All posts by Daniel Kerr

Dan Kerr is now the Middle School Principal at Saigon South International School in Vietnam. He was most recently the Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the SSIS family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his 10th grade daughter, Gabby. 

Beauty and Kindness

So I just got back last weekend from an inspiring education conference in India, which was fantastic by the way, and that ran the total number of countries that I have visited over the past year or so to an even dozen. I have interacted with hundreds of people from all walks of life over that time, across several continents and cultures, and the enduring take away that has resonated deeply with me, throughout all of the experiences, is that wherever you go in this diverse world of ours people are beautiful, and people are kind. I feel like I have seen the very best of people over the last twelve months, and I have been moved and inspired by all of the people who went out of their way to help me, to get to know me, to listen to me, and to put me at ease. 

I’m not just talking about the people in the schools that I visited at conferences like this past one, although they were all beautiful and inspiring in their own right, but more to the point the strangers I met who had absolutely no stake in being kind to me. The strangers who helped me at airports and in the streets, with directions, with unsolicited advice and recommendations, and who went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The taxi drivers and ticket agents and shop workers and everyone else who were just going about their daily lives, but who still managed to smile at me, and talk to me, and to ask about my life. You see, the world is bursting with beauty and beautiful people, and honestly, at the heart of it all, people are kind everywhere you go. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see this so authentically over the past year, and it isn’t lost on me that regardless of where we find ourselves across the globe, people are people, and people are good. 

We’re living in an interesting time in our world these days, and it’s very easy to get stuck on all of the negative aspects of life that seem to bombard us at every turn. From the changing landscape revolving around Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, to social media addiction, natural disasters, polarized politics, refugees and war, and to everything else in between, it can be hard to focus on all that is amazing and beautiful in our world. It’s also hard to slow down enough to see all of the beauty that is spilling out of the people that we interact with each and every day. Days can get very busy, we all know, and it’s very easy to speed past people in the hallways and in the streets without even giving them a second glance. Sadly, I’d suggest that this happens more often than not in today’s fast paced world, but when this happens we miss out on one of life’s best opportunities…a quick personal connection that can inspire your day.

A friend of mine asked me recently what, in my opinion, is the best part of traveling and it didn’t take me long to respond. I told him that as much as it’s amazing to see the sights, and taste the food, and to go exploring to the monuments and museums, it’s the human beings that I get to interact with that is easily my favorite part. The smiles and the stories and the similarities that fill my heart with joy, and help me to keep my faith in our collective humanity. Traveling and seeing the world is a gift, and as international school educators we are in the incredible and enviable position to take advantage of it all. We are so fortunate to meet so many different people from so many diverse walks of life, and if that doesn’t inspire you to recognize the beauty in our world then I don’t know what will. 

So, as we speed into the month of March, and stare down the final quarter of the school year, I want to implore you to be inspired by all the beautiful people that we come in contact with each and every day. Notice their smiles, and their kind words, and look hard to notice what makes each person so special and unique. People are filled with goodness and light so take the time to see what makes them shine, I promise it will make your day and fill your heart with joy. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quotes of the Week…

Things must be felt with the heart – Helen Keller

Related Articles – 

The Human Empathy Project

The Good News Network

The Side Effects of Traveling 

Acts of Kindness

TED Talk – 

Why You Should Talk to Strangers

Inspiring Videos – 

The Name

People Are Beautiful 

Beautiful Reactions

Real Beauty is Universal

Don’t Put People in Boxes

I Love Your Smile

So a good friend of mine, and an outstanding teacher leader at our school, Nick Haywood, started our 2nd semester full faculty meeting a couple of weeks ago with a reminder about the power and importance of “connection before content” in our daily interactions with kids. It was a beautiful message and It resonated deeply with all of us, and It got me thinking yet again about the marvelously contagious qualities of a smile, or an attitude, and how a person’s mood can directly impact the lives of others around them. There have been so many interesting studies conducted over the years which highlight the magic and power of a single smile, and I love that something so seemingly simple and effortless can inspire, affect, and set the tone of a person’s day. 

As you all know by now, I’m a staunch school climate and culture guy, and I believe strongly that the positive ethos of a faculty is the cornerstone of any great school. I also believe that a huge part of that strong foundation is built upon who we are as people, not just educators, and the strengthening of that strong foundation can often depend on  the simplest of things, like a smile. You see, a smile breaks down barriers, it diffuses tense or contentious situations, it fosters positive intent, and it inspires a student’s or colleague’s perception of who you are and how you feel about them.

One of my favorite all-time song lyrics comes from Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s, “Wooden Ships”, which goes, “if you smile at me I will understand, because that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language”, and that rings particularly true for our diverse international school environment. When you start the day with a smile you positively affect an entire class of kids, and their day, and their approach to learning. Your smile is contagious, and if you take a moment at the beginning of every school day to really look around you, with your eyes truly open, then you’ll see that it’s almost impossible to not smile at something. 

I love to start my days greeting the kids as they come to school in the mornings, and I love to watch their faces light up when they see their friends. It makes me smile when they wish me good morning and react to the goofy comments that I make as they pass me by. Our students are such beautiful young people for our world, and glorious works in progress, who are trying their best to find their way, and if that doesn’t inspire you or make you smile then I don’t know what will.

With that in mind, you should know that we had a few prospective family tours this past week, and I made a point of asking them how they enjoyed their experience touring through the school. Every single one of them, both kids and parents alike, commented on how friendly and happy everyone seemed to be, and that made me so proud to know that the environment that we’ve all created here together is one of smiles, happiness, support, and kindness. I want to make it clear to everyone that I’m writing this week about smiles NOT because I feel like we are lacking in this area, but because I really want to celebrate how pervasive the smiles seem to be all throughout our community.

I want to thank you for the positive attitudes that you bring to work everyday, and for the effort that you’re all making to give our beautiful kids happy and healthy experiences. Our moods and our attitudes really are infectious, and so are the smiles that we share, and the absolute truth is that a student’s relationship with school and their approach to learning is directly related to, and affected by, the way that we interact with them every single day… connection before content indeed.

So keep smiling everyone, and keep searching for those silver linings. The silver linings that make it easy to find joy in our daily lives, and the ones that put those bright smiles on our faces. It’s been a great start to 2024 so let’s keep focused on the positive moments that are easily and readily found in each and every school day, and look for inspiration in the beauty that’s all around us all the time. It’s in the faces and hearts of our kids that’s for sure, and if you take a second or two to look around, I guarantee that you’ll find a smile or ten that will make your day, and remind you of why you love to teach. Remember, smiles are contagious and their power is truly immense, and even just one little smile can change a person’s day for the better…and yours too! Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week – 

If you smile at me, I will understand, as that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language – Crosby, Still and Nash

Related Articles – 

10 Reasons to Smile

Smile More Often

A Smile Can Change the World

Smiling is Contagious

Culture Matters

Inspiring Videos – 

Taking Flight

On The Road Stories – 2023

Inspiring On The Road Stories – Through the Years

TED Talk – The Hidden Power of Smiling

10 Things That Made Us Smile

TED Talks to Make You Smile

What to Read in 2024!

So it’s that time of the year again when I get to order books for my birthday, which is my favorite gift ever because it keeps on giving for months and months and months. The deal is that I have to finish reading all of last year’s books before I get to order new ones, and I’m excited about ordering the list below in the next few days.

As usual, I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you. Or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person and educator for our world. 

Anyway, take a look at the 15 titles and links below, and happy reading in 2024! I’ve had a blast scouring through book stores and websites over the past month and I’m really excited about this year’s list. Okay, enjoy the week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

The Goodwill Jar – Nick Rowe

The Setback Cycle – Amy Shoenthal

Slow Down – Kohei Saito

Hidden Potential – Adam Grant

Optimal – Daniel Goleman & Cary Cherniss

Cultures of Growth – Mary Murphy

The Good Life – Robert Waldinger & Mark Schulz

Open Talent – John Winsor & Jin Paik

Passion Struck – John Miles 

Supercommunicators – Charles Duhigg

Undistracted – Bob Goff

The Catalyst – Jonah Berger

Range – David Epstein

Clear Thinking – Shane Parrish

Get It Done – Ayelet Fishbach

The Hats We Wear

So we just recently returned from our annual Week Without Walls trips as a Middle School division, and as always it was an incredible learning experience for our students. We saw them struggle, grow, change, and thrive as they were constantly pushed just a little bit out of their comfort zones, and I know that this will be a week that they will positively remember for the rest of their lives. I personally love these trips for a multitude of reasons, and as much as I love watching the kids explode into themselves over the five day experience, I have to admit that I love watching our teachers working to support the students just as much. 

I had the privilege of taking part in one of the trips this year, and I was reminded once again of how many interchangeable hats great teachers need to seamlessly wear, as they give everything in their power throughout the week to be the change agents that our young students need them to be in their lives. I purposely watched our teachers over the course of the week, knowing that I would be amazed and inspired by their effort, care, compassion, work ethic, and love that they give to our kids without pause and at every turn…and you know what, I was right, and it was beautiful. Watching them over the week was a moving and emotional experience for me as a fellow educator and as a leader, seeing first hand what a difference a great teacher can make in the life of a young person, even in just a relatively short amount of time. 

