Hope

So a very good friend of mine is thinking about changing jobs….maybe even careers. He’s come to the sad conclusion that the hope that he had in his organization’s ability to do the right thing, and to lead with a sense of moral purpose is now gone. We got talking about this idea of “hope”, and the necessary role it plays in our lives as we look for inspiration and reward in all that we do. It became clear to both of us that hope is what drives us all to be better, and it inspires us all to be difference makers in the lives of others. Without that sense of hope there is no vision of what’s possible, and the seemingly unattainable goals that we set for ourselves, our students, and our world are just that…..unattainable…..so why even bother?

Hope is typically defined as the looking forward to something with confidence or expectation, but for many it’s way, way more that that. Hope for some people can be a lifeline, the light at the end of a dark tunnel, that needle in a haystack, or the only thing left when you feel as though everything is lost. If you think about it, hope might just be the most important word in the English language because without it, we’d never ever move forward. For quality educators, hope is tied to almost everything that we do, throughout every day of our teaching lives. Think about all the things that you hope for with your students, your colleagues, and your school as the kids begin to arrive in the morning. If you’re like me, you hope that all the hard work that we’ve put into creating a wonderful community and culture for students translates into learning. You also hope that the decisions that are made (which are sometimes out of your control) are made through the lens of what’s best for kids, student learning, and our community. You hope to be inspired by the people around you, and you hope that you can affect some sort of positive change……..hope is what transforms good schools into great schools, and hope is what drives you to be the best educator that you can be.

A few months ago I attended an amazing workshop put on by Alan November. Much of what he was discussing revolved around leadership, as well as the components of quality teaching. He suggested that the three most important attributes of all successful leaders are energy, enthusiasm, and hope. I thought about the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I was bringing to my job, and I wondered about how hopeful I was…….the great thing about this suggestion is that these three attributes are all things that we can control! I want to ask you all this week to think about that word…..hope…..and to let it shine through in all that you do, particularly when dealing with your students. The greatest message that we can deliver to our kids is that we are hopeful for them as learners. They need to know that we’ll never give up hope that they can become the person of their dreams, and we have to instill that hope in them. I’m hopeful for the future of our kids, and I’m hopeful that we can bring our Middle School fairy tale to life…….and I hope you are too. Have a great week everyone and remember to be hopeful for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof – Barbara Kingsolver

Attachment #1 Hope in Education PDF Hope in Leadership

TED Talk #1  – Use Data to Build Better Schools (Andreas Schleicher)
http://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_schleicher_use_data_to_build_better_schools.html
TED Talk #2 – Hope (Sherwin Nuland)
http://www.ted.com/talks/sherwin_nuland_on_hope.html

Alan November’s Professional Website
http://novemberlearning.com/

Now That The Job Fairs Are Over: What Next?

With all of this winter’s major recruitment fairs now over, what should those candidates still seeking a position be doing?

First, understand that the busy fair season coming to an end does NOT mean an end to recruiting! New vacancies are still cropping up every day, in every corner of the world. Just a quick glance at the vacancy list at www.Tieonline.com reveals this fact. Moreover, many schools, particularly those in Europe, do not require staff members to announce their intentions until April or even May. Your search should therefore continue. And in fact, several of the leading recruitment fair agencies sponsor fairs in June to assist schools in filling late vacancies.

So if you are just starting the process or if you have been actively seeking an international school position, and haven’t been successful, there are plenty of options still available and coming up. Here are some options:

1. Make sure your online resume is complete, including at least two (2) confidential recommendations from current or former supervisors. The IJN (Instant Job Notification) option may also be helpful in promoting a timely application.

2.  Review your resume and make sure your experience over the past 2 years is clear and complete.

3. Create a cover note that features your own assessment of your major strengths as a teacher, counselor, etc.

4. If you got interviewed at a job fair and was not offered a position, ask that service agency if there was anything in your file that might have deterred interest in your candidacy. No one likes the “confidential” evaluation process; but the fact is that recruiters rely heavily on this resource.

