Tag Archives: teaching overseas

Getting to Yes- Inclusion

As International schools morph and change, the goal is our schools become better versions of what we’ve been before. Whether it is to provide a more cohesive and articulated curriculum, more rigorous vetting of our personnel for safety, or more purposefully designed and earth-friendly facilities, we are always changing and improving.

One area which is garnering a lot of attention right now is inclusivity. The idea that our schools can accept students with special needs isn’t new, but striving to do so, and even expanding the notion of what we can support, is a change.

Championing this idea is the Next Frontier Inclusion project led by Bill and Ochan Powell. This past week, I was with them at Hong Kong Academy to see an inclusive school in action: the journey, the celebrations, and the next steps for all of us trying to make this a reality. It was an interesting visit.

While, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, I wasn’t sure how I would feel around students with special needs. Having grown up in and always worked in international schools, I have limited exposure to students who are considered SEN (Special Education Needs) children. Of course, being on site at HKA and seeing those students playing, learning, and making friends eased my fear and opened my heart. While most of our schools will never be a true microcosm of society, we can and should modify our definition of diversity. 

The big questions shared and chewed on with the group included:

  • How do you do this? Staffing, marketing, facilities, etc.
  • How do we go from where we are today, to where we want to be without compromising our already rigorous programs?
  • What if our school communities (existing families) don’t want to do this?

Of course, for many of our schools, it will take time, planning and persistence to shift the culture and become more purposefully inclusive. Each school will face challenges based on its locale and clientele. However as often happens in our connected community of international school educators, once a few of us leap out, it will be easier (and become more important) for others to do the same. That is our strength as a global community.

Here is a first step I can share about the journey we are on at my school. It is a small shift that has produced big changes. It is a shift in language and mindset. It is replicable by any school wanting to become more inclusive. 

We have recently changed our admissions stance from ‘no’ to ‘yes and…’ In the past, we would receive a file of a student with needs and work as an admissions team to explain all the reasons why we couldn’t admit the child. This process was designed to help the family understand why we were saying ‘No’.

Now, the admissions team (principal, resource teachers, counselor, admissions rep, possibly a classroom teacher) is tasked with presenting a scenario to our director based on ‘yes’. There is no longer a ‘no’ option at this meeting.

Instead, ‘yes, and…’  comes with the plan/proposal of what we would require to fully support the child in our school. There is no boundary to what we can propose: shadow teachers, more testing, modified curriculum, partial day, on-site therapy, etc. The proposals are not predicated on what we already do, but instead generated by what would be possible if there were no limits. The admission team’s job is to paint a picture which gets us to yes. From there, the director makes the final decision about whether or not we can get there.

This shift in mindset and emphasis has produced a few interesting results. First, we are much more likely to think out of the box when we are starting with a positive, can-do frame of mind. Secondly, the two or three cases we have reviewed in this vein have turned out to be doable, surprising us all, as in the past, we probably would have simply said ‘no’. And finally, the level of communication and ownership for the inclusion plan is spread out among those people who proposed an idea worth hearing. 

Getting to yes is a motto we are beginning to live. While there are sure to be pitfalls, we are happy to be taking an active and conscious step toward inclusion.

What is your school doing to change the conversation?

Image credit: ‘Diversity Clip Art’ www.clipartsheep.com, Creative Commons right to share

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

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!

Trapeze Bars

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having Children Overseas

Jamie and I began our international school teaching careers just a year after we married.  Children was certainly in our future, but the unknowns of having children abroad was unsettling at first.  What would the healthcare be like? How will they get a passport? How will we deal with grandparents and family back home being separate from our children? All of these questions and many others ran through our minds before embarking on our first international teaching job in China.

Our fears were immediately relieved once we arrived in China and discovered that they too, in fact, have children born there! Kidding aside, we met many couples who had children in China or in Hong Kong, and they all had positive experiences.  We learned more information about parents visiting, Skype calling, how to obtain passports and birth certificates, and how to deal with the family separation. We quickly realized that having a child abroad would not be as bad as we originally imagined.

We learned what a TCK (Third Culture Kid) actually was and taught several of them. The thought of having a TCK scared us a little but learning more about how various families dealt with this unique situation helped us. What we learned is that it isn’t really that unique after all and TCK children live exciting lives. The pros and cons of living abroad become exponential once you have a child, but what we learned is that having a child abroad certainly isn’t a difficult situation at all.

Like any other family, once you have children, your lives change forever.  Teaching internationally brings different changes. Some of these make your lives more difficult, but some of them make your lives easier. For example, our school here in Saudi Arabia provides a free nursery. Where in the U.S except at large companies will you get that? We save thousands of dollars of year just in day care.  We are able to bring our boys to work with us and pick them up in the afternoon literally about 100 yards from our classrooms. Jamie was able to nurse them during the day. The nursery itself is outstanding and perhaps the best benefit that is offered at the school.

Another benefit is the lifestyle you will be able to provide for your children. Their vacations will be spent in places like Rome, Paris, Bangkok, Istanbul, Maldives, and Tanzania.  They will have study trips with other children to exotic locations or Habitat for Humanity trips where they learn about service. They will probably learn a foreign language easier and be more culturally sensitive because they will have children in their classes from 10 different countries.

Some negatives include traveling. Because you will travel more, you will spend more on hotels, flights, food, and attractions.  This might limit your travel more than it would when it is just the two of you backpacking through the Philippines. Some families with three or more children only take one or two large vacations a year. Jamie and I without children took five or six. We will still take that many per year because we value the traveling. We’ve become quite adept at traveling with small children.  Our 2 year old has already been to 8 countries and has had over 30 flights.  The United States this summer will be our youngest child’s fifth country.

The most obvious negative of having children abroad is the distance they will be from family. They might only see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins one time a year. Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, and other social media programs have really helped us stay connected to family, but it obviously isn’t the same. Once we are back home for the summer or perhaps a winter break, we complete the circuit of seeing family and friends which makes for a ton of traveling and living out of a suitcase.  Children are flexible, but parents have to have some patience and flexibility too.

The birth abroad process was very smooth for Jamie here in Saudi for the most part.  Doctors’ bedside manner will not be what you expect, but the care is fine and you and your baby will be in good hands.  Our health insurance covers Jamie for a private room and our out of pocket cost was less than $100 for both children. You simply won’t find that anywhere in the U.S.  She had two very different experiences with our boys but overall the healthcare and the facilities were very good.

Every country will have its different procedures for obtaining the birth certificate and ultimately the U.S. passport. In Saudi, here was the procedure we had to go through before our boys were given a U.S. passport, which meant they could leave the country.

  1. Certificate of Live Birth – this is a Saudi document that we received at the hospital basically stating that a baby was born in their hospital.  Documents required: mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  2. Saudi Birth Certificate – This was done by our government relations (GR) and was all in Arabic, which is actually a pretty cool looking document. Documents required: Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  3. Saudi Birth Certificate Translation: Again, our government relations department did this.  It was needed for us to attain the U.S. Passport.  Documents required: Saudi Birth Certificate, Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  4. U.S. Birth Certificate: We had to go next door to the U.S. Consulate here in Dhahran for this. It is actually a Certificate of Birth Abroad issued by the United States State Department.  If a child is born in the U.S., their birth certificate will always be on file at the state level.  For children born overseas to U.S. citizens, they issue this document instead. Anyone born abroad who loses their original birth certificate will have to go through the U.S. State department at receive another one. Documents required: application, money, Saudi Birth Certificate and its translation, mother and father’s passports
  5. Saudi Iqama: This is completed by the GR once the U.S. Birth Certificate comes back in.  The iqama is basically the residency permit for non Saudis working in the country. Documents required: child’s U.S. passport, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
  6. Exit/Re-entry Visa: This is completed by GR and allows for anyone to go in and out of the country freely.  The child is not permitted to leave the country until this document is finished.  Documents required: child’s Saudi Iqama and passport

That’s it!  The entire process takes about 6 weeks.  This is only frustrating because you can’t leave the country until everything has been processed.  Once it is though, your little darlings can begin their journey to becoming world travelers.

 

Performance, Not Results?

barry blog1Last weekend, I had the good fortune and honor to host professional triathlete Tim Don at my home during his four-day visit to Brasilia to compete in Sunday’s 70.3 Ironman triathlon (Race Highlights).  Since I was also training for the race, I was particularly enthusiastic about spending time with a triathlete who won four world titles, represented the United Kingdom at three Olympic games, and is currently ranked as one of the top triathletes in the world.

Tim won Sunday’s Brasilia 70.3 Ironman race setting a course record by completing the 1.8 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21 km run course in 3 hours and 46 minutes.  Yes, that is very fast!  Given that I finished my race 751 positions behind Tim, I thought I would ask him to share the keys to his success. Tim highlighted three essential factors associated with training and racing: consistency, communication, and performance.  What was curiously absent from Tim’s response was the focus on results, but more on that later.

Based on Tim’s successes and the fact that he has never been sidelined due to overtraining, illness, or injury, I wanted to discover what I could incorporate in not only my own training but also my professional and personal lives. This is what I learned.

Communication

The maxim, “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire” is not only apropos to sport but to all facets of our lives.  Tim’s approach is to address problems immediately and directly as soon as they are identified, rather than waiting until the same problem has surfaced on multiple occasions. Regular communication with his support team ensures that any potential injuries are identified and corresponding preventive actions are taken.

While everyone understands the importance of addressing problems as soon as they are encountered, the transference of this philosophy to practice can prove to be more challenging. The goal to ensure our students are receiving the best education possible is achieved through open, honest, and timely communication, which is dependent on the partnership between parents, students, and the school. This partnership is similar to a three-legged stool; if one of the legs is missing, the stool cannot stand on its own.  If an educational program is not standing on its own, then it will be difficult to overcome inevitable conflicts and challenges.  A passive aggressive or “head in the sand” approach to a problem will not resolve the issue.  It is only through open, honest, and expedient communication that we will effectively work together to support our students.

Consistency

Tim stressed that consistency does not refer to always performing at the highest level each week, but, rather, being faithful to a carefully established plan that is designed to move us forward, in an incremental manner, toward our goal.  His words reminded me of a prior blog post about the 20-Mile March and the importance of not wavering from a consistent and iterative approach.

When preparing for a marathon, we are not going to start training by running 30 kilometers on the first day.  Rather, we will start with a short distance and gradually build up our endurance over time through a consistent adherence to an established plan.  The concept is the same for students.  Deeper levels of learning are achieved through a regular dedication to study and class attendance, rather than trying to cram for tests during short, intense periods. The former approach will normally result in lasting development and understanding while the outcome of the later is, at best, a fleeting recall of the information associated with the test questions.

Performance

I was initially surprised that Tim focused on performance rather than results, especially given that his livelihood depends on winning. However, after reflecting on his words, his approach resonated with me. By way of example, there is a significant difference between finishing a race in third place, ten seconds behind the winner, and finishing in third place, ten minutes behind the winner.  While a third place finish is a good result, it may not necessarily equate to a good performance.  A focus only on results, with the accompanying pressure and stress, may often lead to burnout, injury, and diminished performance.  In contrast, your best performances will usually lead to great results.  In terms of his professional competitions, Tim states the following:

“Some of my best performances have come from races where I have not been on the podium but I have squeezed our every bit of what I had and, as they say, left nothing out there.  I truly walked away with a smile knowing that, sure the win would have been nice, but, on that day, that’s what I had. Control what you can control.  I really try to race like that in every race. I will sprint as hard for 40th position as I would for the win: that’s me, that’s what I do, that’s what I was taught to do.”

Reflecting on these words in the context of our student athletes who are currently competing at the Big 4 tournament, performance is the key.  While we hope students at  the American School of Brasilia (EAB) achieve outstanding results, it is their performance, both individually and collectively, that is of great importance.  Win or lose, we will have much to celebrate if our students are able to perform at their highest levels and “leave nothing out there.”

Transferring this concept to academics, EAB does not narrow the definition of teaching and learning to one where teachers only prepare students for tests (results).  Instead, education at EAB is about students developing in a holistic manner where the school supports the whole child to achieve his or her potential (performance).  Through effective communication, a consistent approach to learning, and a focus on performance, outstanding results will naturally follow, as exemplified through the impressive successes and achievements of EAB students.

Congratulations to Tim Don for his performance at the Brasilia 70.3 ironman race (Interview / 48 Hours with Tim Don).

_________________________________________________

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.

The Importance of Arts Education

So we completed two very important jobs over the past week…we finalized the results from our community climate survey, and we got all of our students to register for next year’s courses and classes. I love receiving this necessary feedback and data because it gives us an opportunity to see how well we’re faring as a Middle School from a parent perspective, and it allows us to see if the elective programs that we offer are still garnering the kind of interest, enthusiasm, and demand that we hope for. When analyzing the data from both of these tasks, one thing bubbled up and crystallized for us…that both our students and their parents love, celebrate, appreciate, and long for…THE ARTS! Now, this comes as no surprise to me, and if I’m being honest I was hoping that the data would come back like it did because I’m a huge, huge believer in, and proponent of the arts in education. I’d like to take some time today to speak about Dance, Drama, and Fine Art (and leave Music for a separate, upcoming post) because it is my belief that these  programs might just be the most important things that we offer to kids…and the biggest gifts that we can give our students throughout all of their years in education!

It’s funny that all this came to my attention so profoundly this week, because my own two Lower School children are currently more engaged and inspired than they’ve ever been in school. My son has been recently rehearsing for this week’s school dance production, where he’s part of the hip-hop crew, and he’s also doing a unit of study on the Gold Rush, where he gets to dramatically create a character and showcase his alter-ego to an audience in less than three weeks time. He’s super pumped to go to school, he’s voluntarily doing his homework for the first time ever (which consists of practicing his dance moves and making props for his gold-miner identity), he comes home eager to talk about his day, and he’s gaining confidence in ways that I’ve never seen before with regards to “school”. My daughter is also currently taking an after school hip-hop activity, and whenever she finds herself with some free time on her hands she’s either painting, drawing, sketching, or creating some form of art…and it’s like she is transformed into the best version of herself when she’s engaged in either of these endeavors. It’s not just them though, the data that came back clearly shows that this is the case with the majority of our MS students, and it all suggests that our kids are most happy, most engaged, most excited, and most inspired when taking part in these classes…and it makes me ridiculously happy to see.

I’ve known for a long time about the benefits of arts education, and the connection/correlation to how it enhances a student’s achievement and success in the “core” classes like Math and Language Arts, and I’ve enjoyed doing a fair amount of research on this topic over the past few years. The majority of research that I’ve done suggests that arts education enhances student learning in profound and immeasurable ways, and one particular article written by Valerie Strauss sums it up wonderfully. Strauss discusses the top 10 skills that children learn from the arts…skills that not only affect who they are as people, or aide in their academic and social development, but skills that affect how well they succeed in all aspects of their academic achievement (article is included in the links below)…

  1. Creativity
  2. Confidence
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Perseverance
  5. Focus
  6. Non-Verbal Communication
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback
  8. Collaboration
  9. Dedication
  10. Accountability


It makes me crazy to read about how many districts and schools around the world are cutting these types of programs, or giving the jobs to teachers who are not specialists in the field, and simply not qualified to deliver the lessons with the same passion, expertise, or knowledge of an educator trained in the arts. One of the reasons that I love quality international schools is because we tend to understand the paramount importance of these programs, and we see the incredible benefit and learning that our students receive from these offerings. I’m so proud to be working in a school that places such an emphasis on the arts, and I know that our entire community is so much the better for it. Without specific programs like Fine Art, Dance, and Drama, our students would be missing out on what education is really all about in my opinion, and they would be getting short changed to the point of neglect…in short, it would simply be educationally irresponsible. Anyway, make sure to say thank you to our arts teachers this week for all that they bring to our students’ lives, and take some time to really think about how important and necessary their role is…wow! For those of you celebrating Easter today, I sure hope that the Easter Bunny found you, and I hope that you’re all full of chocolate eggs! Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting, and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.
– William Bennett

TED Talk – Dance Evolution –
http://www.ted.com/talks/the_lxd_in_the_internet_age_dance_evolves.html
Amazing Art and Dace Videos –
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJfDrk4IQrg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOMgDbcA84A
Great Articles discussing the benefits of the Arts in Education –
http://www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development
http://www.katyisd.org/dept/finearts/Pages/The-Importance-of-Fine-Arts-Education-.aspx
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/22/top-10-skills-children-learn-from-the-arts/
http://www.arteducators.org/advocacy/why-art-education
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/dance-education
http://www.phecanada.ca/programs/dance
http://www.danceadvantage.net/why-dance-matters-survival-of-the-fittest/
http://www.childdrama.com/why.html
http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Why_Childrens_Theater_Matters/

5 Tricks of the Trade for Substitute Teachers

save-the-ocean-tips_13821_600x450-600x320

By Kailie Nagrath

As an intern my primary role is to be the ‘go-to’ substitute teacher for classes in grade levels from Preschool to grade 4.

They didn’t Teach this in College

So far, I have subbed for all grade levels, and have found that one thing is for sure, with all the training we get in college – from classes in education and psychology, to student observations and field practicums – nothing teaches you how to handle this!

Learn as you Go

At first it felt like being thrown into the deep-end of the ocean, but I am starting to see the light and have actually figured out a few tricks of the trade which I will summarize here.  Subsequent blogs will delve a bit deeper into each strategy, but none of these are etched in stone.  As teachers we learn as we go, and one important learning method is to talk to other teachers.  So teachers, please feel free to add your tips and tricks to the list!

Five tips to help anyone who has to get up in front of a classroom and say, “Good morning class, I’m your substitute teacher today!”

1.) Know thy Subjects – I am not referring to content material although that’s important, I’m talking about the kids in the class.  Get to know them and connect with them, the best and first step in doing that is to learn all their names.

2.) Know the Classroom Culture – Just as every school has its own unique culture, so too, does every classroom. The teacher will have set the tone from day one and it’s your job to know the classroom expectations and what the students are working on.  Being consistent not only supports the teacher you’re filling-in for, but it makes your day, and the student’s day run more smoothly and productively.

3.) Embrace the Co-teaching Model – If you have teaching assistants in the classroom take advantage of their skills and ability to provide consistency and support.  If not, seek out other teachers in your grade level and have them co-teach lessons, or team-up on outings or activities.

4.) Do Your Thing –Have your own unique go to prop, activity, or story that shares with students a little bit about who you are as a person and what your interests or personal style is all about.  This relates to the first strategy of getting to know your students. Building a relationship is a two-way street and it’s greatly enriched if your students feel they get to know a little more about you. This of course does not mean revealing things from your personal life, but it means sharing your passions.  This could be anything from a love of poetry, to an obsession with birding, or an interest in music, the arts or sports.  Is there a poem or a song or a sports fact you can teach the students by the end of the day?  If so, it will make your time with students more memorable and will prove helpful if you’re coming back tomorrow or later in the year!

5.) Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – If you’re having a difficult time getting through the lesson plan, take a deep breath and relax.  A more experienced teacher gave me advice that I can’t repeat here, but the gist of it is to go with the flow and try to have fun with the students. If they see fear or nervousness, or impatience than you will not be in control of the class.  If you must, let go of the lesson plan and find fun ways to connect and allow students to learn.

Any other ideas are welcome!