Children’s books, including picture books and novels, are not just for little ones. Some children’s books should be called ‘everybody books’. And some can be especially good for educators to read. Here are some that will work particularly well at the beginning of a new school year to share as read-alouds by librarians, classroom teachers, counsellors or administrators.
A wild and humorous book for school administrators to share with younger students, is the last book written by Dr. Seuss, finished by Jack Prelutsky: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. The principal worries that, if his students won’t pass the test, there may not be funding to keep their beloved school open. The classroom teacher and the librarian know better as they coax the students. A very funny read. ISBN 0-679-89008-4, Alfred A. Knopf
1, 2, 3 Off to School by Marianne Dubuc is the kind of picture book I would have savoured as a child. There’s lots of fun text, but it’s the images that you can study forever. Each double spread shows a school in a fairy tale setting: there’s Cattail Academy where frogs paint and sing. The sloths attend Sleepytime School and squirrels learn all they need to know at Lookout Heights. Throughout the pages, little Pom discovers how much fun kindergarten will be. She can’t wait to attend her own school. ISBN 978-1-5253-0656-3, Kids Can Press
Harley The Hero by Peggy Collins is based on a real classroom where the teacher has a service dog. The book celebrates the work of service animals and the normalization of neurodivergence. The author-illustrator brings Harley and his class to charming life and concludes with an Author’s Note about the real dog behind the fictional Harley who goes to school every day with Ms. Prichard to make sure she feels safe. Harley can’t play with the students while he’s wearing his work vest. They write him letters instead, and everything is perfect in the best, most quiet class in the whole school. Until the day the old stage curtains catch fire. As the fire alarm blares and chaos erupts, Harley remembers that Ms. Prichard isn’t the only human in his class who gets upset by loud noises. ISBN 978-1-77278-195-3, Pajama Press
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco is perhaps her best known book. This autobiographical story shows how the now prolific author struggled with reading as a child. Despite being surrounded by books she could not master the skill of reading until a patient, understanding teacher changed her life. ISBN 0-399-23166-8, Philomel
By the same author, Patricia Polacco, is Mr. Lincoln’s Way – the story of an bully in Grade 5 and his principal. Despite personal lashings out, Mr. Lincoln finds a way to break through Eugene’s shield of anger by tapping into the boy’s one keen interest. Through books, patience and caring the two forge a bond that helps Eugene find his way. ISBN 0-439-43011-9
Here is a picturebook recently self-published by teacher/librarian Sandip Sodhi: Ms. Chievus in the Classroom. Division O-O has so much misbehaviour that most teachers gave up. But not Ms. Chievus. She somersaults into the classroom and into the hearts of the rowdy students. In Pippi Longstocking-like fashion the teacher blows bubble gum bubbles and stands on her desk until the students teach her to behave better. A fun, turn-about way to discuss students’ behaviour in school. ISBN 978-1-7770218-0-1
Off To Class by Susan Hughes is a nonfiction book about the wide variety of ways in which children around the world get an education. From schools in refugee camps to finding text books in trash, this book shows the resilience of children and educators in many different countries. ISBN 978-1-926818-86-3
The Report Card byAndrew Clements is a wonderful novel of a strong willed child who does not see the value of dividing students into ‘gifted’ and ‘hopeless’. She’s brilliant but wants to demonstrate how her best friend much feel when he gets D’s and she gets A’s. She does not want to stand out, blending in is much better. But when Nora fails her tests and the school librarian discovers the true level of her interests and knowledge, Nora has some explaining to do that might just lead to her teachers’ understanding of her concerns. Based on a true study, this is a timeless story. ISBN 0-439-67110-8
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children including the nonfiction picture book MY SCHOOL IN THE RAINFOREST showcasing a variety of schools around the world including an international school, Boyds Mills Press, ISBN 978-1-59078-601-7
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~Epicurus
It was the first day of a new school year. At lunchtime a message appeared in my inbox with the subject line, “Where will you be teaching in 2022?” It would be errant to claim this to be the first wind I caught of peering into and “preparing” for the future. Days prior, colleagues shared how they already registered with international recruitment agencies. A part of me was left reeling, falling perfectly into the “trap” of the subject line. Wondering where might I be in a year’s time. Try as I might, I wrestled with reality, asking, “Was it really already time to begin thinking about recruitment?”
Regardless of the answer, any answer, I instead firmly plant myself in the present. Teachers and administrators who have had “skin in the international game” for years may have the a priori belief that it never is too early to begin thinking about next year. However, my experience in observing and listening to international educators for more than two decades, showcased how sometimes there was a sort of psychology of transition. One that confirmed the necessity to be in the moment.
Like it was yesterday, I can remember how my first two years played out teaching overseas. The initial few months seamlessly fit with what is often called the honeymoon stage. The newness exciting to the cohort of teachers I entered alongside. Differences such as conceptions of time, piqued our curiosity and were seen positively as stimulants. Later it would be these very items that would be irritants. We would settling in by winter break, still intrigued by cultural nuances and dedicated time to learn the language of the host nation. Friendships would continue to deepen. The first year was equal parts whirlwind and respite. Life being lived in the present moment.
Recruitment those days seemingly kicked into gear much later and so the start of year two was a continuation of positivity. But, by March the second year some teachers in the cohort made the decision to move on. Seemingly overnight, there was a shift in mindset. Certain friends became mere colleagues, ones I found myself no longer really wanting to even share conversation. Lightheartedness, laughter, and appreciation for any differences in culture were substituted for mockery and scorn.
I wanted no part.
It wasn’t until my second international post that I would be permitted a clearer window into what possibly was happening. Again, a similar trajectory of experience played out. From awe to contentment and then to frustration and even disdain. Were there forces at play? I was not sure. But what I did recognize as truth was how there appeared to be a sort of uncanny coping mechanism, where individuals unconsciously deceived themselves. As if darkness needed to exist to know light. Yet, it went beyond the paradoxical. Little was in flux but the individual themselves. The country was by and large the same. The inhabitants, students, and school too. Yet, ostensibly all that was celebrated the first year and a half, now was spoiled.
The aspirations of the “next place,” and far greener grass left some colleagues living in what might best be called purgatory. Arguably they were living in two places. Or possibly in no place at all. What was certain was they no longer were fully present and appeared stuck. Of course this was and is not the case for all people in transition. However, with each move I have witnessed a similar occurrence for some.
And here we are. Living in times where recruitment is no longer pegged to the seasons. This is fitting as a result of the ubiquitous nature of so much in life, as we grow increasingly connected. Teachers for hire anytime, anywhere. A truly globalized world. Kind of like feasting on asparagus in Iceland in December. Time and place no longer barriers. In the case of education; LinkedIn, Zoom and all the other platforms serve to displace the traditional recruitment fairs. Regardless, the subject line, “Where will you be in 2022” brought into focus for me, how there is a layering of beginnings. Beginning a new school year, while already considering a beginning somewhere else. Simply becoming more aware of this, brought more contentment. Yet, this “layering” does come with some risk.
The risk of living for today.
What if instead of getting caught up in where we might be in 2022, we dedicated ourselves to doing as Will Richardson suggests? “What if we committed to radical love, of one another and of the planet? It’s clear, I think, that anything less will prevent us from solving the problems we face. That and, of course, going out and jogging or walking or biking a few miles each week, turning off the narratives of strife and gloom, taking in the beauty that’s right in front of us, and honoring this current moment for all of its wonder and grace.”
Where will I be in 2022?
Hopefully still feeling grateful for my life, just like today.
When teaching writing to children, we often talk about the importance of voice. Who is telling the story? Is it a narrator or a character? The following picture books and novels all use a unique voice to tell their story.
If Only… by Mies van Hout is a colourful picture book for the youngest readers, in which the voice of a child wishes he/she was a butterfly. But the butterfly wishes it was a different insect. From ladybugs to spiders, all critters voice their wishes until the story comes full circle. In addition to the story there is information about each creature as well as instructions for making your own colourful art.
ISBN 978-1-77278-196-0, Pajama Press
Hello, Dark by Wai Mei Wong gives voice to a child who is afraid of the dark. “I hear you creak, and cast shadows all around,” he whispers, alone in bed. But soon he realizes that the dark helps animals at night, even helps the moon shine bright. Soon he is no longer scared but plays games with his new found friend.
ISBN 978-1-77278-221-9, Pajama Press
Wolves by Emily Gravett is an older picture book with a quirky voice that slightly older students love. Rabbit goes to the library and find a book about wolves. The information becomes more and more vivid. Rabbit has a close encounter but, luckily, this story has a happy ending. The art adds to the text and is fun to explore and discuss. The pages include mail with real envelops and letters to Rabbit.
ISBN 978-1-4050-5362-4, MacMillan
Time For Bed’s Story by Monica Arnaldo is written in an unusual voice – that of the bed! Bed knóws that you don’t want to go to bed, and toss and turn. But have you ever considered Bed’s feelings? A fun bedtime read for parents to share with their young readers!
ISBN 978-1-5253-0239-8, Kids Can Press
The Coconut Crab by Peter W. Fong
This 200 page middle grade novel is a fun and beautiful read. With facts about the main characters – a coconut crab, a goat, a bird and a gecko – based on nonfiction, the story is a well written fictional tale reminiscent of folk tales. Based on a tropical island, Coconut Crab faces dangers and makes new friends, learning about the natural world while exploring the world of man. The voice that tell this story, with faint echoes of The Life of Pi, is beautiful and made me imagine vivid images. The humour and emotions conjured up by the characters was similar to watching the Madagascar or Finding Nemo movies in which quirky animals banter with each other. A fascinating read that may be labeled for kids but can be equally entertaining for adults who love a good tale.
ISBN 978-1-9505845-7-4, Green Writers Press
Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at schools around the world. Her latest title is Come, Read With Me, ISBN 978-1459817876
In a recent senior leadership meeting, we were evaluating our leadership strategies amidst the Covid pandemic. It was interesting to note the complexities in leadership approaches especially considering the shift in perspectives due to Covid. This got me thinking about the current leadership decisions I have had to make and how it is very different from the way I made decisions in the recent past, just a year ago! The shift I have experienced is a move from predictive leadership to reactive leadership. This will come as a surprise to you but it is true.
Predictive leadership is based on experience, knowledge, and information. Predictive leadership focuses on problem-solving and analytical thinking. Senior management practicing this type of leadership are usually very calm, they take time to decide, they rely on their experience and on insights provided by the team. They think of the final goal and the bigger picture or why the decision needs to be taken. Predictive leadership aligns more with a global approach to a problem, accepted and ratified by most stakeholders.
Reactive leadership on the other hand is a more in-the-moment kind of decision. These leaders need to, have to, and do take decisions on the spot. There is no time to investigate data or research or past experiences to come up with a solution. Reactive leadership has to be creative to solve the current crisis as it is urgent and probably one of its kind, like the Covid pandemic. Reactive leaders are impulsive and confident as they are making high-risk decisions in a short period of time without consulting others.
School leadership in the last year and a half has been reactive; even though it is not considered a suitable leadership style, it is becoming more and more prevalent due to the way the education paradigm has evolved in the recent past. Leaders are required to make quick decisions relying on their gut instinct that it is the best possible decision. Instead of looking into the root cause of the problem the lens has shifted to finding the solution to the problem. For example, a reactive approach in leadership is to change the way they start a conversation; from “But the problem is…” to “The solution is…” A more solution-oriented approach, a more reactive approach. Even though it is the age of big data and data analytics, but it is not the time to depend completely on data. Data does give us a trend a possible prediction but human ingenuity and the ability to weigh out the best possible solution in a crisis is invaluable.
Being a reactive leader is something I have learned throughout the Covid crisis. For example, taking the decision to start online schooling, or not; decisions to reinvent the wheel, or not; decisions to advise teachers’ professional growth, or not; it is never an easy decision, but it must be made. And here are three things that have helped me to be a reactive decision-maker:
Prioritize self-care and well-being, these are essential for making high-risk decisions.
Create a culture of trust, your team needs to believe in you to buy in your ideas.
Rock the boat if required, sometimes big decisions mean big changes, be prepared.
Decision-making in challenging times is hard; think of it as standing at the edge of a diving board, either open your arms to dive in or you need to step back. But unfortunately, there is no stepping back in crisis so embrace your reactive self and make the decision, right or wrong, data will tell.
Names to remember but moreover examples for our students to follow.
Qatar, United States, New Zealand, Italy, and Belarus. The athletes represent five different countries and five different events. Each individually could be envisaged as one of five olympic rings. Their stories, like the rings, intertwined and embodying hope. A heroism that supersedes athleticism, for they are harbingers of the dawning of a more humane future.
In 2012, the motto of the London Olympics was “Inspire a Generation.” In 2016 in Rio it was “A New World.” How befitting that this year in Tokyo the motto was “United by Emotion.” Originating in ancient Greece as many as 3,000 years ago, the games have not lost significance socially or culturally. Yet, there was a hiatus in the Olympics in 393AD under the reign of Emperor Theodosius as the ancient pagan Olympiad system was disbanded. Not until 1896 were they revived.
According to the International Olympic Committee, “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind… Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” A lofty goal if we think back to the original games where all all athletes competed naked and corporal punishment awaited those “guilty” of even a false start on the track. This summer 200 nations convened in Tokyo for the XXXII Olympics, competing in 339 events, or 33 sports, over the course of 16-days. Much more than victory or failure, the Olympics are unable to be distilled to a single element. They are a spirit. One in which may bear witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Generosity and Sharing Joy
Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi set an example of what is possible when we set ourselves aside, our maniacal egos, and consider that winning does not necessarily indicate someone must lose. The high-jumping duo have a history of competition but more importantly friendship. Each has battled hardships in their career and received support from the other. So, after both successfully cleared the 2.37m mark, a “marathon” two-hour attempt to outdo the other ensued. Until finally, an Olympic official offered them a jump off to see who would prevail. Time seemed to slow as Barshim questioned, “Can we have two golds?” Almost in perfect unison with the response, “It is possible,” Tamberi leapt into the arms of Barshim. Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics described how Tamberi then tore off on a hop and a skip across the track, before finishing up in a pile on the floor in floods of tears. The headlines would read, “High jumpers sharing gold medal dubbed ‘the greatest moment in Olympic history.” Watching the video leaves the viewer with warm feelings of just what is possible.
Biles Overcomes with Persistence
Simon Biles is so successful in gymnastics that we may even lose count of her eight National Championships, five World Championships, and 2016 Olympic All-Around Gold Medal. Yet, she is much more than her accomplishments. There may be apparent levity in the word “twisties.” Kind of like what you might think when you hear the words “twinkies” or “slinky.” Yet, the twisties are serious. When Biles’ 2016 Olympic teammate Laurie Hernandez was asked to explain them, she said “ twisties can set in when doing high level elements, typically on floor or vault, and it becomes difficult to compartmentalise the exact element a gymnast’s body is attempting. The rhythm is off, and your brain will like stutter step for half a second and that’s enough to throw off the whole skill.” So, for Biles to report having the twisties while on the world’s greatest athletic stage, without the comfort of falling into a foam pit, creates more than a sense of uneasiness. It was understandable how she would take herself out of four of the five individual events she qualified for. Yet, she could not be psyched out of the balance beam. Her courage to perform along with her extraordinary skill would result in winning the bronze. Biles shared, “It (the bronze) means more than all of the golds because I pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here.”
One Small Lift for a Woman, One Giant Leap for Humanity
It is a lot to snatch 133kg, a movement that requires pushing the weight overhead. Laurel Hubbard set the Oceania record in 202 for doing just this. Yet, what she has achieved usurps gravity. The focus of intense scrutiny, the 43-year-old never sought attention for being the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics. The last time she even gave a major interview was in 2017. Yet, who could deny the journey taken to arrive at the XXXII Olympiad.
Born Gavin Hubbard in 1978, she stopped weightlifting in 2001 due to personal issues. In 2012 she began the transition as a transgender woman. Then in 2015 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cleared the way for transgender athletes to compete in the Olympic women’s events. However, “the way” was not cleared completely in society. And still is not. Headlines reflect this; “Gender-Confused Male Athlete Takes Gold Medals in Women’s Weightlifting.” Yet, in a brief statement issued through the IOC, Hubbard remarked, “I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”Admitting that she was “overwhelmed,” Hubbard’s just showing up was a victory. D’Arcy Maine of ESPN recounted how as she made her way to the 120 kg weight in her first lift attempt someone in the crowd yelled, “Go, Laurel!” And another, “You got this, Laurel!” Unable to complete the first three lifts, Hubbard recognized the moment was much larger than herself. The contentiousness and debate leading all the way up to the event, were pleasantly replaced by what Maine reported as, “just applause and cheers inside the venue — and an audible buzz that has been nearly impossible to find elsewhere during these fanless Olympic Games.”
The Courage to Speak Up
Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was scheduled by team officials for the women’s 4×400-meter relay. She had never competed in the event before. Tsimanouskaya posted criticism on social media for how the team was being managed, “with negligence.” Tsimanouskaya would not complete the event. Instead she would be told to pack her bags. Further, that she would face punishment.
Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” was banned by the IOC from attending the Tokyo games. IOC president Thomas Bach said, “we have come to the conclusion that it appears that the current leadership has not appropriately protected the Belarussian athletes from political discrimination.” However, not only athletes. In May a prominent blogger critical of Lukashenko was on a flight that was diverted, forced to land, arrested, and jailed. But even more recently, one week after Tsimanouskaya’s Instagram post, an activist by the name of Vitaly Shishov was found hanged in a park in Kiev.
The threat was real.
Instead of boarding the plane back to Belarus, Tsimanouskaya was provided police protection. According to the Economist, “The next day, Poland granted her and her family asylum. She claims that the call to send her back came not from the sports ministry but from “a higher level”.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken summed it up best by, “denouncing Belarusian officials’ attempt to force Tsimanouskaya to return to Belarus for exercising free speech as ‘another act of transnational repression.’” Blinken would then ironically utilize a social media platform to express his views. Much like Tsimanouskaya did. “Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated.”
Roses Also Have Some Thorns
Vitalina Batsarashkina’s gold medal in the women’s 10 metre air pistol, an event I did not know even existed, triggered even more learning. What country was ROC? After being lost in a rabbit hole of sorts, I came out with one big understanding. There was a gaping loophole. ROC stands for Russian Olympic Committee, a team of 333 Russian athletes. Though banned as a country, Russian athletes still were able to compete in Tokyo. Just not under the name, flag, or anthem of Russia. However, the country’s colors for uniforms were permissible. “You don’t really need to have a strong imagination. In those uniforms that you saw, our national flag can be seen really really obviously,” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said.
ROC came about because in 2019, Russia was banned from international competition for four years. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President Witold Banka released in a statement, “The panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme.” The use of banned athletic performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids. The New York Times called it “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.” Even an Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus, of the doping scandal hit Netflix. Yet, even after the facts were revealed and the verdict conclusive, the Court of Arbitration for Sport would later reduce the penalty to just two years. Furthermore, they would plant the seeds for ROC, allowing Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag if they proved they had no link to the doping scheme.
Zooming out, what did this add to the rancor of many athletes? Lily King, gold medal and world record breaststroke swimmer, was quoted as saying, “I’m sure there were a lot of people competing this week from certain countries who probably shouldn’t have been here.” Certain countries? Hint. Hint. Cough. Cough. No prominent Russian swimmers were left home from the Games and Ryan Murphy, silver medalist in the 200 backstroke, did not mince words after coming in second. “At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming. That is what it is.” Again, a bit of an implication as the gold went to a swimmer from none other than, team ROC. An abbreviated version of a tweet on ROC’s page rebutted, “…Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive us those who are weaker. God is their judge. And for us – an assistant.”
An Explanation that Empowers
Some may say Tokyo 2020 (or is it 2021?) was a flop. That the pandemic wreaked havoc on the games. The spectator less event a nadir to the sporting world and that even the host country could not get behind the Olympiad. Yet, all over the walls and in the cracks is evidence of success. The sharing of a gold medal, overcoming fear and pressure, courage and the freedom of speech, and inclusivity. Each of these in addition to the spirit of the Olympics, mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Ubiquitous is whatever we look for, stories of encouragement or burden. Hopefully, the heroism and humanity of Barshim, Biles, Hubbard, Tamberi, and Tsimanouskaya is what we will choose to remember.
The number one reason I’m thrilled that the Olympics are being held now is that it’s the perfect distraction from writing about whether or not we should mandate masks in August. (And of course provides an easy opportunity to chat about winning and losing).
I’m a sucker for the highlights of the ecstatic athletes like the Filipino weightlifter, winning the first gold medal in her country’s history. Her emotional outburst on this individual achievement was such a pleasure to watch (as opposed to the expectation that comes with many nations that anything less than the highest elevation at the podium is a failure).
I love sports because they bring a ruthless simplicity to life. You win or you lose. There are boundaries and nets, the rules are clear and there aren’t excuses. I will sidestep the irony of how this juxtaposes with the Olympic spirit, but my point is that this simplicity is very different from my day job. It would be relatively easy if all we had to do was achieve, to get a number that indicated we did a great job. But I’m not convinced that’s why I get up in the morning.
Which brings me to the release of IB scores in July, the podium moment for many international schools. Like many of my colleagues, I take a reprieve from the summer break to analyze the fateful IB scores, connect with families on their options, and reflect on how we can improve to expand opportunities for our students. As a practice, my school doesn’t post its achievement on social media. Of course I am happy for the collective achievement of international students, but for some reason it doesn’t sit well with me. For every 45, there’s a 22, for every university acceptance, there are dozens of fails. Yes, I get the celebratory aspect, especially in a pandemic, but aren’t international schools supposed to achieve at the highest levels?
I’m a sucker for a great story. I expect the achievers to achieve, just like the American, Chinese and ROC athletes. I don’t get excited about the medal count.
But give me the Italian high jumper tying arguably the greatest high jumper in history and I can’t stop thinking about it all day.
In our business, we talk a lot about growth as being our indicator of success. We want to move the needle on everyone, but the power of education to get someone where they didn’t expect to be (on the podium) is extraordinary. The girl from Syria, sent on scholarship by her family out of a refugee camp. The boy from Mali, displaced by conflict and accessing an international curriculum for the first time in his life. The Senior whose parents divorced and left him in a country far from home. Those are the moments, the indicators of our success, so much more than a number that, frankly, we are supposed to earn. We are, as privileged institutions, expected to be on the podium.
So, until the summer transitions to yet another pandemic opening, I will continue to watch my badminton, pole vault, gymnastics, and diving, looking for the opportunity to make a difference to that learner that might not expect to be on that podium, and to scream in adulation and excitement when they do.
These global picture books and novels are placed in different countries. Reading stories from around the world will help students of all ages to both appreciate other cultures as well as recognize their own cultural backgrounds.
My Heart in Kenya by Ruth Beardsley. This is a true story, in picture book format with photos, of a family living in a refugee camp and being selected to come to Canada. However, one person was not on their application and thus could not come. Nasteha was only two months when her family had to leave her behind in Kenya. This is the story of how, eventually, they were reunited. The photos give a good impression of life in a refugee camp and of a very real problem that effects many families. Written by an educator, the book has a website: www.myheartinkenya.ca with complementary resources. ISBN 978-1525-566-806
Tea Time Around The World by Denyse Waissbluth, illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne. Who knew tea could be so fascinating! This colourful picture book has a main fictional text in large font, complemented by text in smaller font that gives nonfiction details about each country and their tea customs. From butter tea in Tibet to a Japanese tea ceremony – from English high tea to the modern bubble tea, this is a fun book to share and then have a tea party. ISBN 978-177164-601-7, Greystone Kids
Part of the Travels With My Family series, Travels in Cuba by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel is the story of Charlie on a family holiday in Cuba. As they explore the country, Charlie meets kids, makes friends and learns things about Cuba. The book is sprinkled with words and expressions in Spanish. The series includes chapter books for Grades 2-5 about a variety of countries including Croatia, Mexico and France. ISBN 978-1-77306-347-8, Groundwood Books
The Camino Club by Kevin Craig. I read this teen novel as an e-book. It is a very realistic account of a group of juvenile delinquents – reminiscent of Ben Mikaelson’s Spirit Bear but for older students – whose punishment for a variety of crimes, is to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain with counsellors. Since the real experience is transforming, the fictional teens, too, are transformed by confronting each other, by confessing sins, by meeting new people and by the very act of walking a long distance trail. The teens’ foul language may be realistic in this setting but it almost turned me of off reading on. I’m glad I did, though, as the story gets gripping and you do want to know what happens to each teen in the end. ISBN 978-1945053979, Duet Books
Placed not just in another part of the world, but also in a different era is The Day The Pirates Went Mad, a middle grade novel by Trevor Atkins.
This is a fictional story placed in the early 1700’s. The details about the ways of living, customs, food, clothing and especially ships is impressive. The story is well written so I could ‘see’ it unfold as Emma escaped a Bristol, UK orphanage and find her place on a ship that trades around the world. She sails to Africa and beyond, learning from the rest of the crew, often comprised of female sailors. The story is gripping – I couldn’t put it down. The author’s thorough research and knowledge of the topic and era truly bring the story to life. Any student interested in history and/or pirates will love this novel.
I will be taking on the role of IB Middle Years Programme (for 11 to 16 years) Coordinator starting this academic term. I have been the IB Diploma Programme (for 16 to 19 years) Coordinator for a long time now, so this is a big transition for me. Taking about transition, my first goal is to put together a transition programme for primary students coming into secondary school. While I am planning for the two weeks of transition, I made a list of transition tips for parents, teachers and students. It is necessary to include parents as it is an equally challenging transition for parents as it is for the students. To keep it simple I will follow a 3-2-1 strategy.
Three Tips for Students
Be organized: The most significant survival skill in middle school is self-management. There is no time for procrastination. Make sure you have a calendar, have a plan and stick to it. Use technology to keep on top of things, like setting up notifications on the calendar for important deadlines, saving homework on the cloud for easy access, and putting reminders on the alarm function of your phone to complete homework or tasks. These simple strategies will ease your transition phase.
Be vocal: Communication is key when you are experiencing issues related to change. Talk to parents, friends, and teachers to communicate your challenges and seek advice. Voice your anxieties and apprehensions; you will realize many of your peers are in the same boat and your parents/teachers have also been in the same boat once in their lives. Hence they will understand your situation and can help. Use technology for effective communication, learn to write formal emails to teachers; establish chat boundaries on social media apps, for example, do not feel the pressure to respond to messages immediately; and ask questions if you have a concern for example if you need more time to complete an assignment ask for it.
Be social: Middle school is a lot of fun as you will start to experience the freedom of choice and voice. With freedom comes responsibility, therefore learn to manage responsibilities by participating in activities outside the classroom. Play sports, join music or art clubs, have fun and make friends. By being social you will get rid of task-related stress, and you will learn to be a team player. You will understand other people’s perspectives and develop an open-minded approach towards problem-solving. Be bright, be social, be happy!
Two Tips for Parents
Be a friend: Take a deep breath, stop being a parent who only reinforces rules, try to be a friend to your child who supports, understands and helps during challenging times. Remember most children hit puberty during their middle school years, they not only deal with environmental change but also physical and emotional changes. This is the time to be a friend, philosopher and guide to your child, take off your rigid parenting hat and don a friendly one to reassure your child that they have a friend in you. This will help your child to develop the confidence to share any issues or challenges they face during transition.
Be involved: Take time every day to know more about your child’s day in school. A strategy that has worked very well with me is to ask my son to go through his timetable for the day and tell me what happened in each lesson. This way I get to know my son a lot more and he gets to share details of his school life while developing trust and a bond of understanding. Be involved in your child’s life in school and outside school. Participate in school activities, communicate regularly with teachers, be present when needed. Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved with the school, perform better in school.
One Tip for Teachers
Be present: A primary student has constant attention from their classroom teacher, but this changes in secondary. Many students have reflected negatively about their transition to secondary school citing reasons such as teachers not being friendly or attentive to their needs. In today’s context teachers might not be physically present in the classroom true but teachers need to make their presence felt by being engaged, caring and interested in solving student issues, academic and non-academic. This means, as teachers, we need to be there for the student’s academic, social, psychological and cognitive needs. Being ignored by the teacher is the most negative emotion a student experiences leading to multiple behaviour issues. Hence teachers please be present and present the best version of yourself. You are the catalyst of a magical reaction that happens in the middles years and shapes the future of a child.
Therefore I think of transition as a 3-2-1 process with key stakeholders playing their role in putting together a happy and meaningful middle school experience.
Technologies continue to outpace us. As a society we are often unable to keep up. Take for example the task of explaining the differences between cryptocurrency, blockchain, and a ledger? We may have heard of each but do we understand them well enough to teach? Or, on an even deeper level, are we able to comprehend the implications they likely will have not just in the financial world but also into education?
With 7,800 cryptocurrencies currently in existence, it is difficult to imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out they have all just disappeared Further, their establishing more than a foothold is evident in headlines such as Forbes March 31, 2021, “Goldman Sachs To Become Second Big Bank Offering Bitcoin To Wealthy Clients.” The ubiquity of crypto is becoming more and more apparent. Currently there are 38,460 Bitcoin ATMs in the United States. Or, on an even more prosaic level, the subject of an email I received from a local coffee company here in Thailand read, “NEW ROAST COFFEE BLENDS & SAVE 50% WITH CRYPTO PAYMENTS.”
A great deal of my learning about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the ledger resulted from listening to my nephew’s high school capstone project three years ago. I was quick to realize how much I did not know and have since, paddled hard to stay afloat in the current of change. True to what Sir Wiliam Haley suggested would be a much more effective education. “…if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”
It makes sense to define each before considering how they may serve education as an institution. First though, more important than crypto being a derivative of the ancient Greek κρυπτός (krúptō) which means, ‘I conceal,’is the linchpin or what it all really comes down to. In a word, de-centralization. Think internet. Or, another illustration might be, how workplaces and classrooms were forced to “flatten” during the pandemic. Everyone suddenly has more stake and more voice, working together instead of the more traditional top-down passive and reverence for power approach.
This explanation is contrary to a quote from the creator of Bitcoin. Using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto he quipped, “If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.”
Cryptocurrency: a form of digital money, called this because the consensus-keeping process is secured by strong cryptography. The “secret writing” is secured by math, instead of people, governments, or trusts. Like the example of coffee above, you can pay for items (or NFTs, as shared in an earlier post) electronically, similar to how you might with any other currency. Recently after Amazon posted how they were recruiting for a ‘Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead,’ much speculation followed regarding the company beginning to accept cryptocurrency. Also of prominence are recent reports of how some countries are adopting cryptocurrencies as national currency. “A step too far,” according to a recent IMF report. But, what are some of the “pulls” of moving in the direction of cryptocurrencies? As international teachers we either have first hand experience or peripheral knowledge of these two examples:
Wire transferring could be likened to travelers’ cheques in its being outdated. Wire transfers can take more than a few hours or sometimes even days. Plus the added cost. Currently, transfer fees from my bank in Thailand to the United States is more than USD $30. In the case of cryptocurrency, banks/brokers are not able to take “their cut.”
Financial inequality continues to grow globally. An outdated McKinsey & Company article titled, “Counting the world’s unbanked,” cites how 2.2 billion unbanked or underbanked adults live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. They do not have access to financial services.
Blockchain: According to Dummies, where complex concepts are made easy to understand, blockchains are distributed databases where groups of individuals control, store, and share information. This is done in blocks. The blocks are then linked, or chained, using cryptography. What makes this especially powerful is that any change is time stamped and visible to all. Ultimately this assures transparency but also authenticity.
Ledger: In business, ledgers are written or computerized records of completed transactions. In error, many people use “blockchain” and “ledger” interchangeably. One big difference is the distributed ledger is free from blocks or chains. Furthermore, blockchain data is publicly available in the form of a public key, along with a digital wallet address. This means no permission is necessary and anyone can view transaction histories and participate in a blockchain operation. Whereas, the distributed ledger requires permission to complete a transaction.
All tech talk aside, why ultimately should we care?
Past, Present, and Beyond
It is difficult for students today to comprehend the world many teachers grew up in. B.G (Before Google). Or, actually pre-Smartphones and even the Internet! “What, there was life before the Internet?” Equally I remember dreaming as a child, of a phone I might be able to see my aunt and uncle on, though the idea of portability and carrying the phone in my pocket evaded my imagination. Yet now, as fast and far as we have come, we seemingly accept the digitized world as commonplace. So too, will be the future of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and ledgers. In 10, 20, or 50 years it may be similar to the internet and it will be impossible to imagine a world without them.
We need not look far to recognize diminishing trust in institutions and governments. School as we traditionally have known it as well. Centralization is flailing. Best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin shared in a blog post, “Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.” In its place is what is being called, the shared economy. Peer-to-peer connections as evidenced through the use of Airbnb or Uber are examples of a cultural shift towards decentralization. A similar decentralization in how information and currency is stored and also shared. A movement that is expected to only get bigger in the coming years and appears here to stay.
Implications on Education
Currently there is no system for reliably recording a person’s educational achievement. In our accelerated world, alternatives to the traditional ways of education are likely to continue to bloom. Credentialing is quickly becoming the norm. One million, or to be exact, 967,734. That is how many unique credentials are in the U.S. alone. The beauty of this increase in degrees, certificates, and badges is that there are more options. Yet, according to Credential Engine,“There has never been an efficient system to collect, search, and compare credentials in a way that keeps pace with the speed of change in the 21st century and is universally understood.” Blockchain technology is an efficient and consistent way to keep track of a person’s entire educational history and is likely to be of increasing importance.
American Council on Education to lead the Education Blockchain Initiative (EBI) was launched in 2020 in effort to re-think our educational system and how to utilize technologies like the distributed ledger. For example, Blockchain protects against falsified credentials but also allows students to be in control of their own transcripts. One well-known university’s registrar outlined the process for a student to obtain their transcript as: “Between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. place your request at Registrar Services, first floor lobby. The transcript fee is $10.00 per copy for processing within three (3) business days.” To think a busy college student or graduate would have a thirty minute window to make a request and have to wait three days is archaic to say the least. EBI continues to evaluate ways that blockchain might improve the flow of data but also empower the individual. So transcripts are not under a lock and key or on a high hill. This flow seeks to decentralize information so communication is within and across institutions and into the workplace.
In the Midst a Shifting Culture
Nearly four years ago Tom Van der Ark of Getting Smart reported how Scott Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium. “The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.” In programs such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium a motivating force is students being empowered to drive their own authentic learning. This is purposeful for students but also to universities and employers. Manoj Kutty, CEO and founder of Greenlight Credentials remarked, “The big future opportunity is a marketplace where universities can search for applicants by category and credential and invite them to apply (or even offer acceptance based on verified credentials).” In an interview with Van der Ark, Kutty asserted, “In 20 years, students won’t be applying to colleges; colleges will be recruiting students.” However, we need not look into the future to comprehend the cultural shift clearly underway, as employers are becoming more interested in the trusted and verifiable skills a person possesses. At one of the most sought after job places in the world, Google, ‘college degree’ has no place in its official guide for hiring employees.
Decentralization will continue to gain traction. As freedom, transparency, transference, and a person’s competencies are valued more, Blockchain and similar technologies will be as vowels are to the alphabet. We are in the nascence of a new “language.” Blockchain is clearly a catalyst of change and already we are in the midst of a significant shift.
There is an expression that says ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ – meaning that you cannot understand someone else’s struggles and problems until you have tried to see things from their side. The following books let you ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ – and see what it is like to be confined to a wheelchair, to be homeless, have an abusive parent or face many other obstacles in life.
The King of Jam Sandwiches by Eric Walters is a fictional story but very much based on the popular author’s own childhood. Living with only his father, Robbie leads a double life. He tries to hide his domestic troubles from his teachers and friends. No one knows that his father often disappears for days. How will Robbie survive if he doesn’t return? He lives in constant fear of how his father will react to anything he says or does. His new friend Harmony lives in foster care. Meeting her changes everything and, eventually, helps Robbie to overcome some of the obstacles he faces. ISBN 978-1459825567, Orca Book Publishers
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite novels for young readers about homelessness. Felix is twelve. His mom struggles to hold on to jobs. When she can’t pay the ever increasing rent, the two live in their van, just for one summer month. But when school starts in September, they still live in their van and Felix needs to keep their homelessness a secret. A realistic, endearing and almost humourous story about a very real problem that gets solved in unexpected ways. ISBN 978-0735262775, Random House
Unbound, Judith Scott, Melissa Sweet. This is the true story of Judith Scott, born with Down syndrome and undiagnosed physical handicaps. Her twin sister is healthy and, as young children, not aware of her sister’s differences. But once Judith has to go to live in a home, life changes for both girls. It is not until many years later that the sisters are reunited and that Judith finally gets the opportunity to express herself through art. Art that eventually becomes well known and in demand. An impressive book that helps us realize how much has changed over the years, and how much still needs changing. This brand new picture book was illustrated in fabulous at by Caldecott winner Melissa Sweet and is great to use with all ages. Every art teacher should have a copy! ISBN 978-0-525-64811-6, Random House
Petey by Ben Mikaelsen is an older title but still as important as ever. What is it like to move to a new town where you don’t know anyone? This is what Trevor did and he wonders how he will make new friends. What is it like to spend your life in a wheelchair, unable to communicate because you have cerebral palsy? That’s what life is like for Petey. This is the story of an unexpected friendship and discovering how the human spirit can triumph over physical obstacles. ISBN 0-7868-1336-9, Hyperion
Out Of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a similarly powerful story of a child in a wheelchair. 11 year old Melody is the smartest kid in school. She knows the answers to all questions. The problem is, no one knows it. Melody cannot speak. She has no way of communicating with others. The teachers think she cannot learn. But Melody understands everything and has a photographic memory. Trapped inside her own mind and body, Melody needs the friendship and skills of a special ed teacher who slowly helps to unlock the door to Melody’s mind. A great read for kids, but also for all educators. ISBN 978-1-4169-7171-9, Simon & Shuster
I love the two view points in Counting on Hope by Sylvia Olsen. This is the story of early British settlers on Canada’s west coast, but is also a universal story of colonization. Letia’s family has always lived in their traditional summer camp on an island. One day a British ship arrives and settlers, who were given land by the Queen of England, move in. The families each warn their children to staying away from the dangerous others. But whose land is this and how can it be shared peacefully? A beautiful, skillfully told story from the view point of two children. ISBN 978-1-55039-173-2, Sononis Press
Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at international schools. Her books have been published in many languages.
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world