Books About Big Dreams

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes: And Became the World's First Giraffologist

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes, written by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by François Thisdale is a beautifully executed, nonfiction picturebook that works on several levels. First and foremost it is the biography of a remarkable young woman who knew what she wanted. Anne Innis Dagg was a child who saw her first giraffe in a zoo. She studied worked and saved hard in hopes of, one day, going to Africa to see giraffes in the wild. Through sheer determination, she did, in the 1950’s, and became one of the first scientists to study and observe giraffes in the wild. Anne worked all of her life to preserve and protect her favourite animals.

This is also a story of feminism and discrimination since universities refused Anne a position as professor, simply because she was female. Later, universities apologized and even bestowed her with an honorary degree. Anne’s story is reminiscent of that of Jane Goodall, another female pioneer in the world of zoology.

And lastly, this picture book works as a catalyst to help young readers learn more about and appreciate giraffes, while encouraging them to follow their dreams. ISBN 9781554555406, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Her Epic Adventure: 25 Daring Women Who Inspire a Life Less Ordinary

Her Epic Adventure, 25 Daring Women Who Inspire a Life Less Ordinary, by Julia de Laurentiis Johnston and Salini Perera. This nonfiction picturebook (64 pages) features women around the world who have accomplished impressive feats despite the fact that they were discouraged because they are/were female. The book is divided into sections like ‘Land’, ‘Ice’ and ‘Water’. Each double spread tells the story of a woman who achieved her dream, including Mae Jemison, America’s first black woman in space, the petite Junko Tabei from Japan who conquered each of the seven highest peaks on each continent and Arunima Sinha from India who reached the top of Mt. Everest despite having a prosthetic leg. I enjoyed learning about the youngest girl sailing around the world and about Sylvia Earle who became a world renowned oceanographer against all odds. A great book to encourage anyone, female or male, to achieve their dreams and not give up. ISBN 878-1-5253-0110-0, Kids Can Press

Two at the Top: A Shared Dream of Everest

Based on true events, Two At The Top by Uma Krishanaswami, illustrated by Christopher Corr, is the brilliant story of two boys who share a same dream: to climb to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, one day. Neither boy knows if they can ever achieve their dream. Tenzing Norgay lives in Nepal and tends his father’s yaks. Edmond Hillary lives in New Zealand and tends his father’s bees. Lovely, mirroring pages and well balanced text shows how each boy, from an early age on, works and trains towards his goal. In 1953 the sherpa and the climber finally meet and, as a team, reach the summit of Mount Everest and achieve their joined dream. The book gives factual information on mountains and their environment in the back.  ISBN 978-1-77306-266-2, Groundwood Books

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas, by Beryl Young, illustrated by Joan Steacy is an important story for Canadian children to read. Or for that matter, for anyone who ever goes to a doctor’s office, gets treatment or stays in hospital and doesn’t have to pay. In Canada, we owe this free medical care to a boy from Saskatchewan who injured his leg in 1911. He felt it was unfair that he could not see a doctor because his parents could not afford it. For the rest of his life, Tommy Douglas worked hard in government and succeeded, in 1968, to bring universal health care to all Canadians. A fascinating story about how dreams can come true. ISBN 978-1-988242-41-5, Midtown Press

John's Turn

And it’s not only people who become famous who have big dreams. In John’s Turn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Kate Berube, John is in elementary school and nervous, but also excited, that his turn is coming up at Sharing Gifts time, his class’ show and tell. Will he do magic tricks? Will he read? No, John puts on his leotards and dances, leaving the entire class in awe and earning a standing ovation from his friends. The book shows kids to believe in themselves and follow their own dreams by being brave. ISBN 978-1-5362-0395-0, Candlewick Press

Take Off Your Brave: The World through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet

And finally a very unusual book of poems: Take Off Your Brave, The World through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet, by Nadim (age 4) and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. This is a collection of poems in picture book format. In the inbtroduction Nadim’s mom explains how they discussed ‘what a poem is’ and how she recorded his words. Now Nadim writes his own poems, encouraging his sister and his preschool class to write poems as well. The poems in this collection deal with love, friendships, nature, school and much more. In Dream School the students turn into kittens and there are no bullies. And when you come home… you can take off your jacket and take off your brave!  ISBN 978-1-5362-2316-3, Candlewick Press

Margriet Ruurs is the author of over 40 books for children. She conducts author presentations at international schools around the world.


Say the name Theodor Geisel and few know who you are talking about. Then, mention the name Dr. Seuss and it isn’t just the educators who nod their heads in recognition.  Yet, the two are the same man. 

Growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts the delicious smells which wafted from Geisel’s grandparents’ bakery were at odds with the foul odors emitted from the Gasworks plant a short distance away. This formative experience was one which many readers feel was the genesis of the dark tale of the Lorax.  The foreboding narrative told by the Once-ler however, ends with optimism as one last Truffula seed is revealed. 

The same can be said for both the future of education and coffee.

Few “precious seeds” remain.  

