Opening Letter to Students – HS Version

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. If you are like a typical young person of your generation, I’m sure you also consumed hours upon hours of digital content, but I’ll get to this later.

This past week, as the Richards family worked on getting over our jetlag, we watched “Ready Player One”. Steven Spielberg is a brilliant director, and it’s not easy to take a great book and do it justice on the screen (yes, Ready Player One started as a book by author and self-professed “full-time geek”, Ernest Cline). The dystopian world, less than thirty years into the future, is quite depressing, yet Spielberg and Cline give us a lot to think about: escape from reality through VR, real versus online relationships, and the influence of mega-corporations on us. Now, I know most people will just focus on the love-interest-driven plot, the awesome special effects, and who wins in the end. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but did you notice at the very end that Wade, now in control of the Oasis, turned it off on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. That made me smile, and also made me want to use this example to begin my annual letter to all students.

90:9:1

What is this ratio? You may have seen this before. It’s popular in technology circles, usually cited when describing people’s behavior using social media. However, to illustrate my point, I’ll use the ratio in the following way:

90 – the % of people who consume digital content

9 – the % of people who create digital content

1 – the % of people who curate digital content

Consuming digital content has its place both in school and in leisure. We all appreciate binge-watching Netflix on occasion, or checking Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter. The problem lies when this consumption becomes a distraction to forming real relationships, or it gets in the way of responsibilities such as completing your homework. In addition, if you were honest, you would likely admit that your consumption of digital media leaves you either wanting for more (like a sugar fix) or feeling strangely empty, after the ephemeral thrill is gone.

Creating digital content transitions away from passive consumption and in to actively building of something new. Creating takes thought and pays it forward (hopefully, through a positive impact). This might involve making a How-To video for YouTube, or joining an online forum that contributes ideas or codes algorithms to solve complex problems. You will likely find this type of contribution highly rewarding, and the impact may even last years and years.

Curating digital content is the highest order skill set, which allows one to create communities of learning and discovery (and even entertainment). You are organizing a digital platform that brings people together for a common purpose, whether it’s educating the world on an issue important to you, or simply networking with people who share common values and interests, but are geographically all over the world. Think Khan Academy, or Pinterest.

Which skills are employable (i.e. will allow you to make a living, independently, doing something you love)? Certainly not digital consumption. If that were the case, everyone in the world would be independently wealthy! Unless you are one of the very few YouTubers who can make videos that entertain the masses, you likely won’t make a living through digital creation (though these people seem to eventually crash and burn and get banned from the platform). A more realistic approach to this activity would be to treat it like a hobby. It is the curating of digital content that provides great value (and success) in the 21st Century. This is a skill that AI cannot compete with humans. And it’s something you can do from any location that has a decent wifi signal (like the Maldives!).

I challenge each and every one of you to reflect on where your own behaviors fall in this 90:9:1 ratio. The key here is to find the right balance to ensure your consumption or “escapes” do not dominate your wakeful hours. Why? Because there are so many amazing things to discover if you just unplug for a while. And then you can take these discoveries back to the digital realm and make the world a better place.

“If we teach today’s students like we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” (John Dewey)

John Dewey is a legend in the field of education, preaching over a century ago the importance of “hands-on” learning through confronting real-world problems. He believed that education is social and that students should be empowered to own their learning. He would surely be gutted to see that many classrooms have not progressed much since his day, still relying on memorizing facts and listening to lectures. I shared this quote with your teachers when we met on Saturday, because at ASD we aspire to offer you the most relevant learning experience we can. Our school mission pledges to prepare you to adapt and contribute to a rapidly changing world. Rapidly changing indeed this world is! We see opportunity in this dynamic reality, and are ready to meet the challenge.

The school has launched a three-year strategic plan that will disrupt aspects of traditional learning at ASD. It aims to make you “future ready”. The theme central to this initiative is personalized learning. This means we want to tailor your education to your interests and needs, because your future is unique to you. We will make available additional opportunities, content, and courses in future-ready fields such as technology, innovation, business, entrepreneurship, global issues, and the performing arts. We will create additional service learning experiences, particularly in Dubai. We will ensure every student has access to these opportunities, and shatter any glass ceilings that exist for highly capable students. This is our pledge to you. And we won’t make you wait! You will start to see some of this right away, this year, and then there will be much, much more to come.

What can you do to advance these efforts? Simple. Join your teachers in co-creating your school experience, for today and for tomorrow. Find your voice. Give us your ideas. Speak up for what you feel is right and appropriate. Advocate. Demand. Own your education. It’s yours, after all, not ours!

Finally, we welcome to ASD this year a highly-capable Principal in Ms. Nadine Richards who will work with you on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. She will lead the high school faculty in its effort to improve. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself or say hello in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms. Gonsalves or drop me a note).

