Tag Archives: education

Teacher Recruitment

A common and defining characteristic associated with international schools is that of transience. The ephemeral nature of many our community members’ tenures in international schools necessitates the ongoing management of change processes. The positive features of this constant change are the rich opportunities for personal growth, renewal, enrichment, and development of new relationships. However, this very same impermanence inevitably leads to our esteemed colleagues and beloved friends taking leave of our community as they seek to embrace new adventures and experiences. The reasons that some teachers take leave of our schools each year varies, from the need to return to their home country or the desire to work and live in a different part of the world, for example. While the inevitable departure of some colleagues will again be a reality at international schools around the world, we can take solace in the fact that personal and professional relationships will assuredly endure far beyond the end of this school year. Although there will be occasions to formally recognize those who will be leaving our schools, the focus of this note is on the present and the importance of appreciating and making the most of the time we have today and in the near future with our very special colleagues and friends. Teacher Recruitment Process:  The hiring of teachers is arguable the most important element of the work of a Head of School. To that end, one of the main focus areas during the month of October to February is the recruitment of teachers, which will include attendance at international recruitment fairs. In addition, it is not unusual for schools to receive over a thousand applications, in some cases, several thousand. I am often asked what we look for when hiring teachers at the American School of Brasilia. First and foremost, we are seeking to hire the best available teachers, regardless of nationality, who possess outstanding qualifications in their academic area, deep levels of relevant experience, leadership capacity, resilience, flexibility, and, of course, a passion for working with students and the learning process. An additional characteristic that is among the highest on our priority list is that of a positive disposition. The nature of effective teaching necessitates the ideal of teachers as eternal optimists, especially in terms of their belief that all students can reach their respective potentials. Furthermore, we owe it to our students to ensure a school setting that is comprised of people who are positive and optimistic, who see problems as opportunities, and who see the proverbial glass as always being half full. At the same, we cannot be Pollyannaish with respect to teaching and learning as teachers are challenged with directly addressing the inherent challenges associated with student growth and program development, in a professional, effective, and empathetic manner. Each year, our school continues to further articulate and refine EAB’s Teacher Profile, which is a document that outlines a set of guiding principles that are used to guide all hiring processes. In addition, EAB’s Leadership Team also examines the hiring, development, and retainment practices of highly successful organizations to determine what can be translated to a school setting. By way of example, we have closely studied Netflix’s human resource policy, called Freedom and Responsibility, which provides for engaging and reflective reading. Wishing everyone all the best with your respective search and hiring processes. _________________________________________________

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Dieter Drescher: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmosfan/14628522324

Digital Fluency Project

During a recent school governance conference, the attendees, who include school directors and board members, reflected on how schools of the future will be different from what we know today. Our facilitator, Lee Crockett, invoked the often used but, at times, little understood concept of a “21st Century School” to challenge our current thinking (If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, Lee Crockett overviews his book, “Literacy is not Enough,” in an informative video interview).

While I was interested in the substance of the discussion, I was also intrigued by our collective reactions and discomfort as we struggled to predict the future of education. Given the rate of technological change, few people, if any, are likely able to accurately predict how technology will ultimately influence the traditional nature of schools. What we do know is that schools and learning will look very different from what we experienced as children.

So, how do we move forward? Fortunately, educational and technological theorists are thinking deeply about the future of education and the result is the emergence of several frameworks. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation and its 21st Century Fluency Project represent one such framework that articulates an educational focus on ensuring that learning continues to be meaningful. While there are indeed other helpful models, the 21st Century Fluency Project presents a framework that will challenge all of us to reflect on the role technology plays in the learning process, both at home and at school. In summary, the model complements traditional learning with a concentration on attaining five related digital fluencies: creativity, collaboration, solution, media, and information.

The future of booksEAB is strategically addressing these changes in several different manners, ranging from the implementation of a 1-to-1 program, to a shift from one traditional library to three iCommons (Information Commons), to weekly technology training workshops for teachers, to a change in instructional practices and collaboration expectations. On a personal note, I am teaching a high school Leadership class this year, which includes experimenting with a blended learning model, meaning that learning is taking place both in person and through an online setting. We are using an infrastructure called Haiku, which is a digital K-12 online platform. An exciting element of the course is that this platform enables us to learn, in collaboration, with students from two other international schools, one in the U.S.A, and one in Mumbai. Through the power of the Internet and technology, our class has been expanded and enriched through the inclusion of students from other parts of the world. This has taken the learning experience of our students to a higher level of interest, diversity, and engagement.

