My Why

A couple of weeks ago I challenged you to stop and think about your “why”.  I encouraged you to think about why you teach, why you do what you do.  I wanted to lay that challenge out without giving “answers” or examples.  My hope was that you would take some time to watch the wonderful Simon Sinek video and stop to go through the exercise I suggested.  

This week I want to share the results I came up with as I went through this process.  One thing I want to add before I share my results is that I believe that these are ever-changing results.  I know that when I started teaching, this list would’ve been very different from today. Even just a few years ago these answers would’ve been extremely varied.  I’m confident that as I learn more and grow as an educator, my reasons “why” will change as well. There are no right answers and no wrong answers…

Why I’m an educator:

I hope that everyone in the world can achieve a curiosity and passion for learning; this is how the world will be made a better place.

There’s nothing better than the moment a child realizes they “can do it”, discovering capabilities and finding never before seen confidence is beautiful.

I hope that I can inspire students to be nice and work hard; these two qualities have never failed anyone.

I absolutely love helping someone who feels hopeless or unable; showing them that they “can” or even that they “might be able to” is amazing.

By influencing young people I hope to help the next generation to be better off than mine or any that came before. 

How I educate:

I focus on the whole-child; often times looking straight past the classroom and academics to “who the student is inside”.

I am unrelenting in holding students to high standards.

I face challenges with courage, daring to say things people don’t necessarily want to hear when necessary.

I listen, contemplate and evaluate new ideas, opinions and information.

I hold myself accountable to high standards and continuously re-evaluate my values and goals.

I work to establish positive relationships, learn about the people around me and use this knowledge to help people reach high levels of success.

I challenge the status quo.

What I teach:

I teach social-emotional skills.

I teach passion and courage.

I teach curiosity and persistence.

I teach kindness.

I teach courage.

I encourage all of this in others.


There you have it, my reasons “why” as of today.  These may change and some may be missing but at the end of the day, going through this process has centered my focus back to “why I do” instead of “how/what” I do.

I hope you’ve given this a try already but if you haven’t please do so!


Explore, Experience, Learn

Last week was another great week for your Year 10 students (wow, they’ve been busy lately!) as they went out into the community and got the chance to see a side of the “real world” that they haven’t necessarily seen before.  

The opportunity that Work Experience Week offers for our students is one that I’ve not seen offered before, it’s a wonderfully unique experience that gives our students the chance to go beyond their comfort zone and begin thinking beyond Sekolah Ciputra.  The preparation, the actual experience and the reflective process all help our students experience the world in a totally different way than we could offer from a classroom.

Beginning well in advance of Work Experience Week, our students began the planning and preparation needed to earn themselves a position working with a business or organization.  They prepared job application letters, many of them went for actual interviews and they began thinking about what it would take to enter the workforce (if only for a week) and what it would mean to carry that responsibility.  By the time the Work Experience Week finally arrived our students were excited and nervous, but ready for the opportunity in front of them.

With more than 50 businesses and organizations involved in hosting our Year 10 students this year, there was certainly no shortage of diversity in the experiences that our students received.  Having opportunities at jobs with the Jawa Pos, any number of event organizers, or even just down the hall in the PYP, our students have been able to find something that is interesting, exciting and speaks to their own personal tastes.  Work Experience Week has given our students a glimpse into the future and helped them learn a little more about what lies beyond the walls of our school.

My nudge this week is to you and your departments…How can we continue to inspire our students beyond the walls of the school?  We’ve put a lot of time and effort into some amazing IDUs over the last couple of years but none of them require leaving the comfort zone of the school building.  Is there a way to take an existing IDU and move beyond the walls? If not, are there new potential IDUs that could help us expose our kids to the culture and opportunities that lie beyond the comfort zone of our school?  Perhaps you won’t act on this nudge this week but, in the future, when you’re working to plan IDUs or other engaging units, I’m asking you to think beyond our ‘bubble’ and get our kids out into the world!


