Teach the Child – Part 2 (Inclusion)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18th, 2018 by dkerr

​So a couple of weeks ago we hosted a regional conference as part of our journey towards inclusion initiative. We were treated to an incredibly inspiring weekend by our friends at Next Frontier Inclusion, who helped us to imagine a future where as international schools, we open our doors to ALL children. NFI didn’t just help us imagine this future, they gave us concrete processes, protocols and policies to help us build capacity within our individual schools, which ultimately will clear a path toward successful implementation. The conference was so powerful in so many ways, and we all left there with a shared commitment and vision of how to bring this to life for our communities.

I have to admit that I’m a little biased in my thinking because this is a true passion of mine, and something that I believe in very strongly. I mentioned in last week’s post, that children with learning differences will go on to rule the world, and that one child can change a school culture in positive and profound ways…those statements are absolutely true. One of the most inspiring parts of the weekend for me was listening to the parent and student panels, where kids and adults alike shared their stories and their recommendations and their hearts around how by including and celebrating students with learning differences, lives have been changed immeasurably for the better. It brought to light the realization for everyone in that room that ALL students can learn, and when given the right structure and support and attention, students with learning differences can be change agents not just for our schools, but for our world.

With this in mind, I want to say that it’s time for all international schools to go take a look at their mission and vision statements, as well as their core values and admissions policies, to see if there is a specific mention of inclusion and diversity. If not, then I’m suggesting that it’s time to make some edits…not just because it’s the right thing to do, especially in the time in which we currently live, but because there is research around how diversity and inclusion in schools actually has tremendous benefits for ALL students…academically and social-emotionally. If an international school hasn’t yet begun a journey toward inclusion, then I’m suggesting that it’s time. As an international community, we have such power and opportunity to affect change for our global world…international schools educate literally thousands of young people who will quickly go on to be leaders in every corner of our globe…our world needs these young leaders to value diversity, and to embrace inclusion, and to have empathetic and socially conscious hearts and minds…and it start with us as schools and as educators.

We are sending our young people out into the world everyday, and that world is a diverse place as we all know. Different races and religions and genders and sexual orientations and cultures and everything else. It’s these differences that make us stronger, and it’s these differences that if we learn to positively leverage them with our kids, can ultimately go on to change our world for the better. It just makes sense to set up a school structure that mirrors what our kids see outside our school walls…doesn’t it? Anyway, I want to leave you with a quote from the NFI website, which discusses the power of going down this road as a school…”Rising to the greater challenge of meeting more diverse needs has raised our overall game, making us smarter thinkers, smarter problem solvers, and critically, smarter teachers. In the end, inclusion has made us a better school, in all senses of the word”

I’m so proud to have worked in schools like Academia Cotopaxi, and now the American School of Paris, where the idea of a truly inclusive school is a foundational part of who they are…and thank you Next Frontier Inclusion for leading the way, and for inspiring us all to join you on this journey…just think of what the destination will look like! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week – 

If Diversity is like being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance

– Homa Tavangar

 

Next Frontier Inclusion Articles

 

Interesting Articles –

How Diversity Makes us Smarter

Inclusive Education and Its Benefits

Benefits of an Inclusive Classroom

5 Advantages of an Inclusive Classroom

Diversity Actually Makes Us Smarter

Why Diverse Teams are Smarter

 

Inspiring Videos –

Make An Impact

The Power of Inclusive Education

Start Your impossible #1

Start Your Impossible #2

Start Your Impossible #3

If the World Were a Village
Ruby’s Story

 

TED Talks –

Top 5 Talks on Diversity and Inclusion

Teach the Child – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on February 11th, 2018 by dkerr

So today I’m going to share the first part of a three part post that will revolve around the ideas of inclusion, student agency, and what I’m going to call empathy based learning. I have been fortunate enough over the past several weeks to have gone through some incredible professional learning sessions, which included both consultants and conferences, and it all has me thinking critically about what I believe to be the essential elements of education as we move “school” forward in today’s complicated and rapidly changing world.