A question: If you were asked to highlight the most important skills students will need for future success, what skills would you list? How does your list compare with the following list of the most important skills generated by professional educators and researchers?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, Action, Accountability

Now, let’s examine these skills in the context of Bloom’s taxonomy:

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The list of skills generated by professional educators and researchers correspond directly with the higher level thinking skills of Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating associated with Bloom’s taxonomy, rather than the lower level skills of Remembering, Understanding, and Applying. It is these higher-level thinking skills that guide the ongoing development of EAB’s educational program.

As EAB continues its work towards the continued implementation of effective and relevant teaching and learning practices, we will also continue to be guided by the approaches presented above in conjunction with Lee Crockett’s guiding concepts of relevance, creativity, and real-world application.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Johan Larsson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/6966883093

Mission-Driven Learning

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

The ‘why’ highlighted by Nietzsche is equated, in schools, to foundational documents, such as mission statements. These essential documents act as guiding principles for all facets of education, ranging from day-to-day instructional approaches, to business office and human resource decisions, to the building of new facilities, to educational program implementation, to co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and to long-term, strategic planning.

By way of example, I had the privilege of receiving an invitation to work with our Grade 3 classes on the development of a class mission statement. Once my introduction was completed, the outstanding Grade 3 teaching team led the students through a process to create a unique mission statement for their class. Through an effective and collaborative process, the students worked diligently to arrive at a consensus, which resulted in the following mission statement:

In third grade, it is our mission to explore new things, to make new friends, and improve ourselves so that we can solve problems and become responsible citizens of the world.

This statement will guide the learning and development of all Grade 3 students throughout the remainder of the year. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the student mission statement expands on the tenets of our school’s overall mission. By design, everything at the American School of Brasilia (EAB) is framed and guided by the school’s key foundational documents.

EAB’s ability to provide our students with the best holistic education possible will be achieved through a partnership between students, parents, and the school, towards the realization of the ideals presented in the mission, vision, core values, and motto.

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EAB’s Foundational Documents

MISSION
The American School of Brasilia serves the International and Brazilian communities by providing a U.S. and Brazilian accredited pre-K through 12th grade program and International Baccalaureate Diploma in a culturally diverse atmosphere. Our English-language school develops and supports the whole child in achieving his or her own potential. Through a differentiated, innovative learning experience, we cultivate responsible and contributing citizens, leaders, and environmental stewards with a strong foundation of academic excellence.

VISION
At the American School of Brasilia, each student pursues an excellent academic program in a supportive and nurturing learning environment, whose rigor and relevance is evident through the five pillars of academics, arts, leadership, service learning, and activities. In an EAB education, our students are:
…provided a differentiated education, that optimizes academic potential;
…exposed to the arts, achieving proficiency in at least one area;
…provided the opportunity and support to develop as citizen-leaders;
…engaged in meaningful and sustainable service learning experiences;
…involved in co-curricular activities or sports.

CORE VALUES
Trustworthiness – Respect – Responsibility – Fairness – Caring – Citizenship

MOTTO
Celebrating Diversity and Cultivating Citizenship

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Photo Credit: Matt Hajdun / Caira Franklin

Teacher Appreciation Day

What matters most? Recent research has shown that the most important contributor to student learning success is the teacher. Beyond class size, socio-economic status, or program emphasis, the teacher- what they do, how they create learning opportunities and the relationships they build with students- is what matters most.

Recently, I’ve experienced this first hand. And trust me, it matters.

The first time I threw my back out was over 20 years ago. The cause is mysterious, but tends to be blamed on a combination of genetics, lifestyle (stress) and good old, bad luck. The first time it happened I was a new college graduate unsure of my next move when bending over to gather the laundry out of the dryer, I suddenly couldn’t get up.

Years later, the same thing happened. (Different countries, different scenarios- but the same exact pain and inability to move.) The change for me though, was my devotion to do what needed to be done to never, never have my back blow out again. In a nutshell, I became committed to Pilates as a way to strengthen and lengthen all the muscles in and around my back.

Fast forward and it’s two years ago when my inexcusable and yet very human relaxing of the rules (read: I stopped going to Pilates) landed me right back on my back, and essentially in a pickle. Struggling, but staunch in my decision, I joined a studio and began the long, difficult road back to commitment.

Initially, I was unable to differentiate between what was working and what wasn’t in the various classes I was attending. The whole idea of getting stronger and better was a mountain bigger than I thought possible to climb. However, with practice I did indeed improve and gain back the mobility and confidence necessary to walk, sit, stand and move without fear.

However, it wasn’t until this August that I moved out of approaching the “standard” of mobility and began to wade into pushing into my particular and individual program of both need and true progress.

What is the difference? Quite simply it is my new teacher.

With other instructors I was part of the pack, reaching for the same goal even though I was behind: there due to an injury while others were trying to fit into smaller clothes. We had a routine, completed with fidelity at each session. I knew it by heart. In fact, I probably didn’t need an instructor to complete it. In that state, I was not growing or reaching. I was simply showing up and blindly going through the motions.

However, my new instructor isn’t doing what she always does, she isn’t teaching the “course”. Instead, she is intent on learning about each of us in the class; then tailoring her instruction to fit our needs and modifying it- sometimes right in the moment, to make sure it fits. She uses formative assessment techniques to see how we are doing and then changes her plans based on our performance. Our summative assessments always involve a performance task. And while I don’t receive a report card, I do know more about my ability in relation to the Intermediate Level (not to brag) targets than I ever knew before.

In just a few weeks, I’ve developed more strength, and confidence about my back than I was able to gain in all of last year’s classes combined.  (I’ve estimated it was about 80 hours worth of my time and money.) The machines aren’t different. I’m not going to lengthier sessions. Nor is my progress due to a new diet, or chic workout clothes.

The only difference is my teacher.

She is really good at what she does. And what she does is spend time discovering who I am and what I need; then she tailors her teaching to my needs.

Isn’t that what good teaching is all about?

Photo credit: http://arrowwoodbrainerdlodge.com/assets/caches/images/assets/users/general/bullseye-544×299.jpg

International Study Trips: Not Your Typical Field Trip to the Zoo

My wife and I have been very fortunate to have sponsored several study trips while teaching here in Saudi Arabia.  From what I’ve been reading about back in the States, field trips there might be limited to the surrounding counties because of bussing costs, liability concerns, and safety.  However, in international teaching entire world is at your disposal if you want to take students on a study trip. Perhaps the best of all, the sponsor costs are often covered in the students’ costs, so your trip is more or less free.

Our first year here Jamie was able to sponsor a high school Habitat for Humanity trip to Kenya. During our second year, I was able to co-sponsor a trip to South Korea for my middle school students. Our third year, I took students to Prague, Czech Republic and Budapest, Hungary, while Jamie sponsored a trip to Bali, Indonesia.  Last year, I took students to Switzerland on a ski/science study trip.  Jamie has also made two trips with the Model United Nations to Istanbul, Turkey. This year, Jamie is going to Chang Mai, Thailand for another Habitat trip, and I’m going to back Switzerland skiing again.

These trips are “study” based in a variety of ways. Some are more scientific with students getting a chance to study environmental changes, avalanches, or drought conditions. Others are skills and survival based, like students being able to learn public speaking, how to ski or snorkel, or desert survival. Still others give students a chance to help others through volunteer work building homes and community centers, as well as organizing donation drives and raising money for direct donations. And other trips are designed to teach cultural awareness, like taking cooking classes across Italy, touring the Hagia Sophia, or visiting the DMZ between North and South Korea. Many trips offer a variety of activities that include a little of each goal so that students have a chance for both personal growth and personal enjoyment. This is a great chance for students to experience cultural interactions through foods, languages, clothing styles, and technology differences. And of course, no matter what the stated purpose of the trip is officially, students and teachers all have a chance for fun, team building, and excitement out of the classroom environment.

Other study trips that teachers have sponsored at both the middle and high school level have been to places like South Africa, Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Spain, UAE, Vietnam, Thailand, and various countries in Africa.  At our middle school, teachers sign up to sponsor a trip and typically take about 20 students.  The high school has a week called Week Without Walls (WOW), where a large percentage of the students sign up for trips.  The remaining students come to school and do certain activities, but not necessarily in the classroom.

