Category Archives: Emily Meadows

Breastfeeding at School


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Shortly after I told my principal that I was pregnant, she let me know that she supports breastfeeding parents, and would make accommodations if I decided to go that route[1]. This was meaningful in two ways: 1) A supportive principal makes life easier and, 2) She didn’t leave it up to me to go digging around for this information. Her gesture mattered[2].

Breastfeeding can be hard; it is a round-the-clock commitment that doesn’t stop when you go to work. I’ve known more than a few mothers who have dealt with the stress of a dwindling ‘stash’ (stored frozen milk) as they transition out of maternity leave. There are several factors, however, that can make breastfeeding more do-able for working educators.

Space
As a school counselor, I had a private office buffered by a team of efficient and discreet administrative assistants. I knew I’d be able to close the door for a moment of privacy to feed my baby or express milk (known by my mama friends as ‘pumping’). Some international educators live on campus, and can pop home for a feed. But most people working in a school are surrounded by children in a room of windows for the majority of their day. What then? I’ve spoken to educators who pumped while hiding in storage closets, tucked between shelving units, and, yes, in the toilet.

“A dedicated nursing room is what’s needed. Period.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Brazil

“If the school met with the teacher before their return and asked what they needed in terms of space and time, and provided them with options, that would help a lot.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Jordan

“Parents with children under age two should be exempt from school-related travel.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Turkey

Time
Let’s say there is a satisfactory nursing room at your school. Now nursing parents must find some time in their schedule. If you are like the educators I know, you might eat lunch at 3:00 pm because that’s when your students leave. You might avoid your water bottle because you aren’t sure when you’ll next get to visit the restroom. This is the reality of working in a school. But pumping and storing breast milk for an infant can easily eat up half an hour or more several times per day. Teachers’ schedules are rigid, and their time without students is typically dedicated to important duties such as lesson planning or meeting with parents.

“If someone had offered to take my recess duty for me so I could pump, I would have broken down in tears of gratitude.
– Breastfeeding educator in Africa

“Give moms paid maternity leave and encourage them to take the full amount of leave.”
– Amanda Olson Vanderstelt, Breastfeeding international educator in Texas

Politics
Beyond finding the time and space for breastfeeding or pumping, educators may see the task is daunting for political reasons. There is a lot of judgment around how we feed our babies. Even well-meaning remarks like, “Good for you!” when I tell people I breastfeed imply that my decision is being assessed. Conversely, some people may see nursing as too personal or private for a work environment. Indeed, many women are nervous about breastfeeding outside the home. Depending on one’s relationship with school leadership and colleagues, it may be uncomfortable to ask for the time and space to pump. Providing the school’s policy upfront can reduce anxiety and create a more welcoming space for breastfeeding parents.

“Meet people where they are. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.”
– Erin Robinson, Principal & breastfeeding mother, UWC South East Asia

“How about giving men a real paternity leave? Nursing in the first several weeks is like a full-time job. I wish my husband could have been around to help out with the tasks that started to build up at home.”
– Breastfeeding spouse of a teacher in the Middle East

“Contacts in human resources should have a working knowledge of policies related to parenting, and be available to craft a plan for employees returning from maternity and paternity leave.”
–  Breastfeeding administrator in Europe

The Law
Depending on which country you work in, there may be protections for breastfeeding parents, or not. U.S. law guarantees nursing mothers time and space (not a bathroom) for pumping on the job. The World Health Organization, however, has reported that breastfeeding laws in most countries are inadequate. International schools must uphold the laws of the country where they are located, but truly family-friendly schools will ensure that, even when not legally required, nursing parents are provided the necessary resources and support to breastfeed or pump at work.

How does your school support breastfeeding parents?  

[1] There are benefits to breastfeeding, and benefits to formula feeding. The decision of how to nourish a child is extremely personal, and this post is in no way meant to be an endorsement of breastfeeding over formula.

[2] This was Maya Nelson at Hong Kong International School, who has also seen to it that a breastfeeding/pumping/feeding room with changing table, couch, and private bathroom has been built into the school’s new campus.