The Future of Coffee

3 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day, nearly all extracted from but two species. Coffea arabica, known as Arabica; and Coffea canephora, known as Robusta are the backbone of the coffee industry…and our mornings! Arabica is the more expensive variety and what you likely will find in your cup at most cafes, whereas robusta dominates the instant coffee market.  Upwards of 80% of coffee production is Arabica and yet it has a low tolerance for rising temperature, produces less beans, and is also susceptible to rust. Journalist Maryn McKenna makes a clear case for the role of change not being optional, as the planet continues to shift.  Details of living with the relentless “rust rampage across the globe” can be explored in Maryn’s Atlantic article titled, “Coffee Rust is Going to Ruin Your Morning.” 

Robusta aptly named is easier to grow and produces a larger, robust or thicker bean. However, with its grainy or rubbery overtones in taste, it is far less preferred.

Though we consume just two varieties of coffee, analysts have identified approximately 120 species of coffee plants worldwide. According to scientists at Britain’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, “some 75 coffee species were assessed as being threatened with extinction: 13 classed as critically endangered, 40 as endangered, including coffea arabica, and 22 as vulnerable.”  What?  


If you were taking a sip while reading this,“Pffffff.” You likely spray the coffee out of your mouth in pure stupefaction, 

Furthermore, the researchers suggest how these risk figures are higher than other plants. 

The Connection of Coffee and Education

Though there are not as many students enrolled in school as there are cups of coffee consumed daily, there are more varieties of education than just robusta or arabica. Some however might argue that we still lean on simplification and the labels “traditional” and “alternative” when speaking about education.  

A closer look at coffee and education, might reveal how the two have more in common than might be expected.  And though there is talk about “unschooling,” there is little mention of “uncoffee-ing.” So, we can bet education and coffee both have futures.  We just have to remain open but also take responsibility for how the choices of today certainly impact tomorrow.  

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The term has since become a household word and in 2015 the United Nations released the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an exhaustive blueprint containing 169 targets.  The motivation being one of agreement amongst nations for a future of far greater peace and prosperity for people and the planet. 

The duality of people and planet, a fallacy.  The two, not mutually exclusive, as our species has not, nor probably really wants to, successfully find a way to live on another planet.  We need Earth!!  

Further, we must move beyond sustainability because sustainability is about keeping things going. Benjamin Freud spoke with eloquence about a great transformation in a recent Getting Smart podcast, sharing the importance of regenerative learning and about giving back. “It is about taking action and going through a process of creation…It is about living systems, understanding that we are all ‘nested wholes’”.  

So, how might our schools be hotbeds or boilerplates for this transcendence?  If we start with the crux of the matter, that our future depends on it, maybe then we will really get started.  The future does depend on it. Students and teachers alike, post or pending the finish of the pandemic, have seen the grass on the other side and it is in effect much greener. Numbered are the days of “sit and get.” Furthermore, any divisive lines being drawn between “encampments” might as well be dissolved. 

We need not fight. Unbeknownst to Thomas Hobbes, nature is not in a state of war. Rather, nature hinges on connection and collaboration.  

So must education.

Maurizio Giuli contributed in an article titled, “The beat of the global coffee industry” how short term thinking will have detrimental medium and long term impacts on social, environmental and economic drivers of prosperity from producers through to consumers” He, similar to the SDGs may be caught in dualism’s trap, unable to see how there is no coffee with a compromised environment. 

Let us sing from every mountain top, attesting to the value of diversity. Of our models of education but also of the learners in our midst. Of everything in nature, the children and I suppose….of the coffee too! Again, there is no reason to fight. Schools and systems entrenched in what used to work will continue to collapse. Meanwhile, choices inevitably will continue to emerge and will only multiply. .

As for coffee, a window into agroforestry, provides us a view of systems where there is a blending of diversity and structure. Possibly instead of the traditional cultivation of coffee plants in the shade of other trees, mimicking the natural growing conditions of plants in a forest understory, farmers will rely on even more natural production methods.

Stewards of Complexity

Beginning with soil, diversity is the focus. Healthy soil itself is regenerative and over time, more life is created within the system. Complex soil systems are connected and energetic exchange networks. Think “Gardening 101” and cover crops.  Where nitrogen fixing plants actually add nitrogen, an essential nutrient for healthy plant growth, back into the soil. And not just flora to flora, but also flora to fauna.  One example is how when elm and pine trees are attacked by leaf-eating caterpillars, the caterpillar saliva is detected. The trees in turn release pheromones which attract parasitic wasps, a natural predator for caterpillars. Case in point for the role of collaboration!

When what is below is either carefully prepared or allowed to exist in its naturally balanced state, we might turn our attention to what is above.  The sun and shade.  So too in education. Inside and outside of schools and classrooms, it will be increasingly important to promote a natural approach. 

Every child has a foundation, as well as strengths. Their “soil.” Might we as adults help enrich this. Then, concentrate our efforts on what is as natural as breath, learning. There’s evidence that learning is actually written in our very own DNA.  

