Tag Archives: international schools

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?

Gigworker

Croatians are apparently the tallest people in the world next to the Dutch, or something like that. So, when an Uber driver picked me up with his feet wrapped around the steering wheel of a VW Up! like it was a toy, I wasn’t shocked. What caught my attention was that he was also a pro basketball player. “Gotta stay diversified,” he laughed. “I broke my ankle last season and the insurance runs out fast. I know I’m never going to the NBA and only the top leagues in Europe pay and only then if you start. I’m in a crappy league and I just lost my starting job when I came back from the ankle. So, here I am in the offseason. I also work in my cousin’s café on Split in the summers.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s a lot of jobs.”

“It’s the Croatian way.” he said. “We all have a lot of, what do you say, gigs? ” I laughed. “Yeah, that’s what we call them, I guess.” I only had one gig. His comment started to make me feel insecure.

When I first heard the expression on the podcast “Pivot” (with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway), I mistakenly thought it referred to something hip like “gigabytes” or people working as digital nomads.

After a quick Google, it presented as less inspiring than that. I know that the idea of having gigs has been around a long time. Bartenders and waiters, seasonal workers, consultants, etc. But the idea of a Gig Economy as a bigger thing is gaining momentum as companies become less institutional in terms of places that people go for a job and more organic in terms of their reach and how and where they operate.

We’ve all heard the stories of the largest hotel company not owning any hotels and the taxi company without taxis. It’s astonishing, for example, that the same place you can buy suitcases and a Peloton (Amazon) is also a company that has the largest government cloud storage contract on the planet. So, everyone is diversifying. We can thank technology, the uncertainty of pandemic, competition.

What it makes me think about is the unspoken rules that we teach at school that hard work gets you immediate feedback that then leads to a clear path for success that then leads you to a future of predictability and promise. Does that contradict the Gig Economy? Who knew that hard work wouldn’t be rewarded or that I’d have to work four jobs?

It’s a bit dangerous, it seems, to have Gen Xers like myself trying to educate the Gen Ys and Zs. When I first got into teaching, my colleagues were products of the 1950s and 60s and literally had no idea how to operate a computer. I grew up in the information age. Talk about irrelevance. But now the problem of connection isn’t one based on computing, but community and what that looks like.

It feels like it’s our responsibility to provide some constants in a Gig Economy, but that doesn’t mean retreating to the basics that this pandemic lures us into doing. We can be forward thinking but grounded in the ability to methodically prepare, to resist instant gratification, and to be a good partner. What scares me about the Gig worker mentality is in spite of the freedom and creativity it portends to, also leaves people fending for themselves, which seems dangerous. I believe that schools are one of the last institutions that are the calm in the storm. In spite of their intransigence, they are the constants, the communities that we depend on, and most importantly, a non-judgemental harbinger of hope in humanity.

I don’t want to educate IB students that end up disillusioned, driving Ubers with their diploma hanging on the rearview. I also don’t want to make everything uncertain so that the foundation dissolves beneath their feet. But if we are going to continue to tilt towards a gig economy, then we have to resist the compromise of self reliance and realize that we run a lot further together than we can accomplish sprinting by ourselves.

2018

Photo JM
Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland.

As the first days of 2018 arrive, any reflections on last year seem to contain an uncomfortable rawness because of the events continuously populating our devices – the immediacy, brutality and complexity of a world fueled by- FakeNews?”, each one of us trying to construct a context in the “Filter Bubble” choreographed by algorithms from which we build a sense of the world we live in.

As International School educators, we straddle between the walled garden of “school” and the outside “world”. The reality is that we are surrounded by constant change and ambiguity. But there is a gap between the accelerated rate of change and our capacity to adapt to it. For some, the gap is wide. For others, the gap stays the same, and for a few, the gap is narrowing. How we interpret and engage with the gap and our own capacity to keep up influences many of our feelings and emotions. These in turn fuel the perceptions, opinions and behaviors with which we express ourselves.

International Schools have to juggle the fine line between ensuring students and parents are pleased and ensuring that they feel safe, challenged and cared for. In the unique world of International Schools, a percentage of parents come from a comfortable socio- economic environment. Often times, their education is a contributing factor to their current positions. This education provided the opportunities for their successes and their economic prosperity. Living with this becomes a strong marker in what International School parents believe their children should get from an education and an International School. This pedagogic reference point in many cases 25+ years old. The world was a very very different place then. However we try as schools to innovate, change and adapt, we do this with a level of caution and reservation. At the end of the day, the invisible mandate between parents and international schools, is “provide my child with stability, continuity, what I remember from my school days and more certainty then I have in my life today“.

As educators, we fall into a similar narrative. We have a desire for of stability, continuity, and more certainty than in the outside world we interact with. We do innovate and change in our schools, but the presence of the invisible mandate between our parents and schools influences the level by which we break the status quo.

Photo JM
St. Cergue Switzerland

Today the level of stability, continuity, and certainty that we were once used to has eroded. Uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are an unavoidable part of the day. The complexity of this change permeates into everyone’s lives, and often not by choice.

2018, is an opportunity to embrace the world’s uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility, not as something eroding our past and challenging our present, but as an opportunity to re-frame the possibilities in front of us as a unique and rich learning journey. We have a responsibility to take this on in our roles as mentors, facilitators and educators. We bring a wisdom, resilience and care that has served us well and can continue to serve us today. Many of our students will one day be International School parents or educators who look back at their education as a point of reference for their own success. The measures will be different. We live in a world where uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are part of our lives. We should not depend on reference points from our past to give us stability, continuity and certainty. The gap for many will still get bigger and more uncomfortable. But hopefully, in 2018, we can work to bridge that gap as well.

John Mikton @beyonddigital.org

I’m Not In Love…Your Job Search Survival Guide

This is a difficult and glorious time of year. And I’m not talking about going home and dealing with the family you haven’t seen since summer or gift shopping in Dhaka. I’m talking about those of you looking for work in the next phase of your international adventure.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. Especially as the number of the schools in the world grows exponentially and the education landscape is more complex than ever and schools are grabbing people up like Halloween candy.

Take a breath. A deep breath.

First of all, enjoy the holiday. I know many of you are making a quick holiday exit to one of the January fairs, but take some time away from that email and focus on the most important reasons you are living the life you lead besides job searching. The hunt goes on well into March and even April. (And that doesn’t include hiring in North America or other parts of the world).

So, here’s my survival guide for you staff and teachers and even administrators looking for that next post. I’ve had lots of experience on both sides of the proverbial table and have learned truly what it feels like.

So, here goes…

1) Be clear about who you are and what makes you special as a teacher. In other words, stand for something. This seems a bit odd for #1, but I read a LOT of CVs that seem to say the same thing over and over. Accentuate something that you’re really good at and passionate about and drive it home.

2) Stop job jumping. I know there’s not a lot you can do about that now, but I (and many Heads) skip right past the 2,2,3,2,2, years at posts. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be at a place that you feel is a big mismatch, but you only get one, two max on that one. Otherwise, you really need to come up with a better plan to stick around at a school or have a very clear reason why you are moving on. It’s okay if it didn’t work out but you need to differentiate yourself from the teacher tourists. And if you are a teacher tourist, you are at the end of the line!

3) Personalize your experience by telling a STORY. Don’t just talk in generalities about your skills. And be honest in that story, about your mistakes, your setbacks, your ability to overcome, your generosity of spirit, the who you are and how you handled it. Recruiters love that.

4) Do NOT interview or apply to a place that you cannot envision yourself at for FOUR YEARS minimum. That’s right. Four years. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to the kids that deserve the BEST teachers in the world. If in your heart you cannot imagine yourself at the school for a minimum of four years, then find a way to get out of the process. It’s better for everyone.

5) ALWAYS include your Head of School or Principal as a reference. I know it’s hard sometimes, but we recruiters get really suspicious when your only line managers are department heads and coordinators. That sends off a red flag and we call the Head anyway. Yes, we know that there are some mean directors and principals out there, but the reality is that you need to get on good enough terms to put them down on your list.

6) At LEAST read the mission statement of the school and tailor your candidacy towards what you believe the school stands for. I know that a lot of the statements are the same, but you need to familiarize yourself as best possible with how the school presents itself and how you put yourself towards it as a match.

7) Don’t fall in love. Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with a school. If you REALLY want a job, act as though you don’t, or at least that you have other options. Keep calm, present yourself in a light that is balanced and enthusiastic, but not desperate. In other words, SKIP the recruiter/candidate mixer. I’ve seen too many people embarrass themselves at these awkward events and you need to keep yourself together.

That’s all. Best of luck. Stay focused. Remember that if you are good, you’ll definitely get a job. And ALWAYS remember that everything you do is about making the world a better place for future generations, not so you can go mountain biking or skiing.

Best of luck, and here’s one of my favorites to keep you balanced in the search…

Everyone’s Going To College.

