Moral Purpose

So this week I’d like to talk about the idea of “moral purpose” in education……lately this term keeps coming up over and over again in my conversations with other Principals and teacher leaders, and it seems like these days I cannot read an article or watch a video about educational leadership without hearing about the importance and necessity of this notion. I even found myself just last week going on and on about how we all need a sense of moral purpose when I was speaking with a parent about our vision in the Middle School. I think this parent walked away feeling a little confused about the notion, and it got me thinking about what I was really talking about. What is moral purpose…… and how does it impact our lives as teachers, leaders, parents, and colleagues?

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot written yet about “moral purpose” in education, other than some interesting articles by leadership and change guru Michael Fullan. I did find some other helpful articles written on the topic from a business perspective however, and another one or two that had some pretty heavy religious connotations, but those didn’t really help clarify things in my mind. I finally stumbled upon some chapter excerpts from Will Ryan’s book, Leadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out, which started to help crystallize things for me, and break things down into simpler, digestible pieces. Essentially, for me it boils down to (in the simplest and purest terms)……….doing the right things for our students. There’s a great quote out there that says “managers do things right, but leaders do the right things”, and I think that pretty much says it all…….are we doing the right things for our kids?

We are all important leaders in some capacity……whether it’s leading our students through our daily teachings and/or professional habits, or leading our colleagues through the sharing of expertise and the positive, hopeful attitudes that create our climate and culture. We all have the power to affect change, and to contribute to this shared sense of moral purpose. Fullan talks about creating a shared vision, or mission, that rests on and stems from what’s best for students and student learning……doing the right things to create an environment where students feel safe and encouraged to take risks, where colleagues feel supported and valued, and where all leaders are researching, reflecting, and taking action in a constant attempt to make the school (and student learning opportunities) better. By the way, the best definition on moral purpose that I did find came from Springhead School in Northern England. Their definition reads, “Our moral purpose is an agreed set of principles that creates and leads our vision for the school. It stimulates reflection and review, and supports action. It defines the heart and soul of our school.  Our moral purpose acknowledges that there is a need for our pupils to be both challenged and supported if we are to enrich and enhance every child’s learning and life experiences, by breaking down barriers to learning and participation”……..nice.

This week I’d like us all to think about this notion of moral purpose, and what we can do as teachers to help bring ours to life. I love the tribe that we’ve built in the Middle School, and I love that we’re beginning to have the trust and educational courage to push back on things that don’t align with our shared vision, or our sense of what’s right. Lets’ do the right things for our kids, and not settle for other agendas that veer away from what’s best for student learning. In short, let’s be leaders…and do the right things. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other!

Quote of the Week……..
Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids. – Aristotle

Article #1 (attached)
Moral Purpose Writ Large (Michael Fullan) MORAL PURPOSE WRIT LARGE
Article #2The Realist’s Guide to Moral Purpose (Long and Business focused but a good read nevertheless)

TED Talk – Shane Koyczan (Moving and Beautiful)

Book SuggestionLeadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out – (Will Ryan)

Enriching Opportunities in International Education

Being an international educator yields tremendous professional opportunities that can enrich your teaching.  Living and working in the U.S., professional development opportunities were limited to whatever the school sponsored at the school.  Many teachers received additional professional development by working on advanced degrees or paying out of pocket to go to a training or conference at a nearby university.  In the 7 years I taught in Georgia, I received only a handful of professional development opportunities outside working on my master’s and doctorate degrees. One of these was AP Government training, which was a wonderful experience.

Since Jamie and I have taught internationally, we have had the pleasure of working at schools who have provided us with meaningful professional development opportunities.  Our school systems have both hosted conferences and brought in educational specialist like Virginia Rojas, Martin Skelton, and John Almarode.  We have also had the opportunities to attend regional professional development opportunities in Bahrain, Kathmandu, Nepal, Dubai, UAE, Muscat, Oman, and Bangkok, Thailand for various conferences. Large names like Tom Guskey, Ken O’Connor, Jay McTighe, Leanne Jung, and Lucy Calkins have all been speakers and presenters at these conferences.  Just recently, I served on a Middle States Association accreditation team, which was the best professional development I have ever had.  I play on attending an accreditation team chair training on Philadelphia this summer.  Jamie has traveled to Denver and Tampa for AP training in Psychology and Economics, respectively. She will also attend a conference training in Houston this summer for training in the Schaffer writing method.