5. Finally, decide that you will consider a position in most countries of the world, if the school is appropriate and interesting. Sometimes one must fore go the desire to teach in Paris or London, in order to get one’s first position in an international school. Once you have two years of good performance in any international school, you become a highly valued candidate in this network.

And please remember that “perseverance” is the most critical quality one needs for professional success in any field!

Pay It Forward

So just over a week ago I decided to track down a old teacher of mine……I wanted to tell her that the incredibly positive influence that she had on me way back in High School is still resonating deeply in my life twenty five years later, and that who she is as a person and educator continues to inspire me greatly to this day. After I wrote that note, I started thinking about all the teachers that I’ve had in my life who have changed me in some way for the better…..or helped shape the person and educator that I am today. I thought about my grade school teachers, my university professors, and all the colleagues that I’ve had over the past 15 years in education, and I came up with a short list of people who have literally been searchlight souls throughout my career……and I wrote to them….. and I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.

As it turns out, every single one of them wrote back and said that my simple little email, which took me less than two minutes to write, had not only made their day but in some cases made their entire career! It struck me that the incredible and life changing work that great teachers do every day is often unrecognized and underappreciated….we all know this of course, and we certainly aren’t in this game for all the glamour and adulation but here’s the thing……when was the last time that you, the underappreciated educator, actually wrote to a teacher in your own life who has changed and inspired you in some simple way? Or some profound way? I bet if you took fifteen minutes at some point this week to think about all the educators that have passed through your life throughout your career you’d come up with a few who deserve a sincere thank you…so what’s stopping you?

Coincidentally, just this past week I had a former student of mine (who I taught years ago in third grade) pass through Shanghai and go out of her way to look me up…..I was thrilled, humbled, and I couldn’t shake the smile off my face all day! We’re in this profession to make a difference in the lives of our students, so when one actually validates the efforts that you’ve made there is no better feeling in the world in my opinion. I bet every one of you has had that feeling at some point, and if you’re like me you can last on that special moment for at least a month. Good teachers are true heroes in my mind….they wield such incredible influence and power in a child’s life and most of the time they do it unceremoniously. Well, for this week anyway let’s pay it forward……

I’m asking you all this week to send out one or two quick little emails and to make someone’s day (or career)……a teacher in your life who deserves to hear from you….you never know, you might just receive an email yourself! I’ve attached a few great links and articles below, which speak to the importance of saying thank you, and to the undeniable difference that good teachers make in the the lives of their students. The John Hattie attachment is particularly good and I implore you all to read it right away. Oh yeah, our own teacher appreciation week is coming up quick on March 4th through to the 8th. Make sure that you take advantage of all that our PAFA has planned, and let’s make sure to celebrate each other. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
A teacher affects eternity; you can never tell where the influence stops.
– Henry Adams

Online Articles –
http://www.teacher-appreciation.info/
http://www.ed.gov/blog/2012/05/rethink-teacher-appreciation-week/

Attachment #1 – Teachers Make a Difference, by John Hattie (This is ridiculously good…I love John Hattie’s work) hattie_teachersmakeadifference
Attachment #2 – Top Five Regrets of the Dying (Thanks to Kassi Cowles for this) Top five regrets of the dying Life and style guardian.co.uk

Pay it forward Website-
http://www.pifexperience.com/

Important Job Fair Tips

February welcomes the major international job fairs to several locations in the USA and Canada, where 300-400 international schools will be seeking over 1,000 new educators for their staffs. For the candidates attending Search Associates, ISS, Queens College, or the University of Northern Iowa job fairs, the experience can be exciting, and even exhilarating. At the same time it can be confusing  and disappointing for some.

Here are potentially the most disconcerting possibilities a candidate might face at one of these well-run, exciting events:

1) There have already been several fairs in London and various Asian cities, as well as considerable online recruitment be many schools. As a result the job you had your eye on, or even several you hoped to get interviewed for, may have already been filled by the time you get to the job fair.

