Tag Archives: international schools

Visual Arts and Education: understanding history and context

A recent trip to Venice was an immersive experience in some of the works of the great Italian Renaissance artists, notably Tintoretto and Bellini, whose extraordinary paintings adorn several churches throughout the city.

Seeing their works in churches is an authentic experience that links one to the historical continuity of the initial inception of the paintings: this is how they were intended to be seen, and it is a privilege to be able to still do this, although non-Venetians have to pay more or less systematically at every church, unlike in Rome where it is still possible to see Caravaggio’s work for free in churches as many did for hundreds of years before the globalisation of tourism.

Why might it be important to view artworks in the settings for which they were originally conceptualised? 

After all, the works are less well lit in churches, one has to stand in the slightly stiff and cold silence and the overall atmosphere of the museum is replaced by the austerity of a place of worship. Furthermore, frescoes on interior walls and ceilings can be difficult to see, especially when compared to well-lit works perched at eye level in an art gallery.

However, this is how these works should be viewed and appreciated. In the hauntingly simple and gorgeous church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice for example, where Tintoretto served as a chaplain, his grave lies right next to his dramatic panel of the last judgement: the spiritual purpose of Tintoretto’s work, embroiled with the existential anxiety it expresses are unified by the palpable and very moving traces of the artist’s life. One senses the significance of the place of composition which is much more than a backdrop to the art, it is a vital part of the art.

The way we encounter art today, and this has been the case since at least the late 1700s or early 1800s when the most famous European museums, such as the Louvre, Uffici and Prado were opened to the public, is in exhibitions. Hundreds of paintings and sculptures sit alongside one another in an industrial concentration that is difficult to seriously contemplate and digest. Rather than spending time at each painting, visitors shuffle from one famous painting to the next, walking past dozens if not hundreds of paintings composed by less well known artists. I’ve always felt that it is futile trying to view too much in an art museum, and prefer to appreciate one or two floors. How much art can one take in in two hours anyway?

There is another problem with the decontextualised positioning of such works, which is the ethics behind the curatorship of the works themselves, most especially concerning ancient art. For example, almost all Ancient Egyptian works viewed outside of Egypt (in Turin, Paris, Berlin and London for example) found their way to these places under the questionable policies of Napoleon Bonaparte whose emissaries either traded for them in an unscrupulous manner or simply stole them. Understanding how obelisks appeared in Paris, Rome and London or the Elgin Marbles ended up in the British Museum allows for a fuller understanding of the journey behind the art works, their political and cultural imprint, which is part of their story.

On the other hand, walking through the forest of columns at Karnak, or standing before the Colossi at Memnon in Egypt, one is irremediably drawn to the religious significance of these monuments: portrayals of the power of the sun, giver of life and light. A little understanding of obelisks will have you know that they were intended to always be grouped in pairs, standing on either side of the entrance to a temple. So the fact that the famous Luxor Obelisk stands alone while her sister is at the Place de la Concorde in Paris is not just an aesthetic incongruity, not a mere act of material theft, but a disruption of a sacred symbolic placement, thousands of years old. Indeed, by uprooting works of art from their original contexts and displaying them for decorative purposes, the metaphysics of an ancient belief system are destroyed. In fact, most of the obelisks one sees in their natural setting in Egypt today stand asymmetrically alone on one side of a temple entrance, leaving a gaping wound open on the other side, where the twin was literally uprooted and shipped to an English, Italian, French or even American city.

If one is to enjoy the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, it is equally necessary to travel to Athens to look upon the empty spaces at the Acropolis from where they were amputated. This is how we can fully connect the historical journey behind them.

What are the implications for all of this on education? Quite simply to give our students the historical depth of understanding to appreciate art fully so that they might have not only a critical perspective but a richer reckoning of the original purpose of art. Seeing a work as “beautiful” or well composed” is an incomplete analysis since there is almost always a strong sociopolitical context to understand in order to fully contemplate the work, feel its character and presence, its identity. 

