Lining Up For Education

This past Saturday was a busy one around the Sekolah Ciputra community.  Sembako Murah, supported by over 40 High School students, brought hundreds of local community members out to campus to take advantage of the PSG’s wonderful charity event.  A group of our Year 7 boys participated in (and won) a soccer competition at SES.  Also, at PTC, some of our High School students participated in the Jawa Pos Zetizen Conference.  It was a great weekend for our students and all of those who helped coach, mentor, and support them through their activities.  

While all of that was happening for our community and current students, we also hosted over 60 prospective new High School students and their families.  These families were at Sekolah Ciputra bright and early on Saturday morning to take enrollment tests because they want to be a part of our community.  Speaking to these students and their families was an incredibly inspiring, and humbling, experience.  As someone new to the community I try to keep my eyes and mind open about our students, community, and school.  However, this weekend took me to a whole new level of understanding about just how special our school community really can be.

Talking with the students who were arriving and nervous to be taking an enrollment test so early on a Saturday morning I was shocked and awed by their dedication and drive to, hopefully, enroll at Sekolah Ciputra.  Students had literally come from all over Indonesia (Solo, Bali, Sulawesi, and more!) just for the chance to take these enrollment tests.  Perhaps even more impressive were the kids who are currently attending other schools in the Surabaya area.  Talking to these kids and inquiring into their backgrounds and stories, I was blown away.  Comments like,  “I had to BEG my mom to come to this school”, “I know this is the best school to prepare me for university”, and “I have friends who go to this school and they love it” were all things that I heard multiple times throughout the morning.  

For those of you who’ve been here for a while this may be old news to you, but let me assure you, this is special!  I’ve worked in four international schools and visited many more, this is the first time I’ve encountered such rapid enthusiasm for potential enrollment at a school.  It truly is a humbling experience to see all of these kids (and parents) so excited for even the possibility of joining us at Sekolah Ciputra.  

Considering how excited these prospective students and families were just to have the chance to attend our school got me thinking about what it meant to already be a member of our SC community.  Often times we take our jobs and students for granted but I’d like to encourage you to step back and reflect a bit on just how wonderful a school community we have at Sekolah Ciputra.  Sure, some of our students arrive late and are inexcusably absent too often, but overall our students are fantastic young adults.  Many of our kids were saying all those previously mentioned comments not too long ago.  They look at Sekolah Ciputra as an opportunity, a chance they are excited to have.

So, take some time to reflect on what it means for our students and for you to be a member of the Sekolah Ciputra community.  People are lining up to get into our school because they see SC as the opportunity to chase their dreams.  What are we doing to help make their dreams a reality?  

 

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Counting Sheep at #ELC2017BKK

I’ve got a super comfortable bed in a beautiful hotel room, no one to steal the sheets, and amazing blackout curtains.  Yet, I’ve been up counting sheep because I haven’t been able to sleep for the last few nights while here in Bangkok.  What gives?

It’s this conference.  The ideas.  The conversations.  The opportunities to share stories.  

My mind is racing…revved up and ready to go.

From the word ‘go’ this has been an opportunity to challenge beliefs and encourage thought.  Starting with the three challenges laid down by Peter Dalglish (Climate Change, Nuclear Proliferation, and Epidemic Viruses) was a super impactful way to get the conference started off with a bang!  Things haven’t slowed down one bit since that first morning.  

So what’s been keeping me awake these past few nights?  Well, here are just a few of the provocations that have been racing through my mind:

  1. How do I define learning?
  2. What is my school doing to create ‘nimble learners’ and educate for the unknown?
  3. What needs to be done to ensure that all children are safe at my campus?  (Shout out to @chris_akin for sharing all the work he’s done with Child Protection.)
  4. What ‘clarity’ am I creating out of the ‘confusion’ as a leader in my school?
  5. How can we adapt the programs/courses/pathways in our school to better meet the interests of our students while maintaining (and perhaps even increasing) a rigorous curriculum?

Beyond those five BIG questions lie hundreds smaller, but no less important, thoughts.  The trouble though, is that we’re all here for four or five days to challenge our thinking and have our minds opened to new possibilities, but what are we going to do about it?  When we get back to school on Monday the reality will strike.  School didn’t stop while we were away, things piled up that will require our attention, and it will be exhausting getting ‘back on track’.  So, when will there be time or energy enough to implement anything we learned during #ELC2017BKK?

