Tag Archives: international schools

Building a Culture of Resiliency

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind. –Bruce Lee

Today is International Day at my school. It is a massive undertaking, involving over 1200 people. There are parents, students, and visitors enjoying a wide variety of food, entertainment, and information. The whole world is at our school today, and it is awesome.

Awesome and chaotic.

As happens when you run a day like this:

  • “Normal” is disrupted.
  • The schedule doesn’t run as planned.
  • Technology doesn’t work, or people aren’t where they are supposed to be.
  • Food runs out.
  • The weather isn’t cooperating.

That said, I feel sorry for the people among us today who are allowing the controlled chaos to overshadow the awesome.

Why? Because our International Day event is just like every other day, only on a larger scale: Things go well, and things go wrong. It’s life.

To be able to enjoy it, you have to be flexible. And resilient.

A few years ago, my husband heard Michael Thompson of Raising Cain speak about boy learners. He took away from that presentation a mantra, which has become our personal and professional goal as a family: Flexible resilience.

From other researchers and authors, we have also learned the importance of finding your “flow”, of having a “growth mindset”, getting “grit”, and to develop “perseverance”. There doesn’t seem to be much debate that what ultimately counts is how you handle (and how your mind views) the way the world works.

Leaping out from the individual and into the collective, though, you can quickly see why developing a culture of flexible resiliency is especially important for schools. Schools are often about order, routine, and predictability. We run tight ships, schedule almost everything and have clear starts and stops, beginnings and ends. When things don’t go as planned, it is in many of our teacher-natures to find it upsetting.

For our international schools, flexible resiliency is even more important. Besides the fact that many of us are living in unique (and sometimes challenging) places, we also have a diverse population which can cause confusion and miscommunication- even in the best of times.

It isn’t enough for us to ask our students or our parents to have growth mindsets or to go with the flow. Teachers and administrators have to adopt the same stance. It is flexible resiliency, which allows us to not just survive the changes that occur in our schools (building projects, enrollment/admission changes, teacher and administrative turnover) but to thrive, as a result.

As with most things, school leaders should not only expect flexible resiliency, but they must also build it. To help me do just that, here are some questions I’ve been considering and ideas I hope to implement.

  1. How can we recognize and celebrate flexibility in adults both within and outside of the building?
  2. I need to model a growth mindset when I am unsuccessful.
  3. How can I  provide opportunities for others to celebrate their “oops-es”.
  4. How might we imbed resiliency “training” into our social/emotional program for students.

Sustaining Excellence Over Time…

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People at my last job gave me feedback that I was too enthusiastic about sport, maybe even too “American” in that respect. Looking back, I think it was because it provided the clarity and focus on a goal that I needed in challenging times.

International schools have a real problem. They have high expectations and in many cases such high turnover that it is virtually impossible to reach the lofty goals of the mission statement. I have worked in such environments, and I can guarantee you that the culture ate the strategy for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. It can feel as though the place is literally re-inventing itself every time new people come in. Throw in the average three year tenure of Heads and you have a place that will struggle to achieve excellence, no matter how strong the curriculum or great the facilities.

The New England Patriots won this incredibly over-hyped game called the Super Bowl this past weekend in such an environment. It was their fourth such victory over the past 14 years which is some kind of a record. They did it in what the critics call “an extraordinary time” of free agency in which players are constantly moving from team to team instead of staying together as they did when previous records were set. It makes it very hard to win one big game under these circumstances, let alone four over fourteen years. So, how can international schools win the big game?

1) Have a clear vision of what you stand for and what is non-negotiable in an authentic sense of the word. This does not mean “create lifelong learners.” What it means, for example, is that we use student work to inform best practice and will create systems to promote that.

2) “Do your job.” This one is from the coach of the Patriots. It sounds child-like in its simplicity, but how many schools have people who don’t know their jobs? Or like to do other people’s jobs? Or don’t even have job descriptions that are updated for relevance? This is critical toward building excellence.

3) Interchangeable parts. One of the astounding things the Patriots do is that they have an expectation that people understand the system in which they work so that they can contribute in a variety of ways. Although “do your job” is #2, understanding the big picture and being able to step in is critical. This does not mean that a math teacher should be able to teach English. What it does mean is that employees have a clear understanding of the systems and overarching expectations of the school so that they are part of a larger ethos and can sustain that foundation over time, not just in their isolated silos. This is hard, but it’s critical.

