Every now and then I update this blog with a travel post, or reflection I created for grad school. I want to be a bit more consistent and update this blog with short and concise educational tid-bits that can provide value to fellow teachers and readers. I currently subscribe to Aj juliani, Cult of Pedagogy with Jennifer Gonzalez and Principals of Change by George Couros. These leaders and educators have provided me with many pearls of wisdom. They have inspired me to do the same on my blog.Even if no one else reads this, reflection is a powerful tool to promote self development.
Most teachers I know seek professional development outside their current employment. They plan to attend these big elaborate conferences, Edutech and Learning 2, which I attended two years in a row, because its going to make them better teachers. I too believe this. I always fall victim to the big keynote speakers advertised in the flashy email. I feel like I must go in order to improve my pedagogy. I am guilty of coming back from these conferences with too many ideas. I experience a paradox of choice in which initiative to implement when you return. This experience has led to to believe that observing a teacher in your own school can provide so much more value.
Today, I observed a teacher in my department. This was for my leadership certification, so it wasn't out of the blue. We had a few discussions before I came into his class. Observing one teacher allows you to reflect on your own practices, as well as hone in on what works and what doesn't in your school. Your also using the same student demographic so you can cater these ideas to specific students.
Watching my colleague's class reminded me of all the things I used to do, but time has withered away from my instructional practices. Simple things like underlining your vocabulary words and playing games, make learning more engaging. I had a lot of takeaways, both positive and negative, from sitting in his class. I thought to myself, "I should do that more." I also said, "I would do that differently." But watching how things are done differently allowed me to tear down my routine walls. Having the kids come in and write what they see on the board everyday isn't always necessary. He started right off the bat with a game. My colleague had very little written on the board and I thought "that's a great way to get them to know exactly what to take away in this class." Since then, I've drastically reduced the scribble on my whiteboard.
I took notes and observed his students as an outsider. It reminded me of some of the struggles my students face when I go too fast. It allowed me to see the difficulties our students face when I am not trying to "manage" all of them at once. Being a fly on the wall has great value in understanding the class, grade and student body.
I found myself in the shoes of what an administrator may do. I noticed I even made my colleague a bit nervous, which is normal because we are all human. Hopefully this allows me to be much calmer next time I am observed. I also think it allowed him to better prepare his lesson. He really wanted to show off his good stuff. He naturally had a lot of things to say about his kids after the lesson and may have also had some reflective
So, encourage your staff to observe each other. Create a safe environment where staff can feel appreciated and respected if they are asked to be part of this. Seek out people in your department to learn how your students work best. It really is valuable and can have a direct impact on your students, staff and pedagogy.
This is my second post to be published in Oi Magazine. You can fine the first on page 91 of the September 2018 issue
By: Bill Hanrahan
Have you ever found yourself picking up your phone a moment after you put it away? Do you slow down your walking so you can send a couple of texts? Ever stand behind someone texting while you patiently waited to place your order only to hear them say “ummmmm” when they get to the counter? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you're not alone. The smartphone is becoming ever more interrupting to our daily lives. As much as it is an essential tool, if not controlled, it can become an addiction and annoyance.
The scenarios above are just your typical nuisances of living in a world with phones. Like dropping your phone on your head on the sofa or scrolling the news in the restroom and letting it slip into the toilet, you’re not really harming anyone but yourself.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at how the times we spend on the screen, phone and computer can impact our focus, relationships and even careers. We’ll delve into examples you’ve probably experienced, where someone's phone suddenly becomes more important than the person talking in front of them. Whether it be the close ties we have with our current family, the developing ties with new contacts or the only ties our kids can form, there has to be a balance between social media and being social.
It’s easy to forget, with all the media that is plugged into our society, that phones didn’t always exist. Sure, we had computers and TVs for generations. My parents used to say, “Too much TV will fry your brain.” It didn’t, and they still watch TV, too. But there is a huge difference between a television and the media in our pockets; TV shows end, sports games finish, news channels stop at 11, unless of course you’re watching C-Span in America. The modern smartphone is designed to keep you looking at it—notifications from countless apps keep you on their easy-to-use interface and ask you to refresh every minute for “breaking news.” Phones vibrate, ring, buzz and chime while we are doing a task and, sometimes, make us forget what we were originally doing.
Even the radio is on your phone these days in the form of a podcast. Podcasts are great for many reasons, including entertainment and education. Want to learn something new? There’s a podcast for that. Download one, but do yourself a favor and delete another app in place of it. I often delete my podcasts because they are producing more content than I can listen to in a given day. Every podcast I listen to has an advertisement to another great podcasts I “may like.” So many of my favorite thinkers and storytellers have much to say. Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris, Malcolm Gladwell, NPR, can you guys please shorten your episodes? Whichever podcast hosting platform you use, the podcasts within them are advertising to get you to use it more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for meditation, traveling, tuning out our noisy neighbors or blasting music for a workout, but how much of the material can you actually retain. Don’t our brains need to just think for themselves every now and then? Even the steady sound of traffic can be therapeutic after listening to multiple episodes of the highly entertaining series called Serial.
