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. 

Mentor is a Gift Word

So late last week I was given the gift of reconnecting with one of the most important mentors that I have had in my life, and as much as it was just a brief encounter, it left me smiling from ear to ear. It reminded me of a great conversation that I had as a guest on a podcast awhile back, where we talked in one section about how the word Mentor is actually a gift word, and a magical, reciprocal relationship that should to be sought out, cultivated and ultimately, celebrated. The podcast was Leading With Curiosity, hosted by my good friend and inspiring executive coach, Nate Leslie, and the episode explored the importance of relationship building in our approach to leadership. The notion of mentorship eventually came up during the conversation and we both agreed, without hesitation, that we wouldn’t be in the positions that we are in today without the amazing mentors that we have had throughout our lives and careers…absolute gifts indeed.

With last week’s reconnection fresh in my mind, I want to talk about the important role that mentors can play in our lives, and how magical these relationships can be both personally and professionally. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who has found success in life can attribute at least a part of that success to the role that a mentor has played along their journey. Good mentors are pure magic, and if you’ve had one in the past, or if you have one right now, it’s important that you seek them out and thank them for the positive influence that they’ve had on your life. I am acutely aware of how fortunate I have been in my life to have had more than just a few amazing mentors, both personally and professionally, who have helped me become the person and leader that I am today…my wife for example, and my parents and siblings, a couple of coaches, and over the past 25 years or so a small group of international school leaders who have inspired me beyond measure. 

These are the people who believed in me, who saw something in me that I hadn’t yet recognized, and who continuously pushed me to always get better. They shared their knowledge with me, they modeled courageous behavior, they constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone, they held me accountable to my goals and aspirations, and most importantly, they gave me the honest feedback that I needed to hear in order to grow. The thing about a quality mentor is that they find ways to tell you exactly what you need to hear in a way that inspires you into action. A great mentor not only shares the truth about your strengths and your areas of growth, they also listen really well and offer advice in a positive and productive way. A great mentor can also be hard to find so when you find one make sure to hang on and take advantage of the gift that will surely keep on giving.

Early in my life and career great mentors just kind of fell into my lap without me realizing it at the moment, and for that I am beyond grateful. Over time however, I learned to seek out inspiring mentors and I’ve even taken jobs, like this one, because of the opportunity to work with leaders who I knew could help me become a better version of myself. Everyone needs a coach or mentor in their life regardless of how successful they’ve become, so if you don’t have that person in your life right now, start actively looking. In most cases, great mentors find ways to make the relationship reciprocal, and are open and eager to learn and get better themselves. Some of the best learning that I’ve ever had as a professional came out of a relationship when I was considered the mentor, but really, we were both learning deeply from each other. That’s the beauty of these kinds of relationships, they often go both ways.

Just so you know, the person that I reconnected with late last week was someone who I met years and years ago when I was just stepping into leadership. I was young and green and eager to learn and this person was so generous with their time and feedback. They went out of their way to share tips and tricks and kind words and encouragement, which at the time meant more to me than gold. They made me feel like I was worthy of leading and pointed out some traits that they saw in me that would ultimately make me successful, and they made a point of sharing those with me. In many ways I have been feeding off of those early conversations and interactions for the past fifteen years, particularly when I need a little boost. Thinking back to that initial and serendipitous meeting in 2010, that person instantly became a special mentor for me in my life, and we’ve been keeping in touch ever since, learning and connecting regularly both in person and from afar. 

With all that said, and with the gift of mentorship now front of mind, I’m asking you to take some time this week to think about the mentors that you’ve had in your life, and to reach out to them, now…thank them, tell them how much they’ve meant to you, and then go and be that person for others. We can all be great mentors to someone if we open ourselves up to it, and we can all be agents of positive change for a friend or for a colleague. If you’re really lucky, you will find one where deep learning and trust goes both ways, and you learn from each other and grow together over time…that’s the real gift. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself – 

-Oprah Winfrey

Related Articles – 

Great Mentoring Books

How To Be a Great Mentor

The Power of Mentorship

What Does a Mentor Do? 

