All posts by Fred Bordaguibel-Labayle

Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle is the High School Principal at ACS Cobham. Fred was born and raised in the southwest of France; he finished his studies and started teaching in the UK, then went on to Istanbul, Quito and he is currently in Surrey, in the UK. Fred likes to pause, reflect, and share his experience as an international educator and administrator.

Just wondering about this “end of year madness”.

When the IB exam season kicks in, every year I think about this term coined by Joe Lumsden, Secondary Principal at Istanbul International Community School and previous colleague of mine. End of year madness. It is hard not feel it: modified schedules, exams, final report cards and transcripts, finishing the master schedule and calendar for the following year, reviewing handbooks and guides, celebrations, end of year parties, award ceremonies, graduation, IB grading, step-up days, connecting with recently recruited teachers who will join our school our school, preparing to say good bye to colleagues and friends…the list is endless. During this “madness”, however, it is crucial to pause and reflect upon the year. It does sound quite obvious but it is challenging as so many things get in the way. But since we encourage our students to reflect upon their learning, we need to model this practice. It does not have to be a complex process and I am a big fan of this simple 3 question reflection:

1) What went well and why?

2) What did not go so well and why?

3) How can I improve my craft based on 2) and use that to create my    professional objectives for next year?

Setting this expectation to all of us and achieving this before the end of the year is essential and if this becomes a priority we need to make time for this. In our school, all our High School students present a capstone presentation when they reflect upon their goals from the beginning of the year. They present their reflections and evidence in front of their mentor, their parents and some fellow students. I am now wondering what keeps us from doing with this faculty.

Furthermore, students feel this end-of-year rush too. It is quite usual for High School students to feel completely overwhelmed in this last stretch with final exams, projects and SAT’s in the pipeline. What we do we do as schools to minimize this? By putting some many things at the end, are we really focusing on the learning journey or are we just repeating over and over again those end-of-year traditions where everything is mad. Do we take the time to give robust feedback after final exams or is everyone already thinking of spending their time on the beach? And if so, how meaningful are those final exams? Is the only point of those to give a final grade?

Instead of feeling so rushed at the end of the year, students, parents and educators should be spending time to think back over their year growth and to think ahead of the future learning opportunities. Current set-up in many High Schools, however, is not conducive to this since we end up packing so much stuff in the last weeks that it is sometimes only there because “those are the kinds of things that we do at the end of the year”. As we are finalizing next year’s calendar, I really want to have a good look at this “stuff”, question its relevance and offer some alternatives to make sure that we all end the school year with our brains switched on to meaningful reflection to continue to grow.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about attending a recruitment fair…as a recruiter.

As a candidate, I attended several recruitment fairs, organised by several agencies in London and Bangkok. I know that it is not usual, but I love them. Going from interviews to interviews, talking to great school leaders, starting imagining a new life in a new country-this buzz is hard to describe but I really enjoy it.

Community and surreal feeling

So, this year, for the first time as a recruiter, I attended the Search Associates fair in Cambridge with my school Director. One of the first thing I was reminded was that most school leaders know each other and it was not unusual to see some fall in each other’s arms. To me, the fair had could be seen as a very large family reunion where you might not recognise some distant cousins or great aunts, but you end up having a great time re-connecting with closer people. In my case it was amazing to bump into a previous colleague from Istanbul who now works in China, and meet up with several of my PTC workshop facilitators, with school leaders that my Director kindly introduced me to, with the TIE CEO and Editor and more. It felt awesome to be surrounded by good people. At the same time, there is something surreal during recruitment fairs. First, it was very cold in Boston (the river was frozen) and we were super comfortable in the hotel, nearly too hot. Furthermore, the concentration of people, in a short amount of time (3 days) adds to this special feeling: the hotel seemed to be taken over by us, more than 500 people looking for the best jobs or looking for the best educators for their schools. In the workrooms, in the mailroom, in the presentation rooms, at breakfasts, dinners and cocktails, even in the elevator: running into people who did not have a Search name tag was an exception. So, you have to be on, as soon as you leave your bedroom, and this is an incomparable yet surreal experience. 

Collaboration

I also noticed the importance of collaboration. As an educator looking for a job, the search is a lonely experience: you have to be good, be ready to think fast and connect with your family back home when offers are on the table, but this is pretty much it. As a recruiter, each conversation needs to be debriefed with your colleagues both at the fair and back at school.

