Modeling Our Learning

A few years ago our staff completed a Strengths Finder course and it was revealed that more than 80% of our teachers had the “Learner” profile in their top five strengths.  Not a surprise at all, considering the profession we’ve chosen.  I imagine that, despite being a small sample size, this group was representative of teachers across the world.  We’re learners, through and through.  It’s something we’re passionate about and, even if it’s not one of our top five strengths, it’s something we’re good at and enjoy.  

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking back to induction week and the challenge I put forth to lead our students, not only by teaching them academics, but also by positively modeling the behaviors we consider important.  I wish so badly that there was a way for our entire High School student body to have seen how hard their teachers were working to LEARN on Friday and Saturday.   Being learners, we understand the value of opening our minds to new ideas, but how do we model this behavior for our students?  

Too many students see learning as a school activity, something they’ll be “done” with once they graduate.  It’s one thing to tell our students that being a “lifelong learner” is important but wouldn’t that message be more effective if we could show them that we actually believe it?

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate our “learner” strength to our students is by sharing our learning experiences with them.  Whether it’s learning Bahasa Indonesia, studying for an IELTS assessment, taking golf lessons, or learning a new instrument, we’re all learning new things all the time.  If one of those doesn’t remind you of something you’re learning, then think no further than what you learned over the last few days in our MYP/DP workshops at school.  By discussing what we’re learning with our students we model for them the idea of being a lifelong learner as well as demonstrating our value for education in general.  

Recently I’ve become very skilled at saying, “Saya perlu belajar Bahasa Indonesia.”  I may not be making much progress but I’m working on it.  Students may occasionally laugh at me but they see me trying to learn Bahasa.  I constantly let them know how jealous I am of their bi/tri-lingual abilities (many of them have no idea how lucky they are to be learning in such a dynamic place as Sekolah Ciputra).   It’s one thing for me to tell them that learning languages is cool but it’s another thing altogether to show them that I really believe what I’m saying by showing them I’m working to learn Bahasa myself.  Talking the talk is one thing, but walking the walk shows you mean it.

So, as we come off a wonderful weekend of learning, think about how you can share this experience with your students.  Ask them about their 3-day weekend and let them know what you were doing while they were sleeping in and eating ice cream.  Let them know how important it is for you, as a teacher, to keep learning by sharing with them.  As the year goes on, look for more chances to share your learning with the kids.  You’re learning, you know it and I know it…let your students know it too!  

 

Perseverance Pays

This past week we saw an amazing performance of Peter Pan here at Academia Cotopaxi.  This play was put on by a mixed cast of Middle School students, Elementary School students, and staff members of both AC and the One Institute (we even had a local home-schooled student participate.)  One of the most amazing parts about this show was not the success it achieved but how they (the cast, directors, and everyone who helped) got there.  It was a long and winding road but by persevering through countless obstacles the cast and crew of Peter Pan were able to stand tall and rejoice after their successful performances.  

Perseverance:  steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

Our cast and crew of Peter Pan demonstrated some amazing perseverance from the first day of tryouts until show time.  Cast members dropping out, main characters being replaced with only weeks to go, cast members missing rehearsals, forgotten lines and scene changes – the struggles continued right up until show time.  However, if you attended the full dress rehearsal on Thursday like I did, you wouldn’t have known that any of these issues had existed.  It was a brilliant performance, the energy in the auditorium was at an all time high, and the cast and crew nailed it!

When faced with obstacles many people tend to shy away and often times they give up completely.  Following through, overcoming obstacles, and achieving the final goal in the face of adversity are not feelings that many people experience.  Why do we give up though?  Why is perseverance so difficult?  I wish the answer was simple enough for me to understand, I could make a lot of money!  However, what it comes down to is practice and patience.  There is no switch or magic pill, perseverance isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.  We do know, however, that those who practice perseverance become stronger in the long run.

Grit:  Passion plus perseverance over the very long term.

As we grow and practice perseverance we begin to build our gritiness.  We become better at handling short term struggles for the long term gain.  It’s a skill/character strength that has been studied in recent years by Angela Duckworth.  Her work is more than fascinating and has tremendous amounts of application for educational settings.  

Whether you persevere, show grit, or just work really hard to achieve your goals, the successful result and feelings of pride that come with it are enough to keep you driving forward toward your next goal.  Commit, work hard, fight through the obstacles and succeed.

If you’ve never heard of Nick Vujicic…watch this!

Once you’ve watched that, you’ll want to see this one…his TED talk. He is inspiring!

And, finally, a few famous people who persevered to reach great heights.

We’re All Counselors: Helping Our Students Navigate Their Way in a Wild World

Our kids/students need us (adults) more than ever right now.  I don’t just mean right now, as in this instant, but rather right now as in “this day and age”.  I’m not here to be a Chicken Little and tell you that the sky is falling but, because the digital age is well upon us, our kids are exposed to any and everything that becomes popular…anywhere!  While that can be a good thing, it is often scary and potentially dangerous.  Our kids need us, they need adults they can trust, talk to, and learn from…we have to be available for them, to listen and to provide guidance.

This isn’t new, it’s been going forever but the realities of what our kids see/hear/experience online each and every day are frightening, it’s not what we grew up with!  A few years back a frightening story came out of my hometown about two middle school age girls who tried to stab their best friend to death because they had been following an online character called Slenderman, it was crazy!  Guess what – HBO optioned it for a documentary.  This happened, literally, blocks away from where I grew up.  Where I ran, rode my bike, and stayed out until the street lights came on…then went back out after dinner for more fun!  The closest we came to this sort of thing was sneaking bootlegged scary movies (which were hard to come by!) into the basement at sleepovers.  Now this sort of thing is everywhere and our kids are gobbling it up!  

Recently I have seen a few more examples of the realities of what our students are facing on social media and on TV/Netflix.  Most popular right now, the television show “Th1rteen R3asons Why”  (based on the 2007 book of the same name by Jay Asher) has taken the young-adult world by storm, it is being watched by most of our high school students and a large amount of middle schoolers.  I haven’t seen this myself but Amy is watching it and has engaged me in some pretty deep conversations about the realities of what our kids are facing each day as teens.  According to Wikipedia, “the show revolve(s) around a student who kills herself after a series of culminating failures, brought on by select individuals within their school.”  There has been a lot written recently about this show.  Headspace (the same Australian group who produced the wonderful Mindfulness app I’ve used) has shown concern that people who have been exposed to the show may be at an increased risk or danger level because of it.  Like I said before, I’m not here to be Chicken Little but we most certainly need to work hard to understand all of the risk factors our students are being exposed to on a regular basis.  13 Reasons Why is just one example of what’s out there for our kids, it’s TV and fictional but no doubt gives our students ideas or reasons to further consider thoughts they’ve already had.  If they have no one to turn to for answers, conversations, or help then we’re not doing our job – we teach more than the content in the textbook!

Since I haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why myself I can hardly pass judgement on the show (or the book) but I am most certainly concerned that lines that have previously been respected are now being crossed.  In this show, the moment when the main character takes her own life has been shown and narrated in detail.  This sort of thing has previously been (unofficially) recognized as off limits for TV or movies but no longer does that seem to be the case.  What is yet to come is anyone’s guess but it will most surely be further away from this previously uncrossed line.  Even scarier than the prospects of what highly publicized media companies will produce next is the reality of what is spreading around the internet unsanctioned and unchecked, this is the part of the internet where our students live.

As I was planning and beginning to write this post it came to my attention that the newest topic of discussion for many of our middle schoolers is the “Blue Whale Challenge”.  I’ve done a little research (granted not all of the websites are the most reliable) but they all say the same thing, the Blue Whale Challenge (it goes by other names as well) is a “suicide game”.  Talk about scary!  It has taken hold in Russia and parts of Europe where people are extremely worried about the potential effects for teens and others who may be looking for an outlet or even a chance to “fit in”.  The fact that this conversation has spread to our community is extremely concerning but, as you can tell from my previous tone, not entirely surprising.  It’s out there, it’s on the internet and it’s popular with their age group – it’s going to find a way into their world one way or another.  Eeek.