A similar algorithm on Netflix will tell you what you may want to “watch next.” You have about five seconds to decide if you want to cancel the next show or continue watching. The auto play feature is intended to keep you on the screen and away from anything else important in life. If you watch a YouTube video, this same feature will play a similar video in just a few seconds. I listened to a fantastic TEDtalk by Zeynep Tufekci At TEDGlobal>NYC: “We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” She spoke about how clicking on those recommended YouTube videos can send you down a rabbit hole of stranger videos and conspiracies. Then I noticed even TED.com uses an algorithm to keep me watching their videos too. Before I knew it I had about eight more videos in my playlist. With four hours of videos to watch every day, how can we find to take care of our bodies? Yuval Noah Harari, Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind put it simply, “Today we may be living in high- rise apartments with overstuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the Savannah.” Our bodies are not designed to do what they are doing. We should be out developing quality relationships, having face to face conversations and interacting with our environment.
When it comes to maintaining relationships, the phone, computer and social media can be a huge help. It’s great for staying connected with friends and family. Liking the videos and photos of my friends’ babies makes me feel like I know what's happening in their lives. It gives us something to talk about when I return home. In the history of mankind, it never been easier to communicate with someone. It has also never been easier to end a conversation. As the author of Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek says, social media is “great for maintaining relationships, but not building relationships.” It wasn’t until I returned home to visit my mother a few years ago that I realized how much time I wasted on my phone. I had to send a couple of more messages and emails before I could finish my sentence and eat breakfast with her.
“One second, Mom. Let me just finish this email,” I would say as I desperately tried to look like I was finishing up something important. The truth was that it wasn’t an email that couldn't wait and the reality is I have no recollection of what the email was about. I do, however, recall who I was sitting across from. I was only home for 10 days that Christmas year and I spent a lot of them filtering through spam, work emails and group texts. Chris Rock said in his latest Netflix stand up Tamborine: “ I was married for 16 years in the era of the cell phone, which means my 16 years is actually longer than my parents’ 40. In 16 years, I had more contact with my ex-wife than my parents had in 40 years.” After leaving that Christmas I vowed I would never let my phone come in between me and my close relationships again. The next time I saw my family they would have all my attention.
But a shift happened the following year that blew my mind. In less than 12 months my mother was now the one who couldn’t put down the phone. It’s not her fault by any means and, of course, I love her even if she had important texts to send. But when a ding on her phone interrupted her, she would get lost in it for 10 minutes (I love you mom. I know you’re reading this. You may be the only one reading this, actually). My mom is addicted. She wakes up with her phone next to her bed and sends message while sleeping and can't go back to sleep. She's losing 2-3 hours a night of sleep because of her addiction to her phone. She doesn't have the ability to see that this is bad because it has become so commonplace in our society.
Home isn’t the only place I’ve seen the phone take away our attention. The gym used to be the place where you socialized. Though some would argue about the need for this, you only wore headphones if you didn’t want to talk to people. Now you can exert flatulence as loud as you want, and no one will know its origin. People may be listening to their music, but in between sets they take out their phone to “check in,” selfie, scroll or some other nonsense. Phones at the gym are a distraction, period. My oldest and biggest brother, whose been working out his whole life, loves to rave about how he’s at the gym for 3 to 4 hours a day. In between sets he’d check his phone, update his Instagram, stalk his ex girlfriend, then do another set. Lifting with him was easy because I had so much down time. I found myself doing squats and jumping jacks just to get my heart rate up. I’d be waiting for the weight rack while he was working out his thumbs. In Vietnam, I’ve seen people do sit-ups with their phone in hands. I get it for the treadmill. OK, exception made, and I’m guilty, but the sit-ups? Really?
Is it rude to tell people they are on their phone too much? Why do we get defensive? I know I do when someone catches me. You ever see someone walking and texting? You might have said to yourself “ugh...watch what you're doing.” Chances are that was you at some point, too. Psychologist call this fundamental attribution error. We blame our poor behavior on external variables, but blame others behavior for their internal variables. We consider ourselves to be just looking for directions, but to someone else say, “this guy has no idea where he’s going!”
“People watching” used to be a thing at parks and malls. Now we have phone stations to charge up if our battery dies. When we waited for an elevator to arrive we used to daydream. We used to imagine where else we would be, or reflect on our conversations with others. We would think about far out ideas and just let the mind wander. Will smartphones and social media make us lose our creative ability to daydream? I fear the day people are just walking straight into traffic because they are staring at their screens. When we daydream we reflect. We remember. We focus on relationships we had or want to have. When we scroll through a news feed like Instagram we focus on what others have and rarely reflect on our own possessions. To be fair, not everyone uses it for pointless scrolling. Many people, and teachers I know, use it to enhance their network and find good lessons. As a society, most of us aren't taught how to use it appropriately and end up just scrolling because there is nothing else to do. Checking the phone for notifications gives us that dopamine we crave. Similar to a drug, our brains like it, but it’’s short lasting. We keep going back to the phone for those updates and quick chemical shot to be released by our brain's neurons.
