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!

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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?

Embrace Some Discomfort

Amy and I watched a new show recently, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.  The first episode had a guest who, believe it or not, needed no introduction…Barack Obama.  It was a great interview and, whatever your political leanings, is worth watching.  One of the many topics discussed by Letterman and Obama is something I’d like to think about in our context as educators, “Nothing right in this world occurs without, at least, some discomfort.”

As educators we have our comfort zones, they are our safe little bubbles that we use to help us stay confident in the classroom.  I’m going to ask you today to take a step out of yours, and be a little uncomfortable.  I’ve got four things I’d like to ask that we all commit to doing for the rest of the year, they are things we can start today and will immediately improve the learning environment for our students.  Some of you may already be doing the some of these things but the I think, on some level, these will apply to everyone…

  1. Get a basket/box/container or something else and require that students put their phones into it before the class starts (unless you have a specific reason they need it that day.)  For our students, and all of us in fact, our handphones and other devices are distractions.  They vibrate when we get a message, they ding when we have a new Instragram follower and they overtake our concentration.  99% of the time our students don’t need a handphone in class…get the basket and have them put their phones in before the lesson begins.
  2. Make kids close their computers until they absolutely need them open.  If we remove the handphone distraction but allow students to keep their laptops open, we’ve accomplished nothing.  There is very little our kids can’t do from their computers that they can from their phones.  You’ll be amazed by the increased level of concentration from your students once you’ve removed these two distractions.  (Tip:  If you want their concentration back once they’ve opened their computers…have them close them again!)
  3. Don’t allow students to listen to music while they work.  This will come with some controversy, especially from the older students, and will put many of us out of our comfort zones.  There is a lot of research that proves that multitasking doesn’t work, it makes people worse at all of the things they’re trying to do in comparison to focusing on one task.  Here is one small study that is a good example…basically, if you want your kids to learn at an optimal level, take the headphones out of the equation. (Note:  In Arts classes, this step may be skipped…music tends to increase creativity and can be helpful for artists at work.)
  4. Now that we’ve eliminated a lot of the major distractions, get up and engage your students!  If students are using their computers, get up and move around the room so you can see their screens frequently.  Kids will still find ways to be distracted despite our best intentions.  If students are working, that is your time to be checking their work, discussing with them, and monitoring their progress.  

At the end of the day, some of these challenges will be easier for some than others but they are all sound educational practices that will improve the learning environment for our students.  As the quote above mentions, “Nothing right in this world occurs without, at least, some discomfort.”  These four things will cause some discomfort for you and the students but at the end of the day, they’re all things that are “right” for education.  

Teaching Strategy CPR

Last week I was fortunate enough to participate in First Aide training and refresh my skills in CPR and basic immediate care.  As I waited to take my final practical assessment I pondered how important knowing these skills, as basic as they may seem, could help me professionally.  Aside from the obvious fact that I could now be at least somewhat helpful in a real emergency, I realized that CPR doesn’t always have to be taken literally to be helpful.

I think we’ve all done it, we’ve learned about a new teaching strategy, tried it out on an unsuspecting class, and…nothing…it died on the table.  More often than not, in cases like this, we move on and forget about the new strategy.  Either it failed so miserably that we were scared to try again or perhaps, it was too much effort to try another time.  We’ve all been there, I’m sure of it.  So, think back, what was the most recent new strategy you tried and abandoned?  Let’s breathe some life back into it…

The first thing we learned about helping to save someone is that we should never put ourselves in danger in order to do so.  So, if this strategy isn’t the right one, if it’s too big and will only weigh you down, then leave it and find another one.  Next, once you’ve settled on a safe strategy for saving, you need to call for help.  This isn’t something anyone wants you to do alone.  Talk with your department head, a colleague you trust, or an SLT member.  Get some advice, share ideas and develop a strong plan for breathing life back into this strategy.

CPR is a process, it takes effort and care.  So too will reviving this strategy.  As you consider trying this strategy again think about the right time to implement it.  Perhaps you’ve got a class that is more flexible and open to new ways of learning, that would be a good place to start.  If not, consider the right lesson to implement this strategy.  Review sessions are always a good time to try new things and get creative.  Whenever you decide to make the jump and try this strategy again, go in knowing that it is part of a process, one that may include multiple steps.  

One thing that became apparent during CPR training and holds true to trying out a new strategy in class is that they both take a lot of courage.  To jump in and try to save someone’s life takes a special amount of courage that, to be perfectly honest, I wonder if I’ll have should the moment ever arise.  Trying a new strategy, while not on the same level, also takes courage.  The difference, however, is that you can control the situation with a new strategy and go in confident that you’re prepared.  So, find that strategy that died on the table, work to breathe new life into it, and confidently know that you’re becoming a better educator as you do so.

New Year, Same Goals

Happy New Year!!!

I always get a small laugh out of the fact that for most educators this isn’t really a “new year”, as that generally happens around July or August.  However, it’s actually kind of cool because we end up getting two “new years” when most people only get one.  This isn’t the time of year when books are fresh, lockers are empty, and names are new, but that doesn’t mean we have to be completely left out of the fun of the New Year celebrations.

While this is a typical time of year to set personal goals for the calendar year, I like to think about January as a time to step back and revisit my professional goals.  If you’re anything like me, then your personal New Year’s Resolution from 2017 was out the door by February, or March at the latest, and was never revisited.  I hope the same isn’t true about the goals you set for this school year.  However, in the event that they’ve managed to slip from the front of your mind, this is the perfect time to stop and revisit those goals.
One of the biggest challenges with meeting a big, longer term goal is that often times we set those goals and forget all about them as we get caught up in the craziness of our day-to-day tasks.  I’m hoping that today I can nudge you a little closer toward making sure those goals get met this school year.

So, first things first…dig up those goals.  Where are they?  What are they?  Remind yourself exactly what it was you set out to achieve in terms of professional growth this school year.

Next, why did you set those goals?  Remind yourself of the “why” behind those goals.  What was it that motivated you to choose those goals in the first place?

Now, has anything changed?  Do these goals need to be updated in any way?  Perhaps you’re not sure and this is something you’d like to talk to your faculty head or SLT member about, do it!

Once you’ve reaffirmed your goals there’s something else I want to recommend to help you keep these a little closer to the heart of your efforts for the remainder of this school year.  As with any long-term goal, setting smaller short-term checkpoints will help you to achieve the big long-term plan.  Take some time to envision what meeting your goal will look like at the end of the school year.  How will you know you’ve gotten there?  What will we be able to look at that says, ‘yes, I’ve done it!’?  Now…take that vision and break it down into smaller checkpoints along the way from today to the end of this year.  What will success toward your goal look like in April?  March?  February?  The end of January?
It’s a “new year” for everyone else but we’re already halfway through our year.  It’s been an amazing first half and the second will surely fly by at a breakneck pace.  So, take a few moments this week to sit back and revisit your goals.  Think about how you’ll be able to ensure meeting those goals by the end of the year and find those checkpoints.

Once again, Happy New Year!!!

The Art of the Mistake

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.  They’ve been big and they’ve been small.  Usually, in hindsight they’re really no big deal at all.  Sometimes when they happen, however, they have such an impact that they’ll never be forgotten.  We’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

Part of me wants to stop there…we’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

However, mistakes can’t just stop with the mere acknowledgement that they’ve been made.  The beautiful part of mistakes is what comes after: learning, empathy, growth.  As educators we see our fair share of mistakes made on a regular basis.  I’ve grown fond of telling students that we expect them to make mistakes and that it’s their job (with our help) to learn from them, that’s why they’re in school.

Sometimes the mistakes our students make are minor, like a computational error on a math problem, other times they’re much bigger.  However, at the end of the day the ultimate goal is still the same; they should be learning from their mistakes.  This, the learning, is the crucial part of the puzzle.  How do we ensure that the learning they take away from their mistakes is the ‘right’ learning and how do we make sure that they’ve actually learned that lesson?

In truth, the answer to that question is simply, ‘we can’t.’  For the same reason that we are prone to making mistakes, we can’t guarantee anything else in the equation – we’re all human.  This, the fact that we’re all human, is something that I believe we forget all too often when dealing with other people’s mistakes.  It’s very easy to climb up into our ivory towers and pass judgement upon other people’s mistakes, even easier when those people are teenagers who make lots of mistakes!  However, if the true goal is to help someone learn from their mistake then we have to step back and remember – we’re all human.

Now, to be sure, just because we’re all human doesn’t mean that mistakes should be allowed to go unaddressed.  Actually, it’s just the opposite, mistakes need to be identified and learning should take place.  It’s this process of identifying mistakes, acknowledging them, and going through the process of learning that is at the heart of our job.  At the end of the day, how we treat mistakes made by our students is the legacy that we’ll leave as educators.  

Herein lies, perhaps, the biggest challenge we face each and every day.  How do we deal with mistakes made by our students?  We can be too relaxed, we can be too strict, or we can be somewhere in between.  It’s a Goldilocks paradox of sorts, we’re looking for that sweet spot right in the middle, that ‘just right’ territory.  There is no right answer here, and sometimes we’re going to make our own mistakes when dealing with other people’s mistakes.  However, if we can step back and acknowledge the fact that we all make mistakes and that they are a normal part of life, then just maybe we can get a little closer to that ‘just right’ place where we can all learn from our mistakes.  

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.  They’ve been big and they’ve been small.  Usually, in hindsight they’re really no big deal at all.  Sometimes when they happen, however, they have such an impact that they’ll never be forgotten.  We’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – John Powell

“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” – Richelle E. Goodrich

“You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing.” – Stella Adler

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” – Neil Gaiman

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” – Winston Churchill

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates