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: www.barrydequanne.com

Relationships and Learning

One of my highlights each week is the eighty-minute Leadership Class I teach to high school students every second day. A pedagogical foundation that I always hope to include in the class is the application of theoretical constructs to practical situations through experiential learning opportunities. It was during a meeting with students this week, to follow up on their collaborative project work, when they concluded that the key to the success of their project was their focus on relationships. The students were referring to their decision to structure and lead learning activities for the lower school students who arrive at school at 08:00 during the Professional Wednesday late starts. During their first classes, the Leadership Class students struggled to run effective activities. However, after some coaching and reflections, the classes gradually became more effective and engaging. I asked the Leadership Class students about the reason for their success. The students’ eyes lit up when reflecting on the question and quickly recognized that their newfound success was based primarily on the fact that they had established deeper relationships with the lower school students.

Fundamentally, effective teaching is dependent on the ability to build strong relationships that are based on trust, mutual support, and understanding. In fact, it can be argued that relationships are the single most important factor associated with effective teaching and learning. Extending this concept, it can also be claimed that a school community is only able to collectively support student learning at the highest level through the relationships that evolve in terms of a partnership among parents, students, and the school. It was, therefore, encouraging to see so many parents participating in this week’s parent-teacher coffees and the lower school assembly (an estimated 100 parents were in attendance!), in addition to the gracious and generous efforts of the PTO and the U.S. Embassy to host a teacher appreciation event.

The week of May 5-9 is designated as Teacher Appreciation Week at EAB, representing an important moment in the school year when we recognize the outstanding work of our teachers. EAB is fortunate to work with a talented and committed group of teachers who make a difference every day in the lives of our students. Recognizing that my opinion is obviously biased, I do see the work of teachers as a “calling” for those who have a passion for working with students. In Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, he corroborates the concept of teaching as a “calling” through his statement, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” The focus of this week has been to celebrate the identity and integrity of each teacher at EAB and the passion, talents, and professionalism they correspondingly commit to EAB’s students. Please join me in celebrating and thanking our wonderful teachers.

Among EAB’s greatest strengths are the relationships that are developed throughout the school community, which is representative of one of the most important factors contributing to student learning.

_________________________________________________

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Performance, Not Results?

barry blog1Last weekend, I had the good fortune and honor to host professional triathlete Tim Don at my home during his four-day visit to Brasilia to compete in Sunday’s 70.3 Ironman triathlon (Race Highlights).  Since I was also training for the race, I was particularly enthusiastic about spending time with a triathlete who won four world titles, represented the United Kingdom at three Olympic games, and is currently ranked as one of the top triathletes in the world.

Tim won Sunday’s Brasilia 70.3 Ironman race setting a course record by completing the 1.8 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21 km run course in 3 hours and 46 minutes.  Yes, that is very fast!  Given that I finished my race 751 positions behind Tim, I thought I would ask him to share the keys to his success. Tim highlighted three essential factors associated with training and racing: consistency, communication, and performance.  What was curiously absent from Tim’s response was the focus on results, but more on that later.

Based on Tim’s successes and the fact that he has never been sidelined due to overtraining, illness, or injury, I wanted to discover what I could incorporate in not only my own training but also my professional and personal lives. This is what I learned.

Communication

The maxim, “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire” is not only apropos to sport but to all facets of our lives.  Tim’s approach is to address problems immediately and directly as soon as they are identified, rather than waiting until the same problem has surfaced on multiple occasions. Regular communication with his support team ensures that any potential injuries are identified and corresponding preventive actions are taken.

While everyone understands the importance of addressing problems as soon as they are encountered, the transference of this philosophy to practice can prove to be more challenging. The goal to ensure our students are receiving the best education possible is achieved through open, honest, and timely communication, which is dependent on the partnership between parents, students, and the school. This partnership is similar to a three-legged stool; if one of the legs is missing, the stool cannot stand on its own.  If an educational program is not standing on its own, then it will be difficult to overcome inevitable conflicts and challenges.  A passive aggressive or “head in the sand” approach to a problem will not resolve the issue.  It is only through open, honest, and expedient communication that we will effectively work together to support our students.

Consistency

Tim stressed that consistency does not refer to always performing at the highest level each week, but, rather, being faithful to a carefully established plan that is designed to move us forward, in an incremental manner, toward our goal.  His words reminded me of a prior blog post about the 20-Mile March and the importance of not wavering from a consistent and iterative approach.

When preparing for a marathon, we are not going to start training by running 30 kilometers on the first day.  Rather, we will start with a short distance and gradually build up our endurance over time through a consistent adherence to an established plan.  The concept is the same for students.  Deeper levels of learning are achieved through a regular dedication to study and class attendance, rather than trying to cram for tests during short, intense periods. The former approach will normally result in lasting development and understanding while the outcome of the later is, at best, a fleeting recall of the information associated with the test questions.

Performance

I was initially surprised that Tim focused on performance rather than results, especially given that his livelihood depends on winning. However, after reflecting on his words, his approach resonated with me. By way of example, there is a significant difference between finishing a race in third place, ten seconds behind the winner, and finishing in third place, ten minutes behind the winner.  While a third place finish is a good result, it may not necessarily equate to a good performance.  A focus only on results, with the accompanying pressure and stress, may often lead to burnout, injury, and diminished performance.  In contrast, your best performances will usually lead to great results.  In terms of his professional competitions, Tim states the following:

“Some of my best performances have come from races where I have not been on the podium but I have squeezed our every bit of what I had and, as they say, left nothing out there.  I truly walked away with a smile knowing that, sure the win would have been nice, but, on that day, that’s what I had. Control what you can control.  I really try to race like that in every race. I will sprint as hard for 40th position as I would for the win: that’s me, that’s what I do, that’s what I was taught to do.”

Reflecting on these words in the context of our student athletes who are currently competing at the Big 4 tournament, performance is the key.  While we hope students at  the American School of Brasilia (EAB) achieve outstanding results, it is their performance, both individually and collectively, that is of great importance.  Win or lose, we will have much to celebrate if our students are able to perform at their highest levels and “leave nothing out there.”

Transferring this concept to academics, EAB does not narrow the definition of teaching and learning to one where teachers only prepare students for tests (results).  Instead, education at EAB is about students developing in a holistic manner where the school supports the whole child to achieve his or her potential (performance).  Through effective communication, a consistent approach to learning, and a focus on performance, outstanding results will naturally follow, as exemplified through the impressive successes and achievements of EAB students.

Congratulations to Tim Don for his performance at the Brasilia 70.3 ironman race (Interview / 48 Hours with Tim Don).

_________________________________________________

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.