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