The planning and paperwork that goes into a study trip is quite extensive.  Because you are taking students out of the country, it is not quite the same as taking kids to the local zoo, museum, or aquarium.  Here is a “quick” rundown of the procedure:

  1. Check with your administration about any current travel practices, procedures, and expectations.
  2. Research places that you feel would best suit your students’ needs.  After all, you will have to choose a place that students actually want to go.
  3. Go ahead and obtain a rough estimate of the flight and costs of the trip.  Some places will simply be too costly for the flight, much less the accommodations, food, and attractions.
  4. Contact a tour company that caters to educational trips.  There are several tour companies out there that will do all of the planning for you.  These can worth their weight in gold.  Many administrators and parents will want to know you are touring with a reputable company.
  5. Obtain pre-approval permission from administration. Each school will have a different process for this, so just ask your administration.
  6. Begin the recruiting process for students. This could be an assembly, flyers, or a parent night. This year, we are sending out surveys of various places for parents to choose to gauge interest level before planning too much.
  7. Begin accepting study trip applications and teacher recommendations. This is where you will have to begin to determine which students are allowed to go on the trips due to academic/behavioral issues.
  8. Finalize all of the plans along with the costs.  This is perhaps the most difficult part. You simply cannot make a mistake in calculating how much it will cost the parents. Exchange rates may change, so you will have to build in extra money for that if necessary. Costs will range widely depending on where you go and the flight cost. Typically, you can plan on budgeting for:
    • Cost of Tour (this will include activities, entrance fees, food, and lodging)
    • Flight
    • Insurance
    • Emergency Fund (Exchange rate, emergency medical, medicines, lost/stolen money)
    • Tips
    • Sponsor Cost (This is typically just the cost of your flights divided by the number of students.  Most tour companies provide the cost of sponsors at a ratio of 1:10)
    • Visas (Typically, students are responsible for their obtaining their own visas, but this may vary by school)
    • Spending Money (snacks and souvenirs)
  9. Conduct a parent night that outlines the entire trip.  This will allow time for parents to ask questions about safety, events, costs, and travel.  It is absolutely essential that you are prepared for this as parents will have questions you might have not even thought. If parents do not think you are capable, there is no way they will allow their children to go on a trip with you.
  10. Gather a deposit (25% to cover deposit of flight and tour) and develop a payment schedule.
  11. Keep parents informed of everything.  You’ll definitely want to set up an email contact list as well as create a blog/website for your trip. Here are some things  you might want to include on the blog/website:
    • Tour Itinerary (daily schedule, hotel names, attractions, food)
    • Contact Information
    • Flight Times
    • Packing List
    • Visa Information
    • Trip Costs
    • Promotional Material (flyers, websites, videos that are provided by the Tour company)
    • Important Forms/Documents
  12. Gather all important documents (These will vary based on your school, your location, and your travel destination but below are some of the major documents):
    • Study Trip Application Form
    • Copy of Students’ Passports
    • Copy of Students’ and Parents’ Residence Visa
    • Copy of Students’ Exit/Re-entry Visas and expiration date
    • Teacher Recommendations
    • Parental Permission and Liability Forms
    • Temporary Guardianship Forms
    • Emergency Medical Forms
    • Academic Policy (Because you will travel months after students sign up and pay their deposit and final payment, it might be possible students are ineligible to go due to academic/behavior concerns)
    • Copy of Health Cards/Insurance Cards
    • Copy of Travel Insurance per student
    • Create a Parent Contact List including emails and phone numbers. This will serve as the final student list.
  13. Finalize arrangements with the tour company and flight travel agent including names and information of the students attending.
  14. Finalize any formal school student study trip applications as necessary to gain final approval.
  15. Gather final payments from students in accordance with the tour company and flight travel agent’s schedule.
  16. Hold periodic student meetings to go over final plans and packing lists.
  17. Determine what the students will be responsible for concerning school work while absent.
  18. Make arrangements for students to be transported to/from the departing airport.
  19. Create assignments for students to do while on the trip. This could include daily journaling, and A-Z book, blogs, website, etc.
  20. Gather all documents in a folder to take with you.
  21. Go over any final issues/concerns with students, teachers, administrators, parents, tour company, and flight travel agent.
  22. Double check everything!
  23. Fly away for an amazing trip!

See?  Just an easy 23 steps!  If it seems like quite a bit of work, it most certainly is.  These trips can, however, be very rewarding for the students and yourself.  We’ve had students see their first snow, be away from home for the first time, be responsible for their money for the first time, learn to ski, learn to use public transportation, learn to get up on time by themselves, learn how to eat the right foods, or eat the same foods for 10 days in a row, or be sick from hunger, and learn how to make new friends with complete strangers. The students always come back with those “stories” from the trip that they continue talking about for years to come.  When I see them on campus even a few years later, they always mention some aspect of a study trip.  Sometimes, you see kids grow up right before your eyes within a week.  As with any extracurricular setting, it is nice to interact with students outside the classroom, and it is nice for them to see you in a role outside the classroom.

Again, this is not your typical field trip, but one you will certainly remember for all of your teaching years.

The Promise of Life

To commemorate the September 7 Independence of Brazil, the American School of Brasilia (EAB) held a celebratory assembly today with teachers, parents, and all of EAB’s students, ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. The auditorium was abuzz with anticipation and the attendees were not disappointed by the presentations, which were mostly led by students. It was an impressive display and homage to our host country, Brazil. Brazil Independence EAB’s mission and motto highlight the importance of a culturally diverse school that cultivates citizenship and celebrates diversity. Of paramount importance are the inclusion, study, and celebration of Brazil’s culture as a key element of Brazil’s educational program. In fact, for the countries we have the privilege to call “home,” it is our responsibility to learn as much as we can about the local languages and customs of our hosts. EAB’s mission underscores how our school takes this responsibility very seriously. In the spirit of celebrating September 7, the following is a brief personal narrative about my own relationship with Brazil. I have had the honor of living in Brazil since the year 2000 and am deeply grateful for the opportunity to both learn from Brazilians and experience the richness and diversity associated with Brazilian culture. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, I committed to learning more about Brazilian culture, in addition to overcoming a personal inhibition, through a decision to take ballroom dance lessons with Espaço de Dança Andrei Udiloff. The process of learning to dance Samba de Gafieira, which I can assure you was not an easy assignment for my instructor, was both profound and rewarding. The classes opened a unique window into Brazilian culture, language, history, art, and music. Among the rich array of traditional Brazilian music, I was struck by Tom Jobim’s Águas de Março, which has continued to be my favorite Brazilian song to this day. If you are not familiar with the song, the following is a captivating rendition by Elis Regina. In addition to a stirring musical production, Águas de Março’s lyrics also resonate with the challenges of our daily lives. Based on my very amateur interpretation, the metaphor of Águas de Março represents a seemingly endless march forward, requiring us to overcome both the minor and significant challenges associated with daily lives. This metaphor seems apropos when applied to the onward progression of the student learning process and educational program development at EAB, in addition to the macro challenge of overall school improvement and the imperative to continue advancing education for all in Brazil and around the world. Águas de Março also reflects the eternal optimism often found in Brazilian culture through the repeated reference to the “promise of life.” As educators and parents, it is this “promise of life” that motivates and inspires us to be the very best parents and educators we can be for our children and students. It is also one of the many reasons why I am so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to live in Brasilia and to call Brazil my home.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Antonio Thomas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/antoniothomas/4676898983

Promise of Life

Summer Break for International Educators

For most teachers, summer break is a time for relaxation, catching up on good books, traveling, and unwinding from a long school year.  For an international school teacher, this time is spent doing these things, but it could also be so much more.

Most international schools will provide you with a flight allowance back to your home country.  Our school in China bought our tickets directly for us and our school in Saudi gives us money.  This gives us the flexibility to take whatever flight we choose.

Summers for most international teaching families are spent away from their schools.  Simply, they go back visit family, friends, purchase Western products, see Western doctors, and regroup for the upcoming school year.  Some families are moving away from one international school to another, so their experience over the summer is even more tedious with packing, moving, visas, and unpacking.

For Jamie and I, our time has been spent traveling around in northwest Georgia, southeast Tennessee, the panhandle of Florida, and southwest Georgia.  Our family and vacations have been scattered there; and as we come home, we travel to see family.

Many international teachers with children feel the need for their kids to have a “home” to come back to in their home country, so their third culture kid will have a sense of what and where “home” actually is.  For us, the need for our children to see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is important especially considering the fact they may only see them once per year.  We also want our children to know that they are Americans and a have sense of southern heritage even if they’ll never have that special accent.

The options for international teachers are practically unlimited.  While most families go back to their home country, others spend the summer traveling and seeing the world.  We know of families that have rented houses in Italy for the summer, completed a road trip around the Middle East, volunteered at an African school for a few weeks, completed round the world flights with various stopovers, or just stayed in the country where they were working to save money.

