Relationships and Adaptability: Tools of the Revolution

Last week we enjoyed videos and performances by our Year 12 students as we got ready to send them off to their next chapter.  As I watched those videos and thought about the high school experience through the eyes of a Year 12 student, I tried to figure out what they felt like they learned in their time here.  I’m sure if you asked them formally they would mention things like Physics or English but those certainly aren’t the things they focused on in their videos.

Relationships.  Without a doubt, relationships were the main focus of each of the six videos shared by the Year 12 students.  They celebrated the strong bonds formed over the last few years. They recognized the ups and downs, rejoicing in the unity of their particular cohorts. The power and strength of those bonds built through hard work and resilience demonstrates just how important it is for the success of students to have strong social-emotional skills.  

Our counselors have recently done a lot of work to help incorporate some of these skills into the every day curriculum.  That work is an essential part of our school’s mission but also to the what we’re trying to accomplish academically. Students who “demonstrate integrity, respect and empathy toward others” and “respond with confidence and reason to an ever changing world” aren’t created by studying a textbook, doing lab experiments or writing research papers.  These skills lie deep within the social-emotional lessons that our students need to learn. Kudos to the work our counselors have done recently to integrate more of these skills and lessons into the curriculum, there is still more to do though and the work must continue.

The other thing that came through in the Year 12 videos, albeit more implicitly, is the idea of being adaptable.  Many of those stories start off highlighting the nervousness of being put into a new cohort, working with different people and being completely out of their comfort zones.  Over time, however, as they learned to adapt and find their place within their new classes, these Year 12s showed an incredible ability to adapt and make the best of the situation.  I see this as more than being resilient. Resilience, while very important, means bouncing back from difficulties and continuing on. What I saw in our kids was more than that, not only did they bounce back but they adapted as needed to continue forward…a very big step!  

As teachers, we can learn a lot from these students.  It’s important to remember just how crucial it is for us to build relationships with our students, who are constantly changing and growing.  Additionally so with our colleagues, developing a program that meets the needs of a diverse range of learners doesn’t happen in isolation, building strong relationships with colleagues creates a positive work environment.  I frequently stress the importance of positive relationships (I would argue they’re the most important thing in a school) and it was interesting to see our Year 12s focus on their importance as well.

Generally speaking, younger people are less set in their ways and more adaptable than their more experienced (older) counterparts.  As we learn, grow and gain experience in the world, it is important to remember the we must remain flexible in our thinking. Being able to adapt is the hallmark of a successful educator.  We are in a professional field that is entering the early days of a revolution, more than 100 years of doing the same thing has proven insufficient for success in education. We, as the leaders of that change, must adapt and grow to ensure the success of our students.  

We’ve got a little over two weeks left and we’ll be doing a lot of celebrating and reflecting during that time.  Take a few minutes every now and again to think about all that our students have learned over the last year. Additionally, think about how we can adapt to improve the learning process for them next year and beyond.  It’s an exciting time to be an educator, the revolution is coming, what will be your role in the process?

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What Happens When Teachers Grow?

I like to argue (let’s call it “debate”) and I like to learn.  Recently I was thinking about how I’ve grown and changed as an educator throughout my career and, thanks to the things I’ve learned along the way, realized that if time-travel was real then I would be able to have some very intense arguments with myself!  

There are topics in education that I’ve changed my opinion on, a full 180 degrees.  In other cases I’ve slightly modified and shifted my views based on things I’ve learned and experienced.  Also, along with my ever-evolving educational philosophies, there are a certain segment of my beliefs that have been strengthened by things I’ve learned.  Throughout my educational career I’ve taken the time to sit down and, literally, rewrite my educational philosophy five different times. It’s very interesting (to me anyway!) to see how my views have shifted over the years.  

I’m sure, if you’ve been teaching for more than a couple years, that you’re able to see changes in your own educational beliefs as well, they’re completely normal and (I would argue) expected.  As educators we are surely life-long learners; when we learn, we change. How has your educational philosophy changed throughout your career? This question should take some time for you to answer.  If you haven’t been sitting down to think about this regularly over the years, then you may not even be aware of how much your opinions have changed. Take some time to think about it…

Beyond nudging you to think about your educational philosophy and how it’s changed (a great practice in and of itself) I want to encourage you to think about why you’ve changed as well.  I can trace most of the changes in my educational philosophy to four different things (in alphabetical order): 

  1. Colleagues:  I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really wonderful educators tracing all the way back to my teacher training program.  Keeping an open mind, watching and listening, and having philosophical conversations with my colleagues has allowed me to constantly learn and adapt my educational practice over time.
  2. Experiences:  Living and traveling internationally has given me the chance to see many different views on all sorts of topics.  Not only have I seen education through many different lenses but I’ve also had the chance to learn about how cultural expectations, languages, and religious and political views can impact a person’s philosophy on education and life.  
  3. Further Education:  Whether masters courses, educational workshops, conferences, online courses, or in-school PD opportunities, I never pass up a chance to learn from someone new.  The experiences of others can be just as valuable as our own. By putting myself in a position to network and learn from others I know I’ve been able to grow considerably.
  4. Reading/Listening:  Teachers and educators have taken the internet by storm.  Between the amount of educational books available to be read (or listened to) on digital devices, the volumes of educational blogs, oodles of podcasts and information on social media platforms such as Twitter, there is literally too much to read and/or listen to.  Digging in and finding interesting and thought provoking educational material isn’t even difficult now days…honestly, if you’re not doing this yet, this should be the first thing you look to do! (Listening to educational podcasts would also be a GREAT way to improve English language skills!!)

From a great article I read a while ago called, Why The Best Teachers Change Their Minds:

“The best teachers change their mind because things themselves change. 21st century learning is, above all else, diverse, interdependent, and formless. Technology, culture, academic standards, assessment forms, and the cost–and format–of higher education all evolve endlessly.”

Of the four different things that have helped me grow so much as an educator the easiest and quickest way to have my thinking challenged is the last one, reading and listening online.  With that in mind I want to start sharing some interesting articles and blogs I’ve read recently. I’ll start this week with an Earth Day inspired set of great articles and videos.  I’m hoping that by having a look at some of the things I share over the next few weeks you’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper and find a way to improve your practice even more 🙂

 

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?

 

Luck, Who Needs It?

Last week we sent our Year 12 students off to their study time before Unas (national) exams, which happen this week.  Speaking with them I shared that, I don’t believe in “good luck”…

They’ve studied hard for many years, they’ve practiced multiplied times for this exam specifically and they’ve demonstrated that they can be successful students many times over, so why do they need luck?  The answer is, they don’t!

Really, luck isn’t something that we should be encouraging our kids to rely on, or even think about, in the first place.  It’s as though we’re telling them that their results are out of their control and up to fate, ouch! So when I spoke with our students the other day I reminded them of the things that they had in their control over the next few days before their exams, the things they could still do to help themselves.

First off, when I spoke with them it was Wednesday afternoon so they still had a little time left to practice, review and cram the last bits of knowledge into their heads.  Hopefully by this point they have studied and practiced enough. They’ve been learning everything they need to know for a long time and with only a few days to go they should be building their confidence by reviewing the content and affirming their knowledge for themselves.  They should know what they need to know by now…luck won’t help them!

Secondly, they can prepare their bodies for this upcoming week by being physically and mentally healthy.  Getting enough sleep is essential for teenagers and not just the night before an exam. Our students should have healthy sleep routines that allow them the eight hours necessary for their brains to clear the toxins out each night and ready their brains for learning.  If they’ve not yet developed these habits they can at least get a few solid nights of sleep leading up to the big day. A rested body and mind will provide them with the energy and ability to focus that no amount of luck can match.

The final step that our Year 12 students should focus on, instead of luck, is how they approach the actual exam itself.  By preparing, studying and getting the ideal amount of rest, our students can set themselves up for success. On the day of the exam, however, nerves can really destroy even the most well-prepared student.  I’ve shared with our Year 12 students, on multiple occasions now, that nerves are normal and healthy. However, when it comes to nerves we have to work to ensure that they don’t consume us. So, when our Year 12s enter their exam room today they need to find their seat, close their eyes, identify their nerves and acknowledge them.  Once they’ve settled their mind and realized, “okay, I’m nervous and that’s normal,” then they can set those nerves aside and focus on the task at hand. No amount of luck will make nerves go away, but acknowledging them and setting them to the side will allow the preparation to take over and lead the way to success.

Our students are ready, they should be confident and eager to prove that their hard work and preparation has paid off.  I left them the other day with these three tips and hopefully the confidence to excel this week, and…just in case they don’t buy what I’m selling…a wish of “good luck” 🙂

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

Over the last two weeks I was very lucky to have been part of some tremendous student interview sessions.  As we’ve gone through the scholarship application process we’ve had a number of well qualified Year 6 and Year 9 students come in for interviews.  I’ve never been through this experience before and, to be perfectly honest, it’s been the absolute best way to finish a school day that I’ve ever experienced.  These kids have hopes and dreams and are bubbling with energy and spirit, it’s truly awesome and inspiring.

As these interviews continued though, I did notice something that started to worry me just a little bit.  See, the Year 6 students had all sorts of really big ambitions that stretched well into the future and beyond their school years, hopes and dreams they’d clearly spent a lot of time thinking about.  However, as we started talking with the Year 9 students something changed, the ambitions we had heard from the Year 6 students were missing.  The hopes and dreams of the Year 9 students we spoke to were focused on academic grades and short term targets.  Where had the big dreams gone?

To be fair, it is reasonable to expect our older students to be more focused on the task before them and be thinking about what they need to accomplish in order to reach the university destination of their choice.  I’m 100% confident that our older students still have ambitious hopes and dreams but they’re not gushing over them like our Year 6 students.  I want that to change, my hope is that our older kids continue to dream big and think about the amazing possibilities for them in this world.  

It may well be the case that our older students have buried those hopes and dreams, begun to consider them as ‘childish’ or ‘silly’.  We know, however, that those hopes and dreams are what provide the fuel to keep on working and battling through the tough times.  Without a long term goal, something to ‘dream big’ about, what are our students working toward?  

As their teachers, mentors, advisors, and role models we need to show these kids that their hopes and dreams are just as important today as they were when they were in Year 6 looking up at the stars and thinking about all the amazing possibilities that lie out there in the great wide world.  So no matter what year level they are in, engage your students in conversations about their hopes and dreams.  Share your ambitions with your students as well, open up and let them see that it’s totally normal to have big dreams!  

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.” – Yoko Ono

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality.  If you can dream it, you can make it so.” – Belva Davis

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” – Jonas Salk

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?