vezes na minha vida. E é por isso que eu consegui.” É através da adversidade, fracasso e dos desafios que nós crescemos mais e percebemos o sentido do espírito humano. Apesar de Derek Redmond não ter ganhado a medalha de ouro nos 400 metros, o seu desempenho em Barcelona foi considerado um dos melhores momentos na história das Olimpíadas.

A lição aqui é que há triunfo tanto na derrota quanto na vitória, particularmente quando o triunfo está no esforço e o esforço é tudo. Redmond também nos lembra que ninguém atravessa uma jornada sozinho. Quer seja um membro da família, um treinador, mentor, amigo ou professor, nós sempre tivemos alguém nos apoiando em nosso crescimento, desenvolvimento e realizações. É através dessas lentes que podemos ver o início de mais um ano escolar e nosso trabalho como uma comunidade de aprendizes.

Todos nós da EAB, em nossos papéis, que vão desde professor, aluno e membro da família, passamos por uma jornada de crescimento e desenvolvimento. A missão da EAB – Aprendizes inspirando aprendizes a serem questionadores na vida, firmes em seu caráter e com uma visão audaciosa – destaca essa crença. Como Derek Redmond, ninguém está sozinho nessa jornada. É o nosso foco em relacionamentos, o cuidado profundo com o bem-estar do outro e uma comunidade com um ideal, que contribuem para tornar a EAB uma escola e ambiente de aprendizagem especial para os nossos alunos.

A abertura do 27º Jogos Olímpicos será comemorada oficialmente, hoje, no Rio de Janeiro e vai representar algo emocionante durante as próximas semanas. O desempenho dos atletas, sem dúvida, nos inspira em como refletir sobre a relevância da crença olímpica em relação ao nosso próprio contexto: “A coisa mais importante não é vencer, mas participar, assim como a coisa mais importante na vida não é o triunfo, mas a luta. O essencial não é ter vencido, mas lutado bem”.

Barry Dequanne


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by Geraint Rowland: Cristo Redentor



Future of Education

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

We recently hosted an evening event with parents and teachers entitled, “The Future of Education.” The workshop was more of a discussion about the factors that are currently disrupting and redefining education rather than an articulation of what education will look like in the future.

To begin the discussion, each participant was asked to describe the most effective learning experience in his or her life. While there was a wide range of responses, there was one common theme: All but one of the learning experiences occurred outside of a K-12 school setting. The one parent whose experience took place in school shared that his Grade 2 teacher allowed him to extend his learning in an area of personal interest that developed well beyond the level required in the syllabus.

The participants were then asked to explain why they believed the learning experiences they described were so effective and meaningful. What emerged from the ensuing discussion was the concept of relevance – when the learning represented a high level of relevance to the learner, the result was usually an effective and deeply meaningful learning experience.


So, is the concept of relevance as a basis for our educational programs the panacea we have been seeking to significantly improve K-12 educational programs and, in turn, student learning and development? While we know there is no simple “one solution fits all” solution to improving schools, we are seeing an increased focus on relevance and personalized learning. If forced to use one word to describe the future of education, many would agree that the word would be relevance.

The research of Lee Jenkins (2013) highlights why this discussion is important. Jenkins worked with 3,000 teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to determine how enthusiastic students are about school. The result of the study was that 95% of kindergarten students are enthusiastic about school. However, this percentage drops significant each year until Grade 9 when the percentage of students enthusiastic about school drops to a low of 37%. The small increase between Grades 10 to 12 is attributed to the focus of some students on graduation and beyond (see graph below). It seems that we should all be concerned with the results of this study.

Interest GraphSource: The New Meaning of Educational Change, Fifth Edition, by Michael Fullan

It is believed that a greater focus on relevance in education will contribute to ensuring a higher level of student enthusiasm for school. To that end, relevance can be defined in many ways, including the framework of preparing students for life beyond school.

Future of Jobs

In Future of Jobs, published by the World Economic Forum, the report lists the top ten skills needed to thrive in a 2015 work environment. Looking ahead five years, it is believed that over 35% of the skills considered important for work today will have changed, resulting in a different list of top ten skills in 2020.

Top 10 Skills in 2015:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Coordinating with Others
  3. People Management
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Negotiation
  6. Quality Control
  7. Service Orientation
  8. Judgment and Decision Making
  9. Active Listening
  10. Creativity

Top 10 Skills in 2020:

  1. Complete Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgment and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

In comparing the two tables, it is interesting to note that five of the skills in 2020 are relationship based: People Management, Coordinating with Others, Emotional Intelligence, Service Orientation, and Negotiation. It is also interesting to note that Creativity moved up the list from tenth place in 2015 to third place in 2020.


George Land was responsible for developing a creativity test for NASA to determine how innovative potential scientists and astronauts were as part of the candidate assessment process. In 1968, Land used the same test to evaluate children over a ten-year period. The results were astonishing, as displayed in the chart below.

CreativitySource: Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era, by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

The test was given to 1,600 students with a resulting score of 98% for five-year-olds. The same students were tested five and ten years later, scoring 30% and 12% respectively. The same test was given to 280,000 adults, who scored an average of 2%. The conclusion of the study was that non-creative behavior is learned.

The significant drop in levels of creativity has been attributed, in large part, to, an educational system that was developed on a premise established 200 years ago during the Industrial Revolution to train students to follow instructions and be good workers. Education has of course evolved since that time, though it can be argued that the framework associated with the original premise continues to limit reform in education.

Returning to the title of this post and the Future of Education, some of the questions that will guide future educational reforms will need to include issues relating to creativity, future work skills, enthusiasm for school, and, perhaps most importantly, the concept of relevance and the learning process.


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Nelson de Witt:
Child's Play;