Of course there is also the opposite problem where schools with not enough turnover get stuck and cannot seem to move forward. But for me, the high turnover issue is compelling because it causes schools to default to the issues directly in front of them (scheduling, I.B. training, constant hiring), rather than the critical work of improving teaching and learning. Maybe this is a bit of a broad brush, but it’s common enough. There’s no magic cure for all of these challenges but it raises the issue of leadership capacity in creating systems that are effective and can be sustained over time rather than taking the easy way out and leaving after three years. For example, how are teams organized around learning? What schedules are put in place for staff reflection and collaboration to learn excellence? Where are the feedback loops? How is appraisal designed and implemented? And most importantly, what structures are put into place to remove the distractions that get in the way of people doing their jobs. (Is anyone ever going to fix the attendance software?)

These are complex issues and it’s still very hard to maintain excellence over time in a high turnover environment. But bringing in the best people and putting them in a position to succeed, having people understand their jobs, and creating an environment in which people can contribute in a multitude of ways can sometimes win championships.

Not sure if it’s from the 80s, but we’ll play this one out with the theme song. the Patriots use when they take the field. (And has some nice symbolism for high turnover environments).

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

Untethered

“You are so brave.”      “I can’t believe you are doing this.”      “I would never be able to do this.”

The above quotes are from my friends who are not International Educators. They are not from people who are in jobs where announcing you are resigning 6 months before you actually leave, is standard practice. (And even earlier if you are an administrator.)

But I am. And I just did. (My husband did too.)

What they all want to know is “How do I feel?”

I feel like I’m floating, untethered. I am rising away from what anchored me for the past six years. It is a great, adventurous and alive feeling. That said, it is an absolutely petrifying feeling too.

But this isn’t my first rodeo. I have performed this leap before, and it has always worked out. In fact, I used to do it as a kid when my parents would resign one job, head into the job fairs and find another. My memory? It was so Vegas, baby! They were big rollers and winners, living out there on the edge. The best part? They routinely ended up on an adventure they had never considered before.

Looking back now, I’m amazed by my parents’ mindset. The whole thing was an adventure. From recruitment to getting the job, it was all about envisioning yourself doing something different in a place you’d never heard of before. My father used to say, “We wanted to pick somewhere with an interesting name!” They believed if things didn’t work out… Ha! Of course, they would!

So, fast-forward 20+ years and here I am. Duel income, one kid, college tuition on the horizon, both of us in what might be the best and most productive years of our careers, and I’m feeling… untethered.

The recruiter in me understands why we need to have contract deadlines and even why those deadlines are getting earlier and earlier.

For one thing, it’s basic competition. Because most of our schools look for candidates who have international teaching experience, our schools end up all trying to get the same, best possible people, from the same, very small pool of applicants. This pushes us to make a move earlier and earlier. (However, Last year at the NESA Leadership Conference James Strong spoke about recruitment as a means to strengthen and improve schools. Besides the fact that we are all fishing in the same pond, Mr. Strong also pointed out that the very short timeline created by the signing deadlines worldwide might compromise our real ability to find the right fit.)

Also, and let’s be honest here, we all, recruiters and candidates alike, want to avoid the fairs. Nothing is more stressful than knowing you have to find or fill a job with the competition right there next to you. So the recruiter in me understands why we want to discover, vet, and hire people before Bangkok, Boston, or Iowa. However, doing so means we need to know what we have to hire for, so we can actually offer those jobs ahead of the fairs.

Not only do we need to know who is going, we also need to consider who already within our schools might want to move into a position, thus creating another vacancy. This all takes time. And time is what none of us has come Fall. No one wants to be or act in desperation. Recruiters are rushed to find and fill spots. Candidates (who are often teaching couples with children) are in a very difficult position because they are essentially making decisions knowing in the back of their minds- we must get a job. For some, leaving a school for the right reasons might lead them to accept a job at another school for the wrong reason- time. But who can afford to be jobless or what school can afford a vacancy for long?

Now let me switch up my headgear and pop on my candidate hat.