The Stanford University Class of 2019 was selected from 42,487 candidates, the largest applicant pool in Stanford’s history. The 2,144 admitted students come from 50 states and 77 countries.

That’s about a 5% acceptance rate. FIVE PERCENT. The world is getting smaller, not bigger, and they’re not building any more Ivys. (I know Stanford’s not an Ivy, bear with me). College acceptance, like the NBA and professional soccer, is a global competition.

Here’s the good news: EVERYONE IS GOING TO COLLEGE.

It’s that time of year, the one filled with joy, dread, exultation, and despair. There’s so much, too much placed on that thin (or thick) envelope. The stakes are way too high, and yet everyone seems to turn out fine.

The colleges have seen everything we can throw at them. The kids who’ve written books, saved remote villages from the tsetse fly, and played violin at the Met. Been there, done that. Times a thousand. Make it 43,000 for kicks.

So, what are you going to do about it international schools? Continue to promise that you’re going to squeeze students into the 5%? Produce students who get 50’s on the IB and 10’s on the A.P. because, well, we can?

What will those young people look like? Do we want to know? Is that the path?

Everyone is going to college.

The college acceptance rate for international schools is on par with the best public and private schools on the planet. If we start with that premise, then we give ourselves permission to do what is necessary and right by our clients, yes, our clients.

We give ourselves permission to up our game by building with them a pathway to that inevitable experience not on “the classics” or the standard curriculum that we assure everyone as the way to get into the 5%, but on the unique, balanced, and creative experience of every person who comes to us for an education. After all, everyone’s going to college.

We give ourselves permission to redefine the “job” of the teacher, to challenge students to apply learning to their communities rather than a test, and to have the boldness to create people for whom college is an OPTION, not a life or death proposition.

Yes, this is difficult to talk about. It’s not a new conversation, just the one that comes to my head every Spring, when we think of the possibilities, reassure the discouraged, and smile at the reality that everyone, yes everyone, is going to college.

The Last American Holiday

IMG_6197

When Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, he did so at the height of the American Civil War by inviting fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving. It was a relatively simple proclamation designed to heal the wounds of a nation at war with itself.

Like many of my international colleagues, there are a million versions of how this event has been commemorated, from roasting ostrich to alligator (in a pinch) and everything in between, to hilarious translations of its meaning, the football watching, and the illogic connection to the shopping season. But in spite of the many impromptu interpretations (Thanksgiving fish, really?) the one thing that has always endured is that no commercialism, no travel, or culture can take away the simple act of sharing gratitude.

We got lucky this year.

Without turkeys, television, or turnip, my family and I went on a bike ride in a place really far from the coast of where our relatives live, and we found a way to capture the tradition of giving thanks that grounded us, as it does everyone who is ‘sojourning in foreign lands’ according to Mr. Lincoln.

And so we gave thanks,

To the Buddhist monk who paddled up to us in his canoe at sunrise, accepting our offerings as he said a prayer for peace.

To the man peeling a mountain of coconuts for pennies a day, to feed his family.

To the couple outside a temple who asked us where we were from and laughed with us as we took pictures of one another, each foreigners in a foreign place.

To our guide, who blessed us with his own stories of tradition, family and giving thanks.

To the driver who shared his watermelon.

To the schoolchildren (pictured above) who showed my own children what it means to want a better life, even without computers, swimming pools or climbing walls.

To the man who shared bread with us so that we could feed fish for good luck.

My culture’s taking a beating right now across the board, but this annual Thursday I’m hanging my hat on. So on that day in a far away place, the Thanksgiving fish was fresh, the hands we held were loved, and the gratitude of simple acts reminded us why we are in this international business of trying to make the world a little better.

God bless.

Celebrating Our Schools

   Recently my alma mater, my high school overseas, celebrated a milestone. 50 years as a school. The party was a good one by all accounts. There were people from everywhere; from long, long ago, together with current and more recent members of the community. It was a reunion and a celebration. While I wasn’t able to attend (I was visiting my new posting) a few things have popped out at me. Items I want to remember as a member of a current school hoping to make history:

Schools have changed, teaching and learning have changed, but it is still the enthusiasm and commitment of the people in the building that matters.

“We want to be a school that grows, a school that transforms and changes. We want our school to excel and prepare.”

We tend to talk about schools like they are alive. The personification of the place is natural but misses the point. It isn’t the school doing the heavy lifting; it is the people inside the buildings.

Business (of which education is a part) is beginning to value the effect the people have on the place. It isn’t new information. However when schools can pick from a plethora of initiatives aimed at an outcome, it is important to remember that there are people doing the work, in the moment. Those people, how they feel, what they think, why they do what they do matter long after the end of one unit, or year.

