Quiet Halls

Last week was a very new experience for me.  Having lived and traveled all over the world, I’ve never experienced anything like what happened in Surabaya last weekend.  Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have lived a rather uneventful life when it comes to events such as sent shockwaves through the community and made headlines around the world last week.  I spent a lot of time at school during those days off, helping keep an eye on IBDP exams, and realized that I’d never spent so much time in an (almost) completely abandoned school building. It’s a rather strange feeling.

Schools aren’t meant to be quiet places, not at all.  There should be students, teachers and staff buzzing about with the excitement of discovery and learning.  Walking the halls with none of those beautiful sounds was rather sad, leaving me with a sense of loneliness that is hard to describe.  I’ve spent plenty of time in empty schools on the weekends, early in the morning, late at night, or even during days off. However, I’ve never spent so much time as I did these last few days knowing that the students should be there with me, after a while the silence became almost deafening.  A loud reminder of why our staff and students weren’t in school…

As we opened the doors and welcomed our students back to school, the halls once again came to life and, at the same time, opened their proverbial arms to embrace our students in a climate of positivity and safety.  It was important to welcome our students back together in an assembly, to acknowledge the events of the past week, and begin the process of finding our new ‘normal’ at school. There is no doubt that we’ve all been deeply affected by the atrocities of May 13 but there is also no doubt that, as a family, the members of Sekolah Ciputra will come together to support each other and move forward.

I’m proud of the way our community has responded and I’m thankful for all of our amazing staff members who’ve gone over and above to ensure that we managed this situation well and, more importantly, we have come out stronger as a community than we were before.

The week started out with tragedy but ended in inspiration, you’ve all inspired me…thank you!

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


Dear Teacher, Thank You!

It’s Teacher Day in Ecuador.  I wrote a personal ‘thank you’ letter to one of my High School English teachers and sent it to him in honor of this day, a couple years late but better than never I hope!  I wrote another letter as well.  I wrote to you on behalf of your students.  You all deserve to receive a letter like this, perhaps you have or you will in the future but you deserve one today as well.

Thank you!


Good Afternoon,

I am writing to you today to say something that I, perhaps, have never said to you or any other teacher before…thank you!!  

You see, I know that I don’t usually show it and I rarely (if ever) actually say it, but I really appreciate all that you do for me and my classmates.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if I see much of that now or really appreciate it in the moment.  However, I know 100% for sure that I will realize how much I appreciate you and your efforts some time in the future.  It may be when I finally ace that assessment, perhaps it’s in a few years when I’m in college looking back at my High School experience, or it could be in 20 years when I’m in my mid-30s and reflecting back on my life so far.  Whenever it is, I will realize it and I will appreciate all that you do (have done) for me.

I know that when I go home at night and do (or don’t do) my homework, you are putting in more time preparing to help me be successful.  I realize that teachers go home at night and grade papers, correct tests, write comments, and agonize over their students.  I know that when you lose your temper in class that it’s not because you don’t like me but rather because you care so much about me and my success that you’ve invested a lot of your time, effort, and emotions into me and my classmates.  Thank you for all that you do to make my success such a priority, it means a lot to me (or it will someday in the future!!)

Do you remember the other day, when I came to your class and you smiled and asked me about my weekend?  That was awesome, I had a great weekend and really wanted to tell someone about it.  I really enjoy connecting with my teachers, it helps me learn.  Someone shared a quote with me once about the relationship between teachers and students, “Students don’t care what a teacher knows until they know that their teacher cares.”  Well, I know that you care about me and that is why I am invested in your class…thank you for caring!  

We’ve got a holiday coming up and I don’t plan on thinking about school too much.  I hope you are able to do the same, take some time away and relax.  It’s hard work being a teacher, I can see that from all that you do for me.  I’ve heard the jokes about teachers and all the vacation time, they’re not funny.  I know that the time and effort you put in is just as much as anyone else in any other job, because you care about my success and want the best for me.  During this next holiday I hope that you spend time with your family, travel, read a book, or do anything else that helps you to relax and recharge.  We don’t have much longer in this school year and I know that together we will finish strong.

Thank you again and please remember that even if I don’t show it or say it now, I will certainly (some day) appreciate all that you do for me.  You’re an outstanding person and an even better teacher, I’m lucky to have you in my life!  

Thank you,

Your student

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)

Sharpen Your Saw

Both of my sisters are educators in America and they’ve just finished their first four days of school, having started on Tuesday, and I’m seeing/hearing lot’s of rejoicing to have reached their first weekend.  For us it’s a different story, we’ve been back almost a month now!  So, I want to say congratulations and more importantly, “thank you!”, to everyone for a great start to the school year.  We’ve settled in and the students are off and running, it’s a great atmosphere around campus.

We’ve all been going a million miles an hour since we started back in the beginning of August.  Many of you have been into work early and stayed late every day since we’ve been back.  You’ve been working extremely hard to help prepare yourselves and your students for a wonderfully successful school year.  I know your students won’t say it, so I will say it on their behalf, THANK YOU!!!

Now, something else your students won’t say to you…make sure you stay balanced.  If you’re anything like me, then you’ve gotten yourself a little off balance in the last few weeks.  Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People includes in his habits what he calls “sharpening the saw”.  In short, the idea behind this is that if you work yourself so hard that your ‘saw’ becomes dull than you will become an ineffective teacher for your students.  It is crucial to keep yourself fresh, healthy, and energized in order to be successful with your students.

So for those of you who are like me and have become a little too committed at the beginning of the school year please take this message to heart.  This three-day weekend couldn’t be coming at a better time, take advantage of it and find a way to sharpen your saw.  It’s a great opportunity to get out of town (even for one night), start that work out program you’ve been putting off, cook a nice home-cooked meal, or have a lazy Saturday…do whatever you need to relax a bit and refresh yourself.

Thank you for all that you’ve done to make this beginning of the school year a successful one for all of your students.  Enjoy your much deserved weekend!

A Wonderful Start to the Year

Over the last seven days with students I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of positivity around here!! Everyone from teachers to students, and even parents, are just brimming with positive vibes and attitudes.  The beginning of the school year is a busy and stressful time but I can honestly say that this has been the best overall start to a school year that I’ve experienced in a long time.  With as many new faces as we have amongst our colleagues and students it’s always a bit of a scramble.  However, every single person here has put their heart into this community and it shows on the faces of our students.

Yesterday was the new parent orientation hosted by PAFA and I had the pleasure of chatting with parents almost all day long.  Every person I talked to couldn’t stop singing the praises of our staff and community.  New parents were nearly tearing up when they talked about how happy their students are at our school.  Stories about kids coming home on day one and glowing with excitement about their teachers makes my heart swell.  We have a wonderful thing going here and everyone can see it.

The most beautiful part of all these happy stories is that we’ve only just begun.  These are the boring days in my mind, going over class expectations, safety, etc.  Just wait until the real learning begins and the kids are engaged in amazing lessons, labs, and performances!!  I truly believe that with each year that has passed the kids at our school have become more engaged and excited about learning.  The curiosity and genuine interest in school is fueled by the passion for education that you, as teachers, bring to the classroom…never before has it been at a higher level than it is today.

I just want to say a huge thank you to all of you for the hard work that you’ve put in to making this start of the year so amazing.  I know it has taken a lot of energy and effort to be this wonderful and it is appreciated by everyone.  I wish you would’ve been able to hear all of the positive comments yesterday from parents, the work you’ve done to welcome these students to our school is outstanding!

Thank you every one, have a great weekend and a much deserved rest!!

Awesome video about the Science of Happiness (VPN needed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4ALRY5LyBM

A great story about the difference we can all make (VPN again)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chjHPSLapv8

Your Opportunity is Now

Tomorrow is new family orientation and it will be the first day that we’ll officially have kids on campus, so exciting! I know we’ve been back to business for almost a week now but the time seems to have flown by as we’ve hit the ground running and we’re ready for a new year. The sheer amount of opportunities we have before us this school year is tremendous and it sets my mind racing just to think about it. Whether you’re new to teaching, new to SCIS, or you’ve been here long enough to be considered a Golden Dragon the opportunities for you are incredible.

Those of you who are just getting started in your time at SCIS come from a variety of backgrounds; some of you are veteran international schoolteachers and others are just embarking on what could be a lifetime in this small world that we call the international education community. Some of you have been around the world and will be making your first stay in Asia; enjoy it, explore it, and take in all that this amazing place has to offer. For those who are entering this nomadic life for the first time, welcome, you may never look back!

As new students and families begin to arrive over the next few days we all have the opportunity to make a first impression. The smiles and excited conversations we have with these new students will set the tone and help them feel at ease as they make a the transition into our community. A lot of times it’s the first happy face through the door that these kids remember ten years down the road; the person who helped them find their math class or who carried their uniform bag when the handles broke. It’s these small and seemingly mundane moments that often times define a student’s first, and lasting, memories of their new school. What an opportunity we have over the next few days!!

Our returning students will surely return with a mixture of emotions as well; some will be excited and others longing for the beach where they spent the summer. Opportunity lies within these students too. Seeing former teachers, meeting the new, and walking the halls where they’ve had so many great memories with their friends is sure to be exciting for our returning students. However, with those happy moments, come the not-so-happy memories of best friends and favorite teachers who’ve moved on to new schools and exciting adventures. The opportunity is yours to be their new inspiration, welcome them back and make them feel like they never want to leave again. Those smiles we see every morning as students get off the bus aren’t there because they love 7:30 AM, they happen because our students truly enjoy coming to SCIS each morning! Start building and strengthening your connections now and embrace the opportunity to inspire our students every single day.

Being our best every day for our kids and embracing the short-term opportunities before us will continue to make this the warm and welcoming school we’ve become. Let’s not forget about what I see as our greatest opportunity…the chance to reflect and continue down the growth process with two new leaders. As the year commences we begin down a long, and potentially winding, path toward the future. Over the last four years this Middle School has become a special place but the opportunity we have now is to push our school and ourselves forward to be even better. Challenge yourself to be better every day you wake up, every day you enter the classroom with students, every day you work with your colleagues; challenge yourself to be better, make it the best day yet, each and every day! Take the opportunity to be amazing!!


To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,

The higher he’s a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,

And, while ye may, go marry;

For, having lost but once your prime,

You may forever tarry.

Mr. John Keating – Dead Poets Society – encourages you to seize the day!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veYR3ZC9wMQ (VPN required)

You’re Amazing, Thank you!

This is the last Two Cents for the 2013-14 School Year and, honestly, I’m very emotional writing this.  We have some of the most amazing and outstanding teachers I ever ever encountered and at it makes me a bit sad to know that we are heading off for the summer and not everyone will be coming back in the fall.  Those of you who are moving on to different places in the world, sabbaticals, or where ever you may go next…you’ll be missed around here!  I’ve been in four schools so far and I’ve never come close to having a staff that has been this tight, happy, and just a pleasure to be around.  Add all of that to the amazing educational minds that have managed to come together in this middle school and you’ve got one heck of an awesome group of middle school people.

The sign on my computer today is “Be Grateful” and it couldn’t have come at a better time, honestly.  I didn’t have anything particular in my mind when I made that sign this morning but now that I’ve gone through a couple hours of the day I feel like that is a message that more people in our community need to hear!  The time, effort, and emotion that you put into the kids at our school is incredible.  Unfortunately, I don’t think everyone involved really understands what you give for these kids on a daily basis…even those very kids who you work so hard to take care of aren’t aware of all the time and energy you have given to them.  Some of their parents aren’t even aware of what you do for their kids day in and day out.  So, here I am, I’m saying a HUGE ‘thank you’ from all of those kids who you pour blood, sweat, and tears for every single day!  And guess what, yup I’m going to do it even though they’re adults and should do it themselves…On behalf of all those parents too, ‘Thank you for taking such great care of my kid and giving over so much of your efforts to helping them become successful young adults!!!’

So I’m sad that this amazing team is losing some of it’s members and I’m grateful for all that you do for our kids but I’m also extremely happy and excited!  The experience of working with each and every one of you over these last few years has been absolutely amazing.  I can’t say enough about the tremendous work that has been done in this middle school the last few years and it was truly and honestly a 100% team effort.  The culture we’ve built here and the amazing work we’ve done with the curriculum, in no way, could’ve been done without your hard work and dedication!  Literally, there hasn’t been a day yet in this job where I didn’t want to come to work.  Sure there have been some days when I wished I could sleep a little longer but the prospect of coming to SCIS and seeing the amazing staff and students that we have has never once bothered me.  You are all inspiring educators and having the chance to work with you has been mind-blowing.

Now, all of that being said I am excited too.  I’m excited about the fact that, while we’re losing some people, we are still returning an amazing team of teachers next year.  The group that we have coming back includes a huge number of curriculum heads who have been crucial in driving our program forward, it includes grade level leaders, and it includes happy, hard-working teachers.  The end of this school year has been busier than any I’ve ever experienced…with all the parties and celebrations I can barely find a spare moment!  That speaks volumes about the connections and bonds that we’ve established at this school.  We enjoy working with our friends and we enjoy being friends with our colleagues, you can’t say that about too many work places in the world!

This has been a tremendous school year…let me finish by saying ‘thank you’, not from the kids or their parents but from me.  Thank you for all that you do for our kids.  Thank you for all that you do for your colleagues.  Thank you for being positive, supporting our students and each other, and thank you for being so awesome in general.  Dan and I often tell new families and people we interview that we have the best middle school in Shanghai; there is no doubt about that in my mind and just based on how awesome all of our teachers are, I would put us up against any middle school in the world!  Those are my two cents (more like 10 cents) for the last time this year…thank you for being so awesome and have a great summer 🙂

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 Coursera.com 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 🙂