Despite the short amount of time, I managed to keep my interview routine: 1) informal chat to see if there might be a fit before offering a formal interview: that happened at the sign-up sessions and it was faster than in a more traditional hiring process.

2) formal interview: the location of the interview adds to the unreal feeling during a job fair as the interviews take place in the recruiters’ bedrooms. It was not news to me, but still…

3) second conversation with a colleague: at the fair, this was with the Director since she was with me, but usually that would be with another member of the High School. At the fair, we virtually invited colleagues from Quito so that they could join the interviews.

4) last conversation with the Director: at this point, I hope to bring the candidates that represent a good fit.

Quality

I did not count how many interviews I had with candidates, but I had a lot. Days were packed. And I had fantastic conversations with awesome people. While some candidates were maybe not the right fit for our school, I was always happy about what we talked about. So happy that I actually consciously paused several times and said to myself: not only is this chat very interesting but I am learning a lot here!

Language

I also noticed how important it is to be clear. Ambiguity in those conversations tend to waste everybody’s time. It is sometimes hard, but in this short amount of time, it is crucial. Crucial for recruitment fairs, crucial in a more traditional hiring process. Being transparent right from the early stages is beneficial for everyone since recruiter’s interview candidates, but candidates also interview schools.

Personal experience

Everyone must experience recruitment fairs differently.  Some people do not enjoy those and some, like me, feel very comfortable in this atmosphere. Whether you like it or not, however, it is a very efficient way to have candidates and recruiters together in the same time and space for them to talk face to face. I also vividly remember a young couple attending the fair with their little one in a pushchair and that must have been quite a special and personal experience too!

It was sometimes clear on people’s faces whether they got a job or not or that they filled all their positions or not but a sense of reality seemed to hit recruiters towards the end of the fair. Are you planning for the next fair and are you ready to dive into this again? Or do you go back to school and to your reality? In any way, it was a great learning experience and I really look forward to next year.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about open reference letters.

With the new year upon us, and the recruiting season that is kicking off again after the December break, I feel the need to touch upon the topic of reference letters, which can be delicate.

All of us have asked our Heads of Schools and Principals to write open reference letters. Also, as school leaders, we often receive such requests from faculty members. Sometimes, schools even list open reference letters as part of the application package. Writing such letters have become a typical step or even a ritual in the recruitment process, but it is legitimate to question the value of those letters.

In the meantime, when an educator opens or reactivates a file with a recruitment agency, they are asked for several referees who will then complete confidential references. The educator will be notified when the referees have completed their confidential references, but they will not be able to access them through their own account. Prospective recruiters, however, will be able to read those references to get an idea of what previous leaders thought about this candidate.

So, are actually doing the same thing twice? In this very busy world of international education, do we really have time to write open and confidential reference letters? As I was preparing this post, I connected with several respected international school leaders about that topic. There is a general agreement out there that open reference letters are not really useful. Some leaders say that they do not read them at all, but they go straight to the confidential ones. All of them have also mentioned how important it is to talk directly to the referees. Many schools have a defined process to check on references about several aspects of the educator’s practice including strengths, areas for growth, relationships with different members of the school community and child safeguarding. Other leaders actually do not write those open reference letters anymore but offer to call the prospective Heads of Schools or to send them a reference letter directly.

It might be time to evaluate this tradition since it seems to have minimal to no impact in hiring nowadays. Of course, there are always going to be some exceptions or even some national employment laws and legislations that will still require employees to be able to read what has been written about them. In the grand scheme of things, however, I propose that, when possible, we refrain from writing those open reference letters, we talk directly to the referees, Principals and Heads of Schools and we educate our faculty why this is simply more efficient for everyone.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about our conference and workshops with Kristen Pelletier

I started writing this post a long time ago, but after this week it feels right to finalize it. At Academia Cotopaxi, we are an inclusive learning community and we accept children with a variety of learning needs. Last week, we hosted a two-day conference called Journey Toward Inclusion for schools in the region and then we had three days of workshops for our community members. To support our learning, we invited Kristen Pelletier, one of the founding Directors and Design Team Members of the Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) collaborative. Kristen has us reflect upon inclusion, our learning support model and the importance of executive functions. Lots of thoughts and ideas have been going through my mind and I need to put them down.