I saw teachers as surrogate mothers and fathers, as they stayed up late to deal with homesickness, night terrors, tummy aches, bathroom issues and bug bites. I saw teachers as counselors, dealing with the inevitable relationship drama, roommate issues, and getting kids to believe in themselves as they struggled initially to take risks. I saw teachers as nurses, helping to patch up skinned knees and to secure twisted ankles, and I saw teachers as role models and mentors as they often stepped out of their comfort zones themselves just to show a student that it’s safe to take a risk that they were feeling a little unsure of. 

I witnessed teachers on a daily basis being advocates for kids, helping to add experiences and activities to the program that gave our kids more choice and agency, and I saw teachers as leaders, taking charge when they needed to, and holding students accountable for their actions when necessary. The other thing that I was reminded of during the week, is that on an intense five day experience like this it’s much easier to see all of these great teacher qualities on display, because we are all working together so closely both day and night, but the reality is that great teachers wear these interchangeable hats in the less intense and quieter moments of a regular school day too, all the time, and in many cases without the proper recognition. 

All in all, it was amazing to see how seemingly effortless it was for our teachers to step into these roles, and to wear these different hats so to speak so easily, and after reflecting on it over these last few days, I’m now even more resolute in my belief that great teachers are the most incredible human beings on the planet…truly. These Week Without Walls trips are wonderful in so many ways, but they are exhausting as well, and at the core they highlight all that is good about education from both a student and teacher perspective. They push and challenge kids through experiential learning, they bond divisions together, they foster deep and lasting human relationships, and they develop an important sense of self esteem in our kids. They also create opportunities for students and teachers alike to showcase the best of themselves, and to find success outside of the classroom walls.

These past trips were no exception, and as exhausted as I was when I returned home from the week, part of me wishes that we were shortly heading out again. Thank you teachers for being who you are for our kids, and for our community, and please know that those many hats that you wear are indeed making a difference. You are indeed changing lives, and in so many ways changing our world for the better. Have a wonderful week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.  

Quote of the Week… 

Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher

-Japanese Proverb

Related Articles – 

Experiential Learning

Teachers Change Lives

Teachers Change the World

Empowering Educators

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Inspiring Videos – 

Dreams Taking off


Connecting Holiday Heroes 

A Holiday to Remember

Unbelievably Frugal

All The Facts

So recently, after attending the regional EARCOS Leadership Conference, I felt compelled to re-read one of my all time favorite books, and to be honest, I came away feeling even more inspired than I did the first time around. The book is titled, Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, and even though it was released in the spring of 2018, I think it resonates even more deeply with me now in 2023. Seriously, If you haven’t read this book yet then you should, and if you have, then I’m encouraging you to read it again because the world has changed drastically over the past 5 years, and much of our thinking around the issues that we are all facing in today’s global environment need to be filtered through a different and updated lens. 

Rosling, and the information that he presents in the book absolutely challenged my thinking, and my biases, and ultimately drove me to change the way that I view the world. It was also helpful for me because the book highlights the tendency that we all have as people to believe that we know what we really don’t know, and to believe that our individual “truth” is the actual truth, when oftentimes it’s not. This book will absolutely disrupt your thinking, and it connects perfectly with many of the themes that were discussed throughout the EARCOS conference. Themes that are just too big and urgent to ignore, and ones that need to be discussed deeply in every educational setting across the globe. 

Two of these urgent themes, and the ones that had the biggest impact on me as a leader, revolved around the deep and ongoing need to embed a culture of belonging within our schools, and of course, how Artificial Intelligence is rapidly changing the global landscape of education. We will all need to approach and manage these conversations not only contextually, but with a focus on systems thinking, data analysis, and pacing with regards to change management. 

This book will also help you to think about the human instincts that we all have, which can ultimately distort our views of the world. Instincts that can blur our focus as we step into some really important work. Some examples of these instincts that are outlined in the book, and ones that have resonated deeply with me are below…

Straight Line Instinct –  The tendency to assume that a trend line will just continue straight and ignoring that such lines are rare in reality. (Think population growth as an example)

Fear Instinct – The hardwired tendency that we have as people to pay more attention to the frightening and negative things that we see in the world, rather than the positive.

Generalization Instinct – The tendency to mistakenly group together things or people or countries that are actually very different. High context versus low context cultures for example.

Destiny Instinct – The idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures; that things are as they are because of inescapable reasons.