So what do we do?  What is our role?  It’s a scary proposition for sure, especially for those of us who aren’t trained counselors, psychologists, or mental health advisors.  However, we still have a role.  We have to be good for our students, we need to build positive relationships with them so they know they have people to talk to.  School should be the safest (physically and mentally) place for our students.  They should know who they can turn to and feel comfortable approaching anyone.  It’s not our role to initiate discussions with them about 13 Reasons Why or the Blue Whale Challenge but it is our job to watch and listen for signs.  Kids cry out for help in many ways to many different people.  If you see these cries, or even suspect that you’ve seen one, then share it with someone.  Our counselors are amazing and we’re very lucky to have a school psychologist.  They are resources for us just as much as they are for the kids, don’t be afraid to approach them.  We’re on the front lines, we know these kids better than anyone (sometimes even better than their parents) and more than anything we care about these kids and would be devastated to see anything happen to them!

This is my cry for help, it’s me asking you to be the best for kids every single day in every possible way.  I know it’s not easy and it may not be realistic for us to be our best all the time but whatever we can give to these kids without sapping ourselves of our own physical and emotional health, that’s what we should be giving…please.

Seeking Perspective and Finding It

I’ve had a lot of conversations this past week that have really given me reason to step back and try to appreciate other perspectives.  As part of the mindfulness work I’ve been doing I’ve learned more about the importance of being able to step back and give myself perspective about my own thoughts.  This combination of considering my own thoughts from a different perspective as well as trying to approach conversations with other people the same way has really begun to spin things for me.  

It often times gets very difficult to stop and consider other people’s perspectives when you are in the midst of a (heated?) conversation.  I mean, really, when you’re right why consider other perspectives?!?  Well, the thing is, a lot of times when we think we’re right (and we are) so is the other person!  It’s true, it’s possible, people can disagree but both be right!!  It’s all about perspective…

Last week I had a conversation with a student, I approached it from a closed perspective but luckily caught myself mid-way through.  See, I was right, had to be.  He was disrespectful to a bus monitor, arriving to the bus late and then screaming foul language at her.  Not okay, anywhere, anytime.  BUT, he was ‘right’ too…only I wasn’t allowing myself to see this because his behavior was so intolerable that it needed to be addressed, now!  He wasn’t too keen to agree with me, in fact he felt like there was a great injustice being exacted upon him.  This is when it hit me…perspective.  I stopped talking, I listened and asked questions to begin to understand his perspective.  He had felt wronged and unfairly treated…so to him, he was the one who was right.  At the end of the conversation we realized, together, that his understanding of the situation had actually been skewed and he acknowledged that his behavior was unacceptable.  Perspective allowed this conversation to resolve successfully.  I realized I needed to see his and he came around to seeing mine after I gave him the courtesy of listening and understanding his perspective.  

This happens all the time at school, especially in interactions between students and teachers/administrators.  We’re the adults and therefore, obviously, can see everything clearly.  In fact we often operate without all the information and still believe that we have to be right…which, sorry to say, might not be fair.  Now, I will concede that it is often the case as I shared above; the students have a different version of reality than us.  When this happens, even if we believe that we are seeing things clearly, we still need to stop to understand their perspective.  If we don’t, when they (inevitably) tuck their tail between their legs and ‘agree’, they will still hold animosity because they feel wronged.  However, by taking the time to understand their perspective and giving it the respect they feel it deserves we can better resolve any situation without (or at least with less) lingering animosity.

The lesson I’ve learned through my mindfulness work is, during meditation, to allow our mind to have thoughts but instead of chasing them to sit back and acknowledge them without any judgement.  By doing this you take a perspective on your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that you previously may not have had.  I’ve realized that we must approach more of our conversations, especially the difficult conversations, with a non-judgmental perspective.  By doing this we will begin to see how other perspectives might actually make sense, even if we don’t particularly agree.  Rising to this level of understanding can lead to calmer, less stressful conversations, interactions, and lives.

So, give it a shot.  Try to release judgment from yours and other people’s perspectives, step back and watch the cars go by instead of chasing traffic!  I bet you’ll appreciate the results!!

 

CAISSA for the Win

This week/end we’ve been busy hosting the CAISSA regional sports tournament.  With visiting schools from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, and Cayman Islands it’s been a great experience for everyone involved.  

As the days rolled on I took a few moments to sit back and reflect on everything that I’ve seen and heard during CAISSA, it’s been interesting.  I want to share some of the observations I’ve made and how they are a positive for not only our community but all of those who’ve been involved.

  1. School isn’t exclusively about textbooks and exams!  The lessons that have been learned during this event have been incredible.  There have been lessons on sportsmanship (with examples of the good as well as, unfortunately, the bad).  We’ve seen our AC students come out and support their classmates (or older role models) and cheer positively for the efforts of all the athletes, the positive experience of enjoying a sporting event is not to be under-appreciated!  While all of this excitement has been happening we’ve also seen the discipline of many of our students to attend classes and, in some cases, take tests despite the energy of these athletic contests happening just steps away.  
  2. Bonds created by hosting students from other schools last for a long time!  As the week progressed I saw more and more of our students walking around, chatting, and just hanging out with kids from the other schools.  Many times the connections between these students were formed when one student-athlete played the role of host to the other.  Initially, hosting guest student-athletes was a cost saving measure but now it’s grown to so much more than that.  Living under the same roof, if only for a couple days, creates a bond between these young adults that is stronger than the competition.  It’s a unique experience, one that helps these kids realize that it’s not all about the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game.  
  3. Hard work prevailing isn’t just something from Hollywood, it actually happens!  Watching some of the games over the course of the tournament, it became very obvious as to who “should” win particular matchups.  However, in a number of cases, the “underdog” showed that hard work and perseverance can win out over a more “talented” opponent.  Teamwork, effort, and fundamentals became more than buzz-words, they became rallying cries and motivation!   As educators, how can we transfer that attitude into the classroom?
  4. Attitude is everything!  The last time we hosted CAISSA I was blown away by the effort and dedication of our JV girls Volleyball team as they battled against all the varsity squads.  Once again, the JV teams have impressed beyond my imagination. The girls soccer team has been competitive and fought hard against every opponent they’ve faced, never hanging their heads or giving up despite facing tough varsity level competition.  Our JV boys on the basketball court have faced, whether fairly or not, the best that each of the varsity teams have had to offer.  Whether a tough opponent, a bad shooting day, or injured teammates, our JV athletes have fought through and left every ounce of energy on the court/field.

CAISSA has been a nice interlude for our community.  The positive atmosphere of support and hard work from our athletes and community has been wonderful to see.  It’s not all about academics when it comes to school, CAISSA  was a nice reminder of that fact.  We’re helping transform young adults into adults, that extends well beyond the books!!

Curiosity May Have Killed The Cat, But Thankfully We’re Not Cats!

Over the summer I watched and played with my nephews (two and four years old) as they explored and played with their Legos and other newfangled toys.  I realized that there were two likely traits of a successful toy.  The first trait of a successful toy, for my nephews anyway, is that you can throw it, hit (with) it, or kick it.  The second, is that the toy sparks curiosity.  This is what I want to talk about today, maybe I’ll get to the throwing, hitting, and kicking another (more stressful) day 🙂

One of my favorite parts of working with young people is the opportunity to watch them be curious.  In time, I have come to strongly believe that curiosity is one of, if not the most important character strength in successful people.  Each day at break as I make my usual tour of the café, courtyard, and soccer field I keep an eye out for students who are lingering on the periphery.  When I first started I was concerned about these students, worried they weren’t making connections with their peers.  Over time, however, I’ve come to understand that many of these kids are just pursuing their curiosity of the world around them.

During China Trips last year it was wonderful to see the wide eyes and ‘ohs and ahs’ as kids explored the outdoors.  The opportunities for exploration of curiosities in that setting are almost endless.  Similarly, the chances for students to independently pursue curiosity exists here at school as well.  As an example, there was a sixth grader last year who took a direct route to the bushes near the field at lunch.  It took me a couple days to realize that this was a pattern and when I wandered over to see what had drawn her curiosity she explained that there was a spider who had spun a web and she was admiring the geometric patterns while hoping that it would trap something.  She was curious, she wanted to watch and wonder in awe about how this tiny creature had created something so seemingly perfect but at the same time she was concerned that it wasn’t “working” because nothing had yet been trapped.