If a school were alive, it would be a grandparent to some children. Teachers’ kids. Our double connection to a school is important to us as human beings and can and should be celebrated.

My husband also attended ISKL, graduating with me in 1990. However, his parents worked for an oil company. Outside of school, his connections were often with families from his dad’s work. They have had reunions and celebrations of their own. For him, the school was a place where he went to have fun, be with friends and learn.

For me, the daughter of teachers, the school wasn’t a place, it was a second home. My sister and I, like other teacher kids, lived there. We were the first to arrive each morning and the last to leave many evenings. Over the summer, we worked at the school, helping our parents prepare their rooms or ready materials. As a group,  teachers’ kids are highly connected to the staff of the school. Not only were our teachers our teachers, they were also our friends, and in many ways, our family.

It didn’t surprise me to see that a great number of the people who made the trip back to the school for the reunion were teachers’ kids. Recognizing the longevity of that group is important to a schools’ history.

Looking back and celebrating where you have come from, and helping every member of the existing team feel connected to that history, makes transient people feel connected.

So why wait 50 years! Most schools have celebrations like this for big milestones, but with our turnover- every year should be put into a larger context.

People (again- mostly teacher kids) posted pictures from when they were there- in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond. The pictures reminded me how much it took for our parents (the teachers) to live away and abroad. Knowing how it was, gives us a sense of responsibilty to keep it moving forward.

Having an international school reach the 50-year mark is a celebration for all of us committed to teaching and learning overseas. It celebrates the work we do, the children and families we serve and the cross-cultural connections we have provided.

Here is to the next 50 years!

Stand Up

This morning I woke up with a song stuck in my head. You might know this classic from Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler: “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away, and know when to run…” The song is one I’ve thought about at times in my career when I’ve felt that the only smart play was to leave.

I think part of my planned exit strategy has to do with my life-long career in our international schools as a student and as an educator. Always living somewhere for a time and never forever meant leaving was part of the deal. Add to that the fact that most of the time I’ve leapt out and moved to a new place sight unseen, the luxury of leaving is something that allowed me to mentally go in the first place. While I wouldn’t walk at the first sign of trouble, what I am saying is that leaving a school, a country, a situation is often the only option available to those of us in schools overseas.

With that admitted mindset, you can imagine my shock when I learned last week, that my dear friend, who is a top-notch administrator at an international school in Asia, was fired for standing up rather than walking away.

While I’m proud of my friend and know her actions will make an impact on the school and situation, I am left wondering how we can make standing up, doing the right thing, and holding people accountable less traumatic. How do our schools protect, encourage and support those who speak out when in most cases we don’t have legal rights on our side? What happens when you are faced with professional malpractice, but you can’t talk about it, stand up to it, or fix it, without being fired?

To be honest, I have no experience with unions, lawyers or the like. Based on what I’ve heard from my colleagues in the United States, who are bogged down in different ways, these systems aren’t our answer either. However, when we are working in independent international schools and there are ethical issues at stake, where can a professional go for real help? How can our schools ensure that the people doing the work are able to do what is right, while protecting them when they come forward?

I consider our work with children to be one of the most important jobs out there. I think we all do. We know that the learning, socialization, and development which happens on our watch directly leads to “the future” for each student. We build people in our schools through our relationships and how we care for them and through our curriculum and what we teach them. How we behave as professionals and as communities is a model for what we believe and what we want our children to emulate.

When students come to me to talk about something happening on the playground, which isn’t “right” I’m proud of them for getting support rather than taking it into their own hands. I’ve spent time building a culture where students know they are supported and can come into the office for my assistance. I am the necessary oversight. I am tasked with ensuring students are safe to speak up and safe to learn.

Doing what is right is to me the basic tenant of being an administrator. To know that my dear friend probably knew that standing up would result in her firing is difficult to digest. What will happen in a month if the school she tried to be a model for is still in disarray? I’m left wondering, who will stand up then? In fact, who is standing up for my friend now?

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m a lifer. I’ve grown up in our schools and I hope to end my career here. What allows me to remain is my connectedness to this community. I believe we are serving students and families in ways that ultimately lead to global connections and a better world as so many of our children return to home countries and bring all that we’ve taught them. I’m proud to be an international educator.

That said I’m also ready for our institutions to improve. From better and more connected systems for vetting our professionals (remember this post?) to structures that protect or even encourage whistle-blowers in our schools, we have some work to do.

It’s time to get started.

It’s time we all stand-up.

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