The answer has to be, ‘I’ll make the time.’  If we’re being educationally responsible leaders, then there is just no way that we can go back to our schools and let all of these great ideas and strategies fall by the side of the road.  So, whether it means cutting something or reprioritizing your schedule, you have to make time and find a way to lead change at your school.  You don’t have to do it ALL, or even most of it.  Coming here and learning, like we’ve all been so fortunate to do, means that you now have the moral imperative to address important things in your school, all with the goal of improving student learning!  

So what questions have been keeping you awake these past few nights?

What are you going to do about them?

ISTE Standards 3 and 4: A Deep Dive into Knowledge Creators and Innovative Designers

We’ve been spending time every couple weeks working with the Admin Team, led by the Tech Department, to explore and dig deeply into the ISTE Standards for Students.  It’s been a wonderful way for us to stop and think about the student experience at AC, especially as it relates to their engagement with the digital world.  The last time we met we dove deep into Standards three and four, exploring how it might look for students to be meeting these standards here at Academia Cotopaxi.  After taking some time to reflect on this conversation and look around school for ways that our students are meeting these standards, it has become very clear that we are already on the right track.

Becoming a “Knowledge Constructor” is the main idea of Standard number three.  The exact language of this standard is, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”  It struck me as I digested that standard a little more that this is exactly what I do when I write my usual blog posts.  I curate resources on whatever topic may have caught my fancy for the week, I then produce a creative artifact (my blog post) which creates a meaningful learning experience for me (and hopefully for anyone who reads my post!)  Cool, I’m a Knowledge Constructor!  Then I got to thinking about our students, is this happening in our school and, if so, where and with what frequency?  So I went looking…I wanted to find examples of our students as “Knowledge Constructors” in different contexts, here is what I found:

 

We are helping our students become “Knowledge Constructors” all over school, in many different contexts.  From Humanities, to Math, to Science class and beyond, we are offering our students the chance to curate resources and construct their own knowledge as part of the learning process.

We’re also doing it ourselves as educators…How do you Steep your tea?

My overall impression is that our students have the opportunities educationally to be “knowledge constructors” in a lot more contexts than I had imagined.  Design Technology class, sure, that’s an obvious one.  Even the Humanities classes seems obvious.  However, it’s happening in Math, Science, Art…seemingly everywhere!

Next, we came to Standard number four, “Innovative Designer,” Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  I was confronted with a harsh reality:  I don’t know the whole “design process” off the top of my head…I know it exists, I’ve worked with it before, and I’ve seen it maneuvered by students over the years but I still haven’t internalized it.  Now, to be fair, when you Google “Design Process” there are a few different versions of the design process.  However, this is the most common version and the one I am familiar with from my past experiences.

By Aflafla1 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think the “deployment” arrow should really loop back around to the “Initial Planning” arrow, as it is truly a never ending cycle starting with an “alpha” version, moving to a “beta” and then on and on into production and versions 2.0 etc.

Anyway, the “Innovative Designer” standard was harder to chew on than its “Knowledge Constructor” counterpart.  Looking at our school for Innovative Designers was fun but a little frustrating at the same time:

^ There should’ve been a picture with that one…Tweet fail 😦

So, why was it frustrating to find examples of ISTE standard number four?  Well, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find examples in a diverse range of classrooms like I could with Standard number three.  Design Tech, Humanities, and Science…these are all obvious to me.  Now, to be fair, what I did find in those areas was exciting…Rube Goldberg Machines, Stop Motion, Bridge Challenge, Speech Competitions all in the same week….awesome!

BUT…where are the “Innovative Designers” when it comes to the other classes?  The same students are enrolled in Math, Spanish, Music, PE, and other classes…where is the Innovative Design in those classes?  (Again, in fairness, I didn’t do an exhaustive search and it was brief.)  It’s quite easy to imagine students writing their own compositions in Music class instead of always playing someone else’s stuff.  Similarly in PE…creating their own games or exercise routines.  Art, I can only imagine that I just didn’t catch the right day…they’re always creating their own stuff, but how ‘innovative’ is it and does it solve a problem?  The opportunity is there and we certainly have students capable of being ‘innovative’…they just need the chance!

Lastly, about standard four, is the part I see as most crucial – following the design process.  This is something that our teachers are going to need to learn and practice.  I would wager that the majority, if not all, of our teachers have little to no experience with the design process and what it means to lead students through that cycle.  It’s not easy and takes some practice for sure.  However, the rewards are HUGE and totally worth the effort…I believe that our teachers will see that and completely buy in!

At the end of this reflection process it’s become clear to me that we’re on the right track, our teachers and students are working toward the ISTE standards three and four whether they know it or not.  We’re much closer with number three, Knowledge Constructor, than we are with standard four, Innovative Designer.  The difference isn’t a lack of desire on our teachers or students part but, in all likelihood, a lack of information…we need to help move them further along toward understanding of this standard.

For me this was a great experience, full of eye-opening classroom visits and wonderful conversations with kids about their designs!  So much fun!!!

 

Celebrating What we Value Most

It is often said, “we celebrate the things we value most.”  Well, I want to celebrate you…the teachers and leaders of our students.  

Long hours, endless frustrations, and countless sacrifices.  Fighting off colds, exhaustion, and 9 weeks of wear and tear.  Diagnosing, teaching, assessing, re-teaching, and re-assessing.  Teenagers, their parents, and all the hormones.

Success, the glimmer of hope, and the celebratory emails home.  The amazing lesson, the excitement of learning, and the joy in their eyes.  The growth, the pride, and the sense of achievement.  Smiles, laughs, hugs, and high-fives.

Students are both the greatest and the toughest part of this job.  They are the challenge and the reward all at once.  Yet, rarely, do they stop to say thank you and show their appreciation.  BUT…it’s there, I promise.  From the conversations I have in the halls and at lunch to the messages from parents.  Our students appreciate their teachers and this school.  The smiles and overall feeling of happiness that runs rampant throughout our school community is the most telling sign.  Our kids enjoy AC and they appreciate the work you do on their behalf.

What do teachers make anyway?

Well, if you haven’t seen this before you should see it now (I apologize for the occasional bad word)…and THANK YOU!!!!

What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is
What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking:
if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time
with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

Thank you Taylor Mali for his inspiration and permission to use his work to inspire!

Mali. Taylor. “What Teachers Make.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Starting Today for a New Ending

I love quotes, I collect them and enjoy reading them at all turns.  Perhaps more than anything I like breaking them down, contemplating their potential meanings and considering the context in which they were originally given.  

Recently a friend and member of my PLN posted a quote on Twitter.

@posickj got me thinking about this quote and I’ve been knocking it around in my head for a while now…

I immediately thought of Growth Mindset when I read this quote.  What could be a better philosophy in life than moving on from past troubles and starting anew?  Of course the past is important and we can learn a lot from our experiences, but the chance to wake up each day with a fresh opportunity is certainly motivational.  I could go deeper philosophically with this quote but I’m happy to focus on this marvelous message as a positive opportunity for the future.  I’d like all educators to stop and think about how this quote can be applied to their lives?  Was it a bad class or lesson?  Was it a long and stressful week?  Has the transition to a new school and city been harder than expected?  In all of these situations, “anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

It’s been a long start to the year without any breaks.  We’re staring down a five day weekend at the end of this month but we have to get there first.  Take some time for yourself and sharpen the saw.  Also, take a minute to think about where you can start working toward a new ending…

Granting Ourselves Permission

We have to grant ourselves permission to stop at some point, this is education and we could work 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives and the work still wouldn’t be finished.  The importance of slowing down and giving ourselves permission to search for balance in our lives is a crucial element of success in education.  

Each day that we work with our students we should be at our very best, but the reality is that none of us can honestly say that we’re doing this.  We come to school tired, sick, and overwhelmed by outside influences.  This is normal, everyone does this and that’s okay (to a point…stay home if you’re contagious!).  No one is going to have their best day every time they wake up and there’s a reason for that, we’re human.  However, despite being human, we are still able to control a lot of the factors that determine how balanced we remain.

We can help ourselves stay as healthy as possible by tending to our diet and exercise, we can ensure that we get enough sleep, and we can maintain healthy stress levels through yoga, meditation, or another relaxing activity.  Perhaps the most important way that we can help ourselves to stay fresh and in peak form is to grant ourselves the permission to stop.  Perhaps in no other profession does the anxiety over “getting everything done” build as quickly as it does in education.  After all, we’ve got these kids’ futures in our hands, if we don’t teach them everything they need they’ll never learn it…right?!?

Well, here’s a possible wake up call for you, if you’re burned out then your students aren’t going to learn much of anything from you!  Very often as educators we get caught in a cycle of coming in early, staying late, and then taking work home.  We want to try new strategies, give quality feedback, engage our students and increase student learning.  Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing those things…BUT…we need to do it at a sustainable pace, one at which we can stay healthy, relaxed and present for our students.  Find your limits and hold yourself to them without going over, it’s a long fall if you go over the edge.

It is essential that we acknowledge the fact that the work is never going to feel like it is done, that there will always be something more we could do.  Granting ourselves permission to draw a line and stop pushing for the sake of our own sanity must happen, or we will all work ourselves into the ground.  Prepare yourself at the beginning of the year, month, or unit.  Allot yourself time to complete the absolute essentials, then allot time for the balance outside of school,  and finally you can use what is left over to let yourself run wild with the “extras”.  To successfully maintain balance we need to plan for it and make it a priority.  

Including teacher inservice days we’ve been back to work for seven weeks now.  For new teachers tack on two more weeks dating back to your arrivals.  Some of you also spent a full week with kids on Discover Ecuador.  It seems like we just started school but we’re already well into the year!  Take a minute to check-in with yourself…are you getting the right amount of rest, what about your diet and exercise, and have you taken the appropriate time to decompress and relax on the weekends or with friends?

Grant yourself permission.

Camp Amazonia

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Last week I was lucky enough to join the 10th grade class on their trip to Camp Amazonia near the communities of Rio Blanco and San Alberto in the Amazon Jungle.  It was my tenth school trip in as many years and each has been unique in its own way.  This was my first time taking high school students on a trip and I can now say I’ve traveled for a week with every grade from 3-10 except 9th grade.  This trip included lots of hard work to help the local Kichwa communities, team building, cultural activities, and a trip to the Jumandi Caves.  At the end of the week everyone was exhausted but there was also an overwhelming sense of achievement!  

Awesomeness

Every time I take one of these trips there are wonderful examples of how amazing young adults can be when they are pushed out of their comfort zones.  This past week certainly did that, kids and adults alike were challenged in situations that went well beyond our everyday routines.  Right from the start we got right down to business with some hard work in the morning and then again after lunch.  We started the day in the rain and ended in fierce heat and sun.  Not only were we pushing ourselves hard to help these communities but the weather was pushing us as well.  However, by the end of the night everyone made it to dinner with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction in their hearts.  

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Working hard to create a botanical fence line.

The sense of community that develops over the course of a week like this is impressive to say the least.  Students who are struggling for one reason or another are picked up by their classmates without any teacher intervention.  Classmates who hadn’t really engaged with each other in the past can be seen walking, working, eating, and hanging out together.  New friendships are formed and old bonds are strengthened.  As important as community can be in international schools, trips like this are crucial!  

I’m not sure there are words to express how impressed I was with the efforts of the 10th grade group over the course of the week.  Through torrential rains, back breaking work, spiders and other critters, these kids stepped up in a huge way.  The work they did this

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Heading out to plant trees, helping to reforest a recently devastated area.

past week will benefit those communities for years to come.  Our students may never return to this area but their mark has been made, their efforts were not in vain.

What I Learned About Myself

While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too.  This trip was, by far, the most physically challenging of the school trips I’ve enjoyed.  I’m not shy about some hard work and I enjoyed every second of getting my hands dirty this week.  However, I learned a few lessons of my own through this experience.  

First off, I used to think that I would do pretty much anything to be out of the rain.  I HATE rain, or at least I used to think I did.  I mean, I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm but that’s conditional on me not being caught in the down pour.  In the Amazon, when it rains, it pours.  When it pours in the jungle there’s just no way to avoid it, no way to stay dry, get dry, or even remember what dry feels like!  However, it’s warm outside which makes being wet much more tolerable than I had ever realized.  In fact, by the time we got to Thursday and got stuck in yet another torrential downpour I was so used to the rain that I soaked it up and enjoyed every last drop.  I learned that I could manage being wet, even soaked with boots full of water!  

Another great reminder for me this week had to do with being prepared.  While I was prepared with all of the right materials and supplies, some of the kids weren’t.  Usually I pack extra and plan for this situation but for some reason I didn’t this week.  I gave up my gloves and came home with some blisters as trophies.  Not all of our kids had the proper footwear but thankfully Camps International had extra boots.  Finally, when it comes to being prepared in the jungle…bug spray is your best friend, I got lazy at the end of the week and my legs got eaten up!  Pack heavy and take extra gear, especially if you’re staying in cabins and not carrying it around all week.

Thankful

At the end of the week I feel extremely thankful that I was able to join this experience with our 10th graders.  We made a difference in that community, we learned about the Amazon, and we grew closer as a group.  Working alongside this inspirational group of young adults made me a better person and a better educator.  The best news is that I get one more week, this time with 7th grade…I can’t wait!!

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Hiking in the jungle, we stopped next to a 300 year old tree to learn how to create our own headwear.