Inspiring Videos – 

College Dreams

Giving Away a Dollar

Never Giving Up

Funny Photos

10 Things That Made Us Smile

TED Talks –

The 10 Best TED Talks on Mentorship

Artificial Intelligence and Spatial Intelligence

Aspiring Leaders

Taking The Time To Celebrate

So this week I want to talk about the importance of giving thanks, sharing gratitude, and taking the time to slow down once in a while in our pursuit of progress to simply embrace and celebrate where we are as a school, and to recognize what we have accomplished as a collective community. We work so hard as educators, and we are so committed to doing our best for our students that sometimes it becomes very, very easy to get lost in the work, without taking these important pauses. Slowing down once in a while, taking a deep collective breath, and celebrating the work that’s been done along the way is the key to allowing the great work to continue, and much to my delight, we do that really well here at SSIS.

Recently for example, we have stopped to celebrate the opening of our new, purpose built facilities with our faculty and staff, and we have planned an even bigger, more public celebration in the upcoming weeks. We also just came off of our school-wide kindness week, organized by our incredible counseling team, where we spent several days celebrating each other, doing random acts of kindness, sharing our gratitude and simply taking the time to recognize and celebrate the beauty of our school, and on top of all that we took this past week’s full faculty meeting to celebrate our fantastic community survey results and our impressive progress related to our strategic plan…so good. 

To tell you the truth, there was a moment during last week’s facility opening ceremony when I looked around and found myself getting very emotional. The sun was warm and shining, the entire audience was smiling and happy and cheering loudly at every opportunity, the students were excited beyond belief, and the gratitude that I felt inside at that particular moment just came spilling over. By creating moments of celebration like these we allow space for our gratitude to sink in and flow out, which ends up connecting us deeply to the meaning and purpose of our work, and keeps us coming back for more 🙂

Actually, If we all stop to think about it, there is so much to be thankful for here in our lives as a faculty that it’s almost impossible to hold all the gratitude in, and stop it from flowing out. We work in a beautiful school, in a beautiful country, with amazing students, and incredible teachers, and engaged parents, and a loyal and proud support staff, and a strong vision for the future of the school…I could go on and on and on. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes as schools, if we aren’t careful and purposeful with our priorities, it can become easy to get caught up in our busy day to day lives. We can get consumed with all the work that we want and need to do, and get to a place where we can forget to take the time, on a regular basis, to recognize, and internalize all that we have to be thankful and grateful for.

So, with that in mind, I want to publicly celebrate you all today for your unwavering commitment to our students, and to their learning. I want to say thank you for being so good to each other, and to me as a newbie to the school, and for approaching every educational conversation with an open mind and with positive intent. I want to thank you for finding your educational voices and your educational courage so quickly this year, and I want to celebrate you for being the kind, caring, and hardworking people and professionals that you all are. We are a very high achieving school, with exciting aspirations and dreams that are progressive and forward thinking, and we move at a fast pace around here to meet these goals. Let’s just make sure that we continue to hold each other accountable for taking a step back once in a while in order to celebrate…not just the big things like new buildings, but the small, day to day accomplishments as well. It’s the little things that can go by invisibly if we don’t make a concerted effort to call them out and give them the recognition that they deserve. 

Supporting this notion, our amazing Head of School, Dr. Catriona Moran, recently spoke at our leadership team meeting about the importance of prioritizing regular celebrations as a school, as well as the undeniable connection between celebration and positive culture building, and you know what, I couldn’t agree more. Culture does indeed eat strategy for breakfast as they say, and it feels great to be a part of a school that prioritizes this important mindset. 

Okay, with all of that in mind, let’s keep celebrating all of what makes our community so special as we speed toward the month of May, and commit to finding the time throughout the week, or even daily, to recognize and vocalize our gratitude. Let’s celebrate each other, our students, our SSIS staff and everyone else that contributes to this special place. Let the gratitude truly overwhelm as we look to finish the year strong. Have a fantastic week and remember to be great for our students and grateful for each other!

Quote of the Week…

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts – Henri Frederic Amiel

Related Articles – 

Celebrations Reduce Stress

Celebrating at Work

An Enjoyable Work Culture

Being Intentional 

Employee Contributions 

Inspiring Videos – 

Somebody I Used To Know Dance

Lemonade Stand

Solar Eclipse 

Kool & The Gang Celebration

An Old Mustang

Finding Success

So recently I have been incredibly inspired by our students, across all of our divisions, and it has left me smiling from ear to ear. You see, over the past few weeks I have watched our students compete on the soccer field, in the pool, on the volleyball and badminton courts, on stage in the fantastic grade 7 and elementary school drama performances, and in the ISTA festival, MRISA junior football tournament, and Vex robotics showcases that we hosted here on campus. I have also seen them practicing in the music room for our highly anticipated talent show, and in classrooms as they learned, debated, presented, collaborated and practiced for their upcoming student-led conferences…wow!

All in all, I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of young people over that time finding success due to the multitude of opportunities that they have had to showcase their talents all over the school.These opportunities have enabled them to grow and develop in immeasurable ways, in areas both inside and outside of the classroom. For me, that’s where the idea of student success ultimately lies, in that magical balance between activities that highlight the academic side of things and ones that highlight the physical, artistic, and social-emotional side of things. Individual student success often comes from a strong marriage of both, knowing that each one can strongly enhance the other.

These recent events have me thinking yet again about how we measure success in schools, and the importance of finding ways as educators to ensure that each student has an outlet or a pathway to develop a particular spark or a passion. These success pathways will ultimately help to shape their identity, facilitate their growth, and strengthen their self-esteem. I guess for me, the idea or measure of success cannot be simplified down to a single thing. The idea of student success incorporates so many different aspects of a young person’s life, and it should take into account the many variables that go into what positively shapes a young person’s being and character.

This past week I decided to ask a bunch of middle school kids the question, “What does it mean to be successful in school?”, and not surprisingly for many of them the answers went straight to grades and academic achievement. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of kids who talked about success being measured by strong friendships and relationships, by learning from their mistakes, by being respected by their teachers and peers, being happy, and being seen for their individual and unique talents, whatever those may be.

I think we need to be careful as adults and educators not to place too much of a priority on any one aspect of a student’s growth or achievement, and look to develop and celebrate the areas where a student is able to find success in their lives right now. All kids, as you know, go through various stages of maturation and development, and a student’s “time” may not be in Middle School, or High School, or University for that matter. It’s no secret to the people who really know me, that I was very much a late bloomer when it came to academic success, but I did find success socially and in athletics, which set me up for the person that I’ve eventually become. 

I guess the true measure of success is whether or not a student is constantly growing and learning, and for us that means asking questions like, is this student getting better academically? socially? as a teammate? as a person? Are they failing forward? And If so, then we need to find ways to celebrate these successes with each individual student as often as we can. I think we do a really good job of that here at SSIS, but it’s important to keep looking for areas where we can enhance our current models. We can’t rest until every student is finding success in one way or another, and being recognized for it.

I cannot wait to speak with the kids tomorrow who participated this weekend in their sports tournaments, the elementary drama performance, and the debate competition that was held here on campus. They will have all shown courage, teamwork, personal growth, resilience, determination and self confidence, and to me, that’s what true student success ultimately looks like. Have a great final week before the April holiday everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week – 

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows – Sydney J. Harris

Related Articles –

Happy Schools

Motivated Students

Happiness and Connection

A Well Rounded Education

Inspiring Videos – 

8 Year Old Trendsetter

Assume That I Can 

Mr. Bill’s Village

Auburn Basketball

Ted Talk – 

Winning and Succeeding

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