I want to say that in many cases, in my opinion anyway, we have our approach to school and education absolutely backwards…flipped the wrong way around. We continue to focus on the wrong things as we try and prepare our kids for their future and for their NOW. Many schools (maybe the majority of schools, including international schools) are still heavily reliant on content, and subjects, and classroom silos that are very much teacher directed, and they are very, very slow to change. As a global community, we are missing so many opportunities to educate and empower our kids to be great people…not great students…but great people, great human beings who bring joy and acceptance and kindness and service and love and individual passions to life for our world.

Rolling our kids through the tired industrial model and approach to school, which most of us continue to employ in one way or another, just isn’t good enough anymore, and it certainly isn’t what our kids need from us as educators…they need more, and they need different, and they need change. They need and deserve opportunities to lead their own learning journey, to find their passions and sparks, and to move at their own pace. They need to be celebrated for their individuality, their uniqueness, their differences, and they need to know that student success isn’t some cookie-cutter formula that is represented by grades and tests and how much they know about a certain topic that has no personal and relevant meaning to them whatsoever…students need to have a voice, and we need to listen.

Kids need to be able to create, and to innovate, and to question, and they need to understand that “school” doesn’t have to be the same for everyone…it can be a place where they can to work together, and alone, to solve problems, real-world problems that will affect change for their local and global community…a place where their education is personalized and tailored to their interests and strengths and passions and how they best learn…a place where success is measured by effort and failing forward and by the questions that they ask…a  place where kids of all abilities (physical and intellectual), and genders, and races, and religions, and all else are taught to see people as inherently good, and able to contribute in profound ways just by being who they are.

Essentially, we need to teach the individual child, not the content. We need to teach the individual child, not the subject. We need to teach not just with a focus on growing their minds, but with a razor-sharp focus on growing their hearts. Let’s all start there and see where it goes…it’s no secret that our world needs this as much as our kids these days. So, there you have it…next week I’m going to talk specifically about school inclusion, on the heels of an amazing NFI conference that we hosted just last week. Inclusion by the way, is a perfect place to start the journey toward the change that I’m talking about. Oh and just so you know, students with learning differences will go on to rule the world…you heard it here first. It’s time to leverage what they can bring to our school…it only takes one child to completely change a culture and community for the better. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

If a child is off task, perhaps the problem is not the child, but the task

-Alfie Kohn

 

Inspiring Videos –

Dear Teacher

Teach Inspiration

More Alike Than Different

The Present

Student Voice

 

Related Articles on Inclusion and Learning Differences –

Together We Learn Better

5 Benefits of an Inclusive Classroom

The Value of Inclusive Education

The Principles of Inclusion

Moving Toward Inclusion

What are Classroom Like?

7 Must Have App and Tools

What to Read in 2018

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21st, 2018 by dkerr

So yesterday I turned the beautiful age of 48, and with that came my yearly gift from my incredible wife…money for books! You see, we have this deal that I’ve written about before, whereby I get to order books each year on my birthday, and if I finish them all before my next birthday then I get more money to do it all again…awesome! Anyway, I finished my last book from 2017 just a few weeks ago, and I’ve spent the last month or so compiling my birthday list for 2018…I’ve pored over book reviews and on-line articles, I’ve combed through book stores, and I’ve asked around for recommendations from friends and colleagues from all around the world, and I now have a preliminary list of 15 books that I’m super excited to read…see below.

I’ll order these in the next week or so, and my goal of course is to finish them in the upcoming year. I’m encouraging all of you to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five, or ten) that resonate with you…or, do your own search and share those titles with me please so I can add them to my list. The suggestions below revolve around my favorite themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation, and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small, simple, and powerful life changes. Happy reading in 2018 everyone, and let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can get them into my shopping cart. A good book can be transformative in so many ways as you know, so please take the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…Happy reading!

 

Quote of the week…

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you!

– Carlos Ruiz Zafon

 

Great At Work – Morten T. Hansen

The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

When – Daniel H. Pink

Powerful – Patty McCord

The Vibrant Workplace – Dr. Paul White

Thinking in Bets – Annie Duke

When the Adults Change, Everything Changes – Paul Dix

The Innovation Code – Jeff DeGraff

Who Are You, Really? – Brian R. Little

Creativity Rules – Tina Seelig

The Power of Moments – Chip and Dan Heath

Radical Inclusion – Martin Dempsey

The Case Against Education – Bryan Caplan

Rethinking School – Susan Wise Bauer

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Published in 1969, still very relevant today however)

Clean Slates

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14th, 2018 by dkerr
So we’re already two weeks into 2018 and I have to say, it’s really fun to be back with the kids. The holiday break was fantastic for sure, and like many of you I feel rested and ready to tackle the second semester, with the palpable excitement of building on the first half of the year. I love this time of the year honestly because we’re so set up now to make a real impact in the lives of our students, and if we get it right, the next few months will be arguably the most important ones of the year for learning. You see, after 5 months we now truly know our kids, we know each other, we’ve settled into our school imperatives, and we’ve reflected on our practice leading up to this point. January always feels like a clean slate for me, and the month that can absolutely influence the year in incredibly powerful ways.

I’ve written before about the idea of New Year’s “reflections” instead of New year’s resolutions, and my feeling is that if we look back critically at how we ended the year (first semester) it can help authentically shape the realistic ways that we can best move forward. In my opinion, there is nothing harder than changing either professional practice or personal habit, and there is nothing easier than letting a New Year’s resolution go unfulfilled. To really make a difference in our lives, and in the lives of our kids, it’s going to take some honest reflections and some discipline. We can either make the changes in our lives that we want, and that are needed, or we can fall into the trap of complacency and routine. That’s the opportunity that we have as we begin the new semester, and what an opportunity it is.

I spent a good portion of my holiday reflecting (and eating), and I’ve identified some areas in my life and in my professional practice that could use some attention. I’ve set some second semester goals for myself and I’ve talked about these openly and I’ve written them down. Of course, it’s one thing to talk about them and a very different thing to actually put them into action. I want to start communicating more effectively, I want to start giving more to others in need, I want to do better for our environment, I want to stop worrying so much about my first world problems, and I want to find more courage to help make the changes in our school that are needed to drive our imperatives forward…this is the month to start, and this is the time to start decorating that clean slate.

I want to challenge all of you over the next couple of weeks to take some time to reflect (if you haven’t already) on the first semester, and to identify some areas that can make you better versions of yourselves. Identify them, talk to someone about them, write them down and find the discipline to make them a reality. January is a busy month in schools and it’s no different for us, so use the upcoming professional development conversations to jump start your year, and set you on the path to change. Take advantage of this opportunity everyone…this clean slate month of January, and make 2018 your best year to date. Happy New Year and happy decorating…bring those clean slates to life! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Here’s my favorite New year’s poem for you to contemplate…

 

Life I am the New Year.


I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about a life of reflection and giving.


All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out with more determination.
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve
is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will,
All the faith that you claimed but did not have —
these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened
by the touch of a strong purpose.


I am your opportunity
to renew your allegiance to a life fulfilled
I am the New Year.


— Author Unknown

Quote of the Week…

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice

– T.S Eliot

 

Related Articles –

An Academic’s New Year’s Resolutions

My New Year’s Resolutions

Education Post – New Year

The Global Search for Education

New Year, New You

 

Inspiring Videos to begin the New Year –

Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech

A 27 Year Old’s Advice to the World

An Incredible Gift

Against Discrimination 

Knowing Our Kids (A Goal of Mine)

A Lesson in Perspective (Happy Holidays)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10th, 2017 by dkerr

 

So it’s a busy time of the year as we speed toward the holiday break, and it can seem a little overwhelming at times I know. With comment writing and reports, holiday concerts and performances, final summative assessments and feedback, end of semester parent and student meetings, recruiting conversations, and all the rest…it’s sometimes hard to keep the right perspective with regards to what’s really, truly important at this time of the year. When there is so much on our plates these days, it’s very easy to lose sight of how magical the month of December can be, and sometimes it takes something small to snap you back to the absolute beauty of this holiday season.