Curiosity is a character strength that is, perhaps, more easily fostered than actually taught.  I couldn’t have paid some students to be interested in that spider web but others would have had the same sense of curiosity and awe if they had been exposed to that wonder.  They, however, hadn’t gone searching for it like this little girl had done – which is where we come in.  There is currently a lot of research going into character education and I think we’re still a ways away from any definitive answers as to how we could teach some of these character strengths.  However, we can facilitate them and foster their growth when the time is right.  So, how are you helping to encourage curiosity in your classroom and beyond?

Our students have incredibly curious and creative young minds.  Feel free to allow them the opportunity to open up and explore new ideas.  Some of the greatest minds in the world have been successful because they’ve been freed of restricted thinking and have been allowed to think openly about their ideas.  If curiosity really killed the cat then I guess we’re all lucky not to be cats…open yourselves to exploration and let’s do the same for our kids!!

“I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.” – Bernard Baruch

“Curiosity is the lust of the mind.” – Thomas Hobbes

There is a fast-growing movement in education right now around 20-Time.  It is based on a similar concept perviously used at Google and other companies to encourage the pursuit of passions during working hours.  I’m not asking you to turn over one class every five days to the pursuit of curiosity but I think there is definitely room for including pieces of this concept in our day-to-day lessons.

20-Time informational website:  http://www.20timeineducation.com/

An interesting article about Google and 20-Time:  http://www.wired.com/2013/08/20-percent-time-will-never-die/

Two Cents of Happiness

Happy Friday and Happy October Holiday!!  In fact, we’re a pretty happy group around here these days 🙂  Not that it’s always perfect but, then again, when is life ever perfect?  I’ve been reading a lot about “The Science of Happiness” recently and while it’s been a personal interest for me it has also turned into a bit of a professional exploration as well.  A couple weeks ago I wrote about the impact we can all have by taking a positive outlook on things and I got a lot of great feedback from a number of people, thank you!  What I’d like to ask you to think about today is how all of that positivity adds up to make something (us) awesome.

Some of you will remember a few years ago back to when we started the COAR initiative, the one that lives on today on many of our shirts.  That was started for a very specific reason, to build the positive culture here on our campus.  At the time there was a lot of focus on negativity and, even though it was a relatively small element, it was getting a lot of attention.  What we aimed to do was drown out the negative with an overwhelming sense of positivity and, I believe, we’ve done that.  That’s not to say that there is no longer negative but rather that we’ve done a much better job of focusing on the positives and enjoying the successes, of which there are many!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading a lot about the “The Science of Happiness” and I’ve been looking at some of the ground-breaking work done by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  In 2005 she co-authored a paper that has become the ground work for a huge amount of theory behind positive thinking and living a positive lifestyle.  What I want to focus on today though, is what Fredrickson considers the “tipping point” between flourishing and withering.  Throughout her work, Fredrickson and her co-author Marcel Losada came to the conclusion that if you live your life with three positive emotions for every one negative emotion then you will have a remarkably high likelihood of flourishing in life.  I couldn’t help but take this “positivity ratio” and apply it to our Middle School.

The amazing thing that I see when I start thinking about our Middle School and all the awesome stuff that happens here is that we’re way beyond a 3-to-1 ratio here.  Our positive emotions outweigh our negative emotions, not just by three but by multiples of three!  Our Middle School celebrates awesomeness, our students ooze it, and our teachers are models of positivity.  Keep in mind, this 3:1 ratio was identified from research based on individuals but it only makes sense that this (or at least a similar) ratio could also apply to schools and other organizations.  From all of the reading that I’ve done, there are a lot of people who struggle to meet this ratio in their personal lives but, fortunately for me, I don’t believe that I work with many of them!  Nope, our Middle School is flourishing and it’s because of you!!!

Enjoy your October break everybody and travel safely!!!

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/are_you_getting_enough_positivity_in_your_diet (Are you Getting Enough Positivity in Your Diet by Barbara Fredrickson)

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jan/19/mathematics-of-happiness-debunked-nick-brown (To give fair billing, Fredrickson’s math has been challenged in recent years)

http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%202013%20Updated%20Thinking.pdf (BUT, Fredrickson stands behind her research)

And in case you’d rather just dance with almost 500 Million other people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM