All posts by Matthew Piercy

MATTHEW PIERCY is a middle school social studies teacher at International School Bangkok. His experiences in the classroom include every grade from 3rd to 11th. He also enjoyed a stint as an instructional coach. Prior to living in Thailand, Matthew worked in international and boarding schools for over twenty years. Tunisia, Ecuador, Hungary, Hawaii, along with the states of Colorado and Georgia all at some point were called “home.” Matthew also enjoys leading summer expeditions for National Geographic, to destinations like Iceland and Cambodia. A diverse pathway in life has led to Matthew’s passion for global mindedness and he constantly is searching for ways to enhance learning, meaning, and transference. His blog explores interconnection and purpose.

An Alluring Cryptic Future

Technologies continue to outpace us.   As a society we are often unable to keep up.  Take for example the task of explaining the differences between cryptocurrency, blockchain, and a ledger?  We may have heard of each but do we understand them well enough to teach? Or, on an even deeper level, are we able to comprehend the implications they likely will have not just in the financial world but also into education?

With 7,800 cryptocurrencies currently in existence, it is difficult to imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out they have all just disappeared  Further, their establishing more than a foothold is evident in headlines such as Forbes March 31, 2021, “Goldman Sachs To Become Second Big Bank Offering Bitcoin To Wealthy Clients.”  The ubiquity of crypto is becoming more and more apparent.  Currently there are 38,460 Bitcoin ATMs in the United States. Or, on an even more prosaic level, the subject of an email I received from a local coffee company here in Thailand read, “NEW ROAST COFFEE BLENDS & SAVE 50% WITH CRYPTO PAYMENTS.” 

A great deal of my learning about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the ledger resulted from listening to my nephew’s high school capstone project three years ago. I was quick to realize how much I did not know and have since, paddled hard to stay afloat in the current of change.  True to what Sir Wiliam Haley suggested would be a much more effective education. “…if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”

It makes sense to define each before considering how they may serve education as an institution.  First though, more important than crypto being a derivative of the ancient Greek κρυπτός (krúptō) which means, ‘I conceal,’is the linchpin or what it all really comes down to.  In a word, de-centralization. Think internet. Or, another illustration might be, how workplaces and classrooms were forced to “flatten” during the pandemic.   Everyone suddenly has more stake and more voice, working together instead of the more traditional top-down passive and reverence for power approach. 

Definitions:

This explanation is contrary to a quote from the creator of Bitcoin.  Using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto he quipped, “If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.”

Cryptocurrency: a form of digital money, called this because the consensus-keeping process is secured by strong cryptography.  The “secret writing” is secured by math, instead of people, governments, or trusts.  Like the example of coffee above, you can pay for items (or NFTs, as shared in an earlier post) electronically, similar to how you might with any other currency.  Recently after Amazon posted  how they were recruiting for a ‘Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead,’ much speculation followed regarding the company beginning to accept cryptocurrency.  Also of prominence are recent reports of how some countries are adopting cryptocurrencies as national currency.  “A step too far,” according to a recent IMF report.  But, what are some of the  “pulls” of moving in the direction of cryptocurrencies?  As international teachers we either have first hand experience or peripheral knowledge of these two examples:

  • Wire transferring could be likened to travelers’ cheques in its being outdated.  Wire transfers can take more than a few hours or sometimes even days.  Plus the added cost.  Currently, transfer fees from my bank in Thailand to the United States is more than USD $30.  In the case of cryptocurrency, banks/brokers are not able to take “their cut.”
  • Financial inequality continues to grow globally.   An outdated McKinsey & Company article titled, “Counting the world’s unbanked,” cites how 2.2 billion unbanked or underbanked adults live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. They do not have access to financial services. 

Blockchain: According to Dummies, where complex concepts are made easy to understand, blockchains are distributed databases where groups of individuals control, store, and share information. This is done in blocks.  The blocks are then linked, or chained, using cryptography. What makes this especially powerful is that any change is time stamped and visible to all.  Ultimately this assures transparency but also authenticity.

Ledger: In business, ledgers are written or computerized records of completed transactions. In error, many people use “blockchain” and “ledger” interchangeably. One big difference is the distributed ledger is free from blocks or chains. Furthermore, blockchain data is publicly available in the form of a public key, along with a  digital wallet address. This means no permission is necessary and anyone can view transaction histories and participate in a blockchain operation. Whereas, the distributed ledger requires permission to complete a transaction. 

All tech talk aside, why ultimately should we care?

Past, Present, and Beyond

It is difficult for students today to comprehend the world many teachers grew up in. B.G (Before Google).  Or, actually pre-Smartphones and even the Internet! “What, there was life before the Internet?” Equally I remember dreaming as a child, of a phone I might be able to see my aunt and uncle on, though the idea of portability and carrying the phone in my pocket evaded my imagination.  Yet now, as fast and far as we have come, we seemingly accept the digitized world as commonplace.  So too, will be the future of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and ledgers.  In 10, 20, or 50 years it may be similar to the internet and it will be impossible to imagine a world without them. 

We need not look far to recognize diminishing trust in institutions and governments. School as we traditionally have known it as well.  Centralization is flailing. Best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin shared in a blog post, “Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.” In its place is what is being called, the shared economy.  Peer-to-peer connections as evidenced through the use of Airbnb or Uber are examples of a cultural shift towards decentralization.  A similar decentralization in how information and currency is stored and also shared. A movement that is expected to only get bigger in the coming years and appears here to stay. 

Implications on Education

Currently there is no system for reliably recording a person’s educational achievement.  In our accelerated world, alternatives to the traditional ways of education are likely to continue to bloom.  Credentialing is quickly becoming the norm.  One million, or to be exact, 967,734.  That is how many unique credentials are in the U.S. alone.  The beauty of this increase in degrees, certificates, and badges is that there are more options.  Yet, according to Credential Engine,“There has never been an efficient system to collect, search, and compare credentials in a way that keeps pace with the speed of change in the 21st century and is universally understood.” Blockchain technology is an efficient and consistent way to keep track of a person’s entire educational history and is likely to be of increasing importance. 

American Council on Education to lead the Education Blockchain Initiative (EBI) was launched in 2020 in effort to re-think our educational system and how to utilize technologies like the distributed ledger. For example, Blockchain protects against falsified credentials but also allows students to be in control of their own transcripts.  One well-known university’s registrar outlined the process for a student to obtain their transcript as:  “Between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. place your request at Registrar Services, first floor lobby. The transcript fee is $10.00 per copy for processing within three (3) business days.”  To think a busy college student or graduate would have a thirty minute window to make a request and have to wait three days is archaic to say the least.  EBI continues to evaluate ways that blockchain might improve the flow of data but also empower the individual.  So transcripts are not under a lock and key or on a high hill.  This flow seeks to decentralize information so communication is within and across institutions and into the workplace.  

In the Midst a Shifting Culture

Nearly four years ago Tom Van der Ark of Getting Smart reported how Scott Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium.  “The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.”  In programs such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium a motivating force is students being empowered to drive their own authentic learning. This is purposeful for students but also to universities and employers.  Manoj Kutty, CEO and founder of Greenlight Credentials remarked, “The big future opportunity is a marketplace where universities can search for applicants by category and credential and invite them to apply (or even offer acceptance based on verified credentials).”  In an interview with Van der Ark, Kutty asserted, “In 20 years, students won’t be applying to colleges; colleges will be recruiting students.”  However, we need not look into the future to comprehend the cultural shift clearly underway, as employers are becoming more interested in the trusted and verifiable skills a person possesses.  At one of the most sought after job places in the world, Google, ‘college degree’ has no place in its official guide for hiring employees.   

Decentralization will continue to gain traction. As freedom, transparency, transference, and a person’s competencies are valued more, Blockchain and similar technologies will be as vowels are to the alphabet. We are in the nascence of a new “language.”  Blockchain is clearly a catalyst of change and already we are in the midst of a significant shift.  

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What Was That All About?

~The Valuable Role of Reflection

As the world attempts to reinstate “normalcy,” there are clearly different baselines or targets amongst countries.  For the United States, Costco in the news provides but one example. Just before the start of summer, their plans included “beginning a phased return to full sampling,” after 14 long months without offering shoppers microwaved mini tacos for nourishment? Society definitely needs nourishment, though I’m not sure mini-tacos will do.  Or, what about Lollapalooza, a three-day music event that drew 300,000 people in 2015, returning to Chicago from July 29 to August 1? Regardless of what is happening or is planned to happen, I have felt maybe more than ever before, a near mandate to reflect on where we have been.  

As an educator, a sort of responsibility has enshrouded me.  To do due diligence and attempt to make sense, as best I can, of the past school year. To draw out as much learning as possible from the many lessons the pandemic offered, or “forced” depending on how you might see things.  Three immediate if not glaring points stood out:  Change, flexibility, and rebirth.  In this, humanity is in the midst of a quasi-phoenix moment; a rising from the “ashes.” As exciting as the past year was tiring, for some reason, reflecting as thoroughly as I may have liked, continued to be put off.  Not one to procrastinate, this baffled me.

Then the other dayI happened upon a tweet. A teacher tiraded how educators should be left alone, nothing more expected, this is OUR summer and we have done enough to get through the past year.  I understand this sentiment as for many, the past 18+ months maybe have felt like being held underwater and summer finally is a time to come to the surface.  To breathe.  The myriad of unforeseen and often uncompromising situations the force that held us under.  Still, I harken back to an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “You Make a Difference~The Value of Summer Reflection.” Here I outlined the pivotal role of reflection and realigning ourselves to our purpose.  Summer, the essential pause. Yet, also a time to reflect.

Summer’s Kick-off

The day summer school teaching finished and summer “officially” began, I received an e-mail from a former student from another school.  The message began, “Hey! Jennifer got stabbed in the leg by Wendell at the end of March which complicated the year..” Immediately, I was issued two parts opportunity to lend a consulatory response and one part the ability to gain greater perspective. The timing seemingly perfect, as I still had not done an “honest” job of reflecting on the 2020-21 academic year.  I desperately wanted get to the bottom of the question, “What was that all about? Another year of jostling between on-line and in-person learning.”

And so here I am. There is a ripeness to the moment where the catalyst is space more than time.  

Caught Up In The COVID Storm

Before the academic year came to a close, I did not entirely skip reflecting.  Oddly enough, it was something I asked students to do and also something I did with a colleague. Just not alone and to a depth that would appease.  In a final meeting over Zoom, a teaching partner and I met.  We attempted to simultaneously add our thoughts to a straightforward end-of-year reflection template that looked like this:

Biggest success this year:Biggest challenge this year:
Strengths data shows:

Areas of growth to focus on:
One thing I learned this year:

One thing I want to learn next year:
One change for next year:

One goal for next year:

Surprisingly, at least for me, was how off the cuff nothing immediately emerged as a goal for next year.  This was the dawning moment of how I was both exhausted but also how I had been caught up in the COVID storm.  My vision not quite 20/20.  Ultimately I had not fully come to grips with the reality of the pandemic and one of the greatest lessons I learned.  The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”  To remain flexible, adapt, and be forgiving.

Meta-Reflection

Over the years, I felt feedback received from students is a gift.  A window into their reality. A term I am coining here is “meta-reflection,” building off metacognition and thinking about thinking. Might we reflect on student reflections? It may even connect  well with a strategy many educators may employ with students.  Harvard Zero Thinking Strategy, “I used to think but now I think.” One question asked on the student reflection that led to more in-depth analysis was, “What are a few things in social studies class that I did to help you to learn?” A prevailing theme was evident, allowing for my own “I used to think but now I think.”  I used to think I was limited in doing meaningful project-based learning because of an overabundance of standards, but now I know that more wisely designed curriculum implementation is possible.  This I was able to deduce, as patterns emerged in student comments attesting to how they were reinvigorated in learning as a result of agency, authenticity, and purpose. 

The student reflections led also to a more philosophical goal. To continually remind myself to be the teacher one student envisions me to be, “You taught us in a way where you knew we would understand. You put yourself in our shoes and every day it felt like it was a brand new day for every student to do better and have fun.”  Comments are not all so glowing and when we model honesty in the feedback we provide students and invite students to do the same when  giving us feedback, there is a necessity to embrace vulnerability.   One student maturely commented in a way which resulted in pushing me to think more about a check-in routine I was using.  Her points not only honest but absolutely valid, leading to my immediate plan to discontinue the routine.. 

As a learning community, giving and receiving feedback is a skill we routinely practice throughout the year. In reading student end-of-year reflections I can say with confidence how students in 2020-21 stands out  for their high degree of insightfulness and graciousness. One individual’s honest yet humorous response is sure to not to be forgotten. The fill-in-the-bank question asked,  “If I were a middle school social studies teacher I would _________________.”  A common response for example attested to the role of collaboration. For example, “make more projects where students get to work together.” The particular student’s memorable response was but one word.  “Quit!”  Ironically he is also the son of two teachers.

A few years ago Rhonda Scharf was credited with posting on Facebook the following thought, “Teachers are not ‘off for the summer,’ they are ‘in recovery.’”  And if I can add, “in reflection mode.”

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Communities of Belonging

Teaching internationally sometimes is like being inside a cocoon.  School days typically in English. The comforts, routines, and rhythms in our new “homes” are similar; often little difference whether in Cairo, Shanghai, or Rio de Janeiro. Of course architecturally they may differ, yet our lives therein, not so changed.  In most cases, it would be a long shot to claim it is a hardship to teach in accredited international schools.  So comfortable, we may even have to go out of the way to feel vulnerable. Still, the fact remains that always outside the doors of home or school is “the different.”  Or more apt, the reflection that we are the “outsider.”   This possibly is the motivation behind our being abroad.   

And we are lucky for this chance. 

The fact being, we made the choice. We also have the option of how far we might “dive into” the host culture.  Fathoms deep, we may break the surface, challenging ourselves to begin learning the language.  Yet, regardless we will remain “the outsider.”  A feeling sometimes that could even be distressing.

Yet, we are lucky for this chance (refrain).

For the Times, They Are a Changing

How many people truly have the choice to navigate into and out of a dominant culture? Few I would argue.  Instead, so many are without this privilege. They simply nod their head, stand in line, and follow antiquated systems of organization and inequity.  Forced to play by what some may call, “the rules of the game.”

Singer Bob Dylan probably said it best,

And the present now will soon be the past

The order is rapidly fading

The first one now will later be last

For the times, they are a changing

The times are definitely changing.  So too are the “rules.”

International School Leadership Holds a Mirror Up to Themselves

Many of us were not aware, how during the spring of 2019, the Diversity Collaborative, a voluntary group of international educators, initiated a research study by partnering with ISC Research and George Mason University. “The goal was to survey the field of accredited international schools to establish a baseline of information in the international school sector about school leadership and diversity.”  2,676 accredited international schools received the survey and an informative three-and-a-half minute video summarized the results.  

Mind you this is pre-pandemic and more than a year before the murder of George Floyd.  Even earlier, in 2017 The Diversity Collaborative was established, in effort to commit to creating and sustaining a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just international school community through our focus on leadership.

In an often myopic world bent on entropy, it is refreshing to have such good news. 

Others Help Pave the Way

Within governmental agencies there is even a push for more diversity and inclusivity.  This is evident, regardless of the stir caused by the CIA’s recent recruitment campaign titled, “Humans of CIA.”  According to an article titled, “Unpacking the CIA’s cringey recruiting strategy,” the push for diversity is not new. “In 1994, then-CIA director R. James Woolsey said in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “the ability to understand a complex, diverse world—a world which is far from being all white male—is central to our mission.”

According to McKinsey & Co, companies spend $8 billion a year on diversity training.  Yet, this is just a start.  Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific’s global chief diversity officer says it best. “Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.” 

Belonging.

And isn’t this paradox seemingly woven into the fabric of 21st century life?  Always connected but more disconnected than ever; an increasingly socially isolated world.  The belonging Gilmore speaks of is almost tribal, a systemic need. It remains even more paramount when power structures are left unchecked; fraternal in their decisions of who allowed in the “room where it happens.” Or, who ultimately belongs.

But, as we have heard, “The times are a changing.” 

In the school where I teach, a recent DEIJ statement was crafted to be used on the school’s website, admissions application, handbooks, etc.  One part specifically attests to the importance of belongingness.  

“Our community is actively engaged in reflection and action planning to ensure that our school is creating and maintaining an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong and where our students leave with the attitudes, values, and tools they need to enrich the world.”

The Survey

The data from the 2019 survey helped form a baseline for The Diversity Collaborative’s work.  This year another survey was launched (closing on May 30th) and is more detailed, requiring respondents to dig deeper into the roles of their leadership teams.  The initial question is a declaration of the region of the school. Following this, nationality and race/ethnicity are defined so there is shared understanding and clarity.  The survey then asks for the respondent to declare the gender, nationality based on passport, and ethnicity of the head of school. Then, questions are asked regarding the number, gender, and nationalities of members on the leadership team, as well as whether or not the leadership team has educators from the country where the school is located. The same questions are asked but this time about the school’s board members. Last, the 22-question survey repeats the questions but as they pertain to schools’ teachers.

Now What?

International schools are definitely interested in keeping pace and walking alongside the global communities they serve. Data gathering is but one small step.  Reflection, policies, professional development, partnerships, advocacy and action are all in process.  Ralph Waldo Emerson attested to the gravitas of action. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” The Diversity Collaborative shared in a recent presentation a very clear statement of action in this regard. 

“We recognize that the changes described will take time and resources,  but that just adds to the urgency for all of us engaged with international schools to act without delay to start to dismantle the systems that have prevented some outstanding educators from becoming international  school leaders and to build a more equitable and inclusive international  school sector so that educators of all backgrounds thrive.”

Helpful Links for More Information
ISS Diversity Collaborative
2019 Infographic of the results
For any survey questions, please reach out to data@cois.org

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ACCREDITATION IS ALL ABOUT BEING BETTER

Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development.  And it is available to us all.

“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.”  Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for  “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.  

Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on.  The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement.  Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies.  Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.  

Impact.   

After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation.  We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students.  An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.

Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical.  Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues.  A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken.  Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”  

Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential.  This means: 

~Leadership team (head of school and principals)~Teachers  
~Parents  ~Support Staff
~Business Staff  ~Building and Grounds
~Nursing Department  ~Public Relations and Marketing  
~Admissions  ~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)

Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning.  Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning.  Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward.  “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.  

SO WHAT?  

Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills.  People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development.  Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:

~Question development         ~Interview strategies              ~Formal writing

~Collaboration                         ~Presentation creation           ~Oral presentation

The visit I did was unique in several ways.  The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process.  One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.

NOW WHAT?  

At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged.  Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included.  The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails.  A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.    

The whole accreditation process is value added for all.  Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself.  To reflect.  To be vulnerable.  To speak but also listen.  Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment.  Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement.  Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.

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Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links:

www.acswasc.org/

www.msa-ces.orga/

STUCK CONTAINER SHIP: A METAPHOR FOR THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?

What could be harder to turn around than a 220,000 ton ship measuring nearly a quarter of a mile long?  The education system. The Evergreen however served as a fantastic metaphor.

For six days, the colossal three year-old was stuck. In a stretch of water narrower (985 feet) than the length of the boat (1,312 feet).  Not even a 3-point Austin Powers maneuver back and forth was possible “baby.” 

Not What It May Seem

Though the word “Evergreen” is painted on the ship’s side, on its back and bow in smaller letters is its official name, “Ever Given.”  A Taiwanese company called Evergreen Marine is responsible for operating the vessel, though it is registered in Panama.  Further, it is managed by a German ship company, but owned by a Japanese billionaire.

Education, more than a fifth of the way through the 21st century, is also not what it might seem. 

Roots of Education and Where We Find Ourselves Today

For most of human existence children educated themselves simply through play and exploration. A scary concept for most today.  Agriculture and the eventual systems of servitude resultant of the Middle Ages may have been what led to the death of children’s free will to organically learn.  In its place, obedience and reverence for lords and masters. The Industrial Revolution further squelched the innate desire to learn, as children were used for labor.  Once industry began to become more automated children were no longer as needed as much and at the advent of the 20th century child reform efforts surfaced. Finally, in 1924 opponents of child labor in the United States sought a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to “limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.” However, “the conservative political climate of the 1920s, together with opposition from some church groups and farm organizations that feared a possible increase of federal power in areas related to children, prevented many states from ratifying it.”  Not until 1938 were child labor laws enacted.  

Mind you, this is but 83 years ago!

Until Jean Piaget (1896-1980), pedagogical theory envisioned children as merely “empty vessels.” To be kept in line and “filled up.”  A diametric opposite of the very meaning of education. Etymologically, the term “education” derived from the Latin word “educare,” meaning “to bring up, rise, or to nourish.” Or, even more fitting is to consider the Latin “educere,” and its meaning to “to draw out.”  

Nourishing and Drawing Out.  Are Schools Doing This Today?  

More aptly, are schools whole-heartedly bent on settling for nothing less than a child’s best and allow for personalization?  I would argue we still have many miles of road to pave.  However, traction continues to be gained as educational systems move from compliance to empowerment.  The narrow ideologies of the past may pervade, yet however steeped in “control” they may be, such views are being sabotaged by digitization and connectivity.  Now, a teacher in the virtual world likely contends with YouTube, chat rooms, and possibly even Netflix, for a student’s attention.  “Armed” with pre-determined and trite curriculum, it often feels like a losing battle.  Vying for students’ attention and dumping curriculum on them was not the impetus most teachers got into the profession.  

An alternative approach might instead based on respect and trust.  Where the knowledge, skills, and standards checklists become more invitation than imposition. Or, what about the powers of collaboration?  How many educators are trusted, willing, or daring enough to set out to build a sort of kinship with students, where curriculum might be co-created?  A return to a more master and apprentice style; exploration as opposed to inculcation. For an example of how one middle school teacher does this, take a look at the basic structure for a unit design in a post written by Allison Zmuda titled, “A Play-By-Play Strategy for Co-Creating Curriculum with Students.”