 

For me, that little something small came walking into my office on Thursday morning of this past week, and delivered to me a much needed lesson in perspective. I was standing at my desk, hammering through email, and lamenting the fact that there was no way that I was going to get through my to-do list for the rest of the week, when a smiley and spirited little girl came bouncing in through the door and asked, “Hey, Mr. Kerr, what are you doing, writing your list to Santa? I already wrote mine but my Mom says it’s too long but I don’t think so because I’ve been really good to my brothers and I sometimes clean my room and make my own breakfast…what are YOU asking for?” Well, the cuteness of that moment stopped me in my tracks, and literally made me laugh out loud with the quick realization that my perceived troubles and anxiety over work, and how seriously I was taking life and myself in the moment right before she walked in was borderline ridiculous. So I stepped out from behind my desk, and sat down at the conference table with her to go through my Santa list…it was the best 10 minutes that I have spent all semester.

 

As we were talking (mostly about her list as it turned out) I came to realize that what she was most excited about were the gifts and cards that she had made for her family. She very maturely told me that, “you know what Mr. Kerr, I love getting presents but I think that I like giving presents more…it makes me feel really good, like how Santa must feel when he gives presents, but his job must be so hard because there are a lot of people in the world who are good you know”. I agreed that Santa’s job must be hard, and yes, there are lots of good people in the world, and all the while I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. Anyway, she bounded away just as quickly as she arrived, and she left me there smiling and happy and very much re-calibrated for the day. A must needed lesson in perspective from one of our world’s greatest teachers…a child.

 

She reminded me of what I love most about this time of the year…the opportunities that we all have to give of ourselves to others, to reconnect with the people that we love, to reflect on the year that was, and to recharge and refocus for the upcoming year ahead. We also get a chance over the next couple of weeks to share a little holiday cheer with others, and to spread some of that holiday magic around to everyone we come in contact with, especially our students! I want to casually remind you all of the beauty of this time of the year, and with less than two weeks to go, I’m asking that you take some time over the next several days to slow down and to take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students, and from each other…..let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around!

 

Remember as well to keep your perspective everyone…it’s busy I know, and with what’s coming up it can feel a little overwhelming, but ultimately, we’ll get there together. Just like my little friend told me, there are a lot of good people out there you know, and over the next few weeks they all deserve a little bit extra joy and love and happiness. Please also remember that the holidays can be difficult for some people, so our extra joy and love and kindness is the best gift that we can give. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and magical for each other.

 

Holiday Videos – Take a break and watch these!

The Greatest Gift

The Fox and Mouse

The Wish Writer

Lily and the Snowman

The Snow Globe


My Favorite Holiday Poem – 

Holidays –
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

What a Beautiful Noise

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3rd, 2017 by dkerr

So this week I want to talk about one of my favorite things about school…maybe my most, most favorite thing of all the things that I love about coming to work each and every day. It’s something that many of us fail to pay regular attention to I think, or even embrace, and maybe something that may be a little annoying or aggravating for some educators…something that traditionally we have tried to suppress, and something that kids sometimes get in trouble for. But if you take a step back, and drink in what it ultimately represents, then it might just become one of your favorite things too…I’m talking about the noise of a school. The beautiful noise that is the soundtrack to learning and of happiness and joy, and what a child’s life should really be all about. Creative, imaginative, messy, curious, and beautiful noise.

When is the last time that you took a few minutes and really listened to the noise of a school? Walking down the halls, or when doing recess duty, or being in a classroom when kids are working collaboratively, or just standing outside the gym when kids are at PE, or outside the music or art room…or even when they are simply spilling off of the buses ready to tackle another day with their friends…it’s something that will make your heart want to burst if you just take the time to listen. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a position to walk from one end of the Lower School to the other several times each day…visiting classrooms, discussing issues with teachers, catching up with specific students, and being a fly on the wall watching when kids don’t think I’m paying attention. Lately I’ve been soaking it up, this noise, and it fuels my soul everyday…the singing in French rooms, the songs from the early childhood kids as they transition down the corridors, the wild excitement in the discovery labs as kids work on experiments, the math talk lessons and the read alouds and the book clubs and the students sharing their writing…it’s so beautiful to listen to the learning that is everywhere, in every classroom and school space all the time.