Single Perspective – Our tendency to focus on a single cause or perspective when it comes to understanding the world. (Relying only on the media for example).

Blame Instinct – The tendency to look for a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened. It’s never as simple as you think. 

As you can see, Factfulness has much to unpack, and all of it is worthwhile. In fact, after reading this book I’m sure that you will want it included as mandatory reading for all High School students, and I agree. Anyway, we really are living in a time of incredible change and it’s exciting in so many ways. In other ways it’s scary and daunting, knowing that the work ahead is in many ways uncharted and foreign to us as educators. The work is full of purpose and hope however, and we are up for the challenge I know. We just need to make sure that we enter into it with the right world view, the right lens and perspectives, and with all the facts. Have a wonderful week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Cultures, nations, religions, and people are not rocks. They are in constant transformation.

– Hans Rosling

Related Articles –

Your Brain on Bias 

Are You Aware?

Data Driven Culture

Trusting Your Gut

OECD A Sense of Belonging

TED Talks – Hans Rosling

Inspiring Videos –

The Weekly Breakfast

Taking Flight

10 Things That Made Us Smile

Bill Gates on Factfulness

The Blink Of An Eye

So over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about how quickly life speeds along, almost invisibly at times, and how important it is to be purposeful about finding ways to slow down and live in the present. I’m usually pretty good at that honestly, but recently I’ve had a couple of experiences that have made me reflect on ways that I can do even better. I just can’t believe how quickly it all goes by, and in many ways it seems like the months and years are speeding past in the blink of an eye…wow. 

This deep reflection started a couple of weeks ago, when I began to miss my son to the point where my heart just wouldn’t stop hurting. We left him to begin his freshman year at college a few months ago, and he’s doing great and loving this new chapter in his life, but what I thought would get easier for me as the time went on, has actually been getting harder and harder. I just can’t believe that those almost 19 years went by so quickly, and in many ways it feels like yesterday when he was sitting on my knee reading books and cuddling. Where did that time go?

With this idea of time very much on my mind of late, I am also finding it unbelievable on a more micro level that we’re about to finish with the first quarter of the school year, what?! It’s our first year at a new and amazing school, and the fact that the first three months have gone by so quickly has really stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think about ways that I can figuratively slow it all down. 

On a personal level, I’ve been doing things like disconnecting from tech as often as I can, waking up earlier than usual to have quiet time to think, exercise, reflect and to be mindful (and to FaceTime my boy). I’ve also been purposely and intentionally noticing and celebrating the little, beautiful moments that make up each and every day, and intentionally setting up times to speak regularly to the people in my life that I care about. These things have allowed me to be much more present, and even though I can’t slow time down literally, I can at least know in my heart that I’m living each day wide awake and very much in the moment.

On a professional level, it really is about understanding and reconnecting with the urgency of now. You see, as educators we often talk about preparing our students for their future, and providing them with skills to ensure that they will become incredible adults for our world. Well, that is of course a wonderful thing, however this future that we’re preparing our kids for is potentially a long way away (even though when we get there it will have seemed like no time at all), and given that nobody is ever promised tomorrow, we need to focus on preparing our students to be great for our world today. We’re not just creating change agents for a future that in many ways is unknown to us, we’re creating change agents so that their impact on our world is immediate.

As you know, for our kids this year is their only year in grade 3, or in grade 7, or in grade 10, and their only culminating year as a senior in High School. The urgency and focus should be on the present, the now, and even though this focus will ultimately impact their future in positive and immeasurable ways, it will more importantly, in my opinion, help to ensure that they thrive in the present tense. 

There is nothing we can do about time marching on at a breakneck speed, but we can do all that we can to enjoy each second as it passes. If you are like me, and you see it going by in the blink of an eye, with days flying by almost without notice at times, and faster than we all realize in the moment, then try to find ways to slow it down both personally and professionally. The trick is to get to the end of our time without looking back with regret, or with any what-ifs or if-onlys, and to live with a sense of urgency for this very moment, the right here and now. 

So, take the upcoming holiday to reflect on ways that you can give our students the experiences that they deserve in this once in a lifetime grade level opportunity, and find ways to model that “seize the day, carpe diem” approach for them as an adult in their life. Think about ways that you can create powerful moments in their lives that they will not only remember forever, but moments that will help them to engage in the world around them, right now. Reflect on ways that you can give yourself this gift as well, and if necessary make the changes in your life so this can occur. You see, It’s just too easy to let it all speed by unnoticed, with missed opportunities adding up all along the way. Time won’t stop marching on that’s for sure, but with some intentional and purposeful approaches and planning we might just be able to get it down to a crawl instead of a sprint. 