So, maybe we just need to let the learning happen and not get in its or the students’ way!  But also, we have a role to play as educators.  How might we help prepare the conditions for optimal growth? To provide the right amounts of “sun,” “shade,” and “water”. 

Turning back to the Lorax, the last truffula seed is handed to the child protagonist as he is instructed,

“Treat it with care.

Give it clean water

And feed it fresh air.”

Gardeners ourselves, les us envision our role as stewards. Of the complex ecology of relationships and learning.

Enjoy your next cuppa’.


How Critical is Critical Race Theory?

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Critical race theory or CRT has been in the debate recently with many places in the United States banning the introduction of CRT in schools. For example, Florida banned teaching CRT in schools in 2021. Why is it critical to ban teaching it? How critical is CRT? What is CRT?

CRT is explained as a critical analysis of the existing policies in a nation, from a race-based point of view, or it can be understood as a framework used to challenge racism and the impact of structural racism on society.

The idea is to introduce this in curricula to allow young minds to critically think about how racism is embedded into legal policies and how it impacts discrimination overall. CRT argues that racism is created by social structures like the policies that govern a state. These socio-political structures are erected with laws to support racial segregation.

So why is it being vehemently ruled out of school curricula to the extent that some teachers got arrested and some lost their jobs as they were trying to teach about the root cause of racial segregation? As per the CRT narrative, the root cause of racial segregation is not race; it is the discriminatory laws and policies that force segregation based on skin colour, ethnicity and other differences.

Policies and legal structures are the foundation of social harmony; they are supposed to be neutral; to treat all citizens equally; hence any kind of otherness in legal frameworks and state policies forms cracks in the foundation of harmonious societal systems. CRT compels us to peruse racial hierarchy and racially structures critically, to think about what causes discrimination and how it can be reformed.

But the recent uproar against CRT introduction in the school curriculum has opened another debate and maligns the true purpose of studying CRT. This has now become a political debate and like any other issue when politicians get to decide we never win.

It seems there is fear about raising consciousness amongst young learners that structural inequality and structural racism have become societal practices. A fear that if this is being taught in schools it will lead to negative reactions towards the whites. The fear of CRT, and its ban is ridiculous, unparliamentary, anti-democratic and more like a dystopian behaviour that stems from fear of losing supremacy.

The strong argument against teaching CRT is that it will portray a certain group of people negatively, hence cannot be taught. But that is not the CRT – it is rather the critical reflection on discriminatory laws and practices not toward people. We need to remember and make it very clear that racism does not manifest by people treating each other differently, it is manifested by unequal laws and biased legal structures. Banning CRT makes it worse as it affirms the wrong that exists in society. So, my question is: How is it ok to build structures of discrimination against people of colour negatively, and how it is not okay to talk about it? I am amused by the fear generated by the thought of including CRT in the syllabus, whilst completely ignoring the fear generated by racial abuse.

In very simple terms, think about it in this way: gender discrimination exists – it should be part of the school curricula to teach about laws and policies that propagate gender discrimination. This discrimination doesn’t exist because there are different genders, it exists because there are policies and rules that are created and implemented to support the male gender. This does not mean we start discriminating against men, but it does mean we learn about the laws and policies that created gender discrimination and get rid of them.

To answer the question: how critical is critical race theory? It is critical to teach it; to start thinking critically about what causes division, discrimination, alienation and subjugation of minorities and people of colour. It is not about race – it is about discriminatory practices in our legal and social structure. The sooner we critically reflect on them, the better for a peaceful world.

Trapped in Echo Chambers?

Purpose of education as quoted by John Dewey,

“The aim of education is growth; the aim of growth is more growth.”

This is an inspirational quote as it talks about intellectual growth and echos the purpose of education as growth and further growth. But in the current context, this quote is challenged by the ever-growing dominance of echo chambers. Echo chambers can be explained as self-created ecosocial habitats where one encounters like-minded people with similar perspectives, ideas and opinions. These echo chambers have exponentially multiplied in the past two decades due to many reasons and one of them being the growing dominance of social media.

The challenge is to know if you are trapped in an echo chamber? A simple psychological litmus test will spit out the answer for you, here are a few questions:

  1. Do you surround yourself with people who support the same political ideology?
  2. Have you lived in one place for over 15 years?
  3. Are you part of like-minded social media groups?
  4. Are you friends with people who share ideas, perspectives, likes and dislikes similar to yours?
  5. Do you passionately defend your perspective?

If you have answered ‘yes’ three times or more you might be creating and living in echo chambers. You are in danger of stunting your intellectual growth by feeding on confirmation bias within these echo chambers. Break free! Take this an urgent plea and wake up call to reflect on your perspectives, beliefs, opinions and ideas and audit their validity by deflating the echo chambers.  You can break free of these echo chambers that are reinforcing your existing ideas and perspectives to create mental walls towards other people’s perspectives and ideas. The echo chambers create a mental wall that completely blocks the exchange of new ideas since you prefer staying trapped inside these chambers.

Recognising the existence of echo chambers is the first step toward breaking free of bias, stereotypes and discriminating ideas. Then the question arises, how does one get out of these echo chambers. A few simple strategies will help you avoid and escape the trap of echo chambers. 

  1. Make some ‘weird’ friends! I use the word ‘weird’ as we tend to associate it with the unknown. People who speak differently, and think differently are not weird, infact they would be a great starting point to escape echo chambers. 
  2. Listen to the ‘absurd’! I use the word ‘absurd’ as we tend to associate it with contradicting perspectives. Listen to multiple perspectives; when debating or discussing complex ideas make a habit of listening not countering. The next step is to make a note of all the different ideas and make an effort to present your ideas without contradicting others.
  3. Burst the ‘filter bubble’! I use the term ‘filter bubble’ which refers to technology, artificial intelligence and social media conspiracy. This conspiracy reinforces your existing ideas and filters away new ideas forcing you to decay in monotony instead of growing in multiplicity.
  4. Make fun of yourself! I use this term to reinforce the need to find your sense of humour. Do not be afraid of being contradicted, infact challenge your own perspectives by critically ridiculing them. As a wise man once said, “ Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.
  5. Like the ‘unlikeable’! I use the term ‘unlikeable’ as we tend to preconceive what we like and do not like hence defining the ‘unlikeable’. Try giving a ‘like’ to an idea or perspective that you don’t endorse or believe in. This will bring down the echo chamber algorithm that is fed into every social media site and internet interaction to imprison your thoughts and intellectual freedom.

Echo chambers are particularly harmful in academia, they kill the pursuit of knowledge through inquiry. Therefore getting out of them is an urgent need, it is ceasing our growth and the growth of an intelligent species called humans. Echo chambers are amplified by technology; recognise it and save yourself by being more inclusive, open-minded and cognitive divergence.


Great (Picture) Books for older readers

I’m a firm believer in picturebooks as being everybody-books. In fact, some picturebooks are not for little readers but lend themselves perfectly for older students, especially to illustrate classroom discussions or for new language learners. Here are some picturebooks as well as novels for older students.

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Júlia Sarda. This is an incredibly beautifully written story of how Mary Shelley – in the early 1800’s – came up with the idea for her book Frankenstein. A daydreamer, some friends, a creepy castle and a thunder storm all contributed to what would become one of the most famous horror stories of all ages. A fascinating story for readers who like to write and daydream… ISBN 978-1-77049-559-3, Tundra Books

Oliver Jeffers is a sort-of Irish illustrator. He also spent time in Australia and currently lives in the US. But most of all he a book creator in the broadest sense of the word. He creates amazing art, writes the text and introduces readers of all ages not just to amazing books, but to important topics. The environment, kindness, creativity – are all addressed in his books. They have been translated into over forty-five languages, and sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Many of his books are great for younger readers, but some specifically lend themselves for an older audience that will appreciate subtleties in the art.  His art is delicious… In The Incredible Book Eating Boy (ISBN 978-0-00-718) he used lined paper, pages from a dictionary, old ledgers, the cover of book, and everything book related. It’s a wild fantasy about a boy who, literally, devours books. But it is also the serious story of how important reading is to get smarter. Obviously the book eating boy got his hands on the book because there’s a big bite missing of the back cover… Some of Jeffers’ books were written by someone else. Like The Crayons books, all written by Drew Daywalt. The fonts, the design, the drawings in these books all dance of the pages in delight.

The Worst Band in the Universe by Australian author/illustrator Graeme Base at first comes across as a hilarious, cosmic tale of aliens on a far away planet where music has been banned. The story is written in impressive rhyming verses.  But upon reading it more closely, it become clear to the older reader, that this is not just a romp through outer space. It is also a serious tale about the silliness of banning anything, including books on earth. The large format picture book comes complete with CD and ‘forbidden music’.  ISBN 978-0670865659, Viking

The same talented book creator produces the well known older picture book called The Sign of the Seahorse. I love these books because their rhythmic texts make for enriching classroom read-alouds. But besides entertaining with their detailed illustrations, this book also has a much deeper meaning. It’s a who-done-it in the deep sea where species are threatened and disappearing. Who could be causing such chaos in the ocean?  ISBN 978-0613087551, Turtle Back Books

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam is the incredible story of an Indian artist who had never left his home village until he was commissioned to come to London to create his art. The book is his personal interpretation of how he sees the modern world and relates it back to the siritual tales of his childhood. A fascinating book to study with highschool students. ISBN 978-8192317120, Tara Books

Are you familiar with books by Peter Sis? His text and art are great to discuss with older students, i.e. in the book The Wall: Growing Up Behind The Iron Curtain. As a child growing up in a communist country seemed normal, but as he got older Peter Sis had questions. Cracks appeared in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ‘n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. But it didn’t last long before a Soviet-led invasion brought an end to it all. Important picture books to share in highschool. ISBN 978-0374347017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

New Year by Mei Zihan, illustrated by Qin Leng. In this story about Lunar New Year, a grandfather reminisces about his daughter who lives far away in a different country. Is she honoring the old traditions or living a whole new life? More in the voice of an older parent than in that of a child, this is a story about seeking independence and missing family. ISBN 978-1-77164-731-1, Greystone Kids

Oceanarium, written by Loveday Trinick, illustrated by Teagan White (the ‘curators’) showcases the world’s oceans as if it were a museum, an aquarium full of interesting creatures. And it is.  Presented as galleries with exhibits, the book walks you through the entire museum – from zooplanton to marine mammals, from antropods to crustaceans, and everything in between. From the polar regions, the Galapagos, the open ocean and the mangroves – this large book is a visual treat as a coffee table art book as well as a detailed source of information for oceanographers of all ages. A valuable and enriching addition to any classroom or library, this book is part of the Welcome to the Museum series by Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-1-5362-2381-1, Candlewick Press

The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter, is the beautiful, true story of Alia, a courageous librarian in Iraq. When war comes, she realizes the importance of bringing the precious books, books in many languages – to safety. She enlists her neighbors into helping. Together they pack and move most of the books. A fire destroys the building but Alia is happy in the knowledge that they have safeguarded an irreplaceable treasure. ISBN 0-15-205445-6, Harcourt

Step by Deborah Ellis is a collection of short stories – all of them focusing on 11 year olds from around the world in vastly different settings. Len helps as server in a soup kitchen where, to his shock, the school bully shows up. Lazlo lives in Hungary and is hopefully that his father will take him on a special outing for his 11th birthday. He is shocked when things turn out much different. Dom meets Gregoire from Madagascar and learns what it’s it like to be hungry.  All of the stories in this collection by the skilled storyteller who wrote The Breadwinner, are jolting eye openers, sometimes a bit shocking. The book is labeled as being for readers ages 9-12. However, I would suggest it’s for students 12 and over. Not stories to comfort but stories that create awareness of how different our lives can be. The author is donating all royalties to UNHCR to aid refugees. ISBN 978-1773068152, Groundwood Books

Future History 2050 by Thomas Harding.  This is perhaps the most thought provoking novel I’ve read in a long time. Although it may be controversial in a school library, this small novel is perhaps the best way to bring awareness to readers to climate change and the type of future we currently face.  Written in the year 2050, Billy interviews his Gran to learn more about her life and about life before he was born. He records her stories and is amazed that people knew about climate change and still did not take more drastic action to prevent it. He learns about life when there was still democracy and how politics changed. Billy finds a way to send the diaries back to the year 2020. A stark and interesting wake-up call before it is too late to change our future. ISBN  978-1773068039, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is a writer in Canada. She reads all the time and conducts writing workshops in schools. She also writes travel stories in

Community Celebrations

So we had our student-led celebration of learning conferences last week in the Lower School, and what a celebration it was! Not only was the day itself a true celebration for our entire community, the lead up to it was magical as well, as teachers, students and parents worked collaboratively together to prepare for this important showcase. 

As the students left for home in the afternoon before conference day, there were so many comments like, “Mr. Kerr, I’m so excited to show my parents how much I am learning in writing and math!”, and “My parents are going to be so proud of me, and you know what Mr. Kerr, I’m really proud of myself too!”, and heartwarmingly, one little boy said, “I love school so much and I can’t wait to tell my parents all the reasons why”. 

On the day after the event it was the parents’ turn to flood my inbox with positive comments, mostly about how much they enjoyed the opportunity to partner with the school, how impressed they are with our teachers, and most importantly, how grateful and inspired they are with the amount of growth that their child has shown throughout the year. All of these celebrations got me smiling for sure, as it was indeed a great day, but it also got me thinking about the need for us to start doing even more of this!

With much of the world slowly learning how to live with Covid, I think that we can begin to dream about ways, as a school, that we can start building a robust and vibrant on-campus community again…and celebrations will be at the heart of that. I spoke briefly in my last post about needing to get together more face to face, and how we will need to “get to know” each other again as a school community, and celebrating our teachers, our parents, and of course, our students is absolutely paramount. 

Our recent student-led conference celebration proved that there is such a strong desire to reunite the school, from all sides, and when we finally do open back up to parents, creating opportunities for community involvement and community celebration will be huge. I’m so excited to get parents back on campus at some point, and honestly, the situation that we’ve all been in over the past two years has really shone a light on how important “community” really is to a school. Honestly, we just haven’t been the same without it, and I’m excited and inspired to prioritize this when we are finally able…not long now I hope 🙂

You see, In my opinion, the best schools have strong parent partnerships, and a strong, connected and family-like community. Where everyone works together to support our kids and their learning, and where we all come together to celebrate each step and milestone along the way. Our student-led conferences were a great example of that, and we can use it as a jumping off point as we look to reunite on campus in the not so distant future. In the meantime, keep looking to find ways in your classrooms or in your departments to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate, and I will do the same. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week….

Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead – Nelson Mandela

Inspiring Videos – 

Driven By Love

An Inspiring Adoption

The Power of Forgiveness 

Kindness 101 – This Week – Optimism

10 Things That Made Us Smile This Week

Being Called Beautiful

TED Talk – The Value of Kindness at Work

TED Talk – Where Joy Hides and Where To Find It

Related Articles – 

Celebrating Students

Celebration Activities

School-Wide Events

Impact Your School

Celebrating Student Success

Internal Motivator

A Day to Celebrate Each Student

Hope for Peace; Cope with War

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In the past weeks, I have had many conversations with my students from many parts of the world about War. In many classrooms across the world, the Ukraine crisis has opened up many wounds that are difficult to heal. Being in a diverse international environment allows us educators the opportunity to listen to multiple perspectives; most of the time we agree to disagree whilst respecting each other’s perspectives to find a commonality in our understanding of the greater good or the bigger picture. But war forces us to take sides, no matter how much we have suffered through relentless conflict we continue to inflict pain and misery as we take sides.

A Russian student taking the side of her country cannot be dismissed. It is a challenging situation when the cause and effect are conflicting, for example, the student understands that war is not good yet justifies a war led by her country due to social, cultural and personal perspectives. At the same time, some students have been victims of war over the past five decades; students from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Armenia and many more countries, who have been displaced from their motherlands.

We hope that peace will prevail, but all we do is cope with war with no coping mechanism. As educators, we are empowered to influence and teach young minds. One of the most important things to teach students is to cope with extreme situations and environments or was. War brings a known enemy to your doorstep, whether you are directly or indirectly impacted by war, this enemy does not differentiate, it is called fear.  This fear destroys our young who have to endure a level of anxiety that is unavoidable and omnipresent.  So what can we do? We can teach to cope and hope for peace.

Here are a few simple strategies I discussed with my students to help them deal with the fear, anger, anxiety and pain caused by war.

Stay Away from Fake News: In times of crisis, it is very easy to get addicted to News. Even worse as most of the information is biased and sometimes a deep fake. Fake news misinforms, misinterprets and misleads the viewer to a state of fear. Fear sells, the electronic and digital media have mastered the art of selling fear through fake news. Overconsumption of fake news leads to a permanent state of anxiety, so stay away.

Learn to Pivot: In times of uncertainty, the ability to pivot or deal with change is an asset. War cripples daily life and impacts the availability of basic resources. This means we need to adapt quickly to survive the unexpected, or pivot to survive the unexpected. Teach students the ability to pivot, plan for contingency and prepare for a crisis situation.

Find a Happy Place: In times of acute distress, finding a happy place requires one to muster up all the positive experiences in their life. To keep mental sanity, one has to have a happy place; it could be the feeling when you hug your loved ones; the feeling when you spend time with family; the feeling of your first love/crush; the feeling of smelling the spring in the air; the feeling of the aroma of freshly baked cake; the feeling of being happy. Find your happy place, it will help you to navigate the feeling of distress and helplessness.

Take a deep breath: Learn to take a deep breath, practise controlling your thoughts and avoid your triggers. This can be done via meditation or practising to stay calm, it could be through something that helps you focus, like painting, playing an instrument or even singing aloud. Allow your brain to focus on the positives to control your thoughts. 

Keep the hope alive: Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “Where there is hope there is life”. This was written at a time when Anne was caught in one of the most horrific conflicts in the history of mankind. It was hope that kept her alive and has kept her memory alive. Without hope, there would be no Anne Frank’s diary-a testament to resilience, perseverance and courage. In many senses, hope is courage, hope is life and hope is peace. To survive a war we need hope we need peace.

Wherever and whoever you are in the world, teach yourself and your younger generation these coping strategies. As the war rages hope will rise above the ashes of destruction and desperation to usher the wave of peace.


Picture Books about Friends and Family

Everyone needs a friend. Family and friendships can differ but enrich our lives. The following picture books reflect families, relationships and friends in which you can, perhaps, recognize yourself. Many of these books can lead to enriching classroom discussions.

A Stopwatch from Grampa

A Stopwatch from Grampa by Loretta Garbutt, illustrated by Carmen Mok, is the touching story of a grandchild’s love for his Grandpa and how much he is being missed. But Grandpa left his stopwatch, which helps to hold on to good memories and to making new ones. ISBN 978-1-5253-0144-5, Kids Can Press

Wounded Falcons

Wounded Falcons was written by Jairo Buitrago from Mexico, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng from Colombia and translated by Elisa Amado from Guatemala.  The story follows two best friends, living in a big city they find a wounded bird on an empty lot and slowly nurse it back to health. Adrián is always getting into trouble, getting into fights but Santiago knows that his friend cares about others. Adrián feels like one with the wounded bird until, one day, it flies out on its own.

A touching story about friends, fighting, and caring for wildlife, a story that can serve to kickstart many classroom discussions. ISBN 978-1-77306-456-7, Groundwood Books

Hat Cat

Hat Cat by Troy Wilson, illustrated by Eve Coy. The old man feeds the squirrels in his garden every day. One day a kitten shows up, curled up in the old man’s hat. The old man feeds it and finds it a lovely companion. But he’s afraid to let Hat Cat outside for fear that it will run off or chase the squirrels. One day the old man is not there but when he shows up again, the two friends have learned to trust each other. Told in sparse text this is a story of friendship, a lovely picturebook that works on different levels.  ISBN 978-1-5362-1366-9, Candlewick Press

Whistling for Angela

Whistling for Angela by Robin Heald, illustrated by Peggy Collins, is a beautifully executed picture book tat will work on many levels. Mostly it is the story of a new big brother preparing a special gift for his new baby sister.  It is the happy story of a family adopting a baby. And it is the important but sad story of a birth mother finding a loving home for her baby. Robin Heald skillfully brings the different stories together in this touching picture book. ISBN 978-1772782455, Pajama Press

And J.J. Slept

And finally a lovely story of adoption: And J.J. Slept by Loretta Garbutt, with great illustrations by Erika Rodriguez Medina. When J.J. arrives at his new home, everyone is excited. His new siblings run and stomp and yell. But J.J. sleeps contently in his new parents arms. The dog barks, the doorbell rings but nothing disturbs J.J. Until all the kids leave and the house becomes unusually quiet. Then he wakes up and screams at the top of his lungs. Until all of the noisy siblings return… A realistic story about adopting and adapting. ISBN 978-1-5253-0419-4, Kids Can Press

Margriet Ruurs reviews books and writes on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada. She also conducts author presentations at international schools and writes about her travels in a blog:

A Smile Has Never Burned So Bright

So two Mondays ago, the French government dropped the mandatory mask wearing for students and teachers inside and outside of the school buildings. I have to admit that when I first heard this news I was both relieved and excited, and I could hardly sleep at all on the Sunday night before, thinking about seeing full faces and smiles for the first time in almost two years. 

Even with my excited anticipation of that first morning, knowing that I might get a little emotional, I didn’t expect it to affect me as much as it did. As the kids started to turn the corner into the playground I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and when one little girl said, “Mr. Kerr, that’s what you look like!”, and another one said, “Mr. Kerr, I knew you would have a beautiful smile”, I started to cry just a little, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop for much of the day. 

I think that for me, the hardest part of the pandemic has been not seeing people’s faces, and being such a smiley guy myself, I know how a simple smile can transform a person’s mood, day, and attitude in profound and lasting ways. Not having those smiles to feed off of has contributed enormously to the prevailing sense of isolation that communities are struggling with these days, and a big part of transitioning out of Covid will need to involve lots of face to face gatherings I think, with the specific and purposeful intent of reconnecting with people’s faces and smiles. The power of a smile is undeniable, and it has been an absolute gift over the past two weeks to get back to seeing a person’s smiley face, and in many ways, back to seeing a person’s true self. 

Having said all that, I am acutely aware of the fact that the pandemic is probably far from over, and that Covid is still circulating rapidly in France. I am also aware that people have varying levels of anxiety and trepidation regarding mask wearing, and that of course is to be expected and respected. It may even be that at some point we need to go back to wearing masks in schools for another stretch of time, and even though that would be hard for many of us, safety still needs to be our priority. At this point however, I am enthusiastically accepting the beautiful little gift that each and every soul-feeding smile is bringing to my days, and I hope you are too 🙂

When this is all over, and we reflect back on how we have been impacted by the pandemic, I think it is fair to say that the absence of face to face smiles has been one of the most difficult experiences that our world has had to navigate. Maybe though, in the not so distant future, when we emerge from this better and much stronger, we will commit to going out of our way to truly connect with each other more and more and more…face to face.

We will put our phones down a lot more often, and choose to connect in person with one another instead of through social media and email and text, which is mainly, and sadly, our current and learned default these days. Nothing beats the power of a smile, and over the past couple of weeks these smiles have never burned so bright! Here’s hoping it is something that lasts, because I have just finally stopped crying everytime I see a beautiful little face with a toothless grin. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

A smile remains the most inexpensive gift you can bestow on anyone, and yet its powers can vanquish kingdoms kingdoms – OG Mandino

Related Articles – 

The Power of a Smile

Choose to See Good

Smiling Still Matters

A Smile Can Change the World

Hiding Our Smiles

Inspiring Videos – 

Kindness 101

Injecting New Life

Pep Talks for Free

10 Things That Made Us Smile
TED Talk – The Hidden Power of Smiling

OF FIRE AND ICE~A Tale of Sunken Ships and Education

There is good reason why Newton’s third law did not state, “What goes down must come up.” Two sunken ships more than 6000 km apart, are case in point.  Both will remain on the ocean’s floors, a distant 3,000 meters down but for very different reasons.  The first, protected and memorialized for its historical importance is also a symbol of perseverance, more valuable than any of its remaining contents. The other ship, a modern day toxic catastrophe.

As different as the two are, both have parallels to the field of education as we know it. Not just because some may say the system of education is fraught with challenge and ostensibly sinking.   

Little Drifting

Exactly 100 years to the day of Sir Ernest Shackelton being buried on South Georgia island in Antarctica, his ship The Endurance, was found.  After being trapped in dense pack ice for nearly a year, the ice floes opened, and the sea ice crushed the ship, eventually swallowing it up.  Shackleton reportedly cried out, “She’s going, boys!” At this time, Captain Frank Worsley recorded in his diary his best calculations of where the masts and hull were last seen.  Poor visibility on account of harsh weather did not allow for estimating the direction nor speed of the floes. Yet, more than a century later, The Endurance was discovered only 4.16 nautical miles from Worsley’s calculation! 

In effect, The Endurance did not drift much. Nor has the system of education. Its foundation poured in the later half of the 18th century, is oddly enough, about the same time Shackelton was of schoolboy age. Never distinguishing himself as much of a scholar, author Roland Huntford alludes to how Shackelton was “bored” by his studies. Shackelton was even quoted, “I never learned much geography at school … Literature, too, consisted in the dissection, the parsing, the analysing of certain passages from our great poets and prose-writers … teachers should be very careful not to spoil [their pupils’] taste for poetry for all time by making it a task and an imposition.”

Who would have imagined that arguably the greatest leader of all time would reflect on how “school” seemingly stood in the way of his learning?  Yet still, he managed to hone his skills of compassion, strength, and bravery.  And what about Shackelton’s mastery of developing camaraderie and decision making? 

Note: skills. Not just knowledge.  

All the fervor around competency-based learning is legitimized as we transition away from mere atomic disconnected facts and towards unity, connection, and application. Students “showing what they know” as they transfer learning.

The Endurance drifting little amidst such extreme conditions, in effect helped with the ship’s preservation. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) recently captured images of century-old ropes, tools, and notably the emblazoned letters “E-N-D-U-R-A-N-C-E” completely intact on the stern. The frigid temperatures, darkness, and low levels of oxygen all contributed to little weathering of the craft.  Further, the absence of wood-eating microbes in the Antarctica seabed surely helped too.  This is not to say we should keep our classrooms cold, dark, and static.

A Passive Approach to Disaster

Robert Frost, considered whether the world would end in fire or ice. 

“From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.”

Just weeks before the Endurance was found, The Felicity Ace was lost.  Fire the element taking the ship down.  A vessel more than four times the length of the 144-foot Endurance.  The three-masted Endurance is a complete contrast to the bunker fuel burning behemoth.  The Felicity Ace carried 2,200 tons of fuel, 2,200 tons of oil, and up to 17,000 metric tons of cargo.  The sinking cargo aboard the ship all the talk; not the waters, reef, and seabed they would eventually pollute.  4,000 luxury vehicles, some of which carried lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, went down.  The ship’s manifest listed more than 1,000 Porsches, 200 Bentleys and dozens of Lamborghinis.  An approximate dollar value exceeding $400 million.  But what of the destruction and environmental risk? Are we morally able to put a dollar value on it?

The latest press release from March 14 reads:

The oil slick seen at the time of the sinking has drifted as it dissipated, and experts say it will soon disappear. During this time, a trace of a small amount of oil was found to have surfaced as an oil film from the site of the sinking. We have also obtained the opinion by the experts that it will gradually dissipate as it drifts. In accordance with expert organizations opinion that it is unlikely that a large-scale oil spill will occur and it is appropriate to continue observation using satellite photographs for a while, we will continue to observe the situation using satellite photos and establish a system to respond quickly to the situation.

The situation with Felicity Ace is synonymous with the acceptance of  a status quo of education.  Regardless of tides and currents but also any hazards that might prevail. To merely observe when ecosystems are at risk. Fish, plankton, and our very own children. A passive approach as evidenced in a fire that would burn for two weeks, eventually leading to the demise of the “Blissful” Ace. 

Location: 64°Felicity – 56°Endurance – 12°Hope

In the case of The Endurance, the ship was trapped, crushed, abandoned and eventually sunk after 10 months. The value of finally finding the Endurance but deciding to leave it under water, can be ironically juxtaposed with the cost of keeping the Felicity Ace and its thousands of fuel-filled cars amongst the fish. The Endurance centers on respect and all that may be learned. Of great historical value, there is significance to leaving it literally in the darkness of the Weddell Sea.  Instead of being “monitored” as a toxic risk like the Felicity Ace, the Endurance is being protected.  The historic site is safeguarded under the Antarctic Treaty which ensures it will not be touched or disturbed in any way.

Schooling may be sinking, yet learning remains afloat. With excitement might we look upon the near and more distant past as opportunities to become wiser. Stories of sunken ships, fire and ice which in essence might stir our imagination.  Of yesterdays and todays.  Informing but infusing tomorrow with Felicity, Endurance, and hope.