Category Archives: Stephen Dexter

Credibility vs Visibility

Lady Gaga has 83.2 million followers on Twitter. The Dalai Lama has approximately 20 million. Cap’n Crunch, the iconic sugary cereal mascot of my youth, has 790. CBS News in America has 335k.

Our ‘truths’ seem to be measured in likes, views, followers and retweets. Visibility, casting itself as the gatekeeper of what we want to believe.

Much has been written about the polarization of people thanks to algorhythms that suggest more of what we want to see and hear. This keeps us in a comfortable, likable, predictable (and dangerous) bubble. Your customized news, entertainment, sports and cultural sources are all here to serve…you.

Kara Swisher the host of the podcast “Pivot,” recently said that ‘feelings are not facts.’ In other words, you cannot just decide not to believe something because you don’t like it or it’s not convenient. You have to do some work.

We used to rely on the teacher, the priest, the judge, the parent, the text as those sources of credibility because they were close to us, visible in the community, tangible and accountable to those around them, and invested in the truth.

Now, that person or information source doesn’t have to be visible to the naked eye or touchable. Credibility is now in the form of upward thumb signs, followers, and shares, a true democratization of what people want rather than what they need to believe. I even read once that most celebrities and influencers don’t even manage their own social media accounts! Can you believe that?

Twitter is starting a crowdsourcing service called ‘birdwatching,’ where, similar to Wikipedia, people can become certified fact checkers and contribute to a credibility rating for postings that trend. On one hand, it’s nice to feel that people are empowered to contribute to truth. On the other, it opens up a world of possibility to those that want to shape others to their versions of what is true.

I belong to a social media group that posts a lot of messages about bikes and bike repair. Lots of people weigh in on a lot of ideas about things from derailleurs to seats to tires. It’s tempting to go with the most liked advice on the best seat to cross Siberia but no one is saying, ‘seats are dumb and don’t exist.’ We all have that basic agreement.

When I was teaching in the 1990s, I used “Lies My History Teacher Told Me,” (by James Loewen) and “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to offer research based alternative views on factual events. These texts gave voice to the unheard, portraits of actual events that were not invented, but omitted. They made things already credible visible, not credible because they were visible. My students had the opportunity not to decide what to believe (because it was all true), but rather base their opinions on the facts in front of them, contrary as some of them may have seemed. It was also a quieter time, when the information age was only a trickle, allowing students to consider a couple of truths and deciding where to land before they moved onto the next question. Now, it seems as though the firehose is fully opened.

It’s not easy to resist something that has 2M likes or retweets. The visibility, the comfort in knowing others agree, is so human it’s hard to resist. We think something is cute, inspiring, sad, dangerous and we cannot help but to believe it because it makes us feel a certain way.

Feelings are not facts and credibility is not always visible. It takes hard work and a willingness to look past what is easy or agreeable to make up our minds about basic truths that we need to accept in order to keep learning on course and communities together.

I remember when reality TV first started. I couldn’t believe that regular people with no credibility as actors could just be on TV. MTV’s The Real World. Survivor. Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Who would want to watch people just being themselves?

Well, here we are.

Now that we have crossed from reality being entertainment and now even questioning what is reality, we are, 25 or 30 years into the information/digital/conceptual age questioning fact, reality and credibility.

Twitter has removed several global influencers from their platform and is beta testing something called ‘birdwatching’ where people can become certified fact checkers and monitor information so that Twitter doesn’t have to, like a social media form of Wikipedia.

Rene Descartes was onto something when he said, “Je Pense, Donc Je Suis.” It was a fundamental truth that no matter whether or not we think our dream or awake state is reality, the fact that we are thinking means we exist. In this tenuous age, when people misrepresent feelings for facts, which they are not, we find ourselves looking for these anchors.

ET and Stranger Things. The fantastical themes of adults not believving the children as they save the universe. The upside down.

Birdwatchign. crowdsourcing truth.

Long distance biking. Repair advice. I don’t pick the truth that works for me. I am educated and made informted choices. When 250 people reply on the durability or quality of a Brooks seat, I am able to weed out the ones that say, “seats are stupid, don’t ride with a seat.” I think, therefore I am.

Inquiry cannot allow us to question everything. There are truths. It is true that the sea levels are rising a millimeter every year. It is true that the honeybee is going extinct. It is true that my father in law recently broke his leg.

I read recentlly that fake news or negative news is retweeted or shared thorught the internet 4x faster than truths.



Snow Day

In 2018 I stood next to a man at a bus stop in Singapore. He was wearing a tee shirt that read, “There’s no day like a snow day.” I laughed so hard I had to take a picture (to which he obliged). I asked him if he had any idea what it meant, and of course didn’t. My explanations didn’t help much. It’s a location thing.

In 2009, in my first year on the job as the Principal of a Swiss boarding school nestled on the side of a ski mountain, I relished the first opportunity I had to invoke my executive privilege of calling a ‘snow day,’ which was a spontaneous act of sheer joy proclaimed twice a winter after a particularly heavy evening of powder and an opportunity for the entire school to skip classes and hit the slopes.

In stormy New England in the 1980s as a student and later as a teacher in the 1990s, my eyes would be glued to the television as the names of school districts scrolled in alphabetical order like the returns from a close Mayoral race. Mine was the only one with the letter “Q” so you had to pay close attention right when the “P’s” started:

Plymouth. Pocasset. Popponesset. Provincetown.

And there it would appear, like the golden ticket. Quincy. I’d leap from my chair (even as an adult), screaming at the top of my lungs the tribal, primal scream that had been passed down through the generations.

Snooooow Daaaaayyyyy! SNOOOWWWWW DAYYYYYYYY! I’d jump and down, waking everyone in the house, throwing whatever I could grab up in the air, fist pumping like Kirk Gibson after his famous home run, wild eyed with crazed euphoria.

It was a feeling like none other followed by a sumptuous day of unstructured fun, calling friends for sledding, and forgetting about everything I was supposed to be thinking about for just. one. day.

In 2020, December 3 to be exact, my daughter and I stood at the window of our house in Zagreb, Croatia watching the first flakes of the first snow since who knew when since we stopped keeping track of time in the pandemic and had resorted to the ancient rituals of watching seasons pass and sunrise changes. I put my arm around her and said,

“Hey, on a day like this, we’d probably be calling a snow day.” Like the man at the bus stop in Singapore, she looked bewildered as I explained. When I told her that it was one of the few times of the school year when a feeling of pure euphoria and joy overwhelmed us, she looked up and said, “I could use some of that now.”

And then I paused and had an evil thought. The pandemic had brought with it the end of snow days. I did the quick calculus. Computers. Virtual Learning. Zoom. It was over. OVER! There were no longer any reasons, excuses, or euphoric celebrations. They were a thing of the past. It wasn’t SNOWWW DAYYYY!!! It was, “Due to the inclement weather, we’ll be transitioning to a virtual day. Homeroom starts in 15 minutes. Please make sure you click on the link.”

I couldn’t accept that. I can’t accept that. This was as bad as saying we didn’t need books anymore. I had to do something about snow days, even if they were technically a thing of the past. I had to find a way to capture that spontaneous euphoria, that crazy joy when the routine was stopped, the unplanned was now possible, and we could all just run around and sip hot chocolate or ice tea, and roll around in the snow or surf and sip whatever beverage or comfort food was appropriate to the geography.

I had to find a way to pass onto this pandemic saddened generation that there really is and was NO day like a SNOW day.

I have to find a way.

TOp Ten Teacher Interview Questions for 2020

  1. Describe your dream house and where it would be, etc.
  2. What will be the reason you quit this job if you ever do?
  3. What do you need from our school in order for you to be a success?
  4. What would you be doing if you were not a teacher?
  5. Paint a picture for me of a student-centered environment without using the word student or centered.
  6. What do the best virtual teachers do to ensure their students are learning?
  7. If you could redesign one thing about schools, what would it be?
  8. What question haven’t I asked that you would like to answer?
  9. How do you think culture impacts learning and what have you done about that in your career?
  10. What famous person would you like to have a coffee with and what would be your first question?

Gigworker

Croatians are apparently the tallest people in the world next to the Dutch, or something like that. So, when an Uber driver picked me up with his feet wrapped around the steering wheel of a VW Up! like it was a toy, I wasn’t shocked. What caught my attention was that he was also a pro basketball player. “Gotta stay diversified,” he laughed. “I broke my ankle last season and the insurance runs out fast. I know I’m never going to the NBA and only the top leagues in Europe pay and only then if you start. I’m in a crappy league and I just lost my starting job when I came back from the ankle. So, here I am in the offseason. I also work in my cousin’s café on Split in the summers.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s a lot of jobs.”

“It’s the Croatian way.” he said. “We all have a lot of, what do you say, gigs? ” I laughed. “Yeah, that’s what we call them, I guess.” I only had one gig. His comment started to make me feel insecure.

When I first heard the expression on the podcast “Pivot” (with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway), I mistakenly thought it referred to something hip like “gigabytes” or people working as digital nomads.

After a quick Google, it presented as less inspiring than that. I know that the idea of having gigs has been around a long time. Bartenders and waiters, seasonal workers, consultants, etc. But the idea of a Gig Economy as a bigger thing is gaining momentum as companies become less institutional in terms of places that people go for a job and more organic in terms of their reach and how and where they operate.

We’ve all heard the stories of the largest hotel company not owning any hotels and the taxi company without taxis. It’s astonishing, for example, that the same place you can buy suitcases and a Peloton (Amazon) is also a company that has the largest government cloud storage contract on the planet. So, everyone is diversifying. We can thank technology, the uncertainty of pandemic, competition.

What it makes me think about is the unspoken rules that we teach at school that hard work gets you immediate feedback that then leads to a clear path for success that then leads you to a future of predictability and promise. Does that contradict the Gig Economy? Who knew that hard work wouldn’t be rewarded or that I’d have to work four jobs?

It’s a bit dangerous, it seems, to have Gen Xers like myself trying to educate the Gen Ys and Zs. When I first got into teaching, my colleagues were products of the 1950s and 60s and literally had no idea how to operate a computer. I grew up in the information age. Talk about irrelevance. But now the problem of connection isn’t one based on computing, but community and what that looks like.

It feels like it’s our responsibility to provide some constants in a Gig Economy, but that doesn’t mean retreating to the basics that this pandemic lures us into doing. We can be forward thinking but grounded in the ability to methodically prepare, to resist instant gratification, and to be a good partner. What scares me about the Gig worker mentality is in spite of the freedom and creativity it portends to, also leaves people fending for themselves, which seems dangerous. I believe that schools are one of the last institutions that are the calm in the storm. In spite of their intransigence, they are the constants, the communities that we depend on, and most importantly, a non-judgemental harbinger of hope in humanity.

I don’t want to educate IB students that end up disillusioned, driving Ubers with their diploma hanging on the rearview. I also don’t want to make everything uncertain so that the foundation dissolves beneath their feet. But if we are going to continue to tilt towards a gig economy, then we have to resist the compromise of self reliance and realize that we run a lot further together than we can accomplish sprinting by ourselves.

Pivot

Schools have adapted very well to the logistics of the current pandemic. Congratulations. Masks, hallway directions, temp checks, social distancing. New timetables.

Now for the hard part.

What are we going to promise about the learning? Continued excellence in the IB and AP? Reading and writing above grade level? Ivy leagues?

I, for one, do not want to be the violinist on the deck of the Titanic. I know many of us don’t either.

I’m not talking about lowering expectations. I’m talking about tuning into the importance of what learning is and how we define it.

My definition of learning is simply what happens when prior experience is disrupted by new knowledge, experience or information . That’s it.

Last weekend, my son and I went on a long bike ride in the Croatian countryside (he’s trapped with us doing virtual University and eating us out of house and home). We got a flat. I haven’t had a flat in months. We didn’t have an extra tube or a pump. We were in a village. A kindly old couple came out to help. We switched one of the tires so I could ride 35k to fetch the car. They offered him roasted chicken and potatoes while he waited. He refused since they invited him inside and weren’t wearing masks. (I would have taken my chances). But I digress. Today we went out on another ride, pump and tube in hand, got another flat, and fixed it in 15 minutes. #learning.

Last week, a teacher was almost crying in my office, pleading with questions about how she was going to maintain current expectations in a hybrid virtual environment. “Isn’t learning whatever we make it?” she said. “Why have we made it some immovable object that we have to reach no matter what is going on?” I touched my hand to my mask (even though it’s probably not sanitary). She was right. The world is being forced to pivot, not just with the obvious things like social distancing, but with deeper things that we care about, that we learn about, that make us human.