I look forward to meeting and seeing 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

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).

Straight Down the Middle (Staff) – August 2016

Straight Down the Middle
August, 2016
Welcome to the new school year edition!

On behalf of the entire District Office team, and the ISG Board of Trustees, I’m pleased to welcome you back (or to) ISG. Today marks the first day for staff at ISG’s seven schools (and five campuses). Though certainly hectic in our preparations for Monday’s go-time with children, I love the energy that this week brings.

We have been welcoming in several new teachers over the last few nights, trying to make their transition as smooth as possible. (Thank you for your help in this matter.) I’m curious how many watched A Hologram for the King on the plane, and whether that was a good thing for their induction.

The Richards family had a relaxing and typical ex-pat summer, spending time with family and friends, predominantly in New England. I was able to do a week’s professional development at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, and to read several books on my list: Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf), How to Set a Fire and Why (Jesse Ball), and about 20% of the Sherlock Holmes Ultimate Collection. I’m almost through with The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson), a fiction about North Korea. I’m happy to talk about any or all of these books with you if we can find a moment, and I’d love to hear what you read.

ISG is ready for you to join us on Thursday at the annual Convocation (08:30 in the Dhahran Auditorium). After a few words from Tara Waudby and me, we’ll follow the usual script of professional development workshops. See Tara’s email from Monday to get specifics for what’s on offer.

You have got a lot on your plates, so I’ll keep this message short. I’ll give you some updates when I see you on Thursday.

Cheers,
Paul Richards
ISG Superintendent

(Don’t forget to join the ISG Safety and Security Google + Community)

Straight Down the Middle – Unplugged 2016 edition

 

27 February 2016
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Dear ISG staff:

For the past few days, several staff have represented ISG at the biannual ASB Unplugged Conference, hosted by the American School of Bombay. I believe this is the most important gathering on the international school world’s calendar; I was pleased with the impact of ISG’s participation in 2014, and I feel the impact will be even greater from this experience.

Why does this conference work? First, it’s the setting. The first day of the conference happens at the school, while it is in session. In fact, the day before the workshops start, a full day is devoted entirely to classroom visits. If one can’t get inspired seeing the joy students exude when engaged in their learning, and how a caring and competent teacher facilitates this, then one should not be in this profession.

Second, there is an esprit de corps that permeates the conference. It is in the ether. ASB Unplugged serves as a network that builds the social capital among all of us that choose to engage in self-improvement for the welfare of the students in our charge. Researcher Michael Fullan argues that by building social capital—which concerns the quality and quantity of interactions and relationships among people—we are able to tap into the expertise of others. A school can achieve an impact bigger than the sum of its individual parts.

Finally, the content of the conference is engaging, both in substance and relevancy, but also in challenging our oft-restricting assumptions toward teaching and learning. The following quotes were shared today over the ISG team’s WhatsApp group:

  • “If students are doing work for the world, they want it to be good. If students are doing work for you, they want it to be good enough.” (McLeod)
  • “All assessment interrupts the learning process.” (Stager)
  • “If a teacher explains the same concept to a child 100 times, it is not the child who is a slow learner.” (source not attributable)
  • “Data is the narcotic that lazy school administrators use in lieu of sitting next to students.” (source not attributable)

To simplify and clarify my own takeaways from Unplugged, I offer the following synthesis. We, meaning all of us dedicated to K-12 education worldwide, are still in the infancy of understanding and coming to grips with technology’s role in student learning (and student learning is what our daily work is all about!). Technology is both a skill to be developed, and also a tool to facilitate our desired outcomes. These skills and tools are inherently interdisciplinary—so it applies not necessarily in every instance, but it can apply everywhere. Technology integration is neither all good nor all bad. We know it can boost learning and growth (by fostering collaboration, or effecting communication, or creating something useful and elegant, for example). We also know the concerns about distractibility, about the erosion of authentic relationships, and about privacy are valid and need more study. The key is to continue our critical examination of what works in the learning process, piloting and prototyping new ideas (and sharing them broadly), giving voice to students by allowing them to influence and own their learning through choice, measuring the value-added to what we are doing, and being mindful of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

I am proud of the good work ISG teachers do everyday in this realm, as I am of the support administrators and other staff provide to the classrooms. I appreciate the open mindset and grit employed when tackling the vexations that present themselves. It may feel a far distance to go before technology clicks in our day-to-day practice, but we are trying, and we are making progress. Success is rarely linear, is it? (Citation: American School of Bombay)

Success

Unplugged has allowed the ISG participants to nurture our inherent curiosity, affirm the moral responsibility to do right by children, and return to Saudi Arabia to tap into and grow the organization’s social capital—all for the benefit of those we serve, our cherished students.

We’ll see you soon.

Dr. Paul