Refocusing on Students

Last week I said that I was going to start sharing interesting articles, blogs and other resources to help you think about how you can grow as a teacher.  This week I want to give you some things to ponder related to the topic “Refocusing on Students”. Aren’t the students what it’s all about?

Most of the articles that I plan to share are things that I’ve linked and saved as I scroll through Twitter, coming back to them later because they’re usually so long. SO…with that in mind, I’m only including two longer articles for those who are interested but I’ve also included some great tweets that are aimed to get the juices flowing. 

So, without further ado…There is a lot of good stuff here to inspire any educator!!

Is it ALL about student engagement?

How do students learn?

Classroom culture is essential…

How can my classroom be more rigorous?

If half your students fail….

Every child has a story

 

How could the way you interact with your students and manage your classroom be improved?  Here are 10 great ideas to begin working on immediately.

 

A great piece about how focusing on the strengths (instead of weaknesses) of an English Language Learner can help them grow

Advertisements

Student Takeover: What would students change about school if they could?

If you were a student in this school and had a magic wand that would allow you to change anything you wanted, what would you want to change to make the learning experience better?

Next year’s Student Council candidates have already been chosen and the elections will happen in the middle of May.  I’ve been meeting with the candidates and asking them questions like the one above. I believe it’s important that our students begin thinking about how school can be a better place for them to learn, they should be advocating for themselves in this regard.  

What I want to ask you to think about today is what you would do to change the learning experience if you were a student in this school.  So, take off your teacher hat for a minute and put on your student hat.  What is something that students at this school would want to change if they had a magic wand?  

I’m sure you’ve thought of some obvious answers that, as teachers, we think are pretty crazy.  “No homework!” or “No grades!”  (Note: What would school look like if we got rid of both of these things??)

Put your student hat back on, and think about more things you’d (as the student) like to change about the learning experience, go beyond the knee-jerk reactions and think about this for a few minutes.  From the students’ perspective, what could we be doing better to improve their learning experience? If you were sitting in your class, or your colleague’s class, what would you be thinking? Would you be fully engaged in learning?  Would you be excited and eager to come to class?

If you were a student, what would you change?

 

Preparing Students for an Unknown Future

I hope everyone had a chance to rest, relax and sharpen the saw a bit over the holiday.  We’re back for the final stretch of the year, it’s going to fly by!

During the holiday Amy and I traveled to Shanghai to visit friends and see how the city has changed since we left there almost three years ago.  Shanghai has been a land of opportunity for a long time now, especially over the last 15-20 years. As such, new restaurants, stores and other entrepreneurial opportunities have popped up quickly.  While we were visiting I had the chance to talk to a few of my friends who’ve been able to take advantage of this hotbed of opportunity and it got me thinking about our school mission and how we’re preparing our students for a booming world economy.

I don’t know the secret combination of all the ingredients but I think I’ve figured out the recipe for success that so many of these young entrepreneurs have followed.  It starts with an idea, or many ideas, targeted on an identified problem or void in a community. From there it takes time, effort (lots of effort), planning, organization, and what many of the people I‘ve spoken with called ‘good luck’.  I, however, believe that the ‘good luck’ factor isn’t truly named at all, we should be calling this last bit ‘preparedness’. And here is where I believe that we, as a school, come into the equation.

See, we’re the ones preparing these students.  We’re preparing them for the unknown, for the future that is still (at best) a foggy and murky idea of what their lives could possibly hold.  So how do we do that? Are good lesson plans, homework and final exams the answer? What about service learning, interdisciplinary units and Education Outside The Classroom?  What happens if we integrate ATLs, technology and TOK links into all of these things? Do any of the combinations from above prepare our students for the future?

Therein lies the biggest question – what future are we trying to prepare our students to meet successfully?  Are we content with preparing them for university? Should we be preparing them for life beyond university? What if our students don’t attend university, will they be successful?

My nudge to you this week, as we prepare for the final quarter of the year, is to start considering some of these questions.  As part of the three year Strategic Plan currently under development we are thinking about a lot of these questions and what the implications of their answers could mean for how we prepare students.  Take some time to contemplate these questions and debate them with your colleagues. I’d love to hear from you or be a part of any of these conversations, it’s fascinating stuff and there are certainly no ‘right’ answers!

 

An Apology

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

Dear Year 10 Students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humbly yours,

Mr. Bret

 

Hopes and Dreams Part 2: Share Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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?