“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind.”  – Rebecca Solnit

“Keep exploring. Keep dreaming.  Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know.  Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.”  – Barack Obama


Starting With ‘Why?’

For the last few weeks our students have been my inspiration for my Nudges, even more specifically I’ve focused on our Year 10 students of late.  They’ve done some inspiring work recently with their Personal Projects and shown a strong passion for learning.  This week, however, I want to ask you to turn the mirror on yourself and think about your ‘why’.

If, for just one more moment, we think about those Year 10 students and ask “why did they put so much time and effort into their Personal Projects” we’re going to come back with a lot of different reasons as to ‘why’.  Maybe they are passionate about the topic and loved investigating, maybe it was because they wanted a good mark, or perhaps it was to impress their teachers or their parents. Surely each and every one of those kids, at the end of the day, has their own ‘why’.

So, back to you, what’s your ‘why’?  Why do you come in each and every day and give everything you have to working with (pre-)teenagers?  I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, by friends, family or even strangers.  What was your answer to them?

There’s a wonderful TedTalk by Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker and marketing consultant.  My Nudge today is has two parts.  Part One:  Take about 18 minutes to stop and listen to this TedTalk (you can add Indonesian subtitles if you feel like that will help).

Now that you’ve watched that TedTalk I want to encourage you to take some time to contemplate the second portion of this week’s Nudge.  Take a piece of paper and draw those three circles:  Why, How and What.  Start with your ‘Why’.  Make a list of all the ‘whys’ that you teach.  Why do you teach?  Then, move out to the next ring and answer the question, “How do I teach?”  From there continue on to the “What do I teach?”  Be sure to start with the Why and end with the What.

If you really take your time and are honest with yourself throughout this process I think that you’ll come to some interesting conclusions.  Next week I’ll be writing about our Year 10 Work Experience Week but in two weeks’ time I’ll share my results from when I went through this practice with myself.  It’s a great time of the year for reflection, we’re asking our kids to do it and we should too…enjoy 🙂


An Apology

After my Nudges the last two weeks, I could do only one thing this week…write this letter.

Dear Year 10 Students,

I owe you an apology, a very big and heartfelt apology!  

See, for the last couple weeks I’ve written to your teachers and expressed my worries and concerns.  Fears really, that you’d lost motivation, that your hopes and dreams were being set aside, or even abandoned, as you squared your focus solely on grades/marks.  I worried that you had lost the wide-eyed curiosity and passion that has driven (and will drive) so many of the most successful people in this world.  I was wrong.  I couldn’t have been more wrong and you showed me that without even realizing it.

On Wednesday I had the privilege to stand in front of you at the opening of your MYP Personal Project Exhibition and celebrate your time, effort, and dedication over your years in the MYP.  As Ms. Desita said to me just before we walked upstairs, “this is an expression of all they have learned in the MYP.”  It was a beautiful sentiment that so perfectly wrapped up your time in the MYP.  This conversation and the words I shared with you happened before I had seen any of your final Projects.  Once the exhibition officially opened and I got to see the results of all your hard work…wow!

To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting but I certainly hadn’t planned for all of the awesomeness I saw at each of your booths.  Recently I’ve been worried that as you’d grown and matured, that you had lost the passion and curiosity I’ve seen shine so bright in our younger students’ eyes.  However, after last Wednesday, I’ve realized that even though I couldn’t see it radiating off of you; passion and the drive to learn new and exciting things still flows in deep your veins.  

It would be unfair of me to single out any of the amazing projects that were on display but, suffice it to say, there were a lot of projects that absolutely blew my mind.  I saw things out there that I’ve been dreaming about attempting myself.  Even, projects that I’ve contemplated working on but have been afraid to try.  Your work on your MYP Personal Projects has inspired me, truly and honestly.  

Once again, I apologize.  I underestimated you.  I am, today, ten times more confident than I was ever worried about you.  Your passion, curiosity, perseverance, and sheer determination have been proven many times over throughout this experience.  