Whereas art and humanities teachers should always look to embellish students’ knowledge of the historical context of the works they are studying, mathematics and science teachers should do the same, explaining to students that while we might look at arithmetic in a functional, pragmatic sense today, for the Ancients, numbers were sacred symbols with magical, transformational  power. Having some inkling of the Egyptian and Babylonian origins of mathematics helps us appreciate how ancient mathematicians such as Pythagoras and his lineage of Chaldeans  were numerologists, attributing sacred properties to numbers such as 9 or Pi. And why is this important? Because it reinforces the mysterious allure of mathematical elegance, its abstract, magnetic power and, therefore, the central role it has always played alongside philosophy and religion in several cultures as a key to a deeper meaning and series of hidden truths. For the Ancients, maths was not invented, it was discovered.

So the next time you’re in an art museum, or viewing an artwork in its original context, or you’re in a teaching moment where you have the privilege to sensitise your students to great works of art, like those of Frida Kahlo, Katsushika Hokusai or Jacopo Tintoretto, or should you be teaching any other construct for that matter, be sure to expand upon the context and history as much as the plastic composition, for therein lies a story worth telling.

Psychological Safety and Education

In the 1950s, the educational psychologist Carl Rogers coined the term psychological safety. By this, he meant an environment in which people can explore their creative potential, take risks, not be afraid of failure, express themselves freely and essentially feel secure in that safe space that allows them to be themselves.

The concept might go back to the 1950s, but we still need to be reminded of it today.

For decades educational systems have been built on the wrong ideas: premised on shouting at children, threatening them, hitting and humiliating them while creating a stifling, stern atmosphere wrought with fear and power hierarchy. Unfortunately this Victorian model is still in force in some institutions, practices and households today.

What this type of behaviour does is it pushes students into their reptilian brains, shredding any sense of confidence in them and, ultimately, as it models symbolic and physical violence, it reproduces this in students who will not know any better than to copy the unpleasant behaviour they have been subjected to and exact it on others.

A good school looks at students in the exact opposite way: we are here to make sure that the classroom is a place where you want to be,where your self belief is built up every day by acts of validation, kindness, recognition, gift spotting and encouragement.

Unfortunately, some of the remnants of the Victorian past still make their way into what might look like enlightened classrooms through seemingly innocuous but potentially damaging throw away comments, sarcasm, damning reports and, quite simply, an inability to be generous enough to see someone’s potential and to say it. Giving a student a bad grade can be enormously hurtful to their inner core, and it should be scaffolded carefully and sensitively, not done with a sense of impatience or superciliousness. 

When students are starved of the feedback they need to garner that quantum of confidence to grow out of their shells, it can be demeaning or worse. This is all the more so since children need the validation of their teachers, in many ways it counts for more than that which comes from families and friends because it is institutional and less tinged by favouritism: it’s the first exposure to the outside world and whether that place will be friendly or hostile.

If we really want creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal sensitivity, multi literateness and human flourishing, then we have to keep reminding ourselves of the idea of psychological safety and should not be misguided into thinking that harshness, coldness, negative feedback and emotional cruelty bring out the best in students.

Some people, already down a track of mastery, already confident and thirsty to go from good to great, might actually seek out this type of “tough love”, the clichéd draconian sports coach type of relationship with their teacher, but these are exceptions and should be understood as such.

Finally, psychological safety, like so many  socio-psychological concepts, is not only educational, it speaks to the professional world too. We all know how tough it is to have a supervisor who never lifts you up, loses their temper, shuts you down and tries to make you afraid: they are lost in the same Victorian illusion and are not bringing out your creative potential. 

You might not be able to change that, but you can control the way you deal with your supervisees, so create a space for them to flourish and give your people what they need to thrive: a feeling that with you, they are safe, they can grow, they can fly. 

 (photograph: Ali Kazal)

The Springbok Rugby Team: Three Educational Lessons

“Rugby is a hooligans sport played by gentleman” the saying goes (as opposed to football, which is the opposite). Hyperbole aside, there is something remarkable about the camaraderie one finds between rugby fans: there are never crowd incidents and a deontological code of respect transcends not only the discipline players have in accepting the referees’ decisions, but the whole culture of rugby, which, despite the surface violence of the game itself, is built on peace and friendship.

This year’s rugby World Cup saw South Africa win for the fourth time in a nail-biting final against the mythic All Blacks. In following the team, three concepts came to mind which can help us in our reflections about the potential effect of an education:

  1. Unity

There was nothing individualistic about the squad. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the team was that the “bench” (the substitutes) was essentially as important as the starting players. The coach’s strategy was to use the substitutes strategically rather than merely to replace tired players. When interviewed on the victory, the charismatic captain Siya Kholosi spoke of a fleet of birds flying in a V formation – when one drops out, another automatically takes the position that has been left vacant. Assessments, projects, and general learning environments that draw on the collective and understand that learning is a social, team effort are more successful than cultures built on individualism. When students support each other, learning gains are stronger. 

  1. Relevance and purpose

The players kept coming back to the importance of this win for South Africa, a country that has been ravaged by iniquity and violence but at the same time in which there is an extraordinary human spirit. During the apartheid years, rugby was an entirely white sport but over the years it has come to be more multiracial and today the whole nation celebrates the Springboks’ victory. The players were clearly motivated by a higher purpose – the lift that this would give people at home – and this brought out the best in them. Our curricula must be relevant to the needs of society and the planet, not dry intellectual abstractions. This is all the more important in a world where climate change, political upheaval and globalisation are particularly virulent sources of change and impact. Curriculum relevance is about serving students with an education that makes sense to them and equips them for social realities.

  1. Self-belief

The Springboks beat France, England and New Zealand in the Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals by one point in each match! Every single detail mattered and on each occasion it came down to the accuracy of a kick, the precision of a tackle on the try line or the discipline of a scrum. To win like that, down to the wire with your back against the wall, takes not only courage but a razor sharp mentality that will not waver from a belief that victory is inevitable. We teach our students subjects, skills and dispositions. Self-belief, confidence, mindset are vital and should feature strongly in curriculum design and the hidden curriculum. Our students are entering a fairly daunting world where there will be no shortage of challenges, and they will be successful if equipped with that deep-seated belief that they are capable of something exceptional. This is an educational value that comes down to parenting as much as teaching.

In a world divided by war, let the beauty of sports continue to inspire us to work together as a team and, at the end of the day, to come together as friends. There is tremendous value in sports as I’ve written before, and the exhilarating Springboks reminded us of the power that it has to lift the spirits of millions of people. 

How might international schools position themselves in times of armed conflict?

For those of us who have the privilege to live away from the shadow of terrible human suffering that we see in the world, what position should we take when it comes to armed conflicts?

This is not a simple question, and one that many would probably rather avoid altogether, but we cannot because the reality that is around us engulfs the minds and experiences of our communities and students, either directly or vicariously through social media.

International Schools, in general, are beholden by a set of values around peaceful cooperation, critical thinking and social custodianship. In times of armed conflict, these four core principles might help you navigate your way:

  1. An international school is a place of learning and not a political organisation or national government – while all those working in international schools should deplore all forms of conflict, especially those that contravene international law, the purpose of an international school is not to publicly condemn nation states or governments, individuals or groups, nor is it to encourage our students to take sides, it is always to stand on the side of peace. While individuals might have their own positions, the school represents several nationalities and does not pick and choose a position that the whole organisation is expected to stand by.
  1. In times of extreme emotional turmoil, such as that which armed conflict creates, as educators we must not forget the vital importance of remaining focussed on being critical thinkers, not swayed by any form of propaganda and not assuming, most especially in the middle of such conflict, that information is unbiased or depoliticised, complete or not charged with complex details of context. Therefore, encouraging listening, learning, reflection, questioning and suspending judgement should be centred. 
  1. Students, parents and staff may be traumatised by events and schools will clearly therefore do what they can to be supportive, allowing members of the community who are affected to feel safe and using pastoral and human resources teams to give care and moral support to the community. 
  1. Armed conflict leads to several forms of real but also symbolic violence and we must be attentive to the dangers of overgeneralisation, prejudice, stereotyping and in-grouping or out-grouping that occur. Staff should be attentive to this and ensure that no one in their school community is ostracised because of the country they come from, their religion, culture or political orientation.