With Jamie and I bouncing around from house to house and living out of a suitcase for the last 5 summers, it has become tiresome.  We are now looking into a house where family members can simply come to us.  Last year, we rented a lake house for a month, which helped with all of the traveling.  This summer, we’ll do our bouncing around so everyone can see our new addition to the family.

Other aspects of summers including additional trainings.  Jamie had a conference in Dallas last summer focusing on the Shafer writing method.  In previous summers, she had AP training conferences in Denver and Tampa. Depending on the school’s professional development funding and vision, teachers might find themselves traveling to other locations for conference and trainings.  Most, if not all, of these funds will be paid for by the school.

Our summer breaks when were teachers in the U.S. were always great and relaxing.  We were close to family, tried to vacation somewhere nice, and generally unwound from a stressful school year. We still can have those things as international school teachers, but they can potentially be so much more!

Building a Striving Scaffold

While helping an elementary grade level order classroom library books recently, I came across sets of books labeled: “Books for Striving Readers”.  Reading the fine print, these were books for students who needed a bit of scaffolding to reach for the on-grade-level texts. These particular books were high-interest, but written at a slightly lower level, which allowed students to build their skills toward fluently reading grade level texts.  This idea of a “striving scaffold” got me thinking about the work we are doing in schools around the world.

Why?

Because, schools who strive, thrive.

While schools where striving turns to struggling end up not only not reaching the level they’d hoped, they might find there is the dreaded “summer slide” in buy-in, skill development, and momentum. (Worst case- you are further behind where you started.)

As the end of the year push begins, it isn’t hard to feel people wobble. Whether it is exhaustion from a long first year, a sense that a particular class or grade level is ready to move forward, or simply the need to close up and celebrate the end of this year’s initiatives and goals, people are in many ways done.

As administrators though, we have to keep looking forward. We must continue to plan and to build for next steps; but not blindly and not without real consideration for the path we are on, always asking: Is this the right thing to do, right now?

This is the first step in building a striving scaffold, assessing where we are against where we need to go and analyzing whether or not the path/plan initially created is the right one to take now. (Now that we know more, now that things have changed, now– right now- at this particular point in the year.)

From there, we need to plan for steps in the process which take us from here to there, and lay it out in enough detail that we can really see what it is we need to do. Just like striving readers, striving schools will sweat the small stuff.

A striving reader, has a planned pace, has clearly identified needs, is assessed frequently to make sure he is still in the right text and is guided and monitored. His scaffold is manageable. Do this, then this- first one step than the other. We don’t hand over The Old Man and the Sea and say… “You can do it, good luck!”

Striving schools too will reach for what they don’t currently have, by making sure to push, pull, train, support, communicate and direct toward that same goal: that sweet-spot between something new and challenging to do which is a success, and something doable enough to allow the wheels on the bus (day-to-day teaching and learning) to keep turning.

However when does striving become struggling?

For the reader (like the school), it is when there is too much to do and the path can’t be clearly seen. (Sure steps can be taken two-by-two, but then there might be another scaffold in place like a handrail to help guide and support the climb.)

Striving schools:

  • Plan for and show teachers what the path is – this is where we are we going and why. 
  • What the terrain looks like – this part is going to be bumpy, this part will be smooth.
  • What scaffolds will be there to support the journey – here is where there will be training; here is where there will be help.

Striving is working toward an attainable goal, which is clear enough to stretch out toward. It feels good, like that perfect run or set of laps in the pool.

Struggling is being buried in and feeling bad about the efforts you are making. You can’t see how to get there and therefore, how you could possibly be successful. Struggling is lifting weighs, which are too heavy and hurt your back or running sprint after sprint and getting that stich in your side.

Striving makes you want to do more. Struggling makes you want to quit.

We aim to help every reader strive and thrive with scaffolds to assist. Can we do the same for our schools?

Trapeze Bars

The end of each school year is marked by a series of celebrations designed to highlight and appreciate individual and collective achievements while also honoring the unique nature of our communities. The end-of-year celebrations also represent a period of key student celebrations and transitions, such as kindergarten to Lower School, Grade 5 students to Middle School, and Grade 8 students to High School. The end of May will also be highlighted by the graduation of our senior class, which represents a culminating experience for EAB students as they prepare to move beyond high school to seek new challenges and growth opportunities. While we are still a few weeks away from these important events in our lives, it is also important to prepare for these periods of transition.

