Teaching ‘race’ in our schools is more important than ever

Originally published and updated from Intersections (American School of Bombay), 2014

International schools are ideal laboratories to explore the myriad differences within our humanity. Our populations are diverse, our mindsets are global, and we are able to educate our motivated youth away from their ethnic comfort zones. This is a recipe for growth. Skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking are getting appropriate attention as relevant for the 21st century. However, we cannot take full advantage of our privileged position if we cultivate these 21st century skills without also confronting the real-world context of applying these skills in an environment bursting with tension—stress caused by our difficulty in coming to terms with our racial and cultural differences. Unfortunately, most schools across the world are not delving deep enough into topics of race, culture, and active anti-racism. In avoiding the uncomfortable, or the difficult, we are doing our youth a disservice.

We have a moral imperative to prepare our youth for an interconnected world, where cultures intersperse (and sometimes collide) more easily than ever. Today’s young people think about race more often than we might believe. They turn to each other about what they see and think, and they would surely benefit from an adult interpretation of these issues. Through the media, they find numerous examples of injustice: racism in professional sports and media, advertisements and films reinforcing negative stereotypes, racial profiling and violence in law enforcement, and even xenophobic and racist behavior from the “leader” of the free world. They see public officials mistaking ethnic origins for national identities[1]. They see our communities getting more segregated. They see the wealth gap widening. Often treated as simply newsworthy items, each issue or incident is a teachable moment, an opportunity to expose and come to grips with underlying issues of race, culture, and human rights.

How we understand, appreciate, and act on the differences inherent in humanity continues to be of paramount importance to society—as evidenced by blurring racial lines, a flat world[2], and entrenched institutional bias—and it has become more difficult to do so because it is not politically correct to be completely honest about one’s own racial views. In fact, there are countless examples of people (well-meaning or not) losing their jobs or reputations when mishandling a racial issue[3]. As a result of this hypersensitive climate, a frank discussion on race has been forced out of the public sphere. Racism, once “in your face”, now operates under the surface, re-emerging at inopportune times. When an incident does occur, racism is quickly denounced, and perpetrators condemned. But this knee-jerk response rarely moves society closer to peace and harmony. Racism has been exposed, but not addressed. No learning has taken place. So, where better to unpack race issues than in the relative safety of the school setting?

Teaching young people about race must begin with an important distinction: one can do race without being a racist. Markus and Moya[4] (2010) remind us that “We do race and ethnicity—all of us, every day.” To be more blunt, they offer, “Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in his or her life is either dishonest or clueless.” Doing race is defined by Markus and Moya[5] as:

a [negative] doing—a dynamic set of historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices that (1) sorts people into ethnic groups according to perceived characteristics, (2) associates differential value, power, and privilege with these characteristics, and (3) emerges when groups are perceived as a threat to each other’s worldview or way of life, which then justifies the denigration and exploitation of a group(s)…

Whether one is doing race depends on what is noted, how it is noted, why it is noted, and what one does with the information gathered as a result of that noting.

Although “doing race” is a nascent concept, most schools do include units or lessons on racism across the grade levels. With the focus on the worst of behaviors, students (and adults) find it easy to take an exalted viewpoint on the topic by simply proclaiming their abhorrence to racism (and who doesn’t feel this way?). However, if pressed on issues of our own privilege, our subconscious biases[6], or whether we believe that race is biological, tension, defensiveness, and unease enter the mix. It is these topics that beg the teacher’s attention, and where in lie opportunities for student learning and growth.

Take the popular concept of colorblindness. Today’s society beats this mantra until it is firmly in our subconscious. But colorblindness renders the world monochromatic, and makes the richness of humanity’s diversity invisible. What can be more disrespectful, or inhuman, than that outcome? In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action Bakke[7] case, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently[8].”

Once we adequately recognize the negative aspects of race, thus coming to grips with our differences, we can move past race, and embrace the positive nature of culture. Wade Davis, author and Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, proclaims, “Culture is humanity’s greatest legacy[9].” Culture defines us as humans, and it is what we hope to leave behind when we are gone. Culture is rooted in identity and belonging. When claimed, culture confirms a sense of belonging, pride, and motivation[10].