2) For the very popular school sites (Western Europe and some Asian cities), the interview schedule for the school’s recruiter may be filled very quickly, and before you get to sign up. For some schools, there are long lines in the opening session when quick interviews may or may not lead to getting a full and serious interview.

3) And if you do get a full interview, chance and luck may place you as one among many excellent choices for a given school and position.

4) Increasingly, many schools who do make an offer expect, and may even insist on a very quick response. You may want to complete your interview schedule, but  you could be required to reject an offer to do so.

5) If you are fortunate enough to experience the euphoria of multiple job offers, you may face some serious indecision or doubts, and you may not be granted the time to resolve them.

The best way to prepare for these contingencies is this: Do not got to the fair with a fixed or limited idea of where the best job prospect for you might be. Do seek to get an offer only in the countries and from the schools you have targeted. But be open to the many other interesting possibilities that could easily present themselves at these fine job fairs.

For example, in your free time, attend as many of the school introductory sessions as you can. Many happy educators have ended up in schools and countries they never considered before the fair.

Above all, be open-minded, flexible and positive. This experience, if used properly, can lead to a sound understanding of what international schools are all about, as well as one or more concrete offers. And if that doesn’t happen at the fair, stay in the game through www.tieonline.com and other sites, as no fair accommodates even the majority of international schools with openings this year.

And please remember: if you accept a position (even verbally) offered by a school, reneging on that acceptance could seriously damage you reputation. Be careful not to get so caught up in the “fever” of the fair that you agree to an assignment for which you are doubtful or unsure.

The Heart of the Matter

So this week I want to talk about struggling students, or more to the point, our responsibility as educators to truly get down to the heart of the matter when it comes to why kids aren’t learning. I firmly believe that every one of our students wants to achieve, and it’s not enough for us to say that they’re “just being lazy”, or “not applying themselves”, or “not living up to their potential”. Kids don’t come to school in the morning wanting to fail, or struggle, or feel like they’re dumb. Kids also don’t come to school in the morning looking to spend their day being bored or unchallenged…….it’s so easy for us to get frustrated with students who aren’t reaching our lofty expectations, without really making the effort to find out why, and it’s even easier to cop out and put the responsibility all on them to turn it around. We get frustrated when kids don’t finish their homework…..we get frustrated with kids when they act out and behave inappropriately…….we get frustrated with kids who consistently underachieve……..and often times in my opinion, we don’t dig deep enough below the surface to find out what’s really going on.

Think about all the things that can get in the way of student learning…..particularly throughout the pre-teen and teenage years. There are so many obstacles to learning that it’s a wonder how kids make through at all……depression, peer pressure, diagnosed and undiagnosed leaning disabilities, hormone changes, poor self esteem or a lack of self confidence, parental pressure, boredom, and a fear of failure just to name a few. It’s hard for many kids to “do school” the way we expect, and many of our students aren’t what some might call “school smart”. When it doesn’t come easy to them and they begin to struggle, they end up consistently hearing things like “you need to try harder”, or “you’re not taking your education seriously”, or “you need to start taking ownership of your learning”…….well, I think we all know as professionals that it’s not that simple. I just finished reading an amazing and enlightening book called Speaking of Boys by Michael Thompson, which opened up my eyes and heart to a number of things that I either didn’t know, had forgotten, or had been taking for granted. I had a lot of time early last week while I was traveling home from the recruiting fair to really think about our kids, and I looked deeply at our programs, our assessment expectations/practices, and the way in which we (as a collective faculty) approach our struggling students. Honestly, I am excited to make a few changes in my own approach and commitment to deciphering the mysteries of our “underachieving” kids, and I want to encourage and urge you all to do the same.

Over the next semester, let’s all take the extra time to truly get down to the heart of the matter……..and to find out what’s really blocking the pathway to learning. Talk to me,  the student support services team, your colleagues, the parents, and most importantly, to the student about what can be done and how we can help. Every student has their own story, and every student achieves at a different rate……let’s make sure that the obstacles in their way are removed (or at least identified) so we can maximize the opportunities for them to learn. I don’t think we should be satisfied until all of our kids are reaching the high expectations that we’ve set for them, or until we’ve at least identified the real reasons why they’re not. It’s a lofty goal I know, but one that is attainable and educationally responsible in my opinion. Please dig deeper everyone, and help turn our struggling students around into success stories. With the quality of educators currently on our faculty, and the incredibly inspiring young adults that come to our school, I am confident that we can get this done. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to dig deep for our students and be good to each other.

Quote of the Week………..
A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration.
-William Lyon Phelps

Article #1 – A 3-Step Process for Achieving Success in Struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A 3 step process
Article #2 – A Seamless intervention System for struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A Seamless Intervention System for Struggling Students
Article #3 – Support struggling Students with Academic Rigor (ASCD) August 2012

New Beginnings

So we’re already three weeks deep into 2013……..another year and another clean slate. There’s something incredibly hopeful about the start of a new calendar year in my opinion, and the fact that it comes right in the middle of our school year makes it even better. We have a chance to not only deeply reflect on the past several months with our students, but to also look forward to the promise and opportunity of the months that lie ahead. January is the perfect time to look at how we can become “better”……better educators….better friends……better mothers and fathers…..better colleagues…….and better people. It’s a perfect time to reflect on, and examine all that went right and wrong with the choices and decisions that we made, and to honestly evaluate the efforts (or lack thereof) that we made to grow, and change, and develop in all aspects of our lives. A new year is a new beginning, and like with all new beginnings, everything and anything is seemingly possible.

Two years ago at this time I wrote all about the importance of reflection, and the necessary step of looking back in order to successfully move forward. I still very much believe in the importance of self reflection, and I hope that you all had the chance over the break to go through this process……but seeing as though we’re almost a month into semester two, today I want to nudge you in the other direction. Today I want to encourage you all to emphatically look forward, and to start thinking of ways that you can become better in 2013. Maybe it’s a new teaching strategy that you’ve been meaning to try, or a new course or degree that you’ve been wanting to take, or maybe it’s those books that you’ve been desperate to read, or those ideas that you’ve been thinking of sharing…….whatever it is, start doing!  Make 2013 your year of action, and your year of tremendous personal and professional growth. Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for three years or thirty, there’s no reason why this can’t be your best year to date. Isn’t that the whole idea of being life long learners? To continually push yourself to get better, and to learn, and to take risks, and to make mistakes? Well, what’s stopping you…..it’s time to stop reflecting and to start accomplishing. I’ll be meeting with many of you over the next few weeks for our mid year check-in, and I’ll be asking what your commitments are to getting better…..and I’ll be sharing my commitments with you.

I want to wish you all a wonderful year, and a “better” second half………I wish you all a year filled with mistakes made, risks taken, lessons learned, and most importantly, progress. I’m hoping that you all look at making 2013 the best year of your personal and professional lives, and I truly hope that you find the courage and determination to stick to those resolutions, or promises that you’ve made to yourself over the past few weeks. I just happened to turn 43 today, so new beginnings are very much on my mind. I’m arguably coming off the best year of my life and I’m excited about what’s to come. Like my daughter Gabby said this morning, “Daddy, you’re lucky to be getting older because that means you’re getting smarter!”…….one thing I do know is that I’ll certainly keep trying to make those wise words become a reality, and I hope you all do the same. I’m off recruiting next week so hold down the fort for our kids while I’m away. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be “better” for our students and “better” for each other.

Quote of the Week…….
The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all
– Mark Twain

Attachment – Excerpt from Hal Urban’s book, Lessons from the Classroom: 20 things Good Teachers Do Lesson #1

TED TALKS to inspire you in 2013
http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html
http://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_brencher_love_letters_to_strangers.html

Three Key Questions to Ask Students

Every concerned school leader needs to have the means to monitor what students are experiencing in their school. Here is a proven, quick way to get a handle on how students are experiencing their education and school, as well as a window on potential problems.

I have found that most kids are very honest in their responses to impromptu questions. Here are the three that always served me well:

1. “How hard do you have to work in your classes to get a B? Or to get an A?”
2.  “Do you feel that your teachers really care about you and your learning progress?”
3.  “Aside from studies, are you finding school-sponsored activities that engage you and are fun?”

Student answers to these questions, solicited informally in the corridors, are surprisingly candid. They give the principal or head an immediate insight into how school is being experienced; what level of demand for quality is taking place in the classroom; and whether students perceive staff as caring and supportive.

Obviously, when the answers suggest less than desired qualities in several students experiences, the next level of inquiry and action can be undertaken.

Student Writing Programs Are Seriously Distorted

Whwnever I speak to an elementary or secondary student, I always question them closely about the kind and frequency of the writing assignments they get. Almost invariably I hear the same story: “We are writing “Book Reports” each month (elementary kids); We are writing paragraphs on any topic we choose (middle school); we do a major paper in grade 11 that requires research , quotations, and proper citing techniques.”

Since leaving school, how many Book Reports have you been required or asked to write? How many formal “research” papers have been assigned to you by your employers? How is it that K-12 teachers are still locked in this horrible practice of making kids adapt writing skills that will never be either required or helpful in real life?

The alternatives are painfully clear! Have students write a news article on specific national, international or local events (one that could be published). Have them write persuasive arguments to their parents, friends or public officials. How about film or book reviews designed to encourage or dissuade potential readers and viewers? Couldn’t they get familiar with someone in their family that runs a business, and explore how it could be expanded or run better?

My point is that there are so many practical, realistic writing tasks teachers could assign that would build useful skills and have lasting value, if only a little thought and creativity were put into creating the assignments.

Is this too much to ask of our teachers? Can we put an end to Book Reports and 11th grade research papers?

The Beauty of Middle School

So I’ve written seventy-five of these musings over the past two and a half years, and I have tried very hard over that time to write pieces that span across all school divisions, and relate to all educators regardless of what age group they teach. Well, I cannot hold back anymore…….today I’m going to write about how much I love the Middle School! In my opinion, Middle School students are the most beautiful creatures on the planet, and they inspire me so much that I’m literally struggling to put it into words. If I think about all the grade levels in a traditional school (from Kindergarten through to twelfth) as a burning flame, I see the Middle School years as that blue part right smack in the center…..the core….the place where it burns the hottest, the place that shapes, and the place that transforms the overall identity of the fire.

From the sweet innocence of the 6th grade class, who come to Middle School so excited, and scared, and hopeful, and nervous, and who still think it’s okay to go on play dates and cry when they they get hurt……to the confusing and formative 7th Grade class who learn so much about their changing bodies, and hormones, and how to fit in and make friends, and about who they are starting to become as people…….to the desperate to be adult 8th grade class who want so much to be given independence and autonomy, but still silently scream out for boundaries and guidance……..how can you not love the struggle? All the awkwardness, all the mistakes, all the tears and heartache, and all the relentless hope truly makes my heart want to burst! Their search for themselves is so open and honest and pure……. and it draws me in day after day after day.

The best part of my day is watching them all come off the buses first thing in the morning ready to start it again…….they walk past me smiling, sleepy, and eager to learn about life…….hoping to be noticed and inspired and validated by the ones that matter the most….their peers. I watch them, I joke with them, I try and set a good example for them, and I love them……..and I understand their struggle. If you ask anyone about their Middle School years you always get a passionate response…..some people loved Middle School and some people hated it, but everyone remembers it intensely. The first crush, the hopeful first kiss, all those risks that were taken that either fell flat or successfully catapulted you ahead with relief…….constantly failing forward, and growing, and doing things you wish you hadn’t done……it changes you, and it sets the tone for your life. For some people these are the best years of their lives and for some these are their worst, and for me it’s beautiful to watch it all unfold……..I love Middle School and I love Middle School kids, and I’m inviting you all this week to watch them, and marvel at them, and be inspired by what they’re going through. Praise them, set high expectations for them, embrace those teachable moments, and hold them accountable……..encourage them to take risks and make mistakes and when you do, watch them learn and learn and learn.

Being a Middle School Principal is the most incredible job on earth because I get to live vicariously through all of them…….and I get to feel that burn that comes from being right at the center of the flame……everyday. They make me feel alive and I’m honored to be a part of their journey. It’s a struggle for sure, but there’s no better place to be than right in that flaming blue core….where life burns the brightest. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our Middle School kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are!

  • E.E. Cummings


Attached Article –Tuning a Middle School to the young Adolescent Tuning a Middle School to the Young Adolescent

TED Talk on the Adolescent Brain – Sarah Jayne Blakemore
http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain.html

Great MS Specific Websites
http://www.middleweb.com/
http://tln.typepad.com/middleweb/
http://www.greatschools.org/middle-school/
http://www.middleschool.net/

 

 

What About Play?

Last week I wrote about balance, and I got quite a strong response from dozens of people who just like me, needed a wake up call to what’s really important in their lives. This week I’d like to talk about another necessary component of a happy life (in my opinion), and something that most educators in my experience tend to lose sight of as they struggle through the day to day grind of a school year………the importance play! Now I’m not talking about playing with our iPads, or the apps on our iPhones, or with the other tech toys that we use to fill up our spare time, I’m talking about really playing……like the kids at our school who literally cannot wait to get out on the playground and use their imaginations to create, explore, and escape. I spent much of last week just watching kids at recess and at lunch, and what I saw made me smile from ear to ear…..but it also made me a little sad because there wasn’t a single adult in sight taking part.

I watched kids playing tag, cops and robbers, hopscotch and hide and seek, not to mention all the great games of soccer and basketball and football where kids were pretending to be their favorite players from their favorite teams. I saw kids jumping in puddles and playing rock, paper, scissors, and every single one of them was smiling, free, and completely engaged. I started to wonder why as adults we don’t play more together? I thought about how maybe it’s actually the kids who’ve really got it right, and how maybe it’s time for us as educators to let the kids teach us an important lesson for once. Then I thought about the times in my life when I’m the happiest and it occurred to me that it’s when I’m playing. Either playing soccer with my boy, or dolls or moms and dads with my girl, or when I’m out for a run just letting my imagination and that dreamy state of mind take over. I also thought about the best teachers that I’ve ever had in my life and it struck me that it was the ones who played with us as students. The teachers who found ways to bring “play” into the classrooms, and the ones who found time to incorporate “play” into their lessons…..and the ones were out on the field at recess throwing footballs and playing horse. The teachers who hadn’t lost their inner child, and who knew the importance of having fun like a kid.

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. I think most of us tend to get saddled with the seriousness of work, and paying the bills, and the responsibility that we have to ourselves, our students, and our own kids…….and I think it’s the wrong approach. I think that finding time to play may just be one of the most important things that we can do as adults. I think it will make us better educators, better mentors, better colleagues, and better parents. Last Wednesday, instead of a regular faculty meeting, we took time in the Middle School to play together with a trivia competition. Obviously, spending one afternoon a semester isn’t going to transform us back into kids but it will allow us to take a step back, and to take a break from all of the “serious work”. Like balance, finding time to play in your life is hard, and maybe something that you haven’t put as a priority of late. I guess I’m asking you all this week to think about how much you play with your students throughout the school day, and how much time you set aside in your own lives to escape like those kids on the playground…….it might just change your life for the better.

Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. No Musings next week as I’ll be running another half marathon, and waiting for my beautiful wife to finish her first full marathon…..champagne and chocolate at the finish line!

Quote of the Week……
The opposite of play is not work……it’s depression!
– Stuart Brown

TED Talk – Stuart Brown on play (I am begging you all to watch this video!)
http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Article #1 – The importance of Play for Adults
https://firstthings.org/the-importance-of-play-for-adults

Article #2 – Adults at Play
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/

National Institute for Play
www.nifplay.org

 

 

Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world. In the spirit of amplifying diverse voices. TIE's blog space is not subject to editorial oversight. TIE bloggers have a long history in various aspects of international education and share their thoughts and insights based on personal experiences.