It is often easy to overlook the transition phases of our lives and, in our future-orientated approaches, focus only on the next stages. However, what if it is during these periods of transition that we are presented with the most profound and enlightening experiences associated with who we are and what we value? In our rush to move through transitions as quickly as possible, we may be missing the most important experiences of our lives. Author Danaan Parry has articulated these thoughts through the use of a trapeze bar metaphor:


Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily), swinging along, I look ahead of me, and what do I see? I see another bar swinging towards me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must totally release my grip on the present, well-known bar and move to a new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab a new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of knowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto the old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place where real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time old my buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “nothing”, “a no-place” between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real to. But the void in-between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorientating “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where real change and real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell on the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we may just learn to fly.

As we collectively plan for the end of the school year and prepare for each of our personal transitions, it is hoped that we will have the opportunity to savor the transition itself. If we follow Danaan’s advice about the importance of embracing transitions, then we may just experience, “the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.”

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Don’t fake it till you make it–try honesty

Over the last few years I’ve been pulled aside by a few respected colleagues who’ve told me to be less self deprecating and more confident in my abilities. I’ve taken their advice, but for the longest time I had a compulsive need to confess any mistakes I made—as if telling people that I lost my cool, or some quizzes, would absolve me of my carelessness. I wore my mistakes openly in search of comfort and commiseration.

But most of the time my confessions were met with non-committal shrugs, polite smiles and few “there, theres,” all of which made me feel more isolated and less competent. It took me several years and a few different schools to realize, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes or has weaknesses, I’m just one of the few teachers in my experience, who feels comfortable admitting them.  Many tend to stay quiet, adhering to a fake it till you make it mentality, rather than share their own blunders or concerns.

I’ve since learned to restrain myself and interestingly enough, I feel like I make fewer mistakes.

But I wonder why we have this fake it till you make it mentality where teachers and administrators feel that admitting what they don’t know, or that they’ve made a mistake, will make them vulnerable. I wonder how productive it is, ultimately, in creating a collaborative (and honest) community.

I know faking confidence is an essential and effective strategy that can get us through situations that make us nervous–like that first day with a new class of 20 discerning faces. Amy Cuddy gives a great TED talk on faking confidence through body language and how it increases testosterone levels in the body, which can lead to improved performance.

But what I’m taking about is the faking, fronting and posturing that is done in private conversations between colleagues, or between teachers and administrators at faculty meetings, a posturing that is born from competitiveness and a fear of looking weak.

To be fair, I think the international school system fosters these qualities in teachers. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of international teaching is what I call the rate of acceleration. The learning curve is fast and steep and the rate at which a classroom teacher can get promoted is exceptionally quicker than the systems back home where a teacher may be expected to move slowly and carefully up the ranks. In the international system, I’ve seen classroom teachers promoted to principal positions and higher within their first or second contract year.  This is a great opportunity for educators with natural leadership abilities (and there are many); but it’s also the perfect stage for those who fake them.

The issue is system wide. New international schools are being built all the time, the turnover rate for teachers and administrators is high, and the expectation to do something beyond your demanding teaching job–to leave your legacy, to innovate and initiate–is intense. We’re encouraged to be stars in our profession, to have exciting and active web presences, and to demonstrate a commitment to issues affecting our local, national and international communities. For 2-3 years, anyway, before we pick up and do it all again somewhere new.  The emphasis, it seems, is on working as hard as we can to get noticed so we can build our CVs for our next position.

It’s understandable, then, why we are sometimes competitive and resistant to showing weakness. For example, if teachers or administrators are promoted before they’re ready, without appropriate guidance or mentorship, they may feel forced into faking their comfort level, experience and confidence in their new positions.

But like most weaknesses in the school system, the students are the ones who are most affected by a fake it till you make it mentality; if we can’t have productive, non-judgmental conversations about our weaknesses and concerns with the teachers and administrators with whom we work most closely, then the quality of our growth and development may be compromised, despite our great new jobs and promotions.

The antidote to the fake it mentality is to find acceptance in what makes us uncomfortable about our practice and to recognize that discomfort often leads to growth.  Finding the courage to talk openly to each other will connect us as educators, and will likely reveal that what we see as mistakes are actually just the day-to-day stuff of the teaching profession.

As teachers, we encourage students to fail forward because we know that failures will make them stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate people. As teachers, I hope we can also fail forward by nixing the fake it till you make it mentality and instead, try a bit of honesty.