I look forward to seeing all of these skills and more on display as you continue to your chosen Pathway next school year.  You’re amazing young adults and I, personally, want to thank you for providing this community with such an inspirational show of your passions and abilities!

Humbly yours,

Mr. Bret


Hopes and Dreams Part 2: Share Your Story

Last week when I wrote about hopes and dreams I shared my concern that our older students were burying their big dreams as they focused on grades/marks and short term possibilities.  I’ve spent the last week continuing to ponder this idea and speaking with some of our older students to help gain more insight into this phenomenon.  Last weekend, at an event hosted by one of our very own Year 10 students, I found what I think is the reality of the situation for our older students.  

Our older students still have plenty of big hopes and dreams, in fact they may even have more thought out and detailed versions of them than the younger students.  They, however, feel like they can’t share them for fear that they will be squashed or not accepted by peers or adults in their lives.  This is a big problem!

At MatchStiX, an event hosted by one of our Year 10 students as part of her Personal Project, I was fortunate to see short presentations by a few very impressive young Surabayans.  Emily, a 15 year old student at another school in town, shared her story of becoming a successful singer and songwriter.  She explained that it was her dream to write and sing her own songs and that she “sang often but always sang alone.”  This piece of her story, one of many from a very inspiring presentation, really hit home hard for me.   Emily had a passion and a dream but was fearful of sharing it with others because she was worried that it/she wouldn’t be accepted.  Fortunately she did, eventually, share her talent and it was warmly accepted by most everyone.  However, Emily had to go through this journey alone because she was scared to share her hopes and dreams, imagine if she would’ve been confident and supported throughout her journey.

Another speaker at MatchStiX was Jessica, a local entrepreneur who started her own baking business.  Jessica had hopes and dreams that were supported by her parents until one day they spoke with her teachers and principals at her school (not Sekolah Ciputra).  Jessica’s teachers and principals convinced her parents, who had already committed a lot of money toward her dream, that pursuing a career in fashion design was a terrible decision even though it was Jessica’s dream.  Her parents completely dropped all support of Jessica and her dream, she was crushed and totally lost all hope.  It took Jessica three more years before she found a new pursuit, another dream she was passionate about chasing.  She wanted to become a chef, with a particular interest in baking.  Unfortunately, her parents were not supportive of this idea at all and forced her, once again, away from her dream.  Jessica’s story has a happy ending, she found a way for her dream to come true.  As I mentioned, Jessica owns her own baking business.  However, hearing Jessica’s story of being pushed back time and again by the very people who are supposed to be supporting her dreams really gave me pause as an educator.  

What are we doing to support our students’ dreams and help them become reality?  There are definitely some things that we are doing as an institution to help our students reach these lofty goals, but what about individually?  As teachers we can be talking with our students and learning about their hopes and dreams, encouraging them to pursue their passions, and sharing our own stories of chasing our dreams.  Start today, take some time to think about your dreams that you’ve made come true and share a story or two with your students.  Inspire someone by sharing your story, and don’t ever stop pursuing your own dreams!

Hopes and Dreams

Over the last two weeks I was very lucky to have been part of some tremendous student interview sessions.  As we’ve gone through the scholarship application process we’ve had a number of well qualified Year 6 and Year 9 students come in for interviews.  I’ve never been through this experience before and, to be perfectly honest, it’s been the absolute best way to finish a school day that I’ve ever experienced.  These kids have hopes and dreams and are bubbling with energy and spirit, it’s truly awesome and inspiring.

As these interviews continued though, I did notice something that started to worry me just a little bit.  See, the Year 6 students had all sorts of really big ambitions that stretched well into the future and beyond their school years, hopes and dreams they’d clearly spent a lot of time thinking about.  However, as we started talking with the Year 9 students something changed, the ambitions we had heard from the Year 6 students were missing.  The hopes and dreams of the Year 9 students we spoke to were focused on academic grades and short term targets.  Where had the big dreams gone?