I do believe we are unique as an international education profession. I do not know of another profession, especially teaching in our home countries, where resigning requires you to let everyone know you are leaving many months in advance of actually going. Besides the stress it causes the people quitting jobs before they have new ones, there is the interesting conundrum of letting parents and students know your news early too. (Not to mention how our own children feel announcing to friends in October- I won’t be here next year!)

Yet, it is standard practice for those of us in this business to not only know we are leaving, but to let everyone else know too. Which forces us to discuss our plans (or lack of plans) for months. Parents, students, and other teachers all weigh in, wishing you well and often lamenting your departure. But to have that conversation with so many interested parties for months, first about why you are leaving; then around where you are going and how that might be… It really does create the longest goodbye.

For candidates, there is so much to weigh, consider and plan out and yet once you send the “This is my final year” letter you lose so much control over what will happen.

Recruiting is a unique and challenging time for all of us. Though I do wonder if it doesn’t lead to a little bit of natural selection of our ranks. Being able to live untethered might actually separate those of us cut out for this work from those that aren’t. Which is important. It is who we are.

Which is why- the week following my “big news” I’m trying to feel about it as my father once did. The man was always able to look on the bright side. Instead of worry, when he too decided not to return to a job and school for the following year, he would live in that space of pure optimism. It will all work out as it should, even if what happens is the last thing in the world you thought would happen.

I can hear him now, “Leap off the cliff with a wide, bright smile on your face because you are living a life where you really do get to go for it.”

Good luck to those of you leaping this year.

Photo credit: Nat Ireland via Flickr CC

Voices Carry

Being in the people business, good communication seems so obvious, yet we rarely talk about what makes good communication. Raise your hand if you wish that Google had a pop up screen that said, “Are you sure you want to send this email? (It seems angry).” Note to self, send an email to Google.

Is the way in which you communicate as a teacher to your students the same way that you communicate with a parent, your Principal or Director, or a colleague? Of course not, yet it is these complex interactions that cause us the most stress and angst during the day. It’s what we talk about with our spouses over dinner, and it’s the root of what we do as educators. So, let’s communicate about whether or not you have the skills to be a good communicator.

1) You choose the right medium for the situation: Tweet, phone call, text, hand written note, personal conversation, email, snapchat, etc. etc. As I write this, I think how much the impact of a hand-written note has changed over the past decade. Imagine the power of getting one of those today? And I heard recently that teenagers think that calling is rude as opposed to texting which is less interruptive. Unreal.

2) “Can I think about that?” In this era of instant communication, we all know that instant does not equate to effective. How many times have you been trapped in a hallway conversation that you wish you never entered into? (For me it’s at least a hundred). Or quickly responded to a text that caused a firestorm? Believe it or not, you can hit ‘pause’ and respectfully tell the person you’d like an hour or a day to mull it over. And refer to #1 on how to respond!

3) “Got a minute?”: FYI, it’s never a minute and FYI2 your supervisors rarely enjoy these conversations. They don’t know what’s going to hit them, they have a million other things on their minds, and there’s a high likelihood they’re going to tell you something you don’t want to hear just to get the issue off their plate without really thinking about it. Why not send a message (refer to #1 again), and frame the issue before entering the communication? I know it takes more time out of your busy day, but it gives the other party a chance to think. (And for those of you who like the ambush technique, shame!)

4) “Email Boomerang”: If you email back and forth more than once (or if your response is over a paragraph) it’s time to talk. Oh, the power of email. How has it made our lives worse? It has set us back on communication at least fifteen years. This is especially a nightmare for the international educator dealing with parents. Throw in language and cultural differences, and your Principal will be involved faster than you can say, “Why did I hit send on Sunday night?”

5) “Action through inaction”: How many of you have those annoying notification reminders popping up on your smartphones demanding action or attention? (usually from games your kids installed). Just because you get a text or an email, even a message, doesn’t mean you MUST respond. Let it chill. Sometimes the person on the other end will let it go (possibly out of their own guilt for hitting send), or maybe they’ll even approach you and say “Did you get my email? (At which point you can say, “Yes, I did, can we talk?”). The point is, it is not your station in life to bounce back answers to everything just because something pings you.

Good luck. And before I go, please spread the gospel about talking about good communication. We spend ten times the amount talking about accreditation, but that’s not what makes our lives miserable (well, not entirely). It’s bad communication. There’s nothing as cathartic as a meeting of hard-working adults in a school talking about what is working and what is not when it comes to good communication. It can alleviate a lot of sleepless nights. Believe me.

Of course, there’s only one apt way to play this one out: The ‘Til Tuesday classic: Voices Carry

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.

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?

School Breaks and the International Educator

 

Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia
Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia

We’re in the Home Stretch
With the school year winding down, teachers at international schools, and schools everywhere, are operating on a fever pitch to get everything done in order to conclude another school year.  From class trips, to school projects, to report cards and other administrative tasks, we are in the final countdown to summer break and the pace is full-steam ahead.  The excitement is palpable among students and teachers alike and everyone at the school is on a mission to make the end of the school year not only fruitful and productive, but fun and festive to celebrate the successful conclusion of students completing their current grade and moving on to the next.  At an international school, it’s not just saying goodbye to students who are moving up a grade or graduating, there’s the added emotion and drama of saying goodbye, to people (students, teachers and friends) who will be moving overseas to their next school or assignment.

Summer Vacation – the Ultimate Break
All the hard work and stress of the final weeks brings with it a handsome pay-off – summer vacation.  Yes, the break of all breaks. Perhaps this time-honored tradition is one of the greatest perks of the teaching profession.  Two whole months of rest, relaxation, and a time to reflect and enjoy family . . . it doesn’t get any better than that!  Of course many teachers utilize the time for professional development, while others may even pursue a second job over the summer for additional income.  For many international teachers this is a highly anticipated holiday because after almost a year of being overseas, many look forward to going home and spending time with family or taking the opportunity for extended travel and excursions.

Is this the end of Spring Breaks?
The upcoming break has got me thinking about this past year and the wonderful opportunities I’ve had, not just professionally while school is in session, but personally during the various breaks throughout the school year. The most notable and recent one for me was last month’s spring break. Ah, Spring Break . . . just the term alone conjures up certain images of American college students partying on the beach as if there were no tomorrow. Last year, in my senior year of college, I was celebrating a lot of lasts. My last homecoming week, my last final, my last class, my last spring break . . . I thought this is it – I’ll be entering the real world where I’ll have to kiss those cherished breaks good bye. But then I entered the world of international teaching where spring break is brought to a whole new level.

This is Not Your College Spring Break
In this, my first year out of college, I had three ‘spring break’ vacations already!  But these are not the spring breaks of college days with senseless partying in the sun and sand, but the kind that is a real adventure filled with travel and personal growth.   At first I thought as a teacher the breaks were really for the students and that teachers’ breaks would be filled with reading, reviewing curriculum materials, student reports, and catching up on work for the week ahead.  Was I wrong! For teachers at international schools, spring break, more than any other, is a time for travel! Right before break students get very excited for the upcoming vacation, but it’s not just the students — teachers get just as excited for the vacation time, if NOT MORE! 

I think it’s because as expats living in far flung corners of the world, everyone it seems, has made elaborate travel plans. The opportunities are incredible when you’re living overseas, so we tend to get very excited about the upcoming trips.  Moreover, it’s part of the culture of international teaching to use your time off to travel and expand your horizons by seeing new countries and learning about their history and culture.  This exposure only helps you as you interact and relate to your students and their families who hail from all over the world.  

A Trip to Vietnam
Last month these travels took me and two of my teacher-friends to Vietnam, where we set-out on a journey that stretched the length of the country starting at the Capital of Hanoi, and traveling down the coast via overnight trains to Ho Chi Minh, where we stopped and stayed in the cities of Hoi An and Nha Trang in between.

Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with lush, tropical vegetation, a verdant countryside, beautiful beaches, busy and bustling cities, and some of the most delicious food I have ever enjoyed.  I would have never imagined the immense beauty of this ancient land, based on the images and portrayals I have seen in movies and the media, nor would this have been on my list of places to visit. But thanks to living and teaching in the nearby Philippines, and to friends ready and willing to try something new, I was able to see first-hand what an amazing place Vietnam is.  I found this country so compelling and beautiful that I know I want to return here and also come back to see the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos.