Category Archives: Forrest Broman

Thoughts on getting and securing a job in an international school. Forrest Broman has been in international education for 30 years. He has interviewed thousands of candidates, written a guide for international recruiters, and is the founder and President of The International Educator (TIE).

Racism alive in 2020- As school leaders what are the lessons we are teaching our international school communities?

As the sun goes down in beautiful Surrey tonight, tensions are high in my multi cultural household of 3 people. A caucasiian husband, african black mother and a biracial child who identifies strongly with both cultures, and is comfortable with who she is. We are all processing the events of the past week from our individual perspectives as well as the family collective ones. Some conversations have been safe and exploratory whilst others have been heated and unforgiving. Our daughter is an activist on social media with very strong opinions on social injustice and is feeling that it is a wee bit too late for big corporations to be making statements of support, she is asking what exactly they are doing about it besides making a public statement for positive publicity. How will their actions actually make a difference to how black people continue to be treated in this world?

As an active and vocal international educator who has for years tried to make other international educators understand and be conscious of the discrimination people of colour contnue to experience in recruitment practices from recruiters, school boards of directors and school leaders; with one breadth, I am grateful that the conversation has been forced upon us by the recent events in Minneapolis , and I am saddened that in 2020, little has changed in this space. Racism is alive and bubbling and it continues to be systematic. I am grateful that those that have been silent all these years can no longer continue in their ignorance and discomfort and that they are being forced to delve deeply into their consciousness and reflect on what they can do to change practices, understandings and perceptions of white privilege and how they can support others.

Our role as international educators has never been more important as it is today. We have a moral duty to all our students to model leadership as activists and also build community, love, empathy, respect, understanding and all soft skills that will open the door for better communication and collaboration access for all cultures, races and peoples.

What is sad? I have not seen any statement from international schools or recruiters, making a stand against racism especially as many of our students globally are affected by what has happened in recent days.

Passport – race – accent – inequality- culture -black lives matter – people of colour – international mindedness – diversity – white privilege – implicit biases.

WHAT ARE THE DISCUSSIONS WE ARE HAVING ABOUT REAL LIFE ISSUES?

Splashes of Yellow

So sometimes the road leading out of winter and into spring can be long, and in countries like France, it means clouds and rain and a constant chill in the air. You can find yourself longing for a burst of sunshine and if you’re not careful it can start to negatively affect your energy and mindset. Last week I even found myself having to dig a little deeper to keep my energy up and my smile bright, which is very unusual for me, until out of nowhere something super small happened that gave me the boost that I needed. 

I was coming home from walking the dog early one morning, just as the light was beginning to spread across the day, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a beautiful splash of yellow. The first gorgeous tulip of the season had magically appeared in my yard and I instantly felt this boost of joy and inspiration. It was exactly what I needed at the time and honestly, it reminded me of schools in a funny way, and the day to day lives that seem to string together in a blur during these long stretches at work. It re-connected me to the importance of little celebrations…the intentional and purposeful celebration of little wins along the way with our kids and with each other…those little splashes of yellow that come out of nowhere and scream out to be recognized. 

Oftentimes in schools, and in life, we can go way, way too long without stopping to recognize and celebrate the incredible work that we all do, and the amazing daily accomplishments that happen in the learning lives of our students. I spent that tulip flower day last week reflecting on the journey that we’ve been on as a collective team, and really, it’s staggering to think of how far we’ve come over the past two and a half years. We are in the midst of so many wonderful changes as a division and as a school and we can’t forget to regularly celebrate. I think in many ways we do a nice job as educators with our weekly celebration google doc, and our fun March Gladness initiative, and with our celebratory faculty meetings that we have from time to time, but I’m wondering if I (we) can do a little bit more celebrating with our kids. 

This literal “march” into Spring is hard for many of us as adults and I know it can be hard for our students as well. My challenge to all of us this week is to intentionally celebrate our kids for their effort, their success, their positive attitude and for their youthful joy…they are all throwing out little splashes of yellow all over the place, each and every day, and a compliment and a simple public recognition will be that burst of sunshine that they need…it will make us feel warm and sunny too! Okay, I’ll commit to continue to find ways to celebrate our many successes as a team, and I’m going to celebrate as many kids as I can this week…join me for the fun and let’s all be their makeshift sunshine, and the little splashes of yellow for all of them until the actual sun decides to make an appearance. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Celebration comes when the common features of life are redeemed

  • Richard J. Foster

Inspiring Videos- 

Home for Senior Dogs

Friendship Saves

How NOT to Raise Your Children

TED Talk – Fear Setting

TED Talk – Giving as a Source of Pleasure

Related Articles – 

Celebrating Our Students

Celebrating Accomplishments 

Small Wins at Work

Achieve Big Goals

Teaching – how hard can it be?

When I was a student I used to trampoline a bit.  When I got to the stage of twisting somersaults, I used to get a bit lost up there in the air, and land in rather distressing ways (to both me and anyone watching).  Our guru, the wonderfully elegant and controlled Pete (also an o-so glamorous PhD student), worried about my safety, stepped in and offered a demo. I watched a few moves; and then asked him to talk me though it.  “It’s easy” he said – bounce – “watch this next twist” – bounce – “all you do is take it up”  – bounce – “and wrap it” – bounce and twisting straightback somersault, flawlessly landed.   Of course I was none-the wiser; what sounds so simple in words is impossible to master or even really grasp without spending deep and extensive time on the details of the task.  What does “wrap it” mean?  What does it mean for the rate of rotation, the straightness of the back, the thrust of the hips, the direction of sight, and the throw of the arms?

Much the same can be said of many things.  Of course I am thinking about teaching.  I am often asked by people thinking of joining the profession if I can recommend courses, which I willingly do.  Occasionally though, I get a request from someone who asks if I can consider their experience in programming, or finance, or manufacturing, as equivalent to certification and experience.  That seems to me to be like a skilled footballer thinking he can join a trampoline team because he can play a blinder in midfield (of course it goes in other directions too – a teacher thinking his years with grade 9 make him ready to place derivative trades in emerging Namibian Bio-tech would be equally mistaken).

Drawing a deer.  
How hard can it be – there are only four steps, right?
Teaching is much the same.

So this is a plea for recognition – because teaching sounds relatively easy. And we’ve all been to school, so we know a bit about it right?  But I suggest that the term teaching is very much like wrap it. Simple sounding – but when you look at “teaching students” and unpack it, you end up asking things like: Where do I stand when they enter?  With what tone and body stance do I greet them?  How do I create a supportive but demanding atmosphere?  How much should I recap the previous lesson?  How do I cater for the student with limited English?  Or the one whose parents are splitting up?  Or the one whose tutor taught the topic to him yesterday?  How do I address the one who did not do her homework in a way that signals to others that that’s not OK, bit that is also supportive?  What about the one whose mental health is a worry, and who was away last lesson?  When someone arrives late, do I help them, ignoring the others, or just let them flounder for a bit? And what’s the best way of crafting an activity to get at the difference between validity and truth? (one that allows access to the strugglers, but stretches the swiftest)?

And that’s only thinking about the what to actually do; it get’s even harder when you actually think about the sheer pace of teaching.  In a 2013 Slate article, teacher Ryan Fuller wrote as an engineer, I dealt with very complex design problems, but before I decided how to solve them, I had a chance to think, research, and reflect for hours, days, or even weeks. I also had many opportunities to consult colleagues for advice before making any decisions. As a teacher, I have seconds to decide how to solve several problems at once, for hours at a time, without any real break, and with no other adults in the room to support them. There are days of teaching that make a day in the office seem like a vacation. (As an ex-NASA engineer, he could title the article with authority – Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder).

And then of course, there’s the human element of the job – which is actually the central part.  Ryan again: A teacher must simultaneously explain the content correctly, make the material interesting, ensure that students are staying on task and understanding the material, and be ready to deal with the curve balls that will be thrown at her every 15 seconds—without flinching—for five hours. If, for some reason, she is not able to inspire, educate, and relate to 30 students at once, she has to be ready to get them back on track, because no matter what students say or do to detract from the lesson, they want structure, they want to learn, and they want to be prepared for life.

When it’s going well, Ryan explain that he experience[s] more failure every five minutes of teaching than [he] experienced in an entire week as an engineer, and poignantly explains that a difficult moment in engineering involves a customer in a big meeting pointing out a design problem that I hadn’t considered. The customer’s concerns can be eased with a carefully crafted statement along the lines of, “You’re right. We’ll look into it.” A difficult moment in teaching involves a student—one who has a history of being bullied and having suicidal thoughts—telling me that she is pregnant 30 seconds before class starts. What carefully crafted statement will help her?

This blog is written, therefore, to all those teachers out there, who wrap it day in, day out, who are always there for their kids, who are more skilled than they themselves realise, and who, more than any technology, curriculum or policy, are what makes education magic for students around the world.

References

Fuller R. (2013) Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder. Slate Magazine

Willingham, D., (2013) Why Americans stink at Maths. Science & Education.

I wonder how to begin

I write this from China. From one of the many elite private schools that offer the “best of east and west” in education. The school has a clear mission: to get Chinese nationals into top universities abroad.

It takes nearly all the hours of a Chinese student’s life to achieve this goal. Their parents place them on the rails of this dream from birth and by the time they get into a private high school their rhythm is something like this: wake up before 6:00 am, classes all day, reading, memorizing, planning, researching, producing, uploading. When classes end, it’s highly structured extracurriculars to diversify their personalities, then supervised study until 9pm. During school sanctioned holidays they don’t rest much; they go to SAT prep school; prestigious summer programs at places like Yale and Emerson, where they hope to gain an edge in their university applications. They do hours and hours of homework set by their teachers, and the teachers who have not set hours of homework are considered “shuǐ,” like water: weak.

In the yoga class I teach after school, I see their bodies are soft from underuse. They can’t touch their toes; their spines are permanently bent towards a device that’s not there. Most have been wearing glasses for years, eyesight weakened at a young age by LED screens. They bear the bodies of their nation’s rapid progress. No moment undesignated. Study is All.

So when the list of acceptances and scholarships arrive in our inboxes and the students’ eyes glaze with joy, relief, and exhaustion, we know we have succeeded as a school. After years of monastic discipline and sacrifice, they have a bright future.

In the news, headlines about climate change become looming deadlines for climate catastrophe. We have 12 years to drastically alter our relationship to the earth before we are warring over water and food. Before millions will experience poverty, drought, famine, natural disasters. Is it true?

And if it’s true, what do I possibly teach that will matter?

At this level, a Chinese student’s life purpose is to get into university abroad. That the planet is dying is not relevant to this goal. Climate catastrophe, like the outdoors in general, is a vague blur on the periphery of their computer screens.

As a teacher, I feel I am failing them. At what point in their jam-packed day, in classes where we are forensically examining rubric criteria, when they are inundated with tasks, deadlines, assessments, do I find a moment to tell them that I’m worried for their future? Not only because of the uncertainties of climate change, but because there is no space to plant the seeds of activism in their young bodies. How will they fight for a planet that they have not yet learned to love?

I think about my own childhood in comparison. I was a latch-key kid, nannied by the local parks and ravines. My earliest education was from nature. By brother and I spent hours away from home getting dirty, testing the limits of our bodies. I remember climbing trees that were too high for me and figuring out how to get down, alone. I remember covering my body with clay from the river and then finding leeches on my skin. And then learning what leeches do, just as I learned the power of a bee sting from getting too close to a nest. And many, many times, I underestimated the sun and came home red and blistered and defeated by nature.

And of course, I learned that nature is beautiful; that grass will stain your skin green and dandelions, yellow; that water feels like velvet if I walk up the river and drag my fingers behind me; that the sun sets in the big blue unpolluted sky, and the stars come out in shapes that I can trace with my finger, and that it happens every day and yet each time it’s magic.

I realize now what this education has meant for me. I was chosen by nature—stained, scraped, scarred–initiated into the environment as a child: tribal marked. So the violence we are perpetrating on the planet, and all the impending catastrophe, feels personal. As it should.

But I have not passed this on. I was recruited to China to share my western expertise, and I have failed. Because I didn’t find the way to share the best aspect of my educational experience, this truth I have taken for granted: we belong to the earth and the earth to us, and we have a duty to protect it as we would our family and our nation. With the same fire with which we pursue getting into top universities. I didn’t find the way to teach my students what I learned from the natural world, so that they might feel curious to seek their own experiences with the planet.

And now I wonder how to begin.

The Quality of Things Unseen: A Generational Divide.

Steve Jobs’ adopted father taught him the importance of building the back of wooden cabinets with as much care and attention as the front. This lesson on detail and care for the whole product stuck with Jobs throughout his career.

On the High Tech High (USA) web site, Dr. Kaleb Rashad states, “Young people long to do substantive, intellectual and beautiful work that contributes to making this world more just, verdant, biodiverse, healthier, and harmonious.”

So, how have changes in quality and process in the outside world impacted the learning environments we are creating 19 years into 21st century learning? Uber anyone?

Maker spaces, STEAM and Design, Digital Audio Workstations, Netflix original films, etc. etc. It’s amazing how these innovations have impacted the creation of products. A decade ago Netflix was a DVD rental service. Now it’s producing Academy Award nominated films. Instead of live performers, people will pay to stand for hours to watch a DJ or watch gamers video themselves playing video games as they talk about random parts of their day. Now that anyone can create products, what do we need process for? That’s what old people do.

So, it’s official. Our generation of teachers have officially become old. We ramble on about the lessons of history, doing math without a calculator, writing with a pencil, and mixing potions of chemicals for something that seems to have little meaning other than a 6 on the summative.

A frustrated music teacher lamented to me last week that her students could compose on the computer without any training and create really sophisticated pieces with hardly any training and 1/10th of the equipment she had to labor over in grad school. An electronics teacher complained to me that his students were tired of making ‘junk’ and frustrated over the substandard results that looked like gizmos their grandparents grew up with. A film teacher shrugged his shoulders and said, “These kids have no concept of what it means to create a real film. They think they just slap together some random YouTube clip and it’s quality.

We’ve become so fixated on process and (I could be wrong) our young people on product that I fear we’re at risk of missing an opportunity. For some reason, achievement has become passé, vulgar, one dimensional. We’re de-emphasizing grades and instead focusing on feedback, standards and criteria. Process. Of course, I get the logic, but kids want to hold something up and say, “I did this and it’s beautiful and it didn’t take six months of listening to a teacher to create.”

We could be experiencing a crisis of process. After all, if someone with absolutely no political experience can get elected President of the United States, can’t anyone?

So, the old people have some things right. It is important to build the back of the cabinet as well as the front for many reasons. There’s something necessary to the quality of things unseen that brings thought, deliberation and planning to making a film.

But we can’t just take the trophies and grades away and make everything about the journey.

When our students came back from the Knowledge Bowl and Speech and Debate competitions, there were actual winners and losers. They competed. They were ranked. Some won. Some lost. It’s so 20th century but the clarity of what it took to win and lose brought the students closer together as a team than they’d ever imagined, and it felt good.

A very successful businessman visited our school a few weeks ago and a student asked him a fascinating question. She said, “How do you think process compares to the outcome?” He smiled and thanked her. After a moment of reflection, he looked up and said, “I used to think process was important and of course in many ways I still do. But I was once at a big meeting with a very successful company and the CFO raised the point of process being a serious issue and proposing to change structures to improve it. The CEO asked if the company was doing well to which the CFO responded, “Yes, very,” to which the CEO concluded. “Then don’t change anything.”

It was a good dichotomy for the students to hear someone apply some cold reality to their process oriented days. I don’t think his message was just get good grades and the rest doesn’t matter. But rather he was bringing clarity to the importance of outcome and performance. You can have all the process around film-making you want, but if someone puts together a fantastic video in 30 minutes that goes viral, which is better?

So, as the pendulum continues to swing between process and product, design and outcomes, grades and feedback, performance and practice, I have to remind myself that in order for people to do ‘substantive, important and beautiful work’ they have to see what that product looks like from time to time, regardless of what path it took to get there.

Why Theatre Should Be Core Education

A version of this article was published in the Spring, 2018 print edition of The International Educator.

Why Theatre Should Be Core Education

By Kassi Cowles

More than ever I feel that arts, and theatre in particular, should be part of the core curriculum for high school students. Even in the more holistic programs, like the International Baccalaureate, the arts are one of the only areas that students may opt out of. Language and literature, maths, sciences are mandatory—no escape–and I suppose the assumption is that these areas develop critical thinking and responsible citizenship more directly, or in a more predictable way. The IBDP mandates creativity through extracurricular pursuits which can have a lasting impact on students who already love the arts; but allowing students to opt out of studies in the arts as an essential subject sends the same tired message: the arts will always be on the periphery of language and logic, the subjects that comprise the core of how we prepare young people to contribute to and understand society.

To relegate arts to the extracurricular fringes is to do a great disservice to students, and to discount the impact that theatre in particular can have is an even greater oversight. Theatre encompasses all forms of art and anyone with experience in theatre, especially in high school, knows that it’s ideal for examining all aspects of the human experience—there’s nothing theatre doesn’t touch. It provides the richest opportunity for self examination, for developing community, for understanding the physical and metaphysical infrastructure that hold communities together so they can create, which is what we were born to do. The very lessons and experiences that season us, that cultivate the virtues that will lead to a more peaceful world, they are all found in theatre.

I’ll start by suggesting that if students can’t study theatre as a year-long course, then they should at some point be part of a theatre production. Creating theatre means creating a society where everyone has a job and responsibility. Not everyone can be a performer and not everyone wants to be. Theatre needs mathematicians and architects, designers, technicians, musicians, managers, dancers, builders and movers, writers, philosophers, anthropologists, critics, and of course an audience to collaborate with. Students can access the experience of theatre from an entry point that most interests them, and realize what it feels like to be a part of a community with a common goal.

Through this process they will redefine what it means to be in a physical space. They will respect space. They will experience how something physical, the theatre, becomes something conceptual, cultural, spiritual: Theatre. The impact of this alchemy on young people cannot be underestimated; like house to home, it is the process by which community and belonging are embodied, where they become cultural and creative imperatives. Students who have been touched deeply by theatre will understand the synergy of creative communities and will seek the resonant feeling of synergy in whatever future communities they create.

This is because theatre increases awareness. Although it can be studied academically, theatre provides opportunities to move the educational experience into a space beyond the mind, which many students in rigorous academic programs desperately need. It is a physical art, and it asks, of performers especially, for an awareness of the sensory experience that can only lead to a better understanding of the performers themselves. As Rebecca Solnit says, “empathy is first of all an act of imagination.”

Empathy is also the practice of awareness. And this is where the most reluctant participants have the most to gain. They feel terror, doubt, embarrassment, alienation, to which I say, yes, good, feel it! Feel it deeply in this moment where you are safe. Perhaps the honest and palpable fear that theatre provokes in a student will help him to empathize with those whose fear and terror are not for play, and whose alienation is systemic. At the very least, theatre will teach students how to listen (for their cue, for their chance!), to examine the effect of their choices, and to broaden their field of perception. If this alone is the only gift studying theatre provides, then it is immeasurable, as the general dullness of our sensory awareness is what leads us to misunderstand ourselves and others.

Finally, theatre teaches service. It has a higher purpose. The more committed students are to collaboration the more they will fight to find points of resonance with the material, even if they hate it, and with each other, even if there’s tension. They will be vulnerable and they will extend themselves, creatively, physically, emotionally, philosophically, into unfamiliar realms so that they can reach each other and the audience, finding moments of temporary alignment even in the most diverse crowds. I tell this to my theatre students often when they have doubt or conflict as performers: in the end, this isn’t about you.  In the end, theatre is about communing with an art form that cannot exist without the community that keeps it alive.

And in the end, what’s left when the show is done is so much love. High school students fall in love with theatre precisely because their hearts and minds are primed for such intense experiences to leave a permanent impression. They cry and grieve when it’s finished because it can never be duplicated. In the process of creating theatre, students will have learned about community and collaboration, empathy, compassion, awareness for themselves, the material, each other; they will have pushed through barriers of doubt, frustration and fatigue, they will have touched on the subtle fluctuations of the human experience that they may not yet understand, and yet somehow in their bodies, in a way without words, they do understand.

For young people, theatre has the capacity to shape their perception about what it means to belong and to create belonging. And there is nothing more at the core of being human than this.

 

Sex Ed and World Peace

A version of this article was published in the Fall, 2018 print edition of The International Educator.

Sex Ed and World Peace

“Sex and gender equality is so basic and essential to peace and security.”

                                                                                                            —Sex and World Peace

Years ago I told a colleague I was teaching The Kite Runner in my literature class. He immediately had a problem with it. He said, you can’t teach that book, there’s that awful scene where the boy gets raped. It’s not appropriate. But what about all the seminal texts we teach where women are raped or abused,I asked, (I listed several on our curriculum). It’s different, he said. Why? It just is.

I’ve only every worked in elite international schools. Over the course of my career not one school had an intentional and updated sex, gender, and relationship program, where we could examine these concepts in a holistic, interdisciplinary way.

Coincidentally, in several of the schools I’ve worked at there have been instances of sexual violation and coercion: teachers violating students, students coercing others into performing sex acts. There have been students recovering from rape and sexual trauma where we could offer no in-school support; I’ve witnessed the sexualized bullying of students identifying as LGBTQ; and I’ve taught students with such a misunderstanding of sexuality and reproduction that future sexual trauma feels inevitable.

And then I read the news.

The correlation between weak and non-existent sex Ed and examples of sex and gender inequality in society, is so obvious, we’re missing it. We’ve been too busy, in our elite programs, preparing students for success, preparing them for power. We haven’t taken the time to teach where power comes from and all the ways it can be stolen, lost, wielded, and recovered. Because sex, in a broader term, intersects with all the things that cause war: power, politics, race, gender, identity, tribalism, masculinity, money.

The book Sex and World Peace takes a holistic view of this complex problem. The authors claim that the barrier to a peaceful world is gender inequality, and that inequality is a form of violence. As teachers in international programs, it’s vital that we teach this now. Relevant and thorough sex Ed is one way to help promote equality and reduce sexual crimes in college, in the workplace, and in the home, because often the root of these actions is systemic ignorance. When sex is something we are afraid to talk about in school, students will seek answers elsewhere: from pornography, from youth culture and group think tendencies, or they will rely on the information (or lack thereof) that they inherit from their families, most of which is likely out-dated and insufficient.

Many international schools will say they can’t teach sex Ed because it goes against the values of the host country, the parents, or the school itself. Given the far and interdisciplinary reach of sex and gender issues, there’s also the question of who feels qualified to teach it. Despite these barriers, we cannot continue with fear and apathy, releasing students into the world without so much as a discussion on consent.

Since so many international students are graduating with little to no sex Ed, I argue that the change has to come from the programs themselves, not from the schools alone. In order to graduate, a student in the IBDP, for example, must complete a 4000 word EE, fulfill their CAS and TOK requirements; and now, imagine that they must also pass their Sex, Gender, and Relationship class—a course purposefully designed to teach them that understanding the complexity of sex and gender issues is responsible citizenship.

Will a class like this deter schools in conservative countries from offering the IB programs? In the end, I doubt it. International schools are in the business of making money–for profit and for better programs in their schools; and anyway, what are the implications for a school that drops their affiliation with an international program that believes that sex Ed is a human right? Sex education should not be considered dangerous or unnecessary. The #metoo and #timesup movements have cracked open a dialogue about systemic sexism and have revealed a desperate need for better education and healing around these issues.  And there are ways to adapt the content to different contexts without sacrificing core knowledge.

So what could this program look like? Core topics could include Sex and the Self (sexual health and identity), Sex, Power, and Ethics (a great time to teach consent), Sex in the Digital Age (a way to support students through the barrage of messaging and media). Deeper examination could include the history of sexual beliefs in different cultures–another great way to illuminate the relationship between sex, gender, and inequality. A strong TOK class pushes students to question the architecture of their beliefs; a strong sex Ed program should do the same.

Imagine if students graduated with an updated vocabulary with which to think and talk about sex and gender; with a sense of confidence in themselves as sexual beings—aligned, of course, with their own context and values; and with an understanding that sex and gender intersect with many other sensitive issues that they are likely to encounter in life.

Students shouldn’t have to wait until they reach university to deeply examine these issues, as most of their core beliefs about their sexuality will be shaped in high school anyway. They deserve support. The explicit choice not to educate students about sex increases ignorance, secrecy, shame, and allows for misguided people and collective behaviour to shape the understandings of vulnerable communities—and teenagers are a vulnerable community. If we want a more peaceful world (and who doesn’t?) sex education is vital.

 

Words to Class of 2018 in final assembly

When I was 21, I spent a year backpacking around China. It was thirty years ago, and I don’t remember everything, but there was a moment among the many that I often think about. I was on a long train ride – and when I say long I mean 36 hours; trains were slower then. It was hot afternoon, with the sun low and a warm glow in the air. The train had stopped for no obvious reason; and I was looking out of the window at a man, probably about as old as I am now, working in the rice-fields through which the train passed. He was, I guess, only about 20 yards away, and I could see him very well – he was wearing long trousers, and a t-shirt. I don’t remember exactly what he was doing, but I watched him for, I guess, 15 minutes. He was not aware of me. Then the train jolted into motion, and he looked up, and we met each others eyes. As the train moved away he did not wave, but we both nodded to each other, and held each others eyes for 30 second until the track curved away. The train pulled on. I have never seen this man again, and never will – if I did I would not know him, even if he is still alive. He would certainly not recognise me.

But I have often wondered about him: Did he have a family? Was he happy? What were his hopes and dreams? Did he achieve them? What was his home like? Did he work for himself or someone else? Did he enjoy his work? Did he read?  Had we ever read the same books? Would we enjoy each other’s company? Would we make each other laugh if we ever met? Was he satisfied with a life well lived?

And I realised, as I have thought about tis over the years, that these questions are questions we most often ask only about ourselves, or family or close friends. We do not ask them, or even consider them, about most people. If fact, we rarely see others as even having interests like the ones these questions address; we tend to see most others as just minor characters in the plays in which we have the leading roles. But the questions still matter. And then a recent graduate wrote to me and mentioned a word that summed up what was quite an important moment for me, all those years ago:

Sonder:  the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own (here’s quite a good short video on the topic)

We tend to forget this.  We forget that each person in this room is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. We tend to think that people around us somehow owe us, or that their purpose is to somehow make our lives easier.  Of course parents and to some extent schools do play that role – but as we grow up, less and less so.
So days like today, where we are celebrating our Leavers –  give us the chance to recall that everyone’s going through the same thing as we are; we are all living our lives, trying to do the best we can – we are all alike in this.

You may know sonder with your friends and family, but it’s with people who are very different to you where you will actually learn the most – perhaps people from a different culture, perhaps grandparents, or with service partners, or some of our cleaners if you have had the privilege of getting to know them. You’ll gain a great deal from them – with the elderly, for example, you’ll see that their present, is a way of looking into your own, distant futures.

So I would ask us to consider this realisation that everyone is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. And to remember that our perspective is one of, in this room alone, less than a thousand individuals.  All these individuals live a life that is equally valuable, with equally valuable concerns, cares, loves, worries, hopes and dreams,

We need to remember that, when we need to – which is precisely when it is hardest.  And that brings us back to leaving, where in an understandable excitement we can be caught up in our own perspectives, and forget that others matter.  I want to remind you of that; if everyones’ perspectives counts as much as our own, then we need to be mindful of others when we leave.

So, Grade 12, leave well. Be remembered for your ingenuity, your sense of fun, your sense of inclusion. Be remembered for being kind – not just to your friends; that’s easy – but also to the people who have made everything you have done here possible – support staff, facilities staff, cleaners and teachers; and also the people you may not have gotton along with, or whom you may have fallen out with. Remember sonder, that these people have just the same inner lives as you do; and they deserve the same respect as you do. One mark of a grown-up is the ability to give and receive apologies in good grace; so close your time here ensuring you have mended any fences that need mending. If you can do that, if you can laugh withpeople, not at people, you will be creating something that enhances, not diminishes, the reputation you have worked so hard over the years to establish. Most of all, you will be remembered for your generosity of spirit and for the kindness of your consideration.

So Grade 12 and all other leavers; leave well.

Let me close by acknowledging what we teachers know, what your parents know, what future employers will know, and what research tells us: that your futures are not determined by your exam results; that your rich inner lives, your hopes and dreams, are not determined by the next few weeks. Your success will be measured in the kindness and integrity of your actions, your ability to see other perspectives, the quality of your thinking, and the strengths of your friendships; not in an academic qualification.

I say that to Grade 12, but really, the message is for us all – that the really important successes or failures in our lives do not happen at discrete points, but throughout our daily lives; they are in our control everyday.

We wish you all the very best.

Carpool Karaoke

You ever watch Carpool Karaoke with James Corden? If you haven’t you’re missing a real treat. If you’ve ever driven a car, you have certainly sung along with your favorite tunes on the radio. It’s fun, it’s liberating, and you don’t care what you sound like.

Imagine if class was like that?

Now, I’m not saying that most of you teachers are not fun and liberating, but I’ve been in a lot of classes in my lifetime and a lot of them not liberating. I think that’s why I went into the business, to resist that feeling that I had when I was in school.

When I watch Carpool, I see really famous people not afraid to be themselves, actually showing how nervous they are, and just being real people. It’s therapy in an amazing way. On one episode, Ed Sheeran told James that he was extremely nervous to be on the show Ed Sheeran!. It was shocking to hear that such a famous person could be nervous. He said it was because he needed his guitar as “armor” as James put it. What does that say about how he grew up and was able to face the things he did to become who he is today? Did school help or hurt that process? Did it liberate him? Hmmm.

I’ve watched episodes with Elton John, Beyoncé, Sam Smith, Adele, Miley Cyrus and every time I smile because I see how much joy they are having in the simple act of singing along with the radio in a car. The simple act of un-judged expression. The freedom to express without judgement. Isn’t that where creativity begins?

We have elevators in my school. Only the Seniors can ride in them as a privilege. They are in the middle of “mock exams” right now for the IB which is another expression for preparing for war. The kids are stressed out, overtired, and on the edge of collapse. I’ve tried to resist that stress put on them but it’s a machine that goes well beyond me.

So, I do my own Carpool Karaoke. When I’m riding in the elevator with a group of them, I start “Elevator Karaoke.” Sometimes I bring printed lyrics so that they can get the words. It’s liberating, a little awkward, and really, really fun.

Then the door opens and we all go back to work.

Keeping Your Campus Safe: Access Levels and Groups


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I spend much of my time thinking like a cyber attacker. I read about how various threat vectors are introduced into systems. I imagine the scenario with regard to my school and network. I simulate those threat vectors, and test the boundaries inside and outside of the school.

I empathize with all those people in the world trying to make schools safe, without destroying the open and harmonious structure many educators are trying to maintain. The task seems overwhelming.

I listen to and read ridiculous arguments that are only viable arguments after the fact. I have been a bystander, simply empathizing. However, I do I have some ideas on how to make campuses safer.

This will be a two part post. I am going to explain how to use common strategies employed in network security (hopefully most campuses are already following these strategies) to enhance physical safety and security.

The NESA Conference

A few years ago I attended a conference in Dubai hosted by The Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools (NESA). I attended a full workshop on school security lead by a US Military specialist who helped embassies, and schools with embassy children, harden their security.

From my participation and review of my notes, I realized that the strategies taught in the workshop were very similar to strategies used in network security. Since then, I have used these strategies to enhance network security in very “aggressive” security environments.

One of the main areas that resonated with me was access levels and access groups.

Understanding Access Levels and Groups

Within the school community there are three main Access Levels. They govern foundational access to the school. Each one has groups within it, and in some cases, sub-groups.

Main Access Levels

  1. Active and Enrolled
  2. Deactivated and Unenrolled
  3. Potential and Unknown

Groups

  1. Students
  2. Teachers
  3. Administration and Support Staff
  4. Parents
  5. Third Party Support (Government Inspections, Sub-Contractors, etc. )

Schools tend to obsess over Level 3 (L3), Potential and Unknown. They are following the “stranger danger” philosophy even though statistics tell us that most violent crimes occur within Level 1 and 2 (L1 and L2). Because of this fear of strangers, the main areas of risk are often not fully vetted for loopholes.

Each level and group must have a protocol to follow when coming to the campus. These protocols can take the form of nice waiting lobbies, parking lots far from the main building, finger print scanning for employees, etc. Protocols do not have to be impolite or obtrusive.

If a single group in a single level is left without a protocol, then a loophole is created. A threat from that loophole is then possible.

In fact, new families wanting to enroll in the school fall into L3, yet their only motivation is to apply for education, or enroll in a new public school. They would be more harshly scrutinized than a parent of a currently enrolled student.

Why doesn’t that logic make sense? Because good security follows a simple common sense concept: never trust, always verify. In network security many people refer to the most stringent of these practices as Zero Trust Architecture. Or simply, just because we let you attend the school, does not mean you are shielded from on-going verification.

This is the same reason wifi networks need usernames and passwords; and passwords need to be changed and not recycled on a regular basis.

School Uniform Protocols Are A Good Example of a Security Loophole

School uniforms bind students together. As a large group, they all basically look the same. If a young child is wandering aimlessly around the campus without a uniform, every adult can quickly conclude that the child is not enrolled in the school; and they are missing their guardian. Simply not having the uniform allows quick action and decision.

In the early 2000s, I was walking through the hallway of my high school building. I noticed a student, in uniform, but I had never seen the student before. There was no notice of a new student sent around to the staff. I immediately engaged the student in conversation, and very quickly realized that they were not enrolled in the school. As a prank, they had stolen an old uniform from an actual student, and came to our school for a day.

Schools ask families to buy uniforms, but how many manage uniforms when students leave the school? How often do they change the design, the logo, the patch, etc. ?

To eliminate the uniform loophole, schools could issue a removable patch to students that changes annually, and then collect the patch when the term ends. Schools could offer a used uniform buy-back program and then recycle the clothing to a charity outside the immediate area. Without some type of plan, used uniforms create the potential for a security issue.

The students in L1 and L2 have the uniforms, no one in L3 would be able to easily buy one without proof of enrollment. Worrying about the L3 people getting a new uniform from a shop without proof of enrollment is statistically flawed. The real issue are those who know about the uniforms, have access to the uniforms, and know the loopholes in the planning. The real problem are those trusted once, and never re-verified.

In part 2, I will discuss how segmenting levels and groups can work without upsetting the physical environment. This will be based off of common techniques used in Wifi network management from schools to Starbucks.

Sources:

https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vvcs9310.pdf

https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=941

Killed by a Stranger: A Rare Event, but a Rising Fear

https://www.backgroundalert.com/pa/?paid=6

https://www.csoonline.com/article/3247848/network-security/what-is-zero-trust-a-model-for-more-effective-security.html