Most of this is paid for by the school.  We receive professional development funds each year that we can apply to conferences or post graduate work. On several occasions, we have received these trips for no cost because we are leaders on committees.

In addition to professional development opportunities, we also have travel opportunities with the students.  Jamie has attended the TIMUN conference in Istanbul, Turkey two times in three years with her high school students as well as sponsored student study trips to Kenya and Bali.  I have taken my middle school students on study trips to South Korea and Prague and Budapest.

Additionally, we travel in Kingdom to places like Riyadh and Jeddah for various school events like honor band/choir, MUN, and sports teams.  These opportunities just don’t happen back home where many school systems won’t allow student field trip to leave the county.

We are already planning next year where we will sponsor study trips as well as travel for various staff development trainings. Of course, these trainings and conferences are in addition to our normal vacation times.  This year for vacation, we have traveled to France, USA, and Thailand.  Next year, we plan on visiting Spain, Germany, Jordan, and some other destination to be determined.

Granted, this is all due because of money.  These are private schools that offer their students and teachers amazing opportunities, but one would be remiss if they didn’t take advantage of these opportunities.

The Importance of School Counselors

So over the past two or three weeks, a few different issues have come up with our students that have yet again highlighted for me the importance of our school counselors. If you take a step back and look at the weight of their vocation from a balcony view, it is staggering to see the positive scope of influence that can ripple throughout a school community because of their work. I spent the last few days thinking about all that goes into a counselor’s job description, and the affect that a quality counselor can have on the ethos of a school and the learning of its students. It has become clear to me that counselors are very much the mortar that holds a division together, as well as the purveyors of all things right in education. I think it is very easy for most of us to go through the school day and not give much thought to the life altering conversations that continuously take place in their office, or to the young lives that are forever shaped because of their insight and expertise. This week, I want to specifically acknowledge their efforts, and thank them for all that they do for our kids.

I’ve feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity over the last three years to work intimately with our own amazing school counselors, as well as the chance to learn deeply about the job through my wife, who recently began her Masters in Counseling back in September. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the amount of knowledge and strategies that they have to keep kids from falling through the cracks, and to get students learning up to their potential. It’s truly mind boggling to think of and see all the different issues, emergencies, and conflicts that they deal with on a daily basis……….and the fact that they continue to be unwavering student advocates throughout it all is ridiculously inspiring. Here’s just a brief and small sample look at what a school counselor has on his/her plate as the school day begins………

  • Individual and small group academic support
  • transition planning (5/6 and 8/9 and 12/College)
  • implementation of advisory program
  • consulting and collaboration with teachers/parents/administration
  • making appropriate referrals to specialists and outside organizations
  • scheduled/unscheduled issues such as abuse, depression, low self esteem, and bullying
  • supporting the extension of gifted and talented students
  • supporting the intervention of struggling students/students with special needs
  • constantly professionally developing themselves through research and reading

I could have easily gone on and on with that list but I think you get my point. Counselors play such an incredibly important role in the development of our students, the ethos and environment of our school, the community and culture of a division, and most importantly….student learning. It’s nice to know that if we face a difficult or unfamiliar situation, or if we need support as professionals dealing with a delicate or complicated issue, we have someone down the hall who can pick us up. I’d like to ask that you go out of your way this week to acknowledge or say thank you to Mark and Rafael for the incredible work that they do every day………it can easily get overlooked and we can easily take them for granted. Counselors change lives for the better everyday, and they emerge from heartbreaking conversations with poise, grace, and hope…and in some instances counselors save lives…….Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

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

American School Counselor Association Websites:

Other Useful Counseling Websites:

Article #1 – In Defense of School Counseling
Article #2 – School Counselors Play Key Role in Kids’ Futures
Article #3 – The Importance of School Counseling
Article #4 – The Role of School Counselors in Serving Students and Families


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

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

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

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

Attachment #1 Hope in Education PDF Hope in Leadership

TED Talk #1  – Use Data to Build Better Schools (Andreas Schleicher)
TED Talk #2 – Hope (Sherwin Nuland)

Alan November’s Professional Website

Now That The Job Fairs Are Over: What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay It Forward

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

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

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

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

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

Online Articles –

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

Pay it forward Website-

Important Job Fair Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart of the Matter

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

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

TED TALKS to inspire you in 2013

Three Key Questions to Ask Students

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

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

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

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

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