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.

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:

An interesting article about Google and 20-Time:

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!!! (Are you Getting Enough Positivity in Your Diet by Barbara Fredrickson) (To give fair billing, Fredrickson’s math has been challenged in recent years) (BUT, Fredrickson stands behind her research)

And in case you’d rather just dance with almost 500 Million other people

Taking Attendance of Ourselves

Throughout the year, at various points, we have struggled with certain students because of their sporadic attendance in class.  It’s hard enough for our kids when they are in class every day and even more difficult for our students to keep up if they aren’t present in the moment.  This challenge is frustrating and leads to inconsistencies, sometimes it leads to kids falling behind and struggling to catch up.  As the end of the year nears, a lot of our kids are looking ahead to summer; it’s so close they can almost touch it.  Some of our students are already mentally on vacation – and it’s frustrating!  As the year comes to an end the schedule gets crazy, the kids go wild, and things heat up as fast as the temperature rises.  This is the time of year when our focus needs to be at it’s highest; we can’t afford to mentally go on vacation early.

To be honest, my inspiration for writing this today isn’t derived from any of our teachers failings, because as far as I’ve seen, everyone still has their nose to the grindstone and are continuing to motivate our students to run hard to the end.  In fact, I’m inspired by the fact that teachers are still coming to me about student concerns even though we have only 5 academic days left with our kids.  It is refreshing to know that just because we’ve booked our summer plans and started to think about fun in the sun, we’re still working hard for our students.  As we close things out during the next couple weeks don’t forget to remain in the present and enjoy your last few weeks.  Many colleagues will be moving on after this school year finishes and the same is true for our students.  Remain in the present, summer will be here soon enough and you’ll be happy to have enjoyed your last days of the school year.  The end of the year can be busy and stressful; take attendance of yourself and make sure you’re present.  Like the sign on my computer today says, “Think happy, be happy!”

Gratitude’s Exponential Powers

Last week I wrote about character strengths and practicing what we preach.  If you completed the self-assessment you saw that “gratitude” is one of the 24 character strengths measured and is, in fact, important to becoming a successful person.  In one of the studies included with the course I am taking it is suggested that gratitude could be, in fact, a malleable skill.  So what does that mean, what if we can actually learn gratitude?  Well, some of the activities included in the course are designed to help do just that:  reflecting on three good things that happened each day and why, reflecting on things you are grateful for at the end of each week, explaining why when you say ‘thank you’ to someone (i.e. Thank you for buying me that coffee, that really makes me feel appreciated!), and perhaps most impactful of all is writing a gratitude letter to someone and reading it to them out loud.  All of these activities are designed to help you understand the reasons you are grateful as well as help you express your gratitude in a way that allows others to feel even better about themselves.

We have been talking a lot with the kids recently about ‘saying what they need to say’ to their friends and teachers before the school year is over.  Isn’t this another case of practicing what we preach?  How have you shown gratitude to those around you recently?  Think about the impact you are having not only on those people but on yourself.  The attached research article is a bit dry (as research articles can be) but some of it’s findings are very interesting:  Gratitude and positive emotions can help ‘sharpen the saw’, as Stephen Covey calls it, and provide emotional resources for us to draw on when we’re down or having a bad stretch.   Gratitude helps to build and strengthen bonds with other people (students, colleagues, acquaintances, etc.)  Gratitude can help us deal with stress and adversity.  My favorite of all, “Gratitude inspires prosocial reciprocity.”

So how do you show gratitude?  Could you do more to improve all of these things in your life just by changing the way you show gratitude?  Give it a shot for a few days and I’d recommend keeping some kind of a log to track how people respond to your signs of gratitude.  As always, I’d love to hear your two cents 🙂


Practicing What We Preach

I’ve always been a huge proponent of explicitly teaching character strengths but that takes dedicated and specific time.  In the absence of a specific program for teaching character there are still many ways to ‘teach’ our students how to develop their character strengths.  One of the best ways is by modeling, by living the message.  Currently I am taking a GREAT online course called “Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms” via Relay/GSE and  It is only a four week class and I’m half way through, it doesn’t take too much time…if you’re interested in giving it a shot follow this link to sign up.

One of the very first lessons requires you to take two sorts of self-assessment.  The first part tasks you with considering 24 character strengths and ranking them in order of importance for student success.  Follow this link to the document from the Relay/GSE that is used for doing this so you can give it a try.  The second part is an online self-assessment that asks you 120 questions (it takes about 10 minutes) and then gives you feedback about the order in which you actually live out the 24 character strengths.  This VIA Survey requires you to sign up but it is free and they don’t send you annoying emails (interestingly enough I signed up 9 years ago and took this test and received nothing from them, it was also really cool to see how I’ve changed over time!)

So, give it a shot.  Go through both parts of this (it will take about 20 minutes) and see what your results look like.  Are you actually practicing what you preach or are there areas where you talk-the-talk more than walk-the-walk?  I’m happy to share my results (from now and 9 years ago!) if you’re keen to see.  Let me know once you’ve completed this, I’d love to hear your two cents!!

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  – James Baldwin