Empathy is a critical disposition to possess in today’s context. Developing cultural empathy can come from exploring the practice of arranged marriages, or the central importance of family hierarchy in certain cultures, or what it is like to have dark skin in a white environment[11]. There are countless examples that are appropriate for classroom use. The exploration should culminate in the student developing a strong sense of his or her own ethnic identity, and how this identity is interdependent with how other people and society view it. It is with this cultural toolkit that our youth will be ready to thrive in the global world.

Finally, knowledge and skills have limited value unless they are put to use. Returning to ethical grounds, our school-age generation must have a bias toward action on issues of race. Despite the increased visibility of ethnic minorities in powerful political and economic positions, institutional bias continues to exert a debilitating influence on those not in positions of privilege. Its invisible force fuels inertia on social justice progress. Markus and Moya[12] speak to all of us, “We cannot let ourselves off the hook. We have a responsibility to act.”

To make the most impact, schools can empower its students to become actively anti-racist. This mindset entails students to challenge prejudice and bigotry, to protest injustice, and to influence peers on various hot-button issues[13]. At the very least, today’s schools must produce an army of allies[14], ready to exert a positive influence in the world. These allies will be self-aware of “doing race”, will be fully informed citizens on divisive race-based issues such as affirmative action, and will avoid playing a complicit role in reinforcing bias and racism in society.

The time is ripe for international schools to seize the opportunity to shape young minds on issues of race. In confronting the important, albeit difficult topics, and by not playing it safe or politically correct, schools will impart a more meaningful school experience on its students, and allow them to leave the safety of the campus possessing the relevant tools and attitudes to make the world a better place.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/freshman-congressman-florida-mistook-senior-govt-appointees-indian-officials-261432

[2] Friedman, Thomas L. (2005) The World is Flat. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. New York.

[3] See http://bit.ly/1AlOMIk for results from a simple Google search of “loses job because of racial comments”

[4] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For a personal shock, take Harvard’s Implicit Attitude Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/)

[7] Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)

[8] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[9] Davis, W. (2009). The Wayfinders. Toronto: Anansi Press.

[10] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[11] Staples, B. “Black Men and Public Space.” Harpers. December 1986. Electronic

[12] Ibid.

[13] “198 Methods of Nonviolent Resistance” offers many options for action, based on personal comfort level (Sharp, Gene (1973). The Politics of Nonviolent Resistance. Boston: Porter Sargent.)

[14] Ayvazian, Rev. A. “Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression”. Fellowship, January-February 1995. Electronic.

 

A Crisis of Relevance

January, 2018

The teacher crisis—a shortage of qualified and capable teachers—is real and serious, but it is not the biggest threat to international schools today. There exists a crisis of relevance. Schools have a moral imperative to prepare young people for their future, and not our past, yet we have done little to disturb the centuries-old schooling model.

In a competitive market like Dubai, there is no guarantee that families will continue to send their children to your school. In fact, there is no guarantee that Dubai families will continue sending their children to any brick and mortar schools. They can now piece together a suitable education for their children through online platforms, experiential learning opportunities, and targeted tutoring. When we ask for tens of thousands of dollars of tuition, education often becomes a value proposition. Schools like the American School of Dubai may be fighting not only to preserve its market share of mission-appropriate students, but it may be fighting for its very existence. Are we remotely aware of this crisis?

We must disrupt the Victorian model of schooling by promoting flexible spaces, groupings and timetables, by putting homework in its proper place, and most importantly, by changing the role of the teacher from benevolent dictator and czar of content to coach and facilitator of learning. We must assess the hard-to-measure skills and knowledge, and not just the easily quantifiable stuff. Putting social and emotional learning on equal par with the “academics” will build school cultures of respect and compassionate action, and promote cultural competency for our youngest global citizens. When we will have the courage to be bold, break free from our cautiously progressive mindset, and do what we know is right and proper for our children?

Dr. Paul Richards
Superintendent, the American School of Dubai

The mission of the American School of Dubai is to challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world.

Why We Sleep (book summary)

why we sleep

There is a special kind of frustration that arises when something in life that seems so obvious is largely ignored by individuals, institutions, and society. Mathew Walker, Ph.D., and his book Why We Sleep offered both a cathartic and also exasperating read. The book fit in nicely with my recent reads of Rest (Pang), Slow (Honoré), and Dancing in the Rain (Murphy). What follows are a few of the countless salient points Dr. Walker has offered in this gem of a book.

  • Humans are not sleeping the way nature intended. Instead of the monophasic pattern (one long, single bout of sleep), we should be sleeping in a biphasic pattern (seven to eight hours in bed, followed by a thirty- to sixty-minute nap in the afternoon). (p. 68)
  • Studies have showed that mortality from heart disease increased 37-60+% when napping was eliminated in healthy (p. 70)
  • “Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?” (Yes, it’s sleep!) (p. 107)
  • Sleep before learning refreshes our ability to initially make new memories. Sleep after learning effectively clicks the “save” button on the newly acquired information. (p. 108)
  • Practice does not make perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection. (p. 126)
  • Microsleep (complete blindness to the outside world for a few seconds) makes drowsy driving more dangerous than drug and alcohol induced driving, combined. (p. 134)
  • Sleep deprivation dramatically works against the developmental phase of life when adolescents are most vulnerable to developing psychiatric disorders. (p. 152)
  • Teachers work against their intentions (to have students retain learnings) when they end-load exams in the final days of a semester, thus encouraging short sleeping or all-nighters. Instead, there should be no “final” exams at a marking period, but rather more frequent, formative assessments(p. 156)
  • Give key factors that have powerfully changed how much and how well we sleep: (1) constant electric light, (2) regularized temperature, (3) caffeine, (4) alcohol, and (5) alarm clocks. (p. 265)
  • Consider “nap pods” in the workplace, like Nike and Google.
  • Starting school before 8:15am for high schoolers is like waking adolescents up in the middle of the night. A century ago, schools in the US started at 9:00.
  • Consider offering incentives to employees for getting their 8 hours nightly, such as extra vacation or personal days.

To Sleep or Not (p. 340)

Within the space of a mere hundred years, human beings have abandoned their biologically mandated need for adequate sleep—one that evolution spent 3,400,000 years perfecting in service of life-support functions. As a result, the decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children.

This silent sleep loss epidemic is the greatest public health challenge we face in the twenty-first century in developed nations. If we wish to avoid the suffocating noose of sleep neglect, the premature death it inflicts, and the sickening health it invites, a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur.

I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality, dispensed through every conceivable biological pathway. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day, infused with the very deepest plentitude of being.

 

Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep (p. 341)

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day (no later than three hours before bedtime).
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. (It erodes your REM sleep.)
  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
  6. Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.
  7. Don’t take naps after 3pm.
  8. Relax before bed, such as reading or listening to music.
  9. Take a hot bath before bed (to drop your body temperature the necessary 2-3 degrees F).
  10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom (anything that might distract your sleep).
  11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Wake up with the sun or bright lights.
  12. Don’t lie in bed awake (get up if you can’t sleep).

A letter to students from the ASD Superintendent – HS Version

It Felt Love

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart

And give to this world

All its

Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light

Against its

Being,

Otherwise,

We all remain

Too

Frightened.

From “The Gift” (Hafiz)

 

Dear ASD High School student,

Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities for rest, renewal, reading and other learning experiences. As the new ASD Superintendent, I wanted to start my tenure at the school by sharing the poem above. Why? Poet Robert Frost said it well, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” (emphasis added)

For the Richards family—Camille (grade 10) and Zach (grade 8), and my wife Tina—moving to Dubai and starting anew at ASD generates a myriad of emotions: excitement, nervousness, happiness, and sadness to leave friends in Saudi Arabia, among other feelings. Most of all, however, I am filled with awe and anticipation at the honor of serving the 1850+ students of the American School of Dubai. You, the students, are the roses at ASD, and it is up to we, the teachers, to provide the light so you can achieve your dreams and thrive in this world.

The Richards family is excited to join ASD due to the importance the organization places on the community itself. There are many high-quality schools in the world, but there exist fewer schools that go beyond a transactional relationship with its students and families. At ASD, you are part of a vibrant community that strives to be a conduit for your health, happiness and achievement (yes, all three outcomes are possible). ASD has a reputation of being a place that treats its members fairly and with kindness, with care and with empathy. This is exactly where we want to be!

I am writing to you because it may take some time before we can get to know each other, especially since the superintendent does not belong to any particular division or classroom. This is a chance to tell you a few things as the school year starts.

What does a superintendent do? Good question. First and foremost, I protect and keep the Mission of the school, to make sure we are living it: We challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world. I lead the administration in the day-to-day operations of the school. I also partner with the ASD Board of Trustees—who focus on policy, thought partnership, and ensuring the financial viability of the school.

We take seriously the responsibility to realize ASD’s Mission with each and every one of you. As a result, I share the following commitments to you, which I fully expect you to hold me accountable to:

To listen. As an introvert, this comes naturally to me. I very much want to hear your unique perspective on the school, on your learning, or on life. Speak up. It will help us make better decisions.

To be fair. We will use ASD’s Core Values as the basis of an ethical framework for decisions on issues of programs, curriculum, handbook expectations, and policies. You will always get an explanation of why a decision was made, and the rationale for it.

To be available. My daily calendar is set up in a way that I’ll be out and about campus during and after the school day. If you don’t see me, make an appointment in the main office.  

To uphold ASD’s Core Values. I will strive to do right by the students and the school, and to set a good model for behavior, even in situations where it may be challenging to do so.

I would be remiss if I didn’t communicate some expectations I have for you:

Own your learning. After all, this is your high school experience, not mine. Self-motivation is believed by many as the key to success in our rapidly changing world. Much attention in the media has been given to self-driving cars or sky taxis, but journalist Thomas Friedman advocates for the self-driving you. There is wisdom here.

It is natural to think about the future during your time at ASD, to think of the school experience as planning and preparation for what comes next. It would be a missed opportunity, however, to focus your attention on how your actions today might influence rewards in the future. Instead, and I paraphrase from Stanford Professor Tina Seelig, use your school experience to experiment and explore in the present. In doing so, your natural curiosity and creativity will take over, and the singular focus on producing results will diminish (ironically, you will nevertheless produce results through these behaviors). We, the teachers at ASD, will do our part to create the space and intellectual climate to foster this mindset.

Uphold ASD’s Core Values: compassion, excellence, integrity, respect, responsibility. It takes all of us to model these values, and it takes courage to stand up for what is right, even if it brings discomfort or unpopularity. A community can only be a community if we live and breathe the core values. Otherwise, the values are simply words on a website or a poster.

Go beyond you. ASD strives to personalize the learning experience for all its students, but you also have so much to offer your classmates and community. Share your unique perspective on the world, and help others be the best they can be. The ASD experience is an opportunity to be engaged in a relationship with your community and its members. Relationships are two-way streets, where you can take, but you must also give back.

Finally, work hard, and devote equal effort to rest and recovery. The most accomplished people today and in the past work very deliberately on their rest, and they define this recovery as an active process (not just sitting on the couch for hours Netflixing). Walk, read, practice a skill, laugh, cry, exercise, hang out with friends and family, write notes, etc. Give your brain a chance to consolidate all it has learned in the course of the day. And what do scientists say is most important for you to be at your peak performance? Sleep. (I know. This can be a battle.)

You have a highly-capable Principal in Dr. Leever to work with on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms Gonsalves or drop me a note). I don’t carry an email address, but you can find me on WhatsApp and LinkedIn (just ask me for a business card). I also write occasionally on my blog: www.drpaulrichards.com. Check it out.

I look forward to meeting you in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember…

Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!

Dr. Paul Richards

ASD Superintendent

ASD Parent Letter

Dear Parents,

Welcome to the soon-to-begin 2017-2018 school year. In the last week we welcomed 39 new faculty members, and several new administrators, to our learning community. I can also claim to be part of this new group! This collection of highly-capable professionals is currently participating in the new faculty orientation program and we believe each will make a positive and profound impact on our school in short order. Returning faculty and staff have also arrived on campus to begin final preparations for the start of the school year.

The Richards family is not new to the Middle East, having lived the past four years in Saudi Arabia, but we are new to Dubai and the UAE. My wife Tina, a nurse practitioner, will take her time to settle in before deciding on her next professional endeavor. Our children, Camille (Grade 10) and Zach (Grade 8) are eager to make new friends and begin school. Even our long-haired Jack Russell terrier, Kiwi, approves of the move, as he now has a social group in the neighborhood.

I want to extend a special welcome to our new families, whether you are new to Dubai or just new to the American School of Dubai (ASD). I look forward to hearing your aspirations for your children and for ASD itself. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself when on campus. Your children will receive a welcome letter from me on the first day of school; there are a few things I want to tell them directly.

ASD Mission
The mission continues to serve as the driving force of all things at the school, in the decisions we make keeping the children’s best interests at the forefront, and in inspiring us to keep striving toward improvement. The mission is personal: “…challenge and inspire each student…” The mission is aspirational: “…achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner…” The mission has a bias toward action: “…prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world.” The world our children will inherit is not only different than the one we inhabited at their ages, but their world has yet to be fully created. Our graduates must be prepared for disruptions that have not yet occurred, and ASD through its Student Profile — Thinker. Communicator. Contributor. Learner. Leader. — is fully committed to this preparation. As the world changes around us, the school must also evolve its programs and approaches in order to stay relevant to our children’s needs.

Aligned with the ASD mission are the new strategic priorities, developed at a representative summit nearly a year back:

  1. In order to embrace our collective responsibility to deeply embed and fully realize our Mission, Core Values, Learning Principles, and Student Profile, we will develop metrics, report on progress and respond to our performance.
  2. We will develop and implement policies, systems, structures and practices that will meet the diverse learning needs of all of ASD’s students.
  3. We will design, implement and evaluate a community-wide comprehensive learning program that develops and cultivates a mindset to contribute and take informed action.

These statements represent the next iteration of the school’s strategic plan. In the coming months, you will have an opportunity to participate either formally or informally in the creation of results and accompanying action/strategies. You will receive updates throughout this year and beyond on the school’s progress toward meeting these ambitious targets.

ASD Core Values
Core values represent “how we do things around here”, and ASD’s five Core Values are largely ethical in nature:

Compassion: It is our responsibility to give help where needed.
Excellence: Striving for excellence is critical to our success.
Integrity: Integrity and honesty are essential to a safe and trusting environment.
Respect: Every person has equal inherent value. Embracing our diversity strengthens our community.
Responsibility: Each person is responsible/accountable for his or her choices.

It is critically important how we (the educators), you (the parents), and our students in particular, define the behaviors associated with each Core Value. This is especially true with Excellence, the only Core Value that is not ethical in nature. Excellence can be viewed as an activity, resulting from our hard work and ethical behavior, and it can be viewed as an output, where others judge our performance or actions at a high level of achievement. It should not be viewed as striving for perfection, or fostering excessive competitiveness. Please help me in reinforcing this message.

Advancing the Mission of ASD
ASD is well known for its welcoming community and again this year, there are multiple opportunities for you and your family to be involved in ways that strengthen our community and support our school. Each and every gift of time, talent and treasure is valued and supports the success of students and advances the mission of ASD.

We are grateful for the many dedicated parents who volunteer throughout the school and through the PTSA, Booster and CAST parent organizations. The dedication and gift of time create wonderful opportunities for our community that foster friendship and involvement. Please consider how you can get involved this year and I look forward to seeing you at all our community building events, including concerts, competitions, Halloween Night, Santa’s Workshop, Sports Award ceremonies, the ASD Carnival and more.

Last year as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, ASD launched its first-ever Annual Giving program. Providing opportunities to give in support of ASD is common at most leading, independent nonprofit schools (both in the United States and within the international arena). Through giving, you help ensure ASD can fulfill its mission to prepare students for our rapidly changing world beyond what tuition allows.

I want to say thank you to the many parents, faculty, staff and alumni who made a gift through the Annual Giving program or through the 50th Anniversary Gala. Last year’s annual gifts, together with the proceeds of the 50th Anniversary Gala, yielded nearly AED 1.5 million which have been dedicated to a number of outstanding projects that otherwise would not have been possible: the re-imaging of the ES and MS/HS Library projects; misting fans across campus; a new state-of-the-art theatre projector; new school-wide sustainability bins; division learning space enhancements; funding dedicated to support learning projects inspired by students and more. I look forward to sharing more about making a difference through giving to ASD and thank you in advance for your participation.

Home-School Partnership
Our children thrive at school when the support from home and from school are strong and aligned, where support is developmentally appropriate to the age of the student. Psychologist Robert Evans (author of Family Matters) put it well: “Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child.” We want our children to be happy and healthy thirty-five year olds (and preferably not living with us at our home). This requires a gradual shift from the early years right up to graduation for parent-as-doer to parent-as-coach. We want to resist the parent-as-rescuer or parent-as-personal assistant roles that can be debilitating to the normal development of children. Parent-as-friend is the joyful role that develops once our children leave the nest.

Protocol for Resolving Issues: ASD is fortunate to enjoy the strong participation and support of parents, and you can assist us by talking directly with your child’s teacher regarding classroom issues or concerns at the earliest possible time. In the event that you are unable to satisfactorily resolve an issue with your child’s teacher, please contact the division administrator. If the issue cannot be resolved at the division level or if the issue relates to a matter of a school-wide nature, please contact the superintendent through Reina Gonsalves at rgonsalves@asdubai.org.

Reminders/Announcements

In concluding, the entire faculty, staff and administration are deeply committed to the upcoming 2017-2018 school year being a wonderful year of learning for your children. If we can be of assistance or support throughout the school year, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. I look forward to meeting your family.

Sincerely,

Dr. Paul Richards
Superintendent

Straight Down the Middle – June, 2017

Dear ISG Staff:

This represents the last time I formally write to you as ISG Superintendent. I would like to personally thank you for all of you have given to ISG during my tenure, and to the Richards family. I have learned a tremendous amount from you all.

Scott

I want to recognize Mr. Scott Miller, a first-year teacher at DEMS, who passed away this weekend at his villa. This tragic event has reached beyond DEMS, and beyond even the ISG community. Scott, a gifted teacher, made a positive impact with many students and staff this year, and he will be missed.

 

Long-serving Leavers

Though the overall staff attrition rate is low this year, there are several staff leaving ISG after a long service to their school and to the district. I’m pleased to recognize and thank the following who have served fifteen years or more at ISG:

Laura and Ray Timm: Icons of the Jubail community for over three decades, Ray and Laura are known for their dedication to their students, and for their fitness and longevity (which would sometimes make its way into their lessons).

Sajida Ifikhar: Teacher of Urdu for twenty-six years. Steady, hardworking, and a solid contributor to life at Dammam.

Rima Abushaur: A stalwart teacher at DBGS in the Arabic and French language, also for twenty-six years, who will continue on as a supply teacher.

Linda L’esteve: Teacher in the Dammam preschool for twenty-four years. A big contributor to the youngest minds at the school.

Sue and John Chapman: Two stints at DBGS and then John moved to the district office as Asst. Supt. for Human Resources. Sue is a highly capable primary years teacher. Twenty-four years at ISG.

Nick Hardcastle: Long-time teacher of seventeen years and most recently Head of Seniors at DBGS, Nick is also an outdoor enthusiast, leading many expeditions within KSA and to Nepal.

 

Performance Report

I’m resending this link to the ISG Performance Report, which you received from Tara Waudby two weeks back, for it is a remarkable, first-of-its-kind-for-ISG production. It captures both quantitative and qualitative data from our four years of work together toward 21st century relevance in our educational programs. It includes short narratives. There is a lot of good to tell through this report, and plenty of data to examine more deeply. We hope this will be the first of an annual performance reporting mechanism on how we are doing toward realizing our Mission. (It’s your unofficial summer homework to read this document.)

 

Some Final Reflections

Four years ago, when I arrived (3 days after the start of school!), I knew my charge from the Board of Trustees: accelerate ISG’s journey toward 21st century relevance in the classrooms. Each of the seven schools had common challenges, but also needed its own path. The big question in my mind was whether ISG—its infrastructure, its teachers, its administrators—had the capacity for such a change. With some strategic investment, we took care of the easy things right away: internet connectivity and devices, literacy resources and consultants, more PD monies available from the district office. It was a tsunami of resources, and people took it in stride.

 

Fast forward to the present, with many new faces joining our experienced ISG staff, and I’m pleased with our progress. The Board asked me early on, “Are the teachers capable of all this?” I responded, “Yes, I believe so.” Now I can say that again with greater confidence. All the administration ever hoped for was that every ISG staff member would get on the path toward 21st century excellence.

 

It feels natural that we have kept the triumvirate of district goals—literacy, tech integration, and collaboration—but also added to and refined the work as a new regime takes over. Furthermore, our relationship with data has matured considerably, where we are now poised to intervene when students are not performing up to par. I truly believe, under the stewardship of Eddie Liptrot and his team, that the best days for ISG are yet to come.

 

There is no doubt that ISG has been good to us. We suffer from the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly that all workplaces experience. Politics are low. We are patient with the countercultural elements of our host country. We rightly put our focus on what is best for the students. It’s all about the learning, because these students, who did not choose to come to KSA, deserve our very best efforts. We can be as good as we choose to be. It is up to us!

 

Whether we were able to get to know each other or not, I hope you have found that I’ve lived up to ISG’s core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, acceptance, with the commitment to act. There were successes, and there were mistakes. We rarely get do-overs, but honestly, I did my very best, and I have no regrets.

 

Please stay in touch, even if it’s only on Linked-In.

 

Yours in service…

Signature Paul.png

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Straight Down the Middle – ISG Staff

Straight Down the Middle
December, 2016

Dear ISG Staff:

“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” (Mother Teresa)

As the sun sets on the penultimate day before the winter holiday, you, like me, have likely have reached a happy state of exhaustion, a brilliant term to describe those who work in the noble profession of schooling. We heed Mother Teresa’s advice, using holidays to replenish our energies, restore our perspectives, reconnect with family and friends, find a new book to read, and generally unwind from the stressors of life. But my thinking is shifting on this matter. Why do we wait for the breaks (nights, weekends, holidays) to take care of ourselves? Should we not carve our time during the school day to replenish our reserves? Would this not best serve children and our colleagues?

Schools are filled with exceptionally good people, who are also notorious for taking care of others first, and themselves last. As a New Years resolution, consider adding one or two strategies to your daily school routine, trying them when you have a few minutes, especially when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted (which is counterintuitive, but it works!). Here are some ideas:

  • A walk in the sunshine
  • Closing your eyes and taking 10 deep breaths, and then just listening to your immediate environment
  • Connecting with one person you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Eating your lunch with the students
  • Eating your lunch exceptionally slowly, to truly taste the food, and not doing any multitasking while eating
  • Practicing something that is a hobby
  • Writing three hand-written notes of gratitude

Research shows that incorporating self-care strategies like these into one’s daily routine not only produces an antidote to stress (facilitating relaxation), but it can re-wire your brain, making you more resilient to the daily (and inevitable) stressors of life.

And sometimes, just being still and quiet can be the best therapy. Chuang Tzu’s Flight from the Shadow illustrates this point.

There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both.
So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty.
He ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally dropped dead.
He failed to realize that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still (and quiet), there would be no more footsteps.

This time of year marks a good time to take stock of ISG. I’m happy to say that the organization is in a good place. We have enjoyed a very productive first four months of learning, as evidenced by the knowledge our students are exhibiting through their actions, behaviors, and created artifacts. It has been a half-year of adult collaboration, the best (from my seat) I’ve seen in four years. We are building that professional culture of growth that we know excellent schools possess. We continue to make gains in the infrastructure that supports this learning and collaboration. Bright days are ahead for ISG.

From our family to yours, we wish you a restful break!  May the New Year be filled with love and compassion. See you in January.

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