Dial 911 (or 999 or 112 or 15…): Emergency Services Worldwide

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My Facebook feed right now is a stream of photographic evidence that my friends are enjoying spring break – Petra, Bali, Prague, Kenya. Of late, I have wondered: what happens if you have an emergency in, say, Petra? This dreary thought began recently after I witnessed someone having a seizure in public. I was on the phone to Hong Kong emergency services within seconds, and therein came my second fright: the woman who answered could not understand me in English, and I do not speak Cantonese. Though a police station was across the street, it took twelve minutes for an officer to get to the scene, and longer for the ambulance to arrive.

Thankfully, the man seemed to recover by the time we left his side (there was a group of us looking after him as we waited for the medics), but I was shaken. The U.S. Department of State webpage notes that emergency service response times for police, fire, and ambulances in Hong Kong are good. And medical care here, in my experience, is excellent. So, if it took fifteen minutes to get an ambulance to a well-known public location in a city with developed infrastructure, what can we expect elsewhere?

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve been thinking about this. I grew up traveling. I lived in Moscow, back when it was part of the Cold War Soviet Union and we could barely get groceries much less proper medical care. I’ve been all over the world, often by myself, including to remote mountain locations where the closest shelter was hours away by foot, and hospitals must be reached by helicopter. I thought I was essentially immune to travel scares.

However, when it comes to accessing treatment for a major medical emergency, I am starting to second-guess my carefree approach. (Full disclosure: likely this has to do with becoming a parent, and now being responsible for a life more precious than my own). From language barriers, to cell phone service, to paramedic training and response times, to hospital quality, there is a lot of variation in the ability to access emergency care when you travel. Diversity of experience is a valuable element of living abroad, but how much diversity is worth a compromise in health and safety?

Do medical services play a role in deciding where you live or travel? Where have you had a particularly positive or negative experience with emergency care?

The Hidden Curriculum: Revealing and Resisting Institutionalized Inequality

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Formal Curriculum
How does a school decide what to teach? International schools often have the luxury of splitting, at least in part, from the local or national curriculum of their host country, and may select from a variety of alternatives and supplements. Generally, schools will adopt a program from the country they represent (i.e. the Canadian school follows Canadian standards, the Australian school follows Australian), but even there they may have options as to which province or state directives to adopt. In addition, there is the decision whether to offer International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses as a supplement. Many schools will select – or be mandated – to include some element of the host country’s academic priorities as well. The resulting curricular package tends to be somewhat transparent and articulated for stakeholders of the school. This constitutes a school’s formal, explicit curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum
Every school also imparts an informal, implicit, or “hidden” curriculum. A school’s hidden curriculum is made up of the values and social norms that are taught and learned through the process of schooling. The teaching of a hidden curriculum is generally not intentional, and not even done consciously. Hidden curricula are, “Tacit in so far as their presence is implied and often taken-for-granted rather than directly acknowledged and examined”[1]. Why, then, bother with it?

Hidden curriculum is worth examining because it can perpetuate social structures that privilege certain groups over others, legitimizing their dominant status. A ‘textbook example’ (sorry) from history class is the disproportionate portrayal of white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men in positions of leadership. Another example is the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ characters in literature selected for study. These types of subtle assertions about what is worth learning institutionalize social hierarchies. Acknowledging this problem, unpacking why it may be so, and taking steps to change it can be a powerful learning experience for students. Some have argued that it is the ethical responsibility of educators to make hidden curriculum visible and explicit[2].

Capitalizing on Hidden Curriculum
Hidden curriculum, once identified, can be discussed and possibly maintained as part of a formal curriculum. For example, while teaching parenting classes in Hong Kong, my co-facilitator and I realized that our program implicitly emphasized democratic values. We discouraged parents from taking an authoritarian, dictatorial approach; instead we worked on tools to help children become active members in the family and community structures. This underlying value, while initially unnamed, was something we agreed was desirable, and aligned with the goals of our parenting course and the mission of the school. The participants in our program came from countries with a variety of political systems, so we did preserve our democratic slant, but addressed this for the groups, making it explicit so that parents knew our angle. Fellow TIE blogger, Daniel Kerr, has also written about how positive values can be transferred through a hidden curriculum.

Revealing and Resisting Institutionalized Inequality
Norms, customs, and beliefs in international schools are diverse. Each community member contributes their own opinions and assumptions of how the world should operate, which may not necessarily be compatible with one another. No school will be able to satisfy all stakeholders’ demands, but making clear what is being taught (or omitted) and why can at least allow for open discussion, and provides a valuable critical thinking experience if done in the classroom. Understanding our own implicit biases, as well as those of the school as a whole, prepares us not only to engage in meaningful conversation with people who may hold differing views from our own, but also to expose and resist perpetuation of systemic inequality.

What values are transmitted through hidden curriculum at your school? How have you made hidden curriculum explicit and visible in your work as an educator? 

[1] Cornbleth, C. (1984). Beyond hidden curriculum? Journal of Curriculum Studies, 16(1), p. 29-36.

[2] Portelli, J. P. (1993). Exposing the hidden curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 25(3), p. 343-358.

Air Pollution: What Should Schools Be Doing?   

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Photo credit: The New York Times

When I lived in the Middle East, we had ‘rain days’, when it poured enough to render the roads unsafe for students to venture out, and school was cancelled. In Colorado, we had snow days. In Hong Kong, we’ve got typhoon days. We also have days when the air pollution is so high that children must stay indoors.

I recently spent a solid week inside with my toddler because the air was too poor to consider leaving the house[1]. One evening, the app that shows me our current air quality (I check it way more than I look at Facebook or Twitter), said the “air” was 323% more polluted than the World Health Organization’s maximum safe limit. I cranked up the purifiers and drummed up as many indoor baby activities as I could. At one desperate point, I started shopping around for flights to someplace fresher. Developing children are too susceptible to take this risk with.

There isn’t a standard international way to measure air pollution, nor do we agree upon what to measure or how to interpret the results. Schools, if they have a policy in place around air quality, typically rely upon government-published data, the reliability of which varies. It can be easy to assume that, unless a thick fog is visible (and you don’t live in India or China), smog isn’t an issue. However, air pollution – often invisible and odourless – is present in higher levels around the world than you might think. This mesmerizing website, by the World Air Quality Index project, debunked some of my assumptions about where to go for clean air[2]. Indeed, the WHO has concluded that, in 2014, 92% of the global population was living in places where air quality guideline levels were not met[3].

Is it the responsibility of schools to protect students from exposure to air pollution? I’ve heard of some campuses with ‘bubbles’ built over their play spaces so that children have room to run without being outside, exactly. Some schools install air purification systems in classrooms. And some simply hold indoor recess for as long as it takes for the haze to pass. Unlucky is the asthmatic child whose condition has landed them on a list of students who stay inside in all but the best conditions while their peers hit the playground without them. But really, should any of them be running around in questionable air quality?

What precautions does your school take to protect students from the harmful effects of air pollution? 

[1] It’s Hong Kong: when I say ‘house’, I mean a flat that might qualify for those ‘tiny home’ TV shows in the U.S.

[2] As I write this, air pollution readings are triple those in Hong Kong at a station in British Columbia, and at another in Italy.

[3] World Health Organization. (2016). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/

The ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Depreciate the Value of American Schools

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Between 1950 and 2009, internationally-mobile students increased from 107,000 to 3.4 million annually[1]. That’s almost 3.5 million students making a decision each year to leave their home to study, and more of them choose the U.S. than any other destination. When I was a college counselor at an American school in the Middle East, only about 1/3 of our students were American, but over 90% of our graduates went on to tertiary studies in the U.S.

The so-called ‘Muslim Ban’, recently signed by U.S. President Trump, which blocks immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries, will likely impact study abroad applications. As an American, I value the contributions of foreign students to my country. As an international school educator, I wonder about how this ban will effect the appeal of American college prep schools abroad.

Following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the United States. Anti-Muslim groups have also drastically increased. It has been posited that, “The decision to study overseas is driven primarily by cultural values rather than rational choice”[2]. If this is so, perceived messages of intolerance toward Muslim people will influence students’ decisions about where to invest the time and financial resources it takes to complete a degree. I anticipate that we will see a decrease in international Muslim students on U.S. campuses in the coming years.

Image Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

With fewer foreign students planning on the U.S. for college, I suspect that families will rethink their children’s attendance at international college prep schools. The Executive Director for the Association of International Educators recently gave an interview on National Public Radio, explaining their collaboration with colleges and universities in the U.S. to gain insight on how the immigration ban is playing out in our admissions offices. I fear the worst: numbers of foreign students to the U.S. will drop and, along with that, American college prep schools in Muslim majority countries will see declining enrollment.

We need international students in the United States, and we need American schools abroad. Promoting cross-cultural contact can reduce negative stereotypes about ‘the other’. This is not romantic aspiration; research shows that when white Americans are exposed to positive information about Arab Muslims, their implicit negative bias declines[3]. Having enjoyed four years of gracious hospitality in the Middle East, I am saddened to think that the students I knew may now be feeling unwelcome in my home country.

How has the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ impacted student’s college plans at your school?

[1] UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2011). Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

[2] Shields, R. (2013). Globalization and international student mobility: A network analysis. Comparative Education Review, 57(4), 609-636.

[3] Park, J., Felix, K., & Lee, G. (2007). Implicit Attitudes Toward Arab-Muslims and the Moderating Effects of Social Information. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 35-45.

Bathroom Laws and International Schools

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United States President from 2009-2017, Barak Obama, issued a statement last year reminding schools of their responsibility to protect the rights of all students, regardless of gender[1]. Specifically, his guidelines clarified the right of transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room consistent with their gender identity. The directive sparked controversial conversations around the nation, as some contend that people should be forced to use facilities that correspond with their sex assignment from birth. (A reminder that transgender people do not conform to the gender identity and/or expression that is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth). Earlier this week, current President Donald Trump, rescinded Obama’s recommendations[2], renewing debate on the rights of transgender students.

Legal issues
Under Title IX, schools accepting federal funds in the U.S. are legally obligated to comply with this nondiscrimination act, regardless of the political/moral values held by the district. International schools, however, even those following an American curriculum, are generally not bound by this mandate. So, where does that leave transgender students around the world before and after Trump’s actions? Most countries do not protect transgender rights, so policy decisions are left up to individual schools’ leadership teams, many of whom have not been in a position to address these concerns previously, and may not fully understand the issues. Some schools might choose to ignore the issue altogether, which essentially preserves the status quo of leaving their trans kids without protection and equal rights. (Gender Spectrum offers an excellent FAQ[3], as well as sample policies for schools’ reference[4].)

Cultural concerns
Outside of legal obligations, international schools have the unique distinction of managing a dazzling tangle of cultural influences. In many places, gender non-conformity is taboo, even forbidden. There are notable exceptions, such as the Hijra in India and Pakistan, or the Kratoy in Thailand. Still, it is not uncommon for transgender people to face hostility, even violence, for their gender expression. Many trans children do not have the support of their own family members. This can make it difficult for schools to offer appropriate protections, as they find themselves balancing local expectations for gender norms with the well-being of their students. As professional educators, many of us will encourage erring on the side of the child’s best interest, but that does not mean that doing so is without complication. Cultural sensitivity is a valid and important element of working in an international school community.

Transgender risks
Keep in mind that transgender children are among the most vulnerable in our care. From a mental health perspective, trans youth are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidality[5]. Indeed, in one study of transgender youth, nearly half of the participants reported that they have seriously considered taking their lives, and a quarter reported actual suicide attempts[6]. These results are consistent with other studies in the field. The good news is that protective factors and inclusive policies, like the right to choose which bathroom to use, can bear a significant impact on the educational experience of transgender children[7]. As international educators, we are in a powerful position to improve the well-being of trans students around the world.

Does your school offer protection for transgender students’ rights? If so, what was the process like to get to that point? If not yet, what do you think the next steps are? Who advocates for the gender non-conforming children at your school?

[1] Emma, C. (2015, May 12). Obama administration releases directive on transgender rights to school bathrooms. Politico.

[2] Peters, J. W., Becker, J., Davis, J. H. (2017, February 22). Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathroom for Transgender Students. The New York Times.

[3] Transgender students and school bathrooms: Frequently asked questions. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[4] Sample district and statewide policies that provide protection for transgender students. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[5] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peole: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[6] Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender youth and life-threatening behaviors. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 37(5), 527-537.

[7] The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. (2014). The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).