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.
Earlier this week the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (grade 12) results were published. Our school students made us proud with amazing results, the highest was the perfect score of 45/45 (100%). Amidst all the celebrations I reflected on the students who got the perfect scores. There are a few common behavioural characteristics and approaches to learning that I was able to identify. Knowing these attributes can clearly help high achieving and their teachers to get the perfect score or perform to the best of their ability. Here are my top 5 tips for getting the perfect score!
A perfect score is more than ability, it is about interest and motivation. The motivation is not linked to materialistic interests rather linked with an innate desire to be better and know better. Students who choose their subjects as per their interests and abilities stay motivated throughout the journey as they truly seek to understand the complexities of the subject matter. Hence, they are intrinsically motivated in spite of challenges even failures, these students always bounce back and get the perfect score.
Teachers also have a big role to play when it comes to keeping students intrinsically motivated. They must focus on positive reinforcement and value addition to the students’ purpose of learning. This fosters a sense of working towards a bigger perspective or a meaningful goal that is above and beyond the perfect score. Here I would like to reinforce that grades or scores are a result of achieving the actual purpose of learning, not the actual purpose in itself. Hence the reward for the student is to achieve satisfaction and self-worth.
Superior Self-Management Skills
Thomas Edison quoted a long time ago, “there is no substitute for hard work”. This applies even today. Hard work in today’s context means being ahead of the curve by developing superior self-management skills. For example, always completing work on time; always being well prepared for lessons; always organizing work effectively; always managing time with a rigorous plan; always creating a strategy to avoid burnout. The word ‘always’ is necessary as consistency is key.
Teachers can help students to organize themselves better, for example, by sharing effective planning tools, using cloud space for increased accessibility from anywhere, anytime; initiating the good practice of using the calendar to set reminders; introducing them to tools like Evernote, OneNote, Dayone, etc.
Quality over Quantity
Students must know to prefer quality over quantity. Instead of searching and using many sources and texts, they need to use one recognized good quality source for practising their academic skills. Sometimes students antagonize using expensive textbooks or online resources, they look for cheaper options, this approach needs to be curbed. They need to invest in themselves. Quality resources come at a price and are worth it. Having one go-to resource also saves a lot of time which is usually spent in finding free resources or texts. Remember higher the investments, the higher the returns.
Teachers should also set the bar high with resources. Make sure all textbooks are available to students, hardcopy and softcopy both. Make a case for purchasing quality resources for students. While assigning tasks keep in mind to prioritize the purpose over the amount of task. This helps save a lot of precious time, quality of task over quantity of task.
Design thinking routines help to get rid of bugs in the design cycle, similarly, students who practice enough to remove distractions are better geared towards the perfect score. These students are able to remove any distractions that divert them from their objectives. This is an essential skill to be academically successful, firstly identify the bug or distraction and next get rid of it. For example, some students mute notifications on their devices when doing intense creative and cognitive work. This is a great strategy to be in the present moment and deal with the task at hand without thinking about unnecessary matters.
Teachers can help by teaching students to increase their attention span, for example, plan for activities like meditation and yoga as a warmup or unwinding activity. These not only help to increase attention span they are also great stress busters. Technology can also come to the rescue, it offers great apps like Headspace, Calm, Unplug etc for meditation and mental relaxation, teachers must make good use of it.
High achieving students always ask for feedback and work on it to improve. This quality is rare in adolescents, but much required. Senior students like to believe that they know everything, or they know the best, thanks to their raging puberty hormones. Those who are able to win the battle over their id, ego and superego tend to seek advice and feedback from experts like teachers and parents. This quality is a defining attribute and those who have it have the edge over others.
Teachers have the responsibility to give meaningful feedback, it is what leads the student to the perfect score. Feedback aids in providing direction, solving problems and making meaning of learning. Feedback is the catalyst for students to apply their knowledge to solve real-life problems and gain understanding. I strongly believe focused feedback and focus on feedback are the two secrets for a perfect score.
As an educator, I do not set a goal for achieving higher grades only, in fact, the goal is always to gain understanding. But the students who gain understanding and go the extra mile, get the perfect score. Hence my translation of the perfect score is perfect knowledge and understanding.
As the world attempts to reinstate “normalcy,” there are clearly different baselines or targets amongst countries. For the United States, Costco in the news provides but one example. Just before the start of summer, their plans included “beginning a phased return to full sampling,” after 14 long months without offering shoppers microwaved mini tacos for nourishment? Society definitely needs nourishment, though I’m not sure mini-tacos will do. Or, what about Lollapalooza, a three-day music event that drew 300,000 people in 2015, returning to Chicago from July 29 to August 1? Regardless of what is happening or is planned to happen, I have felt maybe more than ever before, a near mandate to reflect on where we have been.
As an educator, a sort of responsibility has enshrouded me. To do due diligence and attempt to make sense, as best I can, of the past school year. To draw out as much learning as possible from the many lessons the pandemic offered, or “forced” depending on how you might see things. Three immediate if not glaring points stood out: Change, flexibility, and rebirth. In this, humanity is in the midst of a quasi-phoenix moment; a rising from the “ashes.” As exciting as the past year was tiring, for some reason, reflecting as thoroughly as I may have liked, continued to be put off. Not one to procrastinate, this baffled me.
Then the other dayI happened upon a tweet. A teacher tiraded how educators should be left alone, nothing more expected, this is OUR summer and we have done enough to get through the past year. I understand this sentiment as for many, the past 18+ months maybe have felt like being held underwater and summer finally is a time to come to the surface. To breathe. The myriad of unforeseen and often uncompromising situations the force that held us under. Still, I harken back to an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “You Make a Difference~The Value of Summer Reflection.” Here I outlined the pivotal role of reflection and realigning ourselves to our purpose. Summer, the essential pause. Yet, also a time to reflect.
The day summer school teaching finished and summer “officially” began, I received an e-mail from a former student from another school. The message began, “Hey! Jennifer got stabbed in the leg by Wendell at the end of March which complicated the year..” Immediately, I was issued two parts opportunity to lend a consulatory response and one part the ability to gain greater perspective. The timing seemingly perfect, as I still had not done an “honest” job of reflecting on the 2020-21 academic year. I desperately wanted get to the bottom of the question, “What was that all about? Another year of jostling between on-line and in-person learning.”
And so here I am. There is a ripeness to the moment where the catalyst is space more than time.
Caught Up In The COVID Storm
Before the academic year came to a close, I did not entirely skip reflecting. Oddly enough, it was something I asked students to do and also something I did with a colleague. Just not alone and to a depth that would appease. In a final meeting over Zoom, a teaching partner and I met. We attempted to simultaneously add our thoughts to a straightforward end-of-year reflection template that looked like this:
Biggest success this year:
Biggest challenge this year:
Strengths data shows:
Areas of growth to focus on:
One thing I learned this year:
One thing I want to learn next year:
One change for next year:
One goal for next year:
Surprisingly, at least for me, was how off the cuff nothing immediately emerged as a goal for next year. This was the dawning moment of how I was both exhausted but also how I had been caught up in the COVID storm. My vision not quite 20/20. Ultimately I had not fully come to grips with the reality of the pandemic and one of the greatest lessons I learned. “The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” To remain flexible, adapt, and be forgiving.
Over the years, I felt feedback received from students is a gift. A window into their reality. A term I am coining here is “meta-reflection,” building off metacognition and thinking about thinking. Might we reflect on student reflections? It may even connect well with a strategy many educators may employ with students. Harvard Zero Thinking Strategy, “I used to think but now I think.” One question asked on the student reflection that led to more in-depth analysis was, “What are a few things in social studies class that I did to help you to learn?” A prevailing theme was evident, allowing for my own “I used to think but now I think.” I used to think I was limited in doing meaningful project-based learning because of an overabundance of standards, but now I know that more wisely designed curriculum implementation is possible. This I was able to deduce, as patterns emerged in student comments attesting to how they were reinvigorated in learning as a result of agency, authenticity, and purpose.
The student reflections led also to a more philosophical goal. To continually remind myself to be the teacher one student envisions me to be, “You taught us in a way where you knew we would understand. You put yourself in our shoes and every day it felt like it was a brand new day for every student to do better and have fun.” Comments are not all so glowing and when we model honesty in the feedback we provide students and invite students to do the same when giving us feedback, there is a necessity to embrace vulnerability. One student maturely commented in a way which resulted in pushing me to think more about a check-in routine I was using. Her points not only honest but absolutely valid, leading to my immediate plan to discontinue the routine..
As a learning community, giving and receiving feedback is a skill we routinely practice throughout the year. In reading student end-of-year reflections I can say with confidence how students in 2020-21 stands out for their high degree of insightfulness and graciousness. One individual’s honest yet humorous response is sure to not to be forgotten. The fill-in-the-bank question asked, “If I were a middle school social studies teacher I would _________________.” A common response for example attested to the role of collaboration. For example, “make more projects where students get to work together.” The particular student’s memorable response was but one word. “Quit!” Ironically he is also the son of two teachers.
A few years ago Rhonda Scharf was credited with posting on Facebook the following thought, “Teachers are not ‘off for the summer,’ they are ‘in recovery.’” And if I can add, “in reflection mode.”
What difference can one person make? Have you discussed global warming, Black Lives Matter and gender equality in class? These books about activism are shining examples of how you cán change the world, one issue at a time.
I Have The Right to Save My Planet, Alain Serres and Aurélia Fronty is chock full of facts about climate change and endangered species. The book explains that every child on earth has the right to water and clean air as decreed by the International Convention on children’s rights. It spells out many of the problems the earth is currently facing but gives children ways to manage these concerns: get your family to buy less plastic, don’t eat cookies made with palm oil from trees that are replacing rain forest, etc. With an interesting voice combined with beautiful art, this book is part of a ‘Rights’ series. ISBN 978-1-77306-487-1, Groundwood Books
Walking For Water, How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Nicole Miles is a wonderful story inspired by true events in Malawi. Victor and Linesi are twins. They love going to school but at some point Lenesi is the one who can’t go anymore because she has to fetch water for the family. In school, the new teacher tells the children about gender equality. Soon Victor sees the unfairness of this and has a plan: he and his sister take turns going to class and fetching water. The changes have a ripple effect so that, soon, equality becomes not just something that is only talked about but practised as well. ISBN 978-1-5253-0249-7, Kids Can Press
A Small History of a Disagreement by Claudio Fuentes, with art by Gabriela Lyon. This story is based in Chile but is so universal it could take place anywhere. Children come to school, after the holidays, to find a large fence blocking access to part of their school grounds, including the tall Monkey Puzzle tree. The introduction explains that this tree is millennial, more than a thousand years old and endangered. But laws allow it to be cut down to make room for the much needed school expansion. Soon, the controversies and debates begin. Groups form in favour of development as well as in favour of protection. Who will win? And how will so many students ever agree? Focused on a school based issue, this is the universal story of debate, disagreement and reaching satisfactory solutions through research and debate. A book that should be mandatory for all politicians… ISBN 978-177164-707-6, Greystone Kids
Following How To Become An Accidental Genius, Frieda Wishinsky and Elzabeth MacLeod followed that title with How To Become An Accidental Activist. The book shows how many people, from all corners of the world, may be accidental, but definitely heroic, activists by standing up for what they believe in. The book shows people in history but also today taking action against social, gender or racial injustice. It shows what young people do for the environment and against bullying. The book shares inside stories of well known people like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Greta Thunberg in Sweden, but also of lesser known heroes like Rigoberta Menchu Tum standing up for equal rights in Guatemala and Song Kosal from Cambodia advocating against landmines. This book shows that you are never the only one and never should be discouraged from fighting for change and believing in doing the right thing. ISBN 978-1-4598-2611-3, Orca Book Publishers
Growing Up Elizabeth May, The Making of an Activist, written by Sylvia Olsen with Cate May Burton – is the story of how a girl from Connecticut became the leader of Canada’s Green Party. Inspired by her mother to take action against injustice, Elizabeth studied problems she saw around her in the environment. She fought for what she thought was right and battled politicians to ban pesticides. Eventually, that young girl was named one of the most influential women in the world, showing other young people to take action for what they believe in. This inspiring book is supplemented with examples of young people’s actions against plasticide, air pollution and more. Even though this book is about one particular person in North America, it is also a universal story of what can happen if you follow your heart and stick to your convictions. ISBN 978-1-4598-2370-9, Orca Book Publishers
Margriet Ruurs conducts author presentations and workshops at international schools around the world. Contact her directly to book for your school.
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world