I have to confess that the first thing that I do after a tough meeting, or a hard conversation, or an issue that I have to deal with that takes me away from being around kids, is to pop into the library to listen to a story, or head out to the playground or the cafeteria just to hear the noise of kids…it centers me and it snaps me back to what is the most important part of my job…the kids. Nothing is more joyful than the sound of a playground, with kids playing and making friends and taking risks and finding out about themselves and others…so good. It doesn’t stop there though, I also love the sound of teachers collaborating together around what’s best for kids and their learning…the creative ideas about how to extend students, and the concerns about how to intervene with struggling students…the sound of educators caring about kids is also music to my ears, and it blares loud at full volume every day…the beautiful sound of a school…how can you not love it?

This week, as we speed toward the holiday break, and with comments and concerts coming up, and with our lives getting busier and busier, I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, to take a few minutes to slow down and listen to the noise of a school. Take a second to listen to the kids at play, or just stand back in your classes and listen to the sounds of learning, or come down by my office in the morning and listen to the kids as they come in ready for another day with their teachers and friends…there is nothing more joyful or energizing and beautiful than the sound of a school in action. Take the time to listen everyone and it will fill your hearts like it does mine. It might just be the best thing that you can do with your days. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students, good to each other, and open to the beautiful noise of the school day.

 

Quote of the Week….

I think my happy is too loud  – 1st Grade student at ASP

 

Interesting Articles –

Because I’m Happy

Laughter and Learning

Happiness and Learning

Better Learners

Let them Talk

 

TED Talks –

Raising Brave Girls

Dangerous Things for Kids

Should School Start Later?

 

Inspiring Videos –

Traditional Schools

The Science of Empathy

5 minutes to Affect Learning

Design Your Own School (4 years old but still relevant)

Thinking About our new EC Playground

Defining Student Success

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26th, 2017 by dkerr

 

So we’ve been meeting as a small group over the past few weeks trying to prepare for our upcoming, “Journey Towards Inclusion” faculty meeting on December 11th, and it’s been super interesting. One of the discussion points that has stayed with me (and really got me thinking) revolves around the idea of student success, and what “success” truly looks like for our kids. It’s been heartwarming for me to listen to educators at our school, across divisions and departments, who are wanting to find ways to celebrate students in so many ways beyond just academic achievement. Academic success is only one small part of what makes up a successful student, and it’s exciting to be thinking of ways to bring that message to life for our community in the upcoming months.

 

You see, over the past few weeks I have watched our students succeed in sports, on the stage as they prepare for this week’s Pirates of Penznace, in musical theater club and our many other after school activities, with their service learning initiatives like the successful student store and the newly formed student leadership council, and with the showcasing of their learning and growth through Seesaw and in their daily classroom experiences. All in all, hundreds of young people succeeding in so many different ways, and growing so immeasurably in areas both inside and outside of the classroom. I guess for me, the idea or definition or measure of success cannot be simplified down to a single thing, like academic achievement for example…it incorporates so many things and so many aspects of a young person’s life.

 

I think we need to be careful as adults and educators not to place too much of a priority on any one aspect of a student’s success, and look to develop and celebrate the areas where a student is showing success in all aspects of their lives. Kids, as you all know, go through various stages of maturation and development, and a student’s “time” may not be in Lower School, or Middle School, or High School, or University for that matter. It’s no secret to the people who really know me that I was very much a late bloomer when it came to academic success, but I found success socially and on the athletic field when I was young, which set me up for the person that I’ve eventually become.

 

The true measure of success in my opinion, is whether or not a student is growing and learning and taking steps to find their passions. Is a student getting better academically, socially, as a leader, as a teammate, as a friend, as a person? Are they being empathetic and embracing what it means to be inclusive? Are they learning from their mistakes and growing as young people, and are they showing grit and perseverance? If so, then ultimately we’re doing our jobs as adult mentors, and a priority for us is to continue to find ways to celebrate these successes with each individual student as often as we can. A big part of me believes that the most powerful learning that happens with our kids happens outside of the classroom…the learning that makes them better people, not just better students.

Look at our students this week everyone, and measure them against themselves…not their peers, or someone else’s packaged idea of success, and celebrate them. Think about this when you’re writing your comments in the upcoming weeks too, thinking about the areas in a child’s life where they are truly being successful. We have work to do around reporting out a more well rounded, all encompassing commentary on our kids I know…a report that celebrates not only academic achievement but an in depth snapshot of a young person as a whole child…that work will be fun and I can’t wait to get going!  What does a successful child really look like to you? Think about it before we get together on the 11th. Anyway, have a wonderful week with our kids everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful 

– Herman Cain

 

The Definition of Success – 

The Accomplishment of an Aim or Purpose

 

TED Talks –

The Beauty of Being a Misfit

One True Calling?

 

Great Articles –

What Does Success Look Like?

How Do We Define Success?

Who is Defining Student Success?

Grades are NOT Paramount to Achievement 

How to Measure Success

An Autumn Re-Set

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19th, 2017 by dkerr

So I got home this past Friday evening feeling a little more tired than usual. I wasn’t physically sick or anything, it was just that my mental energy was dragging a bit and I wasn’t sure why. I poured a glass of wine, turned on the barbecue and some music, and as I was reflecting on the week it hit me…it’s the Autumn chill. For me, the Autumn chill refers to (in my opinion) the toughest stretch of time in the school year for educators. It’s a time when energy can sag, morale can dip, fatigue can set in, and we can ultimately start to lose focus. We’ve all worked so hard over the past two and a half months to give our students an amazing start to the school year, and now that the routines and expectations are set, and we’ve become comfortable with our schedules and the approach to our days, it can become very easy to start running on autopilot. This post is a call for an Autumn re-set…a chance to think about how you’re feeling, to intentionally recognize how you are putting yourself out there for your colleagues and for our kids, and a chance to think about the steps that you can take to re-discover that passion and energy that you brought with you on the first day of school back in August.

Think back to the start of the school year for a minute…the excitement around the new facility build, the energy around some new divisional imperatives, the addition of fantastic new students and faculty, and the overall buzz and energy of a year that was bursting with promise and possibility. In those early weeks It wasn’t hard to want to sprint to work everyday and to soak up all the positive vibes. For us this year, we have had a wonderful beginning in so, so many ways, and we seem to have now come up for air after that much needed October holiday. It’s fair to say that we’ve settled into the year that lies ahead, with a clear focus on our collective and individual expectations for ourselves and for our students…and now here comes a long, demanding stretch that is bound to test our resolve. The weather has changed, the daylight is disappearing, the skies are a little grayer, and the next holiday break seems like miles away. Like I said, it can be a tough stretch of the year.

I guess what I really want to say about this time of the year, or this “Autumn Chill”, is that we need to take care of each other, and be a tremendous source of support for one another. Let’s talk openly about how we’re feeling, let’s rally around each other when the weeks seem to drag on, and let’s go out of our way to lift each other up. I’m asking all of you to please take care of yourselves physically and mentally over the next five weeks, and to find a balance in your lives that keeps you healthy and energized. It’s going to be a relatively long stretch, the weather is going to get cold and damp, the days are going to get shorter and the nights are going to get longer, so let’s prepare and ready ourselves, and re-commit to one another to find our joy and energy again for the benefit of our students.

Don’t forget, this upcoming five week stretch is brimming with opportunity for our kids, as the uninterrupted student learning time is as good as it gets. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and I’m honestly looking forward to the weeks ahead. I’m excited about all that is coming our way, and together we can make it an incredible second quarter. We have American Thanksgiving, holiday concerts, fun field trips, the school musical, winter fest, and don’t forget we get to feed off of the smiles of our kids each and every day…let’s feed off of each other’s as well. Be good to yourselves everyone, and please be good to each other…and remember, I’d love to help and support if you ever need an ear to bend. I’ll show up Monday morning energized and ready to roll…feed off of my energy and I’ll feed off of yours. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and supportive of one another throughout the Autumn Chill!

 

Quote of the Week…

Winter is an etching, Spring is a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.