Okay, I’m off to call my parents and my boy, and then I’ll be off to explore this beautiful city with my wife and daughter…I’m committed to making the most of our time here, and it’s going to be the time of our lives, for right now at least. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Forever is composed of nows – Emily Dickinson

Related Articles – 

World Institute of Slowness

Berkeley Wellbeing 

The Power of Moments

Slow Down in Life

Life in the Slow Lane

TED Talks – 

Fast Paced World 

Radiolab Podcast – 

The Secret to a Long Life

Inspiring Videos – 

Building Peaks

Kindness 101 

A Crazy Quest

Lead With Love

So last summer I was having dinner with a great friend of mine, John Stephens, who also just happens to be one of the best educators that I know, and we got speaking about (for fun and from our own unique perspectives) what the top priorities should be for teachers as they look to inspire learning this year with their students. We went back and forth for a long time discussing things like inclusive assessment practices and strategies, differentiated lesson design approaches like UDL, specific and timely feedback, and things like that. Finally I said, “okay, on the count of three, let’s both yell out our number one priority above all the rest. The one thing that is at the very top of the list without question, and the one priority that in our minds is the foundational pillar of great teaching”.

“Are you ready? One, two, three, Go!” And at the exact same moment without hesitation we both yelled out, “Relationship Building!” At that point we smiled big smiles, we grabbed another drink, and we immediately dove into an even longer conversation about why, in our heart of hearts, we both felt that way. It turned into a discussion that I’ll never forget, and it made me even more resolute in my belief that the relationship that we develop with each of our students is the foundational piece that must absolutely drive everything else that we do as educators…honestly, it’s all about relationships.

The interesting thing about part of our conversation though, is that we both admitted that when we were very young teachers, many moons ago, we didn’t necessarily see things this way. Back then we assumed that being a good teacher simply meant deeply knowing our content and curriculum and having solid lessons and strong unit designs, which of course good teachers do have and still prioritize, but the idea of prioritizing relationship building wasn’t something that was at the forefront of our thinking. We both understood that having a good relationship with a student would certainly be helpful, but it wasn’t something that we set out to purposely and explicitly target as an imperative. 

Well, things have drastically changed for us over the years, and we’ve both grown into this unwavering “relationships first” stance over time. It’s interesting too, that John has spent most of his career in public education back in Canada and I have spent mine in international education around the world, but you know what, kids are kids are kids everywhere you go, and all kids want to feel seen, valued, successful, and loved by the adults in their lives, and of course this absolutely includes their teachers. We both agreed that at some point in our growth as educators a shift happened in our thinking and we began “leading with love” so to speak, not just at the beginning of the year but at the beginning of all our daily classes and lessons, and with every one of our student interactions throughout the entire school year. 

We began prioritizing knowing the faces in front of us in deep and meaningful ways, and we began cultivating a classroom environment which was safe, secure, and inclusive. We made “mistake making” a celebration instead of something to be ashamed of, and we began seeing the students in our classes as little extended family members. In essence, we organically, and through great mentorship, shifted our perspective of what being a “good teacher” truly meant, and when that shift finally happened we were able to become the teachers and role models that our students needed, and the teachers that we always wanted to be. 

Not surprisingly, when this shift happened it was our very real experience that our students started to do better not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. The feedback that we received through our student surveys improved dramatically, and anecdotally the levels of joy, engagement, and freedom that we witnessed in our classes exploded. Personally, I’m really excited about the recent and heavy push from schools all over the world to prioritize wellness, social-emotional learning, and belonging within their communities, and their specific targeting of relationship building as a pillar connected to strategic planning makes my heart grow a few sizes. It’s absolutely the right approach in our disconnected, post-covid and social media driven world, and you know what, we will be all the better for it, especially our kids. 

You see, It doesn’t matter if you are a lower elementary classroom teacher, a middle school science teacher, a high school math teacher or in an administrative position at your school, the relationships first stance and the leading with love approach has to be our top priority. So with that in mind, and on the count of three, let’s shout it out together and smile our wide collective smiles…ready, set, go…relationship building! Let’s all lead with love as our default this year, in every interaction that we have with students and with each other as well, and watch how our school culture positively and beautifully responds…and you know what, it will. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Teachers who put relationships first don’t just have students for one year. They have students who view them as “their” teacher for life – Justin Tarte

Related Articles – 

Relationships First

Fundamentals of SEL

Essential for Students

The Cascading Benefits

A Sense of Belonging in Schools

Inspiring Videos – 

A Stranger’s Gift

Music Appreciation

10 Things that Made Us Smile 

Special Friendship

TED Talk – 

How AI Could Save (Not Destroy) Education

What I Know to be True

So at the end of last school year I helped to facilitate a leadership team activity that asked each of us in the room to think about one simple thing that we, as career educators, know to be true about ALL kids. We spent a few minutes organizing our thoughts and then we went around the table and shared our “truths” with each other. It was meant to be a short connecting activity to begin the meeting, as a way to ground us in the purpose of the discussion ahead which related to student belonging. This short activity however, turned into a beautiful and much longer conversation highlighting our favorite things about our students, and it resonated deeply with all of us. 

I want to share the seven truths that we came up with and discussed during that activity, and below I tried my best to capture the sentiment of what was shared by each of us. I also want to recommend that you try this activity at some point in the year with a team that you belong to. I’m sure that you will come up with many, many more than the seven listed here, and I can guarantee that the activity will bring you back and reconnect you quickly to your meaning and purpose as an educator. It turned out to be a fantastic inclusion activator that we titled, “What I Know to be True”. Give it a try…you won’t be disappointed 🙂 

What we know to be true about kids…

They’re Curious – We should marvel at the curiosity of our kids every single day. The way that they look at the world, the questions that they ask in class, the perspectives that they have on something that completely opens up our minds to another way of thinking, and the attention to detail that they give to things that we sometimes take for granted. Curiosity is something that some adults tend to lose as they grow older, and as they get set in their ways, but kids never ever lose sight of the wonder, and the beauty, and the mystery of our world. 

They Want to Achieve – Every student wants to learn, and every student wants to feel some measure of success each and every day. Kids are thirsty for new knowledge, and they are secretly (and not so secretly) clamoring to showcase their knowledge, inspirations, talents and awesomeness to you and to their peers. We need to structure our classes, our daily student experiences, our units, and our assessments to allow for daily student success. Every one of our kids needs to have the opportunity to find success in some school space every single day. All kids want to achieve, and as educators we need to consistently set up structures and experiences to allow for that to happen. Set the bar high and watch them rise to the height.

They Make Mistakes – This is where authentic learning comes from. It’s the process of learning from these mistakes that is so powerful for kids. It’s also how we as educators choose to react to these mistakes which will frame the experience in the mind of a child. Are all classrooms and spaces conducive to risk–taking and failing forward, and how do our students view their mistakes when they happen? Are they seeing mistakes as opportunities to grow and to learn and to develop, or are they ashamed or afraid or hesitant to take a risk and to stray outside of their comfort zones? Mistakes should be true celebrations for our students because this is what learning is all about. If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not growing as a person. We need all students to internalize this.

They’re Malleable – As we all know, kids are constantly learning and growing and questioning, and therein lies so much of their beauty. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to help develop them into not only the amazing adults that they are destined to become, but into incredible change agents for our world right now. We need to be heroes, role models, and searchlight souls for each and every one of our kids as they meander through their adolescent years. We need to stretch their thinking, challenge them to break out of their comfort zones, hold them accountable for becoming their best selves for others and their community, and guide them through this difficult journey…that’s our job as educators. We need to leave a lasting and positive impact on them simply by being who we are as the adults in their lives. Every experience that we have with a child is a chance to have them walk away a better human being, and a chance for them to feel better about themselves.

They Want/Need Feedback – They are desperate for it actually, even if they say otherwise. Kids are constantly watching us as adults, and trying to figure out who they are as people, and where and how they fit into the world. They need honest and authentic feedback about their learning, about how to become better human beings, about how to problem solve and how to make friends, and about how to approach difficult situations. Feedback is paramount to the relationship that we develop with each and every one of our students. Good feedback sets the stage for students to learn on their own and to find some independence and agency in their young lives. Everyone wants and needs feedback, and if we deliver it well it will make all the difference. 

They’re Beautiful – (This was my truth) If you don’t have our breath taken away by the beauty of a child at least once a day then you’re in the wrong profession. Any time that you feel yourself running out of patience, or feel your mood starting to sour, or if you simply need a “pick me up” in the middle of the day, then pop out to where kids are hanging out and open up your eyes and ears. The laughter, the learning, the interactions, and the unadulterated joy that spills out of kids truly is beauty personified. Children are a gift that all educators have been given, and sometimes we get so busy with our planning, our grading, our own professional development, and our relationships with each other that we forget to stand back and marvel. Nothing in our world compares to the beauty of a child, and it doesn’t cost a thing to be inspired by it. Stand back and take it all in.

They Need Us – Being a quality educator is like being a chameleon of sorts. You need to be different things to different kids at different times throughout the day. You may need to be their teacher, their surrogate parent, their mentor, or their role model, all in the span of seven or eight hours. We need to be giving them the best hours of their day, and we have to work tremendously hard to develop strong enough relationships with each of them so that they trust us to wear all of those hats effectively. Especially the kids that are the most difficult to connect with, because the kids that are the hardest to reach are the ones that need us the most. You can tell a lot about yourself as an educator by the relationships that you have with your most difficult students. 

Okay, there you have it. A good start but certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, so try this activity for yourselves and see what you come up with…I bet it will resonate with you like it did with me, and at the very least it will put you in the right frame of mind to talk about students and their learning before any meeting. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it

-William James

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Life as the Change Process

So a couple of weeks ago I moved to Vietnam to start a new adventure at an incredible school, Saigon South International School, and so far it’s been a dream. We love the people, the food, the school’s mission and vision and we’ve already begun to settle in. We are definitely in the honeymoon stage, where everything is new and exciting, and where people are going out of their way to support us and to make us feel welcome and seen…and you know what, it feels great. I have been through this enough times however, across 7 countries over 25 years, to know that at some point I will experience some lows, as I begin missing the people that I love from my last school, and from home (my son who just started college for example), and as I get quickly thrown out of my comfort zone having to learn so much about how things are done around here…it’s a process, and it’s a very real part of what comes along with a move like this. 

As international school educators we’ve all been through this in some form or another, and the more I reflect on it this week, and steady myself for the “Implementation Dip”, which is bound to come at some stage, I can’t help thinking about how the life of an international school educator in many ways mirrors the flow of a change initiative in schools. “Life as the Change Process” so to speak, where the parallels are just too striking to ignore. 

I’ve been helping to lead change initiatives in schools for the better part of two decades now, and like Michael Fullan and other change leaders often write about, there is a process that schools and educators go through as they strive for sustainability. It usually begins with a sense of urgency and excitement about what the change can bring to the organization, and in our specific case of working in schools, what it can do to enhance culture and student learning. Inevitably though, after that initial buzz and enthusiasm and excitement settles, there comes a period of time where complexity arrives (implementation dip) and the learning curve throws dents into our comfort levels, and it can get super tricky. Well, in many ways, the same is true of any major life change outside of the professional environment, and moving to a new school and to a new country certainly fits that roadmap. 

The change to a new school is thrilling, and nerve-wracking, and if you are fortunate (like I have been at SSIS), it goes very smoothly from the beginning, and you can quickly find a sense of purpose and meaning, which will help you gain some important momentum. Also, if you are very fortunate, you meet people who understand the position that you are in and make a concerted effort to pick you up at every turn, and support you through it all. Because I’ve been through this a few different times throughout my career, I have learned what to look out for as the weeks move along, and I have learned to not go through it alone. Many change leaders talk about creating what they call a “guiding coalition”, which is essentially a group of allies who can relate to your situation and be advocates and guides for you as the weeks turn into months. 

A change like this can become quickly overwhelming as the honeymoon period begins to wear off, so having that support group in place is essential. The other thing that I have learned over time is the importance of communication. The absolute imperative of communicating and over-communicating how you are feeling, and what you are needing (indeed the same is true of change initiatives in schools). You see, as incredibly supportive as great schools and great communities are, there often comes a time relatively early on when students arrive and routines get started and people settle into their day to day lives both inside and outside of the school and you, the newbie, can become less of a priority to look out for. This is where and when it becomes of the utmost importance for you to reflect on how you are feeling and doing, and to use that guiding coalition to provide you with what you need. That implementation dip is a very real thing, and just like in schools, if you learn to embrace it and prepare for it then you’ll be in a much better position to climb out. 

So, for all educators this year who are arriving in new countries and in new schools, and for many of us, new continents, enjoy the transition and soak it all up. Put yourself out there and join in and find your coalition. Say yes to invites and lean on your fellow newbies as they can relate intimately to how you are feeling…both the good and the bad. Make sure to over-communicate and prepare for the lows that will surely come. It’s hard to leave a school and community behind, and there is often a grieving process that comes along with any major transition…that’s part of it and it’s okay. If you prepare for the inevitable bumpy ride of the first semester and maybe even the first year, and if you put your support structures in place, then the climb out of that dip, back toward your comfort zone won’t be as challenging. Eventually you will find your place, and your purpose, and you will find your voice as a valued member of the community…that’s the sustainability piece!

Now, for all you returning educators, who have come back to comfort and calm, I want to ask you all to keep your newbies on your radar. Not just for the first few weeks, but throughout the year. It’s easy to assume that people have settled in and are doing fine, but in my experience many adults can find it hard to reach out proactively, particularly when they are new, for fear of looking like you can’t handle things or for fear of judgment. We all want to be our best selves each and every day when we join a new community, and it can be easy to lack that vulnerability if we find ourselves struggling a bit. Check in on them early and often and support them in finding their way. The notion of “Life as the Change Process” absolutely rings true from my perspective and experience, and like I said, the process is real. 

Newbies, find your balance early on and keep it, and find some outlets that will keep you healthy and engaged. Make sure to speak to the people that you love back “home” and share your experiences, as it will help you meander through the ups and downs. Finally, get good at chunking out your time, and focusing on the day or the week ahead. Find gratitude in the little things that bring you joy throughout the days, and even if you have a difficult day, which you will from time to time, always search for that, “best part of a bad day”, which is always there waiting to help you change your perspective. Actually, these are just good life lessons for all of us if you think about it, because honestly, change is a constant in all our lives, all the time…some changes just happen to be a little bigger than others. 

Okay, I’m off to call my son back home in Canada to tell him all about my day…he’s a newbie too in so many ways, as he starts to live his life as a full-time Canadian for the first time. We are going to help each other, as a team, and travel through this change process that we call life together, and I can’t wait. All the best for a wonderful school year ahead everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. It’s going to be an amazing year!

Quote of the Week…

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change 

-Wayne W. Dyer

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives

So this week, for my final post of the school year, I want to talk about one of my favorite things about school…maybe my most, most favorite thing of all the things that I love about coming to work each and every day. I’ve written about this before, but this past week the following sentiment has resonated with me even more profoundly than ever before. It’s something that many of us fail to pay regular attention to, or even embrace, and it might just be something that can be a little annoying or aggravating to some educators. It’s something that traditionally as schools we have tried to suppress, and something that kids sometimes get in trouble for. But if you take a step back, and drink in what it ultimately represents, then it might just become one of your favorite things too. I’m talking about the noise of a school. The beautiful noise that is the soundtrack to learning and the playlist of happiness and joy…creative, imaginative, messy, curious, triumphant and beautiful noise.

When was the last time that you took a few minutes and really listened to the noise of a school? Either walking down the halls, or doing recess duty, or being in a classroom when kids are engaged and working, or just standing outside the gym when kids are at PE, or outside the music or art room, or even when they are simply spilling off of the buses ready to tackle another day with their friends. It’s something that will make your heart want to burst if you just take the time to listen. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a position to walk from one end of the Lower School to the other several times each day…visiting classrooms, discussing issues with teachers, catching up with specific students, and being a fly on the wall watching when kids don’t think I’m paying attention. 

Lately I’ve been soaking it up a little more than usual, this noise, and it fuels my soul everyday to no end. The singing in French rooms, the songs from the early childhood kids as they transition down the corridors, the wild excitement in the discovery and possibility labs as kids work on experiments and collaborative projects, the math talk lessons and the read alouds and the book clubs and the students sharing their writing…it’s so beautiful to listen to the learning that is happening everywhere, in every classroom and in every school space, all the time.

I have to confess that the first thing that I do after a tough meeting, or a tricky conversation, or an issue that I have to deal with that takes me away from being around students, is to pop into the Field House to listen to kids at play, or head out to the playground or the cafeteria just to hear the noise of kids…it centers me and it snaps me back to what is the most important part of my job, the kids. Nothing is more joyful than the sound of a playground, with kids playing and making friends and taking risks and finding out about themselves and others, it’s just so good. It doesn’t stop there though, I also love the sound of teachers collaborating together around what’s best for kids and their learning, and the creative ideas about how to extend students, and the concerns about how to intervene with struggling students. You see, the sound of educators caring about kids is also music to my ears, and it blares loudly at full volume every day. The beautiful sound of a school…wow, how can you not love it?

This week, as we speed toward the summer holiday, I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, to take a few minutes to slow down and listen to the noise of a school. Take a second to listen to the kids at play, or just stand back in your classrooms and listen to the sounds of learning, or come down by my office in the morning and listen to the little ones as they come in ready for another day with their teachers and friends. There is nothing more joyful or energizing and beautiful than the sound of a school in action. Take the time to listen, and it will fill your hearts just like it does mine. It might just be the best thing that you can do with your days actually. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students, good to each other, and make a habit of opening yourself up to the beautiful noise of the school day…you see, for us as educators, it really is the soundtrack of our lives!

Quote of the Week…

Sometimes the littlest things take up the most room in your heart – Winnnie the Pooh

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