The bottom line is that international schools, and perhaps all schools for that matter, should never allow the armed conflict of the outside world to enter the classroom. 

Four principles, therefore, in these terrible and difficult times:

  • Stand on the side of peace
  • Think independently and critically
  • Love and care
  • Be wary of prejudice

An education for human rights: working from the ground up 

Tracing back the origins of some sort of declaration of human rights is not that simple. Some situate it at least 2600 years ago in the Akkadian Cyrus Cylinder, declaring racial equality, others the Edicts of Ashoka in the 2500 BCE Maurya Empire, which sets out a deontological code. The late 1700s French  Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen, outlining principles of unalienable natural rights and sovereignty paved the way for other Enlightenment statements such as the soaring American Declaration of Independence and, later, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter is a powerful set of normative statements that should be a reference in every school and organisation. 

Behind the actual writing of these remarkable historic statements are people, and it is commonly known that the driving force behind the Declaration of Human Rights was the chair of the Human Rights Commission at the time, the visionary and deeply ethical  Eleanor Rooseveld, a truly wonderful and inspiring woman. It was her unflagging passion and dedication to the project that marked those around her and in a way it’s not surprising, writing something as significant as a declaration of human rights for all of humanity is enough to make someone give their everything! That is a key for reflection.

The problem with these normative statements is that once  they have been drawn up, they remain at the lofty level of the deontological code, a type of 10 commandments that look down on us from a higher place. One might gaze at the words and statements in awe and even be asked to abide by them, but since they were written by someone else, the fundamental pedagogical act of integrating and owning information by shaping it oneself which creates great productive energy, cannot be harnessed. The statements are somehow inert, pre-baked, off the shelf.

And history has shown us that there is a difference between saying something and doing it. The Cyrus Cylinder declares forward-looking tolerance but Cyrus was no angel, and the French Rights of Man, like so many other Enlightenment ethical treatises, applies to some and not others, most especially those who bore the yoke of European slavery and expansion across much of the planet at the time. Where were their rights?

Perhaps committing to a series of statements as a community is a way of consolidating not only what we think is important, but of galvanising us to live actively by those statements: precisely because they are our own.

This is why at our school, we decided to embark on a collaborative project whereby staff and students would brainstorm the types of behaviours that we wish to see in ourselves and others, to then vote for the statements that emerged and to use these statements as our guidelines. It does not mean that these supersede other moral imperatives, but it does mean that these statements were created by the community creatively and collaboratively, and that there’s some ownership involved.

The statements themselves are quite concrete and simple, and perhaps in that tangible simplicity there is a power that one loses in abstract, general and universalist claims: it’s a call to action and an invitation to live out human rights (and, of course, responsibilities!) every day!

In fact, one of the precepts of The United Nations Office of Human Rights, who are working with the International School of Geneva on a Global Citizenship Education course, is to bring human rights down to earth, into the corridors of the school, into each classroom, the playground and workspace. It is in these spaces where simple decisions lay out the type of respect we truly show for one another.

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend a bottom-up approach to some normative moral statements by your community and for your community, much the way  teachers would agree on norms with students at the beginning of a school year.  It engages the community and shows us what’s important to us here and now, in this precious moment we share together alive on planet earth.  

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Special places, special times, special people… Books can show you these and help you to understand things better than anything else. These wonderful books do just that. Use them for quiet reading or for classroom discussions.

The Little Green Envelope

The Little Green Envelope, written by Gillian Sze and illustrated by Claudine Crangle, is a wonderful story about a friend who moves far away. But if Olive can’t visit her friend, she can at least write a letter. Lost in a drawer, is a little green envelope which has also been dreaming of traveling. It feels very special indeed when Olive selects it to send her card to her friend. The journey of the little green envelope is full of excitement. It’s even fun to read all of the other envelopes shown in the art. This book is perfect to use in an international school with its theme of friendship, moving and travel. It can easily be paired with teaching activities using maps and writing to family and friends far away, or by corresponding with pen pals. The book includes instructions on how to make your own envelope. ISBN 978-1-77306-681-3, Groundwood Books

Chinese New Year by Jen Sookfong Lee is a useful, uncluttered information book about all things Chinese New Year. How did the holiday evolve? Why is Chinese New Year based on the lunar calendar and what do the Zodiac animals mean? The author, who grew up with the traditions, explores customs, food, decorations and much more. This book is part of Orca Origins series, together with similar volumes covering Diwali, Christmas, Ramadan and more. ISBN 978-1-4598-1126-3, Orca Book Publishers

Nutshimit: In the Woods

Nutshimit, In The Woods by Melissa Mollen Dupuis, illustrated by Elise Gravel is an intimate talk about nature by an Innu member, the First Nations people of northern Quebec and Labrador. Melissa explains how she learned from her ancestors about nature and invites the reader along as she relates creation stories and introduces trees and animals. She talks about the medicinal values of plants and how to use bark. Throughout the story shines a respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all living creatures. The story flows naturally from trees to animals, through the seasons, to natural uses of plants and berries, to recipes for maple syrup and much more. Throughout the text Innu words are used and a glossary in the back helps explain the words.  ISBN 978-1-0397-0180-9, North Winds Press, Scholastic

Peaceful Me

Peaceful Me, by Sandra V. Feder and Rahele Jomepour Bell is a close look at moods and feelings and what might influence them. A book for the very young, this can help children to identify how they feel and what might help a person to feel peaceful. Finding a seashell, collecting favourite things, having fun with a friend or finding a spot to be quiet – all these things can help to feel peaceful. ISBN 978-1-77306-341-6, Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children on Canada’s West Coast. She conducts author presentations in schools around the world.

www.margrietruurs.com

www.globetrottingbooklovers.com

Learning From Giants

Learning From Giants

I’ve had four very successful international school headships over the past two decades.  I’m fortunate to be able to say I hold the longest serving tenure as a school head at two of those schools, while I provided successful leadership during political, economic, and labor crises, a sexual abuse crisis, a natural disaster, and a school start up situation at the other two schools, not to mention the varied challenges of the past couple of years around the world and in Myanmar in particular.  There are a number of factors I can point to that have contributed to this success.  I’ve had some incredible colleagues who have shared the same vision for education that have worked with me at different schools, I’ve had the opportunity to support some amazing teachers who have been adaptable and flexible in providing incredible learning opportunities in the classroom, and, of course, at international schools we work with a student and parent population that is committed and motivated to be successful.  However, the one thing that stands out for me above all else is the respect I hold for those giants who came before me as international school heads and the lessons their experience and knowledge provide.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to get to know a very successful head of school, someone who had gone into a school that had a troubling history of rotating through heads every couple of years.  Yet this head went to this school and survived for a number of years.  At about his fifth year I connected with him and had an opportunity to chat with him.  I asked him why he felt he had been successful when so many others had not.  He said to me, “Greg, I never forget who I work for.”  This was an interesting comment.  As a head of school, we have many constituencies – students, faculty, staff, parents.  Yet, there is one group our contracts clearly state we are responsible to – the board or ownership of the school.  This comment really helped to instill in me the importance of working with the Board or ownership of the school that employs me to make sure we have an understanding of each other and are pursuing a similar vision for the school.  I once commented that I see my most important role in a school is working with the Board / ownership to maintain that focus and ensure I am in sync with those I work for.  If I can do that, everything else can fall into place and the whole school can focus on learning and a conducive climate for students.  

Similarly, about this point in time I ran into another head of school who had recently left a school he had been head of for over a decade.  I remember that his departure was a shock to many in the international school community as his name had become synonymous with the school he led.  I asked him a similar question, inquiring what had led to his departure.  His response was very thoughtful as he explained he had become overly confident in his position and had come to believe the school couldn’t survive without him.  One day he was in a board meeting where the Board was making a decision different from what he recommended.  He told them that if they made that decision he would resign from the school.  He really expected them to back down, but instead they called his bluff and accepted his resignation.  In explaining this to me he said there were many times during his career he was tempted to resign on principle, but this was not one of them.  He indicated he regretted his actions.