Damage Done

The Suez Canal, a slit carved between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, took 10 years to build.  An investment well spent because today it is the preferred path connecting east and west. Ten percent of the world’s trade purportedly flows through these waters. From the 23rd to the 29th of March, the world watched as more than 360 ships were forced to wait.  A behemoth blocked the way. According to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence organization, a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo was held back each day.  Not until April 3rd did the Suez Canal Authority declare the logjam over and that all waiting ships finally crossed through.  Then, on April 13th, the Evergreen was seized and “Egyptian authorities said they wouldn’t release the massive ship… until its owners agreed to pay up to $1 billion in compensation.”

Are today’s schools similarly being held for ransom?

What is it going to cost to free our brittle, antiquated, and traditional system of education?  Though there is a clinging on to a delivery of knowledge; something seemingly more ubiquitous than even clean water or air, I remind you how the duration of this model, is but a flash in time. A “new normal” if you will. Yet, cracks in the system, like the ones the pandemic is inducing, continue to create a sort of vacuum. The rays of light clear the space for teachers to be more daring and for learners to return to what is instinctual.  Learning which is constructed, not consumed. Actively uploading, as opposed to passively downloading.  

Nothing New or Particularly Earth-Shattering

The late Sir Ken Robinson was turning heads 14 years ago, claiming how schools actually squash creativity. Further, in a visit of over 200 schools, Ted Dintersmith shared his observations in a book called, “What Schools Could Be.” Further, for specific schools standing out in the field, you may want to take a look at Getting Smart’s list of “Middle and High Schools Worth Visiting.”  Here you will see project-based learning, personalization, purpose, and a variety of other “ingredients” necessary to “unstuck” education.   

The stuck container ship is in fact a fitting metaphor for the education system. A difficult system to turn. One that still is wedged.  However, I like to think progress is being made, even if  transformation has not freed the “ship.” Marketer and author Seth Godin says it best, “Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation.”  The idea is there! Allies and advocates alike, we are tugboats.  Please stay the course, because your pushing and pulling is critical.  

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2020-21 A Punctuated School Year

You can sum up this school year in a variety of ways. However, please don’t use the word “unprecedented.” The challenge isn’t what to say about the past 7 or 8 months – the challenge is how will we end it. Punctuation marks might be the best way to frame this finish.

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Over and done. We came, we saw, we conquered.  Signed, sealed, and delivered. A year like none other and thank goodness it is finally over.  Full stop 

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I can’t breathe with this mask on! Hybrid model of education, I didn’t sign up for this!  Two more months, you got this! Summer time!

,

A pause, however continuation as next year is not going to be much different, and this situation/sentence will just continue to go on.

?

How will we start in the Fall? But what about graduation ceremonies? How might we go about really getting closure to the year What are the effects for children being in front of computer screens for so many hours? I never did understand, how is it sanitary for students to pass a football but not share a pencil? Do the footballs have an anti-bacterial coating?

A case can be made for the fittingness of each form of punctuation. Yet, a lesser known, unusual mark might top them all.  The ellipsis.  And maybe that is because ellipses do the opposite of what punctuation usually attempts; indicating relationship between ideas.

Ellipsis

The “dot, dot, dot,” usually  is used either for omitting text, for pausing or trailing off in speech or thought.

Perfect.  Even more so, considering the advent of the ellipsis can be traced back to the drama of the 16th century. “Drama was ‘especially important’ in the evolution of the ellipsis,” says Dr. Anne Toner a Cambridge academic. 

Our parents and grandparents may have profited or toiled from the Roaring 20s and Great Depression. Unarguably very dramatic times. But, in our own lives, what has caused more stir than COVID-19? No better punctuation mark seemingly lends itself to the drama of the past year (or year and a half!) more than an ellipsis.  

How we end the 2020-21 academic year is of our choosing.  

The “rain” has fallen.  I only hope we subscribe to American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash’s optimism, “Look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies.”

Because bright, bright sun shiny days are surely ahead.

To be continued

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An Unwillingness to Hand Over Curiosity to Google

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

~Albert Einstein

At the beginning stages of a project on innovation, I conference with students. My conversation with Anthony was staccato, more detached than cut short.  

“Great, you want to see how gaming consoles have changed throughout time. As you begin to research, what are some questions you have?  Or, if you find out anything about gaming consoles, what do you wonder most?”

The response a dead end.

“Nothing.” 

A child void of wonder could be linked to a listless boat in harbor.  Not only captainless but tethered.  However, eternal optimism screams out, “The boat is still afloat!”

Unfortunately, the conversation with Anthony was not exclusive, others had played out over the years.  Dejected tones imbued in learned compliance.  Students comfortable with conforming to carousels of simple obedience and going through the motions traditionally called, school.  

In quiet reflection I question the myriad factors which might contribute to what appears to be an inverted approach to learning.  Specific to Anthony I wonder, “How often  in middle school has Anthony been given free reign to wonder?”  The normative approach possibly is one where teachers have over a hundred students and countless standards to “cover.” Systems of disempowerment where students are subjected to learning, as opposed to being agents of their own learning.  

Further contemplation led me to take a deeper dive into what research says about the nature of wonder and curiosity.  There is little if any scrutiny of the value of curiosity in learning.  Yet, there is artistry behind designing approaches that truly listen to learners and provide the right conditions for revelling in wonder.  To do so would not be noble but simply, humane.  Intentionally fueling, as opposed to extinguishing this lifeblood. Curiosity, a hallmark of our human experience.

Tomorrow is Already Today

The role of curiosity is essential as we step into a possible fickle future. In an article titled, “Why Curiosity Might Be the Most Important Skill for Recruiters,” John Vlastelica shares:

“My team and I at Recruiting Toolbox have worked with thousands of corporate recruiters and hiring managers inside many of the best known companies on earth. And as you uncover what makes a great recruiter great, you start to hear common themes across industries and geographies. Curiosity is not always explicitly called out, but it’s there — it’s like an underlying competency, that leads to the more visible competencies that talent leaders and business leaders tell us they want to see more of in their recruiters.”  

But it does not stop with curiosity.  So too is the need for context and razor sharp problem solving sets.  Kurt Reusser’s 1986 study, is in effect sadder than it is humorous. How Old is the Shepherd  posits, “There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd?” Though absurd, researchers reported that  three quarters of schoolchildren were willing to offer a numerical answer to the shepherd problem.  Conditioned to calculate and not question, there is little wonder how passive learners were not confused by the word problem. They just needed to come up with a number.

Good news! This study was more than 40 years ago. Or is this really “good” news.  School curriculums have done anything but prune existing curriculums.  The time and space to develop intuition, explore, and question most likely has become even more confined. The pace of the world continues to quicken and students are expected to know and be able to do more, but seemingly in even less time. Racing as if there is soe sort of finish line. Further, consider the wieldy role of AI and algorithms.  Aimed at optimizing everything, algorithms increasingly are taking hold.  Their grip tightening as can be seen in the case of the “all knowing,” Google. “People Also Ask,” (PAA), previously known as “Related Searches,” appears after any word is typed into Google.  Only, no longer is this search all about knowledge and limited to generation of millions of results in less than a second.  Google also proffers a list of questions (PAA).  A list of what we might want to know.  The pivotal role of wonder shortcutted.  Users neither “have to” nor “get to” think of the questions.  Though under my brow for several years, only now am I conscious of the implications this feature may have on the future. The approach so seemingly sleight of hand. I am left with one dominant feeling. 

Gobsmacked.

If you look up “gobsmacked” on Google, the first enquiry in “People Also Ask” reads, “Is gobsmacked a bad word?” Impulsively, I click on the question and find “…it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks.”

Exactly. I am speechless, stopped dead in my tracks.

This is because “Googling” is no longer solely about knowledge and answers.  It is also about questions. Conditioned to still question I do not intend to hand over this privilege to Google. But how many busy learners will?  Or, already do!  

Will Google revisit their mission and even rebrand themselves? This seems to be a matter of  subterfuge, as Google exceeds their  interest in, “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.” 

This all reminds me of shopping for a greeting card.  Of greater importance than the inflated price tag, the happy birthday or get-well-card, comes with a message already written for the consumer who toils with the words to honestly express their feelings.  Yet, according to an Atlantic article written nearly a decade ago, “Consumers are expected to spend $860 million on about 150 million Valentine’s Day cards this year.”  In essence paying a card company to express YOUR feelings!

What We Can Do?

Warren Berger, self proclaimed questionologist and best selling author of A More Beautiful Question, references how today’s work environments are entrepreneurial and in need of educational systems which value questioning. Personally I plan to begin by truly nurturing curiosity and intentionally affording time to question in the classroom.  I myself modeling inquisitiveness and improving the habit of verbalizing my questions.  I also aim to take inventory of the types of questions students are asking.  Thankfully, “Is this going to be on the test,” appears to have all but vanished. I plan to hold close to the following five steps by Berger to help my students become better questioners: 

1. Make It Safe
2. Make It “Cool”
3. Make It Fun
4. Make It Rewarding
5. Make It Stick 

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Invaluable Intangibles

As of late I find myself swirling, if not drowning, in acronyms. First SPACS and now most remarkable of all, NFTs. Non-fungible tokens.  Never one to be a laggard I took a deeper dive.. And to simply know what NTF stands for is not enough. More than “all the rage,” NFTs likey are the future. Clearly millennials grasp the concept of NFTs and are paving this somewhat ethereal and hard to conceive of future.  One where we may stray from the more traditional business model of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but also dip into the entertainment industry.  Artists, athletes, and musicians are seemingly all rushing to create limited digital editions of their “goods.” 

In layman’s terms, digital items being bought and sold with digital money.  What is especially of significance is how authenticity is being guaranteed.  Each item stamped with a unique code and stored on a blockchain.  For more information on blockchain technology, there are a host of YouTube tutorials on the subject.  For now, just think Bitcoin. and where a distributed ledger system underlies blockchain technology. Meaning, the ledger or records, are spread across the whole network, making tampering difficult.  Further, it is encrypted, anonymous, and data added cannot be removed or altered. Everything is recorded.  The whole “story” intact.

Big Money

In the news you may have read how a band called the Kings of Leon garnered more than $2 million by auctioning a song.  Then, American football superstar Rob Grownkowski auctioned playing cards.  Many others followed but none matched the recent trade of a JPG digital piece of art which sold for $69.3 million.

The beauty in each sale is how the internet acts as a short of auction house, helping artists reap the benefits of their trade. The middle man cut out.  In the case of the near $70 million dollar graphic art sale of “Five Thousand Days,” graphic artist Mike Winkelmann, known under the pseudonym Beeple, profited from his 13 years of attention on the “masterpiece.”  

New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose posited in a March 24th article, “Why can’t a journalist join the NFT party, too?”  $558,134.50.  This was the result of Roose’s column purchased by a user named @3FMusic.  “The biggest perk of all, of course, is owning a piece of history,” Roose wrote in the column. The article is the first NFT in the New York Times’s almost 170-year history.  The column purchased is about what NFTs are all about. Now that is philosophical!

Shifting to professional sports, there is question of whether or not athletes will be able to fully represent themselves.  Or, will players be more like owned commodities?  Gronkowski’s NFT trading cards were auctioned for over $1.6 million.   Patrick Mahomes, another professional football star raked in $3.7 million. The 25-year old has a mission to “make the world a better place,” and proceeds were donated to his 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, as well as 40 different Boys & Girls Clubs in Kansas and Missouri. However, the National Football League is moving fast in hopes of cashing in on NFTs.  Recently a memo was sent to teams telling them that  league approval was needed and to not begin making their own agreements.  This is on the heels of the National Basketball Association establishing a partnership with Dapper Labs and development of NBA Top Shot.  This is a place where fans are able to buy, sell and trade official licensed digital cards. With an estimated market cap over $1.5 billion, this is a slam dunk for the league. 

But What Does All This Mean to Education?

A lot.

College admission is riddled with stories of fraud, cheating and inauthenticity.  The list is as long as it is wide. Implicated parties include organizations, universities, athletic departments, coaches, parents, and celebrities to name a few.  Centralization has permitted secrecy and scandal.  Timothy Collins, a financial adviser, recently shared how “the education industry could use NFTs to share and/or secure transcripts, letters of recommendations, standardized test scores, certifications, and diplomas.” What is being traded or shared as an NFT may be questionable.  However, the significance of adopting blockchain technology is certain.

The future of higher education, and I might argue the future of work, will make this shift.  This may even be considered old news, as nearly two years ago, “nine universities from around the world collaborated to create a trusted and shared infrastructure standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying academic credentials.”  Amongst these was the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam in Germany, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

This is good news.  

Verification.

Authentication.

A Future of Great Possibility

The fashion apparel brand Supreme was a bit a bit ahead of the curve. Opened in 1994, Supreme was just that.  Supreme in its uniqueness and originality, possibly even items being limited in stock.  Yet, living in Asia has afforded me many lessons. One, is to not be fooled by a fake.  Ubiquitous are the markets where knock-offs are so well constructed, that only the price attests to imitation. Buyers ultimately chasing exclusivity.

Will education follow a similar trend? Hopefully not in exclusivity but in authenticity. As students “brand themselves” with credentials and accomplishments that ultimately can be attested to by a ledger.

The future holds great possibility. And I wonder where we might be in 10, five, or even three years.  Because I continue to try and wrap my head around how a piece of digital art, a JPG file, something not in the physical realm sold for nearly $70 million.  Purchased with digital money also not in the physical realm.

Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do (The Twilight Zone Theme Song).

As Education Evolves, We Must Continue to Integrate Parents

Schooling and learning have changed. From passivity to authenticity. Transferability the clear goal.  An analogy that might help better understand this evolution is the user experience of shopping and how it has morphed, almost into an unrecognizable state. The advent of shopping catalogs can be traced back further back in history than one might assume, however we are but a couple generations removed from the “Golden-era of mail order.”  You may even have memories, fond or otherwise so, of the 1980’s when we saw the likes of Lands End, J. Crew, and Sears.  The retail catalog business  estimated at $164 billion in 1989.  Catalogs now are but a faded memory, yet they were the  building blocks for the budding behemoth, Amazon. Nowadays there is talk about the use of augmented reality to assist with virtual shopping.  Amazon being one such company utilizing patented mirror technology.  The evolution of shopping is an illustration of an undeniably different world than the one adults experienced as children. This is not unlike our schools and classroom.   Yet, unless you never left school, many adults today may not have realized this transformation.

One Question Remains

Before the turn of the millennium I started teaching in an urban school in a large city in the United States. Three quarters of the 8 and 9-year olds in my class would not share the end of the school year, as name tags would tirelessly be replaced with the incessant cycling in and out.  Transience was often a result of families being evicted from government subsidized housing.  Most headed by a single parent, always mothers.  The young women’s experience with education, negative more often than not. To get them to come for a parent night or conference was a stretch.  Families merely surviving.

Fast forward to another reality, teaching in Asia at a respected international school.  Standards, compliance, and well resourced; many students have help at home: maids, tutors, coaches, and extended family.  Two parent households the norm; both often highly educated.  Conference attendance is nearly 100 per cent.  Still, one question is worthy of asking. 

How well do parents really understand what school is today?

In both situations above, intentionality is essential. How are we welcoming parents in, helping educate them on how the world has changed, and how this translates to being a student today?  Unless we do so, the divide likely will remain.  A disconnect where seemingly a more scientific rather than artistic means of measuring wins out.  The quantifiable, hard and fast grades prioritized over the qualitative process of learning.  Commanding teachers as opposed to empowered students.  

Just Where Are We Now?

During the pandemic Zoom was used in more than 90,000 schools in 20 countries.   In effect, this meant that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of classrooms were opened to parents.  Sitting on the periphery, or in the case of younger students possibly directly in front of the screen with their child. Parents had an opportunity to be fully integrated, immersed in the learning even if virtual school was different.  Smeared or possibly even “broken,” it was a “window” nonetheless.  Zoom certainly required teachers to be vulnerable.  

Ted Dintersmith, author and film producer, of “What School Could Be” optimistically reveres the pandemic as a remarkable opportunity.  “Will we rush to go back to ‘normal,’ piling on the worksheets and fact-based exams? Or will we learn from what worked this past year and use these insights as a springboard for reimagining school??”  A component of this “reimagining” hopefully will be the critical role of parents.

Dr. Diana Hiatt-Michael, a professor of education at Pepperdine University for more than three decades, examined the historical role of parents in education.  Published by Academic Development Institute, “Parent Involvement in American Public Schools: A Historical Perspective 1642—2000,” attests to how the pendulum has swung back and forth. “From strong parent involvement in the home and community based schools of the agrarian seventeenth century to the bureaucratic factory model schools of the industrial revolution,” writes Dr. Hiatt-Michael.  What the impending Information and Experience Age propagates is still left to tell.  However, what is not in question, is the profound impact parental involvement has in a child’s education.  

However, hiring out or programming the lives of children is not call. Rather, the quiet strength in truly listening to children. As well, especially in the pre-teen and teenage years, maintaining trusting child-parent relationships where artful two-way conversation is a part of family’s home cultures.  This communication about friends, things a child may be excited or even nervous about, as well as what is being learned in school.  Parents and children alike never have expressed titillation from the generic deadend conversation that begins with, “How was school?”  

What We Can Do (3-2-1 A Common Technique in a Teacher’s Toolkit)

Parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning but how might we better facilitate this? Furthermore, how might we as students, parents, teachers, and schools have a more shared vision of what education can be?  Let us finish with some hopefully easily applicable ideas for paving a luminous path.

3 Things Teachers and Schools Can Do:

3 Invite families into the classroom to observe.  And not just once or twice a year.

2 Share regular “newsletters,” updates, or e-mails to help keep parents informed and involve .

1 Share recommended resources that can assist with building greater understanding of the world of children and education today.  As well, parenting wisdom.  For example, Madeline Levine’s Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World.”

2 Things Parents Can Do:

2  Set down your phones and create time daily to speak with your children.

1  Parents teaching parents:  volunteer to provide or attend a workshop.  Topics such as as self-management and finding balance with technology are often especially valuable.  

1 Thing Students Can Do:  

1 Do not wait for events like student-led conferences to share your learning and lives with adults.  

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Deserving Permission

Two bits recently grab my attention as I grapple to better understand each.  The first is simply a matter of syntax but the words I hear and choose to use clearly have an impact. The second is of much larger context and regards the commodification of education.  

“The self-talk you use regularly creates your reality and your destiny,” states Christopher Bergland in an article published in Psychology Today titled, “Scientists Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions ~Language has the power to make the invisible appear real”.  Understanding this, two words seemingly have the power to raise the hackles on my hairless back.  

“Deserve.”

And “permission.”

Consciously I no longer use either, a disappearing act from within my lexicon.  The first, “deserve”, exudes entitlement. “Have a great break, you deserve it!” Or, “Go ahead and eat dessert.  You deserve it!”  

Caroline Myss, five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker asserts, “The attitude of ‘deserve’, as a rule, is a one-way street.”  As if to say that the world and others are simply to revolve around an individual. Myss further adds, “Expectations do not get filled by themselves. Someone has to ‘make’ you happy; someone has to ‘provide’ security and safety; someone has to ‘provide’ love.”

The second, “permission”, appears especially out of place in the context of education.  A place where empowerment and innovation are essential.  Some these days even are proclaiming “fearless inquiry”.  Boldly questioning and willing to try everything. Yet, still hanging on are the enduring remnants of tradition and hierarchy.  A colleague in another school shared a pervasive example of a school community writhing in dysphoria.  “You have the permission to send Meghan to the office when she tells you to be quiet.”  A knee jerk reaction would surely need to be kept in check, a biting of the tongue just the same.  For surely there would be a desire to sarcastically respond, “Geez, thanks!”   Unfortunately this is not a stand alone example.  I have also overhead educators ardently disclose, “Jill (the principal) said we had permission to purchase supplemental materials with our PD funds.”  Like 7 and 8-year old children, professional practioners, those in the trenches, are so disempowered that they need to be given “permission.”  These examples are even more preposterous when we consider “teachers make over 1500 educational decisions every school day, a constant juggle of manager, content holder, master communicator, and support system.”

Occupying more of my thinking, at a 20,000 foot altitude is how might higher education be 10, 20, or 50 years from now.  Specifically, in the United States.  A proponent of alternative models and interested in learning from the past but also the pandemic present, a part of me is not entirely optimistic.  I have no sources to back my thinking, just experience.  

Last year, Forbes reported how student loan debt is just behind mortgage debt, a figure of $1.56 trillion.  Clearly a broken system, however with all the talk about the unsustainability of student loans, I posit “What would happen if we emptied the higher ed institutions of privilege?”  What if not a single American student attended the Yales, Harvards, and Princetons?  

A vacuum. 

That’s my prediction of what likely would see.  As true as gravity.  

A flood of F-1 student visas would result.  The elite from developing countries would fill the hallowed halls and desks up over night.  Education, a commodity bought up.  More than mere fad, attending such schools is a symbol.  Just as driving a fancy car, wearing certain designer clothes, or toting a $3000 purse.  In Bangkok, the city where I live, shopping is considered by some to be the nation’s favorite pastime.  With countless luxury malls, boutiques as well as upscale brands help fill a sort of void. Opulence a sort of addiction. Status but also appearance, the priority. 

Education is no different.  A commodity.  Only in much of Asia, education is rooted culturally, the pathway to success.  Therefore, what is considered the “best” or “first-tier” naturally is what is sought after. Not necessarily for better or worse.  An Ivy League sweatshirt worn with pride.

However, what is different is the messaging. A more progressive view wells up in the United States.  One example is the rampant rise in credentialing. This appears far more aligned with what it means to learn and work in the 21st century.  In the United States alone there are over 730,000 confirmed credentials.  According to Credential Engine, “Through an increasing array of credentials – such as degrees, licenses, badges and apprenticeships – job seekers, students, and workers have more options than ever to help them get ahead.”Again, I have just experience to make these claims.  Yet, for now my recommendation is to just give students “permission” to pursue an alternative approach.  Afterall, they “deserve” it!