To be fair, it is reasonable to expect our older students to be more focused on the task before them and be thinking about what they need to accomplish in order to reach the university destination of their choice.  I’m 100% confident that our older students still have ambitious hopes and dreams but they’re not gushing over them like our Year 6 students.  I want that to change, my hope is that our older kids continue to dream big and think about the amazing possibilities for them in this world.  

It may well be the case that our older students have buried those hopes and dreams, begun to consider them as ‘childish’ or ‘silly’.  We know, however, that those hopes and dreams are what provide the fuel to keep on working and battling through the tough times.  Without a long term goal, something to ‘dream big’ about, what are our students working toward?  

As their teachers, mentors, advisors, and role models we need to show these kids that their hopes and dreams are just as important today as they were when they were in Year 6 looking up at the stars and thinking about all the amazing possibilities that lie out there in the great wide world.  So no matter what year level they are in, engage your students in conversations about their hopes and dreams.  Share your ambitions with your students as well, open up and let them see that it’s totally normal to have big dreams!  

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.” – Yoko Ono

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality.  If you can dream it, you can make it so.” – Belva Davis

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” – Jonas Salk

5 Characteristics of Phenomenal Educators

The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine, also a principal, about the recruiting process and what we look for in teachers as we go through the many CVs and interviews.  While we both agreed that there is no magic formula for finding excellent teachers, we did settle on a few characteristics that we look for while we’re going through the search process.  I wanted to share those with you today because I believe it’s good to take time to stop and think about ourselves from a more holistic perspective, which I’m encouraging you to do.  

  1. They are a “striver”.  I used to use the term ‘hustler’ but was never happy with that for various reasons.  However, when I imagine a teacher who is always giving their best effort to grow, improve, and help their kids succeed I get this image of a teacher who is constantly working hard and doing anything possible to get better.  A teacher who is consistently putting forth effort to improve and be better for their students is a striver, and someone I would want to hire!  (I took the term ‘striver’ from a book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  Here is a cool piece that explains the idea of ‘striver’ vs ‘natural’ in a musical context.)
  2. They have balance.  It’s one thing to be a striver but it’s a total other thing to be someone who works themselves into the ground.  There is a saying that I learned from a mentor of mine that goes, “If you’re solely committed to an institution, you should be.”  The idea is, making work your only focus is completely insane.  Education is a non-stop pursuit and if you dedicated every minute of your life to it for the rest of your days, it still wouldn’t be perfect.  We need to know where to draw the line and find the balance in our lives so that we are able to work hard for our students, day in and day out, while still living our own lives beyond the walls of the school.
  3. They are positive.  This one is hard to see on a CV but it certainly shines through in an interview.  No one wants to work with people who are constantly finding problems, complaining, and bringing the overall culture of a school down.  Positivity goes a long way in any business but I believe it goes even further in a school community.  Kids are naturally positive people, why should adults be any different?
  4. They are diverse.  People demonstrate diversity in a lot of different ways.  Having a wide variety of experiences, teaching a variety of subjects and/or grade levels, supporting various extracurriculars, and showing your range as an educator, are all great ways to stand out.  People with diverse experiences tend to have more open minds about challenges and opportunities that may arise unexpectedly.  This kind of flexibility is invaluable, especially in international schools!  
  5. They love working with kids.  Again, this is tough to see on a CV but completely obvious when it comes to interviews.  Educators who love working with kids show it as soon as they start talking about their jobs.  Their eyes light up as they tell stories of their students and their energy immediately increases.  Teachers who truly love working with kids, while seemingly common, are much harder to find than most people would think.  

There are many more attributes displayed by great teachers but when I meet someone who displays these particular characteristics in a truly authentic way it is clear that I’ve found an absolute diamond in the rough.  

Take a moment today to consider yourself from a different perspective.  Try to step back and ‘zoom out’ a bit.  How do you view yourself as an educator?