So, what should this mean? The only example I could think of was the stool (and apologies if it’s a tired metaphor). If we knock one leg out, let’s call it mathematical logic or reading comprehension or science labs, then what happens? Can we drag one of the legs over to replace it? It’s still two legs. Can we replace it? Yes, but that takes a lot of time and we don’t have that option right now. Do we lean it against the wall? Maybe, but you can’t sit on it that well. That’s right, the stool is weak and cannot meet its intended purpose. In other words, this new experience is forcing us to think about the purpose of that two legged stool.

This is us. The two legged stool.

We have obviously been disrupted and I’m thinking that the leg that got knocked out is academic excellence. The two legs left that I’m looking at are socio-emotional learning and community. Those are the things that we all talk about on our websites but rarely do much about. After all, parents never yell at us for not succeeding in those things.

It’s time to pivot. It’s time to pivot to the disruption and take learning from that, not from whether or not 10th graders can solve a statistical analysis problem. Sure, that’s a nice distraction. What is also a distraction is the incalcuable stress, heartache, loneliness, boredom, sadness, and disconnectedness that is clouding learning.

It’s time to pivot. To community. To what makes us human. To what kids care about. To what they need. To what legs on the stool are left so that they can learn. Because if we deny this and pretend that all three legs are still there, it’s going to hurt when we hit the floor.

Ken and Covid: Two disruptive forces that changed my life

When I saw Ken Robinson’s cleverly animated video about how schools kill creativity in 2007 , I knew that my teaching career would never be the same. It was the tail end of the No Child Left Behind epoch when schools had become barren deserts of accountability and pedantic threats about performance.

When Covid hit in 2020, I knew that my administrative career would be changed forever, not only because I had to re-design the logistics of learning, but because the stuff we put into place and the impact it had on culture would not be reversible for a long time.

The Vulnerable Leader

I sat with my new teacher leader team, without anytime to talk about norms, feelings, or Myers-Briggs results, and put them to work. I felt like a lieutenant in a WWI trench handing rifles to 16 year old new recruits and sending them over the top. I knew they weren’t prepared but we were in crisis. For the first time in my 18 years as an administrator, I didn’t know how anything was going to work. I’d dealt with tragic deaths, trauma, bomb threats, riots (yes riots), but beneath all of that was a solid foundation of a school that served as a baseline. Now the baseline was dissolving. I could no longer pretend that I had any answers to anything and people depended on me to know. So, I turned to them, and said things like, “I can no longer solve the problems that I don’t know exist yet. You are going to have to be comfortable with this uncertainty without panicking our team or our students.” They saw a side of me that Principals aren’t supposed to show. We aren’t supposed to shrug and say “I don’t know.”

We all act like we are supposed to be honest and open and all the conferences we go to talk about the power of collaboration and distributed leadership, etc. but it’s all superficial stuff. This vulnerability went to my core. It wasn’t just assigning some committee on literacy. It was running the bloody school. Strangely, it felt liberating. I was forced to reconsider the principle that my job was to remove obstacles so people could focus on teaching and learning. I could no longer stay true to that core belief because there were too many obstacles. Simply, too many. I imagined how hard the same experience must have been for teachers that had to make the same choices whether or not to reveal their vulnerable selves to their students. This reveal didn’t mean I had given up or was asking them to save the day. Quite the contrary. I knew the battles that had to be fought. I just needed help.

Sir Ken ignited the passion within me that schools had to do something drastic, and now that moment has arrived, accelerated by a pandemic. Virtual learning, outdoor and experiential education, redesigned timetables, creativity. All of it has become turbo charged in an environment of chaos. The one and only thing I’ve learned from the loathsome President of my native country is that there’s all kinds of opportunity in chaos. Right now it is in abundant supply. So, rather than feeling like Sir Ken and his legions are pushing cement blocks up the mountain of stagnancy and consistent IB scores, we are really and truly at the precipice of the change he wanted to see in the world.

God Bless, Sir Ken and thank you for your gifts to the world. I will miss you.

Re-Design, Don’t Reopen

Are we going to be the same but different post-Covid?

I read a post recently that said re-opening is going to be like playing three dimensional chess in a hurricane on one leg.

Ok, maybe in New York public schools.

Besides that, it’s really not that dramatic.

Use common sense. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. It’s not rocket science.

We didn’t have IB exams this year. Did the world stop spinning? Maybe for schools that overpredicted, yes. Otherwise, did we learn that maybe summative exams don’t determine the course of our lives?

This is a real opportunity for school leaders to make a difference and to stop making excuses 21 years, yes 21 years into 21st century learning. What is truly amazing about this pandemic is that it has literally created classrooms without walls. Now let’s step into the void and create something special.

If you are opening full virtual, then you have a huge opportunity (sorry primary) to get students out into the field to do things they’ve never done before, to have an impact on their communites and environment, to interact with nature and their surroundings rather than the four walls of a classroom and to do something. (With masks, social distancing and handwashing of course).

If you’re opening hybrid then you can do similar things now that the learning spectrum has expanded, bringing back their experiences, redesigning timetables to accomodate this work, and developing interdisciplinary teams across subjects to

Tom Kelley, CEO of IDEO said, “Creative confidence is the ability to come up with great ideas and the courage to try them out.” Pundits have called Covid-19 ‘the great accelerator.’ In other words, innovations that would have taken 10 years in normal times, such as in healthcare, online shopping, food service, travel, and yes, education, are happening now.

Re-opening cannot simply mean putting all of our energy into temperature checks and cafeteria grids. It has to mean so much more. The line ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ has been bouncing around and it’s incumbent upon leaders to understand what this means for schools beyond returning to status quo.

Yes, it’s unsettling to introduce new things when everyone just wants to revert back to September 2019. Yes, it’s tempting just to make everyone feel stable again by lining children up in 2 meter separate rows. But, what does this disruption tell us about the fundamental role of schools? Why do we gather in a space to learn? Do we really care anymore about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand for crying out loud?

I have too often enabled the comfortable boundaries of investigating uncertainty through the academic lens. All of that important stuff, whether it be socioeconomic injustice, environmental collapse, racial divide all through the relative ease of a formative assessment.

But now we cannot even go to school because of something that has called everything into question.

What an opportunity.

It is our responsibility to realign the WHY of what we do (thanks Simon Sinek) and connect it to the HOW. It’s no longer good enough to proclaim exceptional IB scores on LinkedIn or brag about university admittance. If we value things like learners having the “mental agility to solve problems we’ve never seen before,” or to “see the big picture, zero in on minute details, and move things around to make a difference,” (Vivien Luu, HR Vision, 2016) then we have to do a much better job of connecting the world to our schooling than a CAS project that hardly scratches the surface.

We continue to train kids to do school. Now that this has blown up, it has exposed a lot of shortcomings (well beyond access to WiFi). We act like we are teaching resiliency and adaptability, but this crisis has really shone a spotlight on the fact that we can do a LOT better (this goes for teachers and admin too). We act like we are building capacity for problem solvers and creative thinkers, but we panic when a student falls short on a conditional offer in HL Math. I don’t get it.

Don’t waste this crisis when you go back. Take care of the hand sanitizing and the temperature checks and the socio-emotional learning, but most of all, resist the temptation to restore order. This is your crisis to move forward on the type of learners we are going to need to save the planet.

Don’t waste it.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What Big Disasters Tell Us All.

A small gathering of people, heads bowed, sit on makeshift benches in the open air of a small town in the American West, surrounded by the rubble of what used to be their church. A powerful nation, wounded by a brazen and public act of violence that crumbles two symbols of its economy, impulsively reacts with rage and violence.

There’s nothing like crisis to expose us for who we are and what we value (and don’t). It’s cathartic, like a near death experience. (Which unfortunately is what this can be).

In schools, we like to think we’re ready because we plan (fires, cobras yes that’s a thing, earthquake, gas leak, military coup, invader, etc.). I’ll never forget the time in Switzerland when the local fire department made me enter a simulated smoky room tent and follow recorded screams to the other side with a fire extinguisher in my hand as I tried to spray a burning stove. My heart was beating out of my chest, my tie nearly caught fire, and no plan in the world was going to help. It was terrifying (and awesome).

So forget about the neat lines of elementary kids quietly walking down stairs in rows to the pre-planned fire drill on a sunny day out through the cafeteria and lining up on the football pitch. This ‘stuff’ is for real.

Remember how dysfunctional your communications were before the pandemic? I bet that got sorted fast. Remember those needy and at risk students before the lockdown? Are they worse than ever? Possibly. Remember how much difficulty the science department had collaborating when they were in person? How’s that working out now through a screen?

All of those things that we either ignored but knew could be problems, hoped to get to later but never had the time and wished would fix themselves, are now screaming at us like one huge virtual siren. Similarly, so is the great stuff. I bet those popular pep rallies are better than ever on Zoom!!

Economics pundits are recording with fascination how the work universe is re-sorting itself. Visionary businesses like Amazon and Netflix are gobbling up the opportunity while the insecure or unprepared are suffering. (Maybe we didn’t need all that oil after all). Same goes for us.

If your organization over-promised and underdelivered before the crisis, you’re probably in trouble now. If you didn’t properly support or train your teachers before the crisis, you’re in trouble. If you didn’t build trust with your parent community before March, you’re really in trouble. If you didn’t build a culture of transparency and respect and yes, love, before, then the current shutdown for you might extend well beyond when things open up again.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, these current times are leadership gold. They are providing a clear path to us about not only what is really important about learning, but what we are made of as institutions and what cannot wait for the next accreditation cycle.

Of course, a lot of schools and businesses might pick up right where they left off. There may be socially distanced parties, unveiling of statues built for lower elementary and Pre-K teachers, and an increase in community building. But things might just drift back to the way they were.

Don’t let that happen. Even if things were good.

This is the greatest scorecard of all time. It’s better than accreditation, a PhD from Bath, and a Klingenstein Fellowship rolled into one. It’s the mirror, looking straight at our unshaven and unkempt faces, telling us exactly who we are and what is our potential.

Don’t waste it.

Riding the Wave: A Disruption Epiphany

There comes a point in surfing where you either commit to where that force of nature is going to bring you or you duck under and hope for another day.

It feels like we’ve been ducking under for a long time, let’s say since 1999 clicked to 2000. Has that been long enough waiting for the perfect wave?

Covid-19 has brought the fogginess attributed with stress and the crystal clarity that comes with crisis. As educators, this is our surfboard moment, that disruptive peak where we, finally, have to decide if we’re going to hang ten and do something about the promises of 21st century learning (before we start talking about the 22nd). Here’s my list, subject to change and certainly debate.

Homework to Quarantine

I hated it as a student, hate it as a parent, and find it laughable when my child is literally home all day. What are we going to call it when school re-opens, school work? A hard stop to schooling at the end of the school day, (except for pleasure reading and doing something outside) seems like a nice post-pandemic practice. (IB/DP students are exempted from this rant).

Carnegie Units and Choice

We talk a lot about choice, but we don’t really mean it. Now that students are more or less off schedule, can mute teachers, and decide when and what they want to study, it feels like we can’t go back to math on Tuesdays at 9am. This is seriously going to shake up the control freak schedulers and force us to rethink how we relegate time and for what and who makes those choices.

Death Knell of the SAT

Well, well, well, looks like universities CAN decide college admissions without the antiquated SAT score? This is going to be interesting. Yes, I know that grades are inflated and GPAs laughable. I don’t have the perfect “one size fits all” metric but I do know that relying on the SAT as an indicator of future success is like saying that car ownership is an indicator that you could win a Formula One race.

Social Distance the Subjects

Has the world finally learned the lessons of The Great War? The Roman Empire? Dividing fractions? The interactions between matter and energy? (Okay, maybe that last one is important). My point is that now that we’re home, everything has blended into one gooey mess and what we are learning about seems trivial at best.

We no longer walk down the hall to math, then music or design, physically moving ourselves from one thing to another. As virtual students, we have big blocks of time to make sense of a bunch of stuff in one place. We aren’t doing students any favors by throwing work at them that is completely disconnected between subjects. It’s time to admit that secondary schools aren’t very good at being “university lite” and to once again re-think what it means to be a thinker and a learner. Literacy, regardless of the content is important. Conceptual analysis and critical thinking skills, regardless of whether a kid can divide fractions, is important. Introducing learning skills relevant to the existential crisis raging outside our computer screens is important.

Teachers are Gold

No online course or webinar will ever, ever, ever replace the invaluable magic of a human being facilitating a titration experiment or mesmerizing an audience with a dramatic scene. When this pandemic is over (and it will end), I’m imagining our teachers being paraded through the streets like the Apollo astronauts in convertibles through Times Square in 1968.

Technology Has Its Limits

I cannot wait to see how many schools are going to shelve the laptops once this is over and send their IT directors on well deserved vacations. I sort of predict that there is going to be a techno whiplash from parents, teachers and students once this is over. Libraries are going to spring up like daisies again and I-Pads will be used as cafeteria trays.

People over Product

Schools are generally good at this already, but I have a feeling socio-emotional wellness is going to a new level after this crisis. Talk about coping skills and resiliency!

If there has ever been a time in recent human history where we need to think outside of the proverbial box and reset our priorities, it is now. Let’s please ride the wave together in this vacuum of uncertainty and see where it takes us.

Feet, You Had Feet?

Love In The Time of Corona and Other Musings…

Zagreb, March 22, 2020

When I was younger in the U.S., there was an old Roy Rogers commercial playing with two men arguing about who had it harder growing up. They started talking about walking to school long distances, not having shoes, then socks, ending up with the punch line which is the title of this story. It’s ‘dad’ humor but I still love that line.

But c’mon, you gotta give it up for Zagreb. We had an earthquake in the middle of a pandemic. And can you believe people had to practice social distancing whilst evacuating onto the streets?

Can I get an amen?

While many of you may have experienced snow days, our school called an earthquake day which was a relief from virtual day because of pandemic week. Thankfully, although several teachers lost their apartments, no one in the entire school community was injured or killed by the 5.4 tremor. This is truly amazing for a place with old buildings that hasn’t experienced something like that in 140 years.

I asked some of my Croatian friends how people were being so stoic through it all and they said, “Well, we did live through a war only 25 years ago.” Ah right, the war. And so it goes.

There are many international teachers that have been in tough situations. Wars, floods, earthquakes, fire, coups, sudden closures, disease, and the list goes on and on. So, this is certainly not an attempt to demonstrate anything new in the experience of international teachers or to make some platitudes about how we have to pull together in tough times, with or without feet.

But what opportunity, what necessity that stands right before us (that amazing and always reliable mother of inventions), is the chance to teach us something that we cannot miss in that precious space when new knowledge meets experience, that thing most often referred to as learning.

We thought we were doing this as educators before, but most of us were not. We did some online stuff, a few Khan Academies served with a side of Pamoja. There were tech integrators, workshops, and even virtual learning platforms, but it wasn’t all in. Now, obviously it is. What an amazing ice bucket challenge.

So now we stand side by side with our students, hand in virtual hand, having to figure &%$ out, humbled by realities that we don’t have answers for, but with a blue moon chance to redesign not only the what of our work, but truly the WHY of it. (Thanks Simon Sinek for that).

Of course we have to be a stable force for our students. We cannot throw our arms up, wailing at the sky proclaiming that nothing matters anymore. Of course it does. Much of what we’ve been doing to this point matters very much. But this is our chance to move that needle not just by an incremental skip but by a leap. Are we really going to go back to school once we get through this (and we will), and be like, “Whew that was close, okay everyone, now where were we? Oh, right, chapter five, photosynthesis.”

No, we’re not. We’re going to take a real, hard look at the WHY. We have to.

Why am I standing in front of you?

Why am I asking you to learn these things when those other things are SO much more important but we never get to them?

Why don’t I listen to you more and to myself talking less? (After all, for the past several weeks or months you hardly heard me talk at all).

Why can’t we be the change we want to see in the world now instead of hoping that years from now when you get out of university you might decide to make a difference?

This relationship between learner and teacher, between prior experience and new knowledge, between expert and witness, has changed. It has by necessity. It has for the better.

So, when we do go back, when we return to what we used to think of as normal, even if it takes a long time, we have to take what these opportunities have taught us and be honest about them, not just about the virtuality of learning, but of the humanity this revealed and what we owe to our students to do something real with it.

It’s nice, after all, to have feet.