Accessibility of learning

I have always worked in inclusive schools and I feel privileged to have been trained in the UK about fifteen years ago as a lot of those current conversations about accessibility of learning happened back then too. And every time I tried, as a teacher, different teaching strategies for make learning accessible to all learners, every time I hear about them in meetings when reviewing Individual Learning Plans (ILP) or in conferences/workshops I inevitably think: teaching strategies that should be implemented for particular students are effective for all students. Quality educators use a wide variety of teaching tools to make sure that address their students’ needs. That’s it. And thinking that there is too much content to cover, like it may happen at High School level, to take time to vary teaching strategies is to be on a path where content will be eventually internalized by a small proportion of students, whether they have ILP’s or not. The conversation may not be about specific students’ need, but it is about all students.

Co-teaching and co-planning

Through a meaningful protocol, Kristen Pelletier had us realise that our next step at Academia Cotopaxi is to focus more on the collaboration (co-planning and co-teaching) as a model of our learning service delivery. This is big. And it starts now as it means being creative with the resources that we have and purposefully scheduling for collaborative meeting time with the learning support specialists. Research is showing that this is the best model to support students with learning needs, but a tendency has been to have learning support specialists pushing-in in classrooms. A lot to continue thinking about and to plan for.

Executive functions

Kristen Pelletier also took a good chunk of time with a team of educators and students to help us deepen our understanding and develop good practices regarding executive functions. The focus was on Margaret Searle’s big 6:

-planning and problem-solving

-memory

-organization

-attention

-impulse control

-self-monitoring

While this sounds obvious since these are crucial for a robust learning journey, the big 6 need to be explicitly taught. Since we have started a school wide curriculum review, it may be time to develop a scope and sequence for executive functions so that we build those over the years.

 Impact on recruitment

As the recruiting season unfolds, our work with Kristen Pelletier made me even more aware of the importance of strong hiring practices aligned with our inclusion policy. I am currently updating my bank of questions for interviews with all of the above. Prospective new educators need to know what we do and we need to make sure that their teaching philosophy and practices match what we believe in.

So, we had a fantastic five-day experience at Academia Cotopaxi with Kristen Pelletier. We can’t wait to put in place many of the ideas that have come out of the work we did together and we hope that we can continue our collaboration. Merci Kirsten!

For what it’s worth…

Searle, Margaret. Causes & Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems. ASCD, 2013.

Just wondering about our recent Week Without Walls programme.

A few weeks ago, we had our Week Without Walls programme that we call Discover Ecuador at our school. The 9th graders went to the jungle, the 10th graders went to the sierra (mountain/volcano area) and the 11th graders went to the coast. Our High School Principal, Garth Wyncoll, made tremendous changes to our Discover Ecuador programme and now all the trips are shaped around meaningful service opportunities that our students provide to different communities in Ecuador. Those trips happen during the third week of school and they are also about bonding and team building between students but also with our teachers.

Students were thrilled about their experiences. Beyond the typical stories of the uncomfortable bunk beds, the inconvenient bucket showers and the occasional stomach bugs, students shared beautiful stories with us and they made every minute of their trips a valuable experience. What I feel has worked the best is that our students have gained a certain understanding of how people live in Ecuador. After spending a week with no electricity in a camp and when sunset is pretty much time to go to bed, you get to relate to other people’s lives. I will continue to listen to our students and I cannot wait to read their reflections.

It is also important to note that teachers’ commitment was outstanding. Some came back with bug bites, most came back exhausted, and despite having put their personal lives between brackets for a week, all of them had a great time with our kids. Big shout out to our teachers who travelled this week. Students have been learning a lot with them and they will remember those moments. It was also great that teachers regularly shared photos and updates of what going on in each camp to keep us in the loop. Just fantastic!

The organisation that helped us organise those trips sent the Principal and I two updates daily. Those updates contained what the students had been working on and a list of students with small health issues. We sent those updates to parents but we did not send individual health issues to all the parents. So we made phone calls and the conversations with those parents were no longer between a High School Administrator and a High School parent, but conversations between parents. It is essential to take that time to let parents know about their kids and reassure them. Just the right thing to do, when one considers the trust that parents put in us by allowing us to take their kids away from home. This was even more obvious when, on the last day of the trip, I was woken up by several emails from parents worried about the earthquake that happened in Mexico and the tsunami alert on the coast when students were going to go… whale watching! While the tsunami alert was off a couple of hours later, we cancelled the boat trip: we are also parents!

While a vast majority of our students went on those trips, some others could not go with their peers for a variety of reasons and two of our long-time teachers have organised a week with a mix of service opportunities for our community and a day trip downtown Quito with an interactive visit of the water museum and a meal in a prestigious restaurant. Our teachers made this week valuable and have supported our kids all week. Thank you!

Meanwhile the seniors stayed at school for our annual Senior Retreat. This is something I revisited in my time here in the light of what we used to do back in my previous school in Istanbul. The idea is to create time and space for the seniors, who are crazy busy, to take care of what they need to do: IB tasks, college research and applications, SAT preparation etc. The schedule for the week was quite flexible but we had built in sessions for students to work with teachers on specific tasks as well as college visits and fairs, and time to blow off steam and do some sports. The last day of the week, we had planned a field trip to a local volcano to do a short hike at 4000 meters above sea level. And this year, seniors have proposed something new at AC: a senior lock-in, the night before the field trip. After considering what the students had a mind, we agreed that it was a great idea and we helped students organise this night: a variety of sport activities, movies and pizzas, hide and seek in the dark and a campfire with marshmallows. Boys slept in a classroom and girls in the library. It was a new experience for me and for the school but everything went really well and on the last day of the retreat, after the hike, I thanked students and teachers for the week. We all have developed stronger bonds and this set the tone for a great year.

I believe this was a great week for everyone: lots of team building and quality time spent together. Those experiences colour the start to the year in a very special way. Establishing those connections between teachers and students is a tremendous bonus on the learning journey. Principal Wyncoll shared at the beginning of the year that assessing is like sitting next to a student and coach them to improve. Before coaching them, however, we need to establish a trust-based relationship so that the coaching works and I would offer that those Weeks Without Walls represent that necessary step.

For what it’s worth…

Just wondering about my first two weeks as Associate Principal

As I am starting to reflect upon my first two weeks as High School Associate Principal at Academia Cotopaxi, my thoughts are going in all sorts of directions. So, I feel that it is important for me to pause, shut my emails down and really think about what has already changed for me. Change. This concept has come up in several conversations about my new position. What has really changed? Humm, let’s see:

Organization

When after a thirty-minute meeting, twenty-five new emails pile up in your in-box and that those emails become your to-do list, you quickly realise that you are going to need a new system. That was me at the end day two. Last summer, while at a PTC course, I strongly considered changing my to-do list using Stephen Covey’s four quadrants. For this new academic year, it only took me a few days to realise that I should adopt the four quadrants to help me prioritize. The four quadrants have also helped me realise that I am spending too much time in Quadrant 1. One has to realise and understand a situation before being able to do address it. Next: try to clear up some of the Quadrant 1 elements and create some time for the Quadrant 2 ones.

Rhythm

I was expecting a more drastic change as far as my work rhythm is concerned. Last year, I was already out and about at break time and lunch time to talk to students, ask them to clear their tables, reminding them about this and that. So, I am continuing this. Furthermore, having no classes makes a big difference but since my stand-up desk is in the middle of the High School Learning Commons (where students work during their study blocks) I am constantly connecting with students, and this feels really good. Next, I am going to have to be more in classrooms to really see what teaching and learning looks like at Academia Cotopaxi.

Teacher supervision

I know this is my biggest challenge for this year. Last week, the High School Principal and I sat down and agreed on who would supervise who in the High School. Over the summer, I read Kim Marshall’s Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, took notes all over the book and prepared my spreadsheet to keep track of the mini-observations. I had the theory quite clear in my mind and I had to start and practice. When last Thursday I was decided to jump, I felt a little bit of anxiety before opening the door. But I followed the plan I had in mind (ten-minute observation, a face to face conversation in the teacher’s classroom within 24 hours and a written summary sent to the teacher afterwards) and it felt right. Not perfect, obviously, but the more you do it, the more you get better at it. Next: do a couple of these mini observations per day and keep the same system.

Connecting, connecting, connecting      

Without really thinking about it, I started going around the classrooms in the morning to say hi to students and teachers. Popped my head in, said hi to everyone and left for the next classroom. Nothing more. I felt it made sense, but that was it. So far, we have had eight school days and I probably managed to it on the first three days. On the fourth day, at break time, I had a hallway conversation with the teacher and at the end of it that teacher told “By the way, I did not get my good morning today!” with a smile. I just could not find any good reason for not having done it. Next: continue doing it with a minimum of four classrooms per day.

So, this is it. Two weeks of classes and so many things I have learned. I know that there are going to be some ups and downs, but I feel that I have learned so many things in such a small period of time that I know that this year is simply going to be amazing!

For what it’s worth…