This second situation has really stuck with me over the years.  There have been many times that I have been worn out, torn in many directions, and felt completely exhausted by everything I am juggling and then had a board member / owner come along and throw a curveball in my direction that left me gasping and wanting to threaten to walk out the door.  In those situations I’ve stopped and thought about that head of school and the regret he felt.  I then ask myself if this current situation is the one I’m willing to sacrifice it all for?  When I think about everything we are doing for students, the learning taking place, the programs we’ve developed, is this the issue that I believe all of that needs to be given up for?  In two decades as a head of school the answer to those questions has only been “yes” one time.  And, that one time occurred only after having walked away from the situation and spent a full summer thinking about it.  Fortunately, after that amount of time, the board chair ended up agreeing with me and it worked out in the end.  This is an important lesson I learned from that head though, and it has guided me through many difficult challenges and decisions.

Back when I was teaching I had the opportunity to work for some very good school heads.  One in particular provided some guidance for me in my future career in school administration.  He was an extremely level headed individual who always appeared calm and composed.  I asked him about that one time, and he explained that when things were challenging he always grounded himself by remembering what it is about education that gets his juices flowing, in other words, why is he in education to begin with?  He told me that when he puts that question out there, and checks himself to make sure he is remaining true to that purpose, then he can be comfortable with the decisions he is making.  This is another one of those axioms that has guided me through some incredibly difficult times.

Another time I went to this same head of school and told him about some rumors I had heard about the school at a recent social event I had attended.  He explained to me he believed there was nothing wrong with a rumor.  Talking about things is how people process new information, changes, or things they question.  He told me that until an issue actually shows up at your door, it is simply a rumor and needs to be left alone.  Besides, he once said, sometimes silence is one of the most effective tools we have.

When I decided to make the jump into administration, I received a lot of guidance as I sought that first job.  My natural tendency was to apply for everything I saw, assuming I could adapt myself to any role.  Instead, I was encouraged to think about my skill set and to really question schools about their needs to determine if it was a match for my me.  I was told that nothing cuts a career shorter than a head in a position that isn’t a match for them.  For example, I have a few skills that I believe I’m really good at.  One time I interviewed for a really top notch school.  However, with a clear sense of my skill set I quickly realized the school and I were not a match and I pulled out of the running.  That’s another thing I think we sometimes forget.  The interview process needs to go both ways.  Just as the school wants to make sure they are getting the best match for the school, we need to make sure we are checking out the school to make sure it is the best match for us.

Another thing I’ve learned along the way, but can’t remember who from, is the idea that schools go through cycles.  At different times in the life cycle of a school it needs different leadership with different skill sets.  As a school head, it is important to recognize when our skill set is a match for a school, but just as importantly, is to recognize when our skill set no longer fits a school.  It is always better to realize that and make our own decision to seek something new with glowing references than to overstay our welcome and have to leave at an undesirable time.

I sat in a workshop at a conference one time and listened to a presenter I had a lot of respect for talk about the idea of having the right people on the bus.  There is a lot to be said for that concept, while right along with it is making sure that within that group of people we have people who can do the things we can’t.  I once sat in an interview for a headship where I talked about the things I saw that needed to be addressed during the period of my interview visit.  One of the board members commented, “that’s a pretty big list, how can you have the skills and knowledge to do all of that?”  I responded that I don’t, but I have the skills and knowledge to hire the people who can, and then provide the oversight to get it done.  I ended up getting that job.  Several years later, when that board member was leaving the school, she reminded me of that statement and commented that she could now clearly see that this was a skill that had contributed to me being successful as head of that school.

Finally, as I prepared for my first headship I spoke to a consultant who has long been a mentor to me.  He told me that my spouse should rightfully always be my best friend, but that close behind should be my board chair.  That is probably one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  I’ve been very fortunate to have had some amazing board chairs.  Every single one has become a good friend.  During times of crisis, I have found myself having daily conversations with them, seeking advice, talking over options.  At other times we check in with each other, they help me to frame and reframe the issues, and I keep them apprised of the things I am doing.  I believe the board / ownership should never be surprised or caught off guard by anything.  This is doubly important with the chair / owner, and in this way they are best able to support me and the school.

I once read that being the head of a school is one of the most challenging positions that exists as there are so many constituents who need to be looked after.  One head I know once stated that on any given evening a head of school can rest assured there is some dinner table in their community where their name is being mentioned as a part of the dinner conversation.  Thinking about this makes the job seem incredibly daunting.  However, there are many giants who have led schools successfully before us.  I believe that by listening to them, observing them, and learning from them, we all have the ability to improve the odds of our own success. 

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Translanguaging in Practice: Part A

Patrice Thompson, 2022

Patrice Thompson joins Paul in the first of a series of three blogs on the real world implementation of a mindset and practice. Paul and Patrice met as instructor and student at Moreland University. During the 2022-2023 school year, Patrice, fourth grade homeroom teacher and team lead at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China, is putting her MEd thesis into practice.

The Plan

This school year we will integrate translanguaging as a regular teaching practice in the SIS upper primary pedagogy culture.

The plan is divided into two halves. In the first half of the year, we will pilot the use of translanguaging in the fourth grade program through goal setting, collecting student data, and mindful integration of multilingual practices into daily lessons. After winter break, we will take the insights gained by the fourth grade team and share it during team leadership meetings in order to promote translanguaging throughout the school culture.

The school leadership knows about these plans and the head of school, principal, and vice principal of upper primary are all on board. It is crucial to have their support and to inform them of progress along the way. They know that translanguaging not only aligns with the school’s values and language policy, it is also now an official part of the International Baccalaureate’s PYP programme. As a newly minted PYP school within the last few years, making translanguaging a part of the learning culture will help Shekou International School grow in its intended direction. 

Key to our success will be demonstrating the value of and providing support for translanguaging in the various programs across the school. After coordinating with the school principal, we agreed to bring the student support team on board to plan school-wide professional development over several sessions this school year. Our first session will be on October 20. The Chinese Bilingual Program and the French International Program are also on board. We will be informing parents through a future workshop or two. Translanguaging will also be added to the agenda of the DEIJ committee. Grade 4 as a team has agreed to focus on translanguaging as an important part of our team goal for the year, and a 5-minute segment of our precious weekly meeting time has been dedicated to it. 

To keep tabs on how we are doing, we will gather student and teacher survey data, three times this semester, regarding the growing “translanguaging mindset.” Once a week we’ll also interview students about their feelings toward other languages. Finally, with the other multilingual speakers in the school, we’ll hopefully be able to create and model a multilingual habitus to encourage students to feel excited about hearing other languages, including Chinese and English, of course, but also Spanish and Afrikaans.

Anticipated Challenges

We are aware that anything new, especially adding a practice that represents a shift in the established school culture, will be difficult. There are a few hurdles we think we can predict and therefore plan for. We’re also aware that we might run across some unanticipated challenges! We’ll report on any of those in the second and third blogs of this series.

At the moment, we are ready to tackle these possible challenges. To start, this is a newer approach to teaching multilingual students. We imagine that we’ll have to be quite intentional in reminding teachers and students about the option of home language integration. Additionally, while teacher attitudes in the fourth grade program appear to be inclusive and enthusiastic about translanguaging, it would be natural to encounter some pushback and lack of follow-through from teachers in the rest of the school. Everyone is busy, of course, and schools tend to start new initiatives rather frequently. That’s why gathering data to show the usefulness of translanguaging will be so important in the first semester. 

Students will likely not be used to doing research or using academic language in their home language. And of course, as the head of school pointed out, parents more often than not expect their children to focus solely on English at school (even if translanguaging is pedagogically a great support for English learning). We emphasized the benefits and data to support home languages with parents in a recent meeting. Finally, fourth grade is an important year in which students are doing more independent research. Finding multilingual resources for an array of topics can be quite challenging. Hopefully, our supportive parent community can help out with this.

Hopes for outcomes

First and most important, the students need to benefit from this initiative on a personal level. We hope that, through the mindful use of their home language, students will feel that their home language and culture is valued by their teacher and community. Additionally, to build a better world for young and old, we hope for increased international mindedness and inclusion throughout the school.

Snow Day

In 2018 I stood next to a man at a bus stop in Singapore. He was wearing a tee shirt that read, “There’s no day like a snow day.” I laughed so hard I had to take a picture (to which he obliged). I asked him if he had any idea what it meant, and of course didn’t. My explanations didn’t help much. It’s a location thing.

In 2009, in my first year on the job as the Principal of a Swiss boarding school nestled on the side of a ski mountain, I relished the first opportunity I had to invoke my executive privilege of calling a ‘snow day,’ which was a spontaneous act of sheer joy proclaimed twice a winter after a particularly heavy evening of powder and an opportunity for the entire school to skip classes and hit the slopes.

In stormy New England in the 1980s as a student and later as a teacher in the 1990s, my eyes would be glued to the television as the names of school districts scrolled in alphabetical order like the returns from a close Mayoral race. Mine was the only one with the letter “Q” so you had to pay close attention right when the “P’s” started:

Plymouth. Pocasset. Popponesset. Provincetown.

And there it would appear, like the golden ticket. Quincy. I’d leap from my chair (even as an adult), screaming at the top of my lungs the tribal, primal scream that had been passed down through the generations.

Snooooow Daaaaayyyyy! SNOOOWWWWW DAYYYYYYYY! I’d jump and down, waking everyone in the house, throwing whatever I could grab up in the air, fist pumping like Kirk Gibson after his famous home run, wild eyed with crazed euphoria.

It was a feeling like none other followed by a sumptuous day of unstructured fun, calling friends for sledding, and forgetting about everything I was supposed to be thinking about for just. one. day.

In 2020, December 3 to be exact, my daughter and I stood at the window of our house in Zagreb, Croatia watching the first flakes of the first snow since who knew when since we stopped keeping track of time in the pandemic and had resorted to the ancient rituals of watching seasons pass and sunrise changes. I put my arm around her and said,

“Hey, on a day like this, we’d probably be calling a snow day.” Like the man at the bus stop in Singapore, she looked bewildered as I explained. When I told her that it was one of the few times of the school year when a feeling of pure euphoria and joy overwhelmed us, she looked up and said, “I could use some of that now.”

And then I paused and had an evil thought. The pandemic had brought with it the end of snow days. I did the quick calculus. Computers. Virtual Learning. Zoom. It was over. OVER! There were no longer any reasons, excuses, or euphoric celebrations. They were a thing of the past. It wasn’t SNOWWW DAYYYY!!! It was, “Due to the inclement weather, we’ll be transitioning to a virtual day. Homeroom starts in 15 minutes. Please make sure you click on the link.”

I couldn’t accept that. I can’t accept that. This was as bad as saying we didn’t need books anymore. I had to do something about snow days, even if they were technically a thing of the past. I had to find a way to capture that spontaneous euphoria, that crazy joy when the routine was stopped, the unplanned was now possible, and we could all just run around and sip hot chocolate or ice tea, and roll around in the snow or surf and sip whatever beverage or comfort food was appropriate to the geography.

I had to find a way to pass onto this pandemic saddened generation that there really is and was NO day like a SNOW day.

I have to find a way.

TOp Ten Teacher Interview Questions for 2020

  1. Describe your dream house and where it would be, etc.
  2. What will be the reason you quit this job if you ever do?
  3. What do you need from our school in order for you to be a success?
  4. What would you be doing if you were not a teacher?
  5. Paint a picture for me of a student-centered environment without using the word student or centered.
  6. What do the best virtual teachers do to ensure their students are learning?
  7. If you could redesign one thing about schools, what would it be?
  8. What question haven’t I asked that you would like to answer?
  9. How do you think culture impacts learning and what have you done about that in your career?
  10. What famous person would you like to have a coffee with and what would be your first question?