– Stanley Horowitz

 

Related Articles –

Teacher Inspiration

Re-charging Professional Batteries

The Best Things about Teaching

The Best Job in the World

Autumn Awesomeness 

 

Interesting Videos –

TED Talk – Laughter

TED Talk – A Good Night’s Sleep

The Science of Empathy

The Book Thing

Autumn Season

Your Brain on Childhood

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12th, 2017 by dkerr

So I just finished reading a ridiculously good book titled, Your Brain on Childhood, by Gabrielle Principe, and it has my head spinning with ideas, questions, concerns and wonderings about the kinds of experiences that we regularly give to our kids in school and at home. I find it super interesting to read books like this, which through research address the kinds of things that we do with children, and the kinds of things that we’ve seemingly always done with our students, that simply don’t make a whole lot of sense. We do these things because we’ve always done them, but just because we’ve always done them doesn’t make them right. The small print title on the front cover reads, “The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan”, and honestly, if you’re an educator, a parent, or at all interested in brain development, this book is a must read in my opinion…order it now for your next birthday present to yourself.

 

It’s tough for me to know how to organize my thoughts around the chapters, as I just put the book down a couple of days ago, and I need more time to digest the information. There seems to be a blog post screaming out to be written on every second page, but there are a few topics that really caught my attention, which speak directly to some changes that we can be making in our traditional school environments that would enhance learning with our students immediately.

 

The first chapter that I want to quickly discuss talks about our need and want as educators and as parents to prepare our young learners for the future…focusing on the adults that our children will eventually become instead of on the children that they are NOW. She calls the chapter the Butterfly Effect, and illustrates her point with an example of a colleague of hers who won’t take his children to Disney World until they are old enough to remember it. He tells her, “why would I spend thousands of dollars on a trip that they won’t even remember?” Her concern is that as parents and educators, we often choose experiences and make choices for our kids that we think will make a positive difference later in their lives, which may or may not be true, and we then ultimately forget about the experiences that will make our kids feel good now, and make them happy now. She also points out the unintended pressure that adults often put on kids through extra “enrichment” activities, over scheduling children (excessive activities and homework) in the belief that this will somehow be the golden ticket to getting into Harvard. She ends the chapter suggesting that there is no basis for belief that speeding up a child’s development, or delaying enriching experiences (like going to Disney World) will do any good…if anything, these adult choices are often counterintuitive.

 

Another interesting chapter is called Organized Crime, and it deals with the difference between self-esteem and self-respect in children, and which one we should be focusing on in classrooms and on the sports fields…it’s self-respect by the way. It reminds me of much of Carol Dweck’s research around Mindset and grit and praise, where effort and failing forward and mistake making are the skill sets that we should be developing in our kids. She also tackles the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems, and the research around how extrinsic reward systems in classrooms don’t actually work as a way to change behavior in the long term. She states that, ‘it’s better to develop intrinsic self-respect, and to acknowledge that failure can provide harmless but valuable life lessons”. This has me wondering about how we speak to our kids in school, and what we are actually praising them for, and the language that we use to do so…the final part of the chapter deals again with how as adults we love to schedule and manage and supervise every aspect of our kids’ and students’ lives…she begs us to let go of our inner helicopter and stop spending so much time hovering over the lives of our kids. She implores us to give our kids plenty of time to do “nothing – to indulge in pretense, create their own fantasy worlds, and to foster their own happiness”.

 

The final chapter that I want to talk about (believe me I could write about them all, especially the chapter about nature as a classroom) is called Old School, and it touches on the importance of student brain breaks, recess, and how we view homework or home learning…things that I’m personally passionate about. With regards to recess, Principe believes that it (unstructured play time) should be seen as a vital part of the curriculum, just like math or science. Children need this time, just like with regular brain breaks throughout the academic day, to be best able to sustain attention on tasks and to help reduce fidgeting and increase attention. With regards to traditional homework, and the research which shows next to no link to academic achievement in the elementary grades, she asks the question, isn’t there a better use of a child’s time after the school day is over? My answer is yes, and I’m excited to continue this conversation at our school about what that may look like. Anyway, it’s things like this (limited recess, lack of brain breaks and traditional homework) that many, many schools continue to embrace when in actual fact it’s the absolute wrong approach to helping our students grow and learn and achieve…interesting to think about for sure, and I encourage you to do so, and to do your own research around these topics…read this book too.

 

Principe says it best very early on in the book when she says, “The problem is, despite parents’ and teachers’ real desire to help young brains grow into smart and successful adult brains, most know remarkably little about how brains really develop. Anyway, as you can tell I enjoyed this book very much, and it really got me thinking. Although we’re making great strides in moving away from our many traditional approaches to educating children, there is still work to be done. The first step is to understand what really works with kids, and to learn the truth around how they develop. It’s also important to be able to identify, and to step away from the urban myths around what we think is the best approach to helping kids learn…remember, just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The more you and I learn about how the brain develops, the better we can care for and educate our children, and the better we can raise old brains in a new world – Gabrielle Principe

 

Interesting Articles –

Brain Development – New Insights

Early Childhood Development

Why Play is Important

Learning With Nature

Student Brain Breaks

 

Ted Talks and Videos –

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Read Montague

Forest Kindergarten

Alternative Education

Thank You Monsieur Monet!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22nd, 2017 by dkerr

​So a couple of weeks ago I took a trip with our Grade 4 students to Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, and it was easily one of the most inspiring experiences that I’ve had in quite some time. Not just because it was ridiculously surreal to be standing on the Japanese Bridge looking at the waterlilies, but because of the way that the students were so engaged in their learning. It really got me thinking about a few powerful approaches to education that should be seriously considered when rolling out curriculum…things like connecting students to the natural world, giving kids real world experiences, teaching across disciplines, and using the local community to enhance and underpin student learning. With this particular field trip, all of these approaches were very much on display, and it was an educational experience that kids will remember for a lifetime.

 

The unit combined all aspects of the curriculum, and it blended magically together in a way that brought the learning to life from every possible angle…Math (linear perspective, natural frames, angles, distance and proximity), Art (of course), French Language Acquisition, Music (we sang French songs all the way there and back), Science (biodiversity, physical and life science), Literacy (journal writing, poetry, biographies, small moment writing activities), Social Studies (regional geography, French history), PE (active touring and game playing in the gardens), and so much more. That’s the power of these types of authentic real world, real life experiences that make learning so deep and rich and meaningful for kids.

 

My 4th grade daughter is still singing the French songs every chance she gets, she’s looking for linear perspectives and natural frames everywhere we go, she has a new-found and deep appreciation for the Artistic beauty of our natural world, and she has started to learn that school doesn’t have to be single subject specific, it can be just days full of learning that’s blended all together and connected…so good. Oh yeah, here’s where I want to celebrate and recognize the educators in our Lower School for bringing these experiences to life for our kids…so, so impressive. Thank you!

 

You see, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of traditional, stand alone subjects, especially since I read about how Finland will be eliminating many of their classroom traditions in the next few years, and getting rid of specific subjects in favor of project based/phenomenon based learning. I’m intrigued by this, and I’m curious how that all plays out. I love how many schools and some countries are looking critically at how to engage students in their learning in this day and age, and honestly, I believe that even a few small changes can start a real paradigm shift in how we “do school”.

 

As a small example, we have an opportunity coming up here at ASP over the next year or so, as we design and develop a new Early Childhood playground. It’s so exciting to be thinking about how we can bring the natural world into our current space, and how we can engage kids through creativity, nature, play, and curiosity. The right design with this project can be a powerful spark that will open up a wider conversation around traditional school, and how we can move forward in all areas of our educational delivery.

 

Anyway, let’s keep talking about this as we move forward, and let’s continue to find ways to blur the traditional lines of curriculum, let’s continue to engage our kids in experiential learning experiences, let’s get out in the world and connect with our community and surroundings, and let’s continue to collaborate together to give our kids similar experiences like the one that inspired me so much just a couple of weeks ago…thank you Monsieur Monet! Have a fantastic short week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher 

– William Wordsworth

 

Related Articles –

Mother Nature – The Greatest Teacher

Explorable Places

Teaching Outside the Classroom

The Atlantic – Students Learn on Field Trips

Edutopia – Absolutely Awesome

Interdisciplinary Study

 

Inspiring/Thought Provoking Videos –

On-Line Bullying

Community Based Learning

Place Based Learning

Gratitude on a Community

Monet’s Garden