There is a certain value to reflecting on our own experiences and even face-to-face with others who shared those experiences with us. Two cases I documented recently: I went to get my haircut at my usual gio dau place and saw a young lady taking selfies. From my angle she appeared to be on Snapchat retaking the same several poses for 20 minutes. She didn’t look away from her phone once. She had no idea what was going on around her. Another time I saw a couple on a swing set along the beach. The girl was swinging with joy looking out into the ocean. Her boyfriend barely took his feet off the ground and sat there scrolling away on his phone. We need to focus on the people around us, more than the people we follow.
A recent article by ESPN writer and former pro NFL player Jason Witten titled “How Twitter has become NFL locker room poison,” sheds light on how even athletes can lose focus. They are neck deep in social media and they must to maintain their brand and stay relevant. Many people can make money and receive endorsements this way. Witten highlights how people can use social media for good purposes. “Look at what J.J. Watt was able to accomplish last summer when Houston was devastated by flooding. We're talking millions of dollars for an incredible cause.” But other athletes end up getting themselves fired or in a contract dispute because of something they said or posted during halftime.
After looking at how social media and cellphones can impact our relationships, our careers and our daily focus, I want to reiterate it does have powerful potential. Revolutions can spur change because of a tweet. Corruption can be captured and criminals can be prosecuted. Millions of dollars can be raised to help good causes. But keep in mind, we need to practice positive and healthy ways to use these tools if they are going to be permanent fixtures in our life. The wrong photo can cost you a job. Too much time on it can cost you sleep or a relationship. Parents, look your kids in the eyes. Walk with them, play Uno with them. Put your phone on airplane mode, so you can still capture those great moments with your camera. Be present with your loved ones now more than ever. Social media isn’t going away any time soon. Relish these moments you have in person while you can.
Here are some other quick fixes that might change how you use your phone:
Summer reflection: Lets get started. This summer I enrolled In The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) leadership education program. The idea was for me to get my leadership certificate that will certify me in the United States and be recognized internationally. Going into this program I wasn't quite sure if it was something I wanted to do. At first, I thought to myself this is just in case I don't want to teach anymore. Maybe I thought this was the next step in teaching. I quickly found out answers to many of my questions.
Turns out I won't be able to finish this in just two easy summers. I need a total of seven classes plus my internship (27 credits). The internship was a big surprise to me. To my understanding being in the leadership role would have made the leadership internship much easier to complete. Now I would have to add on work to my current teaching position, but I am up for the challenge. I am very happy with the way things went this summer. Let me explain why.
I took three courses this past summer in Bangkok. The first course was Research in Education. The second course: Educational Finance. And the third course: Advanced Administration. These courses each shed light on my reasons to become a principal and reasons not to. They also helped me reflect on my teaching methodologies.
Course 1- Research in Education. When we first started this course I thought to myself, why do I need this? Most of the students in the class were taking it to complete their master’s degree, but I already have my Masters. “Did they put me in the wrong course?” I thought to myself. As it turns out I needed it for the certification. And it also turns out I really liked the class. The instructor had lots of enthusiasm. I took notes every day and she gave me tons of ideas for my class. I focused my research on making students more energized in class to improve motivation to participate via oral communication (it’s a mouth full). Anyhow, it all became worthwhile because of one conversation I had with a TCNJ administrator. She said, “when you become an administrator and you need to make a change, you’re going to want to see some research that supports a proposed initiative.” I’ll need to show some evidence as to why to do things differently. Before this, I would have gone with the trial and error route. A route that you can use for new ideas in your class, but not with faculty.
Course 2- Finance. I was really scared of this course. As a social studies teacher I fear numbers. This course was something I knew very little about, but often loved to complain about. The instructor was very knowledgeable, but relaxed. As a former superintendent of an Illinois school district he knew his stuff. He also had a passion for “storytelling.” Story telling was new to me. We spent a lot of time telling stories. He wove this into the subject as” numbers tell a story.” The financial numbers are the story of the school. He applied a lot of useful information for public schools in the US, but it was hard to imagine that for an international school. Things happen completely differently with a company or in the private sector. He summed it up as, “if you go to an international school to be a Head or principal, you'll most likely have people around you to help you with this. The system will be there already.” We'll need to make sense of the finials and figure out when to make a change.
The most useful thing we did in this class was make our own school. We put together a budget and I brushed off the cobwebs of excel. That really helped me gain understanding of how they use these sheets. When things go into the red, that’s bad. Additionally, the story telling turned out to be really helpful. They should call this class finance and public speaking we had to tell a dozen or so stories in person to the rest of the class with very little prep. It was spur of the moment stories which I imagine we will have to use for when we stand in front of our faculty. This also gave me ideas to bring back to my class.
The last course was Advanced Administration. I never took intro to admin so but it didn’t matter the order I enrolled. Our professor, who is one of three principals in the world this year to receive the distinguished principal of the year award, eased us into it. Every day was more inspiring than the day before. In fact, the reason I am writing this reflection right now if because of this class. Each day we had to reflect on what we learned. This helped us process the information and figure out how to apply it. This course made me scared, because being a principal is like being the teacher of a bunch of children who have strong opinions and always talk back. One standout pearl of wisdom was “if you want to make a change you can't expect it to happen overnight.” Change takes time. It requires insight of your staff and the people around you. You must care for them. It's lonely at the top so be prepared to lose all the teacher friends you have. Being an admin and being a teacher are two very different things. In fact, the principal is a whole new career if you ask me, but one I am up to the challenge for. Others perks of this class, was networking with fantastic people. I would love to have the safety and security we established in this class in my school. I look forward to the remaining classes I have with TCNJ but doubt any can be topped by your professor Tim.
There is so much more I want to add to this reflection. I learned I need to keep my thoughts clear and concise. My enthusiasm and positivity are my greatest strengths. Sometimes the quietest voice in the room can have the best idea. How we treat others means so much more than what we say. Be ready to be the target of complaints, but the beacon of hope in schools. Professional development is important. Continue to educate and involve yourself in new schools of thought is enlightening. Was it worth it? 100 % I love TCNJ. There are so many good things happening there with educators from around the world. I will not be able to become a great principal overnight. It will be a lifetime of learning. I will not be the best principal. I will make mistakes. I'll need to learn how to take ownership of my faults, reach out to others for help and assistance, and listen to others when they have something to say. Yea, that’s the most important part. Listening to others so that you can make good things happen for them.
One of my favorite methods of instruction in class is taking on different roles. We call it role play, but what it really is, acting our real life It is great for preparation. Politicians do it all the time when preparing for debates in a very similar manner. It gives the students the opportunity to experience people’s responses in the “heat of the moment.”
In today’s lesson we split up into groups. Each group was given the same background information to a hypothetical, yet realistic, situation. However, each group took its own path to escalate the prompt and resolve it. I was nominated to take on the role of principal who has just been alerted that “two teachers are shouting loudly at each other in the teachers lounge.”
I went in “blind”, so I had no idea what the other teachers were planning. To be honest, I felt out of place when I approached the two teachers “yelling” at each other I did not feel it was my place to intervene. They are both experienced teachers and should be able to handle it on their own. I felt they were going to lash out at me. It felt so real.
I greeted them both as if I hadn’t heard or known what was going on. I asked them “how was their morning?” and both ignored me cause they were heated (I don’t know if that was a good tactic or not, but it worked). This was “real!” They continued to nitpick at each other, but I stayed stern in my position. I wanted each teacher to redirect their attentions and the question. When they refused, I stated “I don’t know what’s going on here, but there is a classroom just beside us.” I asked them to imagine that was their class, or if they were the students listening? Immediately I saw a different expression on their faces. Bringing their behavior back to to impact of learning and respect of the school was my main focus. It worked!
I didn’t know how it would end. I don’t think I prepared that far. What made it more real was there may have been a little animosity between these two from a prior classroom disagreement. I made them realize that they were “on the clock” and had classes to attend. I obligated them to work it out themselves at a separate time. I feel in a real setting it wouldn't be water under the bridge so easily. If there was a history of bitterness between these two, like they portrayed in their excellent acting, it was going to get out of hand again.I may consider asking these two to work together on a project, but not until felt confident they could successfully achieve the objective of the group work. I learned from my instructor, Tim, you can’t force friendship. And putting them together on an assignment at this point would be more of a punishment.
I would have to ask these teachers to come meet again in my office at the end of the day. In fact, that was the consensus of my classmates. Establish a time for them to come meet and talk about it a little more. How would it work not been there to intervene and one of the teachers fighting came to me with their case, instead of confronting that teacher? This usually happens in my school and to my current principal. I know people complain in confidence to him. I was once one of them. Should I get involved or encourage them to work it out themselves? If someone asked me for help, then I would me more than happy to ask each of them if there was a way I could assist. There would have to be shared willingness for me to intervene. Essentially all I did in the role play was throw water on part of the fire. I would have to put the rest of the flames out later. But what was important, was I didn't make a decision right then and there.
As administrators we need to know all the facts. Don't decide right then and there what is best for them. Buy yourself some time to make the right decision, instead of making a decision off the seat of your pants.
A classmate of mine had the same prompt and did something similar. He sat them down and said let’s talk about this later. Being able to watch him handle the situation, there were a few pointers I wish I used. I like how he counted down the 5 minutes. I need to learn to paraphrase what others are saying. He gave each equal amount of airtime and reminded them it was their partners time to talk. He got as much information as he could and told them to go about their day until we can work on it later when all a parties are involved.There situation was a bit different and more complex. It required the input of the department head and “Principal” said he would set up the meeting.
These role play assignments are very helpful. Overall, you have to talk about it. The Principal needs to know what’s going on in his or her school. It's in my personality to assume best intentions and let it slide. I'd like to think that most people can go about the day, but the reality is it will eat up one or the other until they lash out again. They may not even be able to focus the rest of the day. They can cause a lot of drama about it.
The job of an administrator is very different from that of a teacher. Today I want to reflect on leading without authority, the role of a leader, and the jump to administration.
If the role of the leader is to gather the troops, then sign me up. I hold certain attributes that can help make me a good initial choice: charisma, energy, values, gratitude and enthusiasm. I want to build on the skills I lack that may hinder my performance in the long run: Focus, collaboration, goal setting and managing stakeholders.
After reading Leading Equals, Motivating People Effectively without authority, I feel like the areas for improvement are in my reach. I've been leading a lot of initiatives and events in my career without ever having any real power. I feel establishing relationships is one of the most important things you can do from the start. When people like you, it’s easy to get them on your side. I am also good at establishing a relaxed environment, encouraging quieter members to speak up, and defining team goals. This process is the foundation of leading a team. But from my own experience, you can’t rely on those people that always say “yes” to your requests. They are the ones who will suffer from generosity burnout. When I become a school administrator I will ask other people to lead the way, and praise someone who did it in the past, but ask for someone new to step to the plate. We discussed the importance of the willingness to cancel if no one volunteers. Usually someone will come to you after the meeting and tell you something you should know or volunteer themselves.
A leader should be the protector of their team. I will stand up for the teachers when I feel something isn’t right. I’ll do it in a very professional way, and I’ll avoid conflict if I can. This is where I need to learn to be assertive and calm. At the moment, if someone is slacking in our group, I’ll generally pick up their slack. Instead, I should find out what motivates that person and find a way to praise them for it. Help the group understand why that person isn’t performing, then give them the resources they need to boost performance to finish their goals. I must concentrate on getting them the support they need so they can do well. Otherwise, I will be the one burned out. Staying calm and giving something the 24 hours rule is one of my big takeaways this summer.
Give the teachers autonomy to complete their goals and don’t micromanage. Teachers are creative, intelligent, and able to make their own decisions. Today, I wasn’t sure if a partner of mine could draw the shield for our assignment. I was taken back when he did it, because it turned out far better than I imagined. I need to find a way to step back from the projects I work on and trust that the people I gave the task to to finish the duty.
Do leaders need a pat on the back? No. Do we want a pat on the back? Sometimes, but we can’t rely on that from the teachers. The success of each and every day is the accomplishment of the School Leader. It’s our job to give rewards to the teachers for all the little things that happen during the school day. That brings me to another point: School Leaders must do what we have to, so the teachers can perform their best. Teachers don’t need know everything we do in a day, or the conversations we have with parents to make the day possible. In some ways, we are protecting the teachers. They say they may want to know, but do they really? Can they handle the truth? Sure, but its at the discretion of the principal to decide what is worthy of sharing with them. If they heard every little nitpick, they wouldn't be happy. Teachers generally only want to hear the positive stuff. It takes a lot of experience to come to respect the critical feedback. It's the same for our students. You wouldn’t say how grossed out you are when Tommy wiped his nose on his sleeve, but you may hand him a tissue and suggest he take a moment in the hall. It has just occurred to me that being a Principal is like having one massive, dynamic classroom
In the classroom, it's easy to make split second decisions. Boy and girl are fighting, separate them. Problem solved. But as an administrator there are many more stakeholders involved. What you thought was the right thing to do at the time, can be perceived differently by a colleague. It may even result in and interoffice dispute that involves parents and members of the community. Wow, what a snowball! Don’t consider Leadership the next step. It’s a different step in education.
The last thing I’ll touch on is asking more of our teachers. Encourage them to “cross the line” and that line may be “mediocracy” or “creating a growth mindset,” or “fostering friendships.” Whatever it may be, the “difference between boiling water and powering a train is one degree.” We sometimes need to give our teachers a little nudge. It’s not about doing only what is expected of you. It’s about being part of the team.
I am so grateful for the powerful lessons we did today. We are surrounded by such incredible educators. I can receive a lesson on life and careers from each and every person in our class.
Having difficult conversations at school is hard enough with your students, let alone your staff. Today we learned about how to have, and prepare for these conversations. The reality is, you can never be fully prepared for a heated conversation, an irate parent, a flustered student or a disgruntled colleague. You can only learn to be better at it each time. Given the day time and circumstances, we never know how we are going to react either. We can only try our best to help that person, and not “take the bait” so to speak, and become irate ourselves.
Role play is a fantastic way to prepare for the day someone storms into your office. There are poor ways to handle things and decent ways at handling things, but there is no perfect way to handle a situation. Going into any difficult conversation it's important to know that people are human. They should be treated with respect and dignity. You should also know as much of the story as possible. Don’t rush to have a conversation or decide without knowing all the facts. Teachers are smart. We are educated and want that acknowledged. It's important not to belittle anyone's problems in the process. We teachers will often try to prove others wrong (its in our nature to debate). If we are sharp and given a window, we may pin it on you as an “admin problem” and not our problem. As an administrator, you must be aware of this and not try to prove yourself right. Instead, try to mediate the situation and bring your focus back to the children being the most important aspect in the school. If the children are not the topic of concern, then mention its administration role to do what's best for the school. Focus on the resolution and a path forward. Administration shouldn’t be saying “me,” but should say “We.” On a side note, I have been on both sides of this table under many different circumstances, and I believe reflecting and writing about the issue is the best way to grow from it.
I heard the phrase “a student is 50 % right.” This means that students feelings and thoughts should not be disregarded, and we need to know the other side of the story. It’s the administrators job to be the champion and cheerleader of teachers and students. Words are so important. We must learn to craft our messages, and never throw the school or anyone else “under the bus.” I heard someone say, “the greatest power is the ability to control it.” Teachers, like students, should have their voices heard and thoughts considered. Don’t make a rush to judgement.
If I have to have a difficult conversation with someone, I will start with a knock on their door. A simple “how are you?” and “may I come in?” can go a long way. Be sure it’s the right time and place. A bad time would be just as class is about to start, or if the person is clearly going somewhere. Warm up to them and inquire about their lives. Ask that teacher if they are emotionally and socially comfortable in the school. Next, explain briefly, why you are there. Don’t beat around the bush, but make sure you did your background research before you go into this conversation. What I mean by background is what I mentioned earlier: find out all sides to the story. Assume positive intention at all costs if it’s the first time having this conversation. Give the teacher open-ended questions so they have a voice, such as “what issues are you struggling with?” and “How can I be a better help to you?”
Once you touch on the topic, assuming they have confessed they had an altercation, or did something impolite to another teacher, explain to them that it's in the school’s best interest to make sure employees and students are comfortable and feel safe here. You may want to ask “what was the desired outcome of that action?” and allow them a moment to reflect. “My role is to support you,” I want to help” “I feel like I can’t do my job unless I am reaching others.” “I” statements shift the focus on to you and off of them. Emphasize privacy and respect to that teacher. It may help to say from the get-go, that they are not in trouble, just want to have a conversation. Make some suggestions and give them options of how to go forward.
If a confession was not made, or a teacher gave you the “freeze”(reference form a video where the person gives cold responses) then it's important to document this information. In fact it should always be documented (CYA= cover your ass). As an administrator know your radar is now on higher alert for that teacher. Hopefully your conversation will be enough for them to know you are present and will be watching.
A role play of a particular scenario, heated conversation, an irate parent, a flustered student or a disgruntled colleague, can be a great way for your team to practice. Switch roles. Model a good conversation and a bad conversation. Help build everyone's skills. This lesson came from our discussion of the book Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson.
What resonated with me most today was our discussion about how to build a cohesive leadership team. From the The Table Group series on youtube, Patrick talked about the importance of this and the requirements
I think its is essential to the success of the team to focus on building a leadership team from the ground up. Allow me to explain. According to The Table Group, Cohesiveness has to be about trust. Trust being the most important and largest item at the bottom of the pyramid. Members of the teams must trust each other. They should be vulnerable with each other. It should be “OK” to say something wrong. We should know each other's strengths and weaknesses. We should be able to share vulnerable stories. I think leadership can develop this by allowing each other to share their experience of success and failure. We should spend time together outside of the school doing team building activities and in school working as teams. A small amount of time can even be spent on personality tests. We should have meetings in different settings and we should establish office and meeting norms. This is the the most important ingredient of a cohesive team.
As we go up the pyramid we encounter Conflict. Some conflict it good conflict. We should be able to disagree with each other. Cognitive conflict, as described by Robert Garmston, is a natural part of team functioning. It can help the team make better more informed decisions and increase empathy and understanding of each other. Cognitive conflict occurs as “team members examine, compare and reconcile...differences, (Garmstorm 2…)” We should be able to voice each others opinion. We should allow for intellectual disagreement. We should expect to be heard, understood, and respected. With a proper amount of trust at the table, conflict will be a motivating aspect of our circle. It will allow us to seek out the best ideas to improve the lives of the students. Everything must come back to what's best for the students. And we need to feel safe discussing that. We want to avoid someone taking all the “airtime” and being a sounding board of ideas. We should be able to decide as a group knowing all voices were heard and considered.
Once all voices are heard, we will commit to a strategy. A commitment is a group decision. Or a majority decision if needed. When we leave that office all members of the committee should be able to say the same thing about our decision. We should all “be on the same page.” if one member goes off and says to a different staff member,” will I wasn't really onboard with this but…” that will lead to a break in trust. A faction of the group's cohesiveness. Whats decided as best for the school must be made clear and unanonymous before they all leave the office. In this section we should also be able to identify six critical questions. And what one would seek here is to know exactly what their job means.It’s imperative we are be able and willing to ask each other what it is we actually do. Titles can be misleading so we should be clear about how we can help and commit to each other.
Climbing the pyramid will reach Accountability. This area seems to cause the most discomfort. We need to be able to ask other teachers “hey can you explain to me why you were teaching this?” The initial reaction is to get defensive. "Why should any teacher explain have to explain themselves to another teacher?" But a leadership team can develop a culture of accountability. We can encourage others and trust each other to ask the questions to each other instead of always reporting it to the Head of a school. This will take time and practice. It won't happen overnight. A lot of teachers and admins are afraid of change. So it must go both ways. I would tweak this and encourage the staff to do this to administration as well. We need to know why we are doing things in order to effectively implement them
Which brings me to the last and final point of the pyramid: Results. I would argue with the title of this section. It depends on the type of school you are trying to produce. I would refer to Simon Sinek’s Ted talk and say this is the "Why" of the pyramid. "Why" should be the reason a school or leadership team exists. And you may have to change the shape of this to fit his diagram, but it can still apply. Without trust, conflict, commitment, accountability we will never be able to determine why we are here.
What is your role? Know your job. Know others, don't rely on titles.
All members of your team should be able to answer the questions the same.
Smartphone Dilemma: Living With Our Phones
This morning the alarm clock on my phone woke me up. And as it does every day, a gentle melody tune eased me up on my pillows. I checked my messages, scrolled through the news, cleared my notifications and listened to the news, while I had my coffee. I had a few laughs at the messages my family sent several hours before, strapped on my wireless headphones to play my favorite spotify playlist, and stepped out the door.
When I arrive in my classroom each day, I turn on my PC, open up my laptop, check my email, grade my students assignments, scroll the headlines, and send a few funny emojis to my family before the bell rings. I’ll view my phone again during an off period and during lunch. I’ll message family, scrolls hotels on booking.com, watch the news, and use my google keep to record ideas. Throughout the day I’ll receive another 15- 30 emails and another 10 after 4pm. This doesn’t include anything related to student work on Google classroom, Seesaw or Flip grid. I also get countless messages from groups of friends on whatsapp and facebook messenger. I try to refrain from checking my facebook or instagram until the day is done and I can decompress. The phone checking will continue after work while I watch TV, exercise and even when I eat..
Does this sound familiar?
Like most of you, I can’t live without my phone. We need our phones to be more efficient and “smarter,” but does it actually help us? Every day starts and ends in a similar manner. Strapping my eyes to my cell phone wastes precious time I could use for sleeping, reading or talking to loved ones. I was never one to play to games on my phone, I’d rather read from my kindle app, but that’s just one more reason to increase my screen time (amount of time spent looking at your phone or computer screen). Our phones have become a way of life. We are inundated with notifications that zap away our attention. I may intend to use my phone to read the news, but popular app interfaces have made it so easy to scroll through a bottomless pit of headlines in the 24 hours news cycle. Additionally, Instagram, my favorite social media platform, provides a thoughtless braindead form of entertainment. Time literally escapes me as I scroll throw funny videos from Barstool sports, puppies and 90’s classic wrestling matches.
This isn’t news. It’s been happening for a while. It’s only recently started to be seen as something that is harmful to us. In an interview with Apple CEO, Tim Cook, and CNN journalist, Laurie Segal, Tim stated he uses his phone too much and announced a screen time app to help others use their phone less, (CNN, 2018). Well thanks Tim, this is all your fault! Supposedly Steve Jobs didn’t even let his kids use the iPad when it first debuted. He’s not the only thought leader to warn against cell phone usage or even give it up. Ask Denzel Washington. He challenges you to turn it off for a week. Can you do it? Because access to social media and cell phones go hand in hand these days, it is truly harder than we think.
For a while technology in the classroom was seen as the future of learning. Being a technology education coach and social studies teacher I get to see both shades of the grass. I can assure you my beliefs are to use technology to improve traditional learning, not replace it. One problem that came across my desk regarded which app to use to get kids to record their homework. Different teachers have different techniques. Our Virtual Learning Environment also had its own method. Sometimes big problems require simple solutions. The best and easiest way for children to write down their homework is to write down their homework. Writing is still a skill we need to utilize. When batteries die, connections don’t work, computers fail or data runs out, a simple pen and paper gets the job done. Additionally, a piece of paper or a journal wont vibrate to let you know someone liked your photo and completely stop you from writing mid sentence (happens to me often). The constant stream of likes, comments, hearts, and emojis distracts our children. Each time they check they get a message on their phone a little bit of dopamine is released in their brains. As a result we are constantly checking to get that feeling.
Some of us may not have as tech addicted days as I do. But no doubt your job requires email. Email serves great purposes to businesses and worker efficiency, but how much is too much? We need to distinguish when it's appropriate to write an email, or simply walk to that person and convey your message face to face. Even making a call to that person can save you time and energy. Think about how much time you spend crafting an email to ensure you don’t come off the wrong way. What could you have done in that 20 minutes? And how often do you open up your inbox to write one email but ended writing a dozen? There is something genuine about face to face interaction. According to Adam Atler who authored the book Irresistible: The Rise Of Addiction Technology, we develop our emotions based on how others react to us. We learn to portray and interpret other people's feelings based on face to face conversations (Atler, 2017). Emojis aren't going to cut it in the workplace.
We need to find a better way to use our time. Technology is designed to make our lives easier and better, but it has its highly addictive qualities. According to the Time Well Spent movement founder, and former Google designer, Tristan Harris, those notifications and little blue lights are designed to keep your tethered to your phone. Even he isn’t immune form the sounds chimes, buzzes and vibrates of his phone. The companies that made the apps intended to keep you on it as long as possible. As a result it has monetized your time.
How can we as teachers and adults tell our children to get off their phone or laptops when we can’t do it ourselves?
I can’t tell you how to live with zero interruptions from your phone. I’m still figuring it out myself. I admire those few remaining souls that never bought a smartphone. But you can take a few steps to change your cell phone behavior. More importantly, we should be taking steps to prevent our students and children from using these items too much. The first step is to model behavior. It’s easier said than done, but don’t eat at the dinner table with your phone out, while instructing your child not to. The further away the phone, the less anxiety one will experience. A study done by McCombs School of Business discovered that if your smartphone is in reach, your cognitive ability decreases, (Sulleyman, 2017). It’s ironic, but the phone does have apps that can help you better use your time.
A simple search of the following items in app store or play store can help.
1-Demetricator- Eliminates the numbers you see for facebook notifications. Good for your browser.
2-Moment or Quality time- Tells you how long you spend on your phone and for what purpose.
3- Deluminate - A background dimmer lowers the colors your screen emits so it’s easier to go to sleep. This one is for Chrome, but this feature is also built into some of our phones.
Here are a couple non tech things you and your child can do together:
1-Clear and block all notifications
2-Turn off emails after work in your app settings, or take ork email off your phone all together.
3-One hours challenge- Don’t look at your phone for one hour before bed or one hour after waking.
4-Remove the phone from the dinner table.
Some of you may already have great techniques, others may be “masters of their domain” and “Queens of their castle.” Please share your ideas at my email below (I don't check after 4pm) 😎
“It’s lonely at the top.” I have heard this phrase used a few times. A leader has to make a lot of decisions that won’t please everyone and not everyone will see. It can be difficult to get everyone on your “boat,” all paddling in the right direction. The more I envision myself in this role, the more I feel I need a mentor.
I put in a lot of effort to ensure people know that they are important to me. I try to "Make Their Day." I feel it's easy for me to give compliments, ask coworkers about their weekends, inquire about their families, call them by their name, acknowledge their work, and make them feel appreciated. This is easy to do with just a handful of people. But it's exhausting even to image for a whole school. Perhaps I this while standing in front of the school as teachers and students walk in. I can also do this if I attempt to meet the “three observations a day rule.”
Of the areas discussed in class that a leader should bring to their school, these are my rankings:
1-"Make Their Day"- Strongest
2- Choose Your Attitude- Strength- I can put on “a face”
3- Play- Weakness- I actually take things quite seriously while at work.
4- Be There- Weakest- Tend to get bogged down in work and emails instead of interacting.
In the day to day operations of a school, especially as a teacher, I put my focus in helping students, making awesome lessons, grading effectively and efficiently and remembering that children are at the heart of my day. I often distance myself during free periods to crank out work. I am often not where others teachers “hang out.” Additionally, though I can have a very playful attitude, but most of the time I’d rather be serious and get work done. I really should be more open to saving work later and making the day fun!
When it is my opportunity to lead, how will I do it better? I feel it’s much easier to learn what NOT to do than what TO do. I have more appreciation for my current Head and how he wants to “see objectives through” instead of creating too much change. Change takes time. I see that better now. Though I would probably make more tweaks along the way thanother admin, I realize it takes time. As a teacher I can change quickly, but as an administrator I have to get everyone on board first. A classmate spoke about carefully implementing new objectives. Be careful not to rock the boat. Find the right time to “play a game” at a meeting by looking at your calendar. If you have grades due, don’t ask your staff to meet for “fun.” Have a plan to be successful. Work it into the system. Invest time in getting better at it. Too much change can be bad. Our professor added, canceling a meeting is also not always a good thing to do, because some staff look forward to the social interaction during that week. It was alarming to actually hear, and know its true, that we spend more time with our colleagues than with our partners and chldren! WOW.
The class conversation came full circle to remind us that conversation is a fundamental cornerstone of education. Remember the children when you make a change. Ask yourselves, how does it impact learning? How does it impact students?
The following is a reflection from an Advanced Administration course taken with The College of New Jersey this summer in Bangkok. More about the program later.
I haven’t always been a good listener. Growing up I wasn’t even a good reader. I was put in reading classes at an early age and fought tooth and nail with my mother to remove me because of the stigma attached to it. I hated being dragged out of class to go read with “the slow kids.” I was a "slow kid." When I entered AP Biology my senior year in high school, still the most valuable class about life I’ve ever taken (thanks Ms. Hollings) I was amazed how some of my friends were able to just listen and retain all that information. They never needed to take notes. They always outperformed on the tests too.
I was younger than everyone in my class. The age difference can explain why my reading wasn’t up to the 6th grade level of my peers. I know now that I was cognitively less developed in comparison to the students born in January ( I was born in november of the same year). Surely a lot of other factors could have contributed to that as well. But that should have leveled off by the time I was a senior. It didn't. I was able to read, but I could retain the content that was presented to me.
I actively take notes to help me remember material. I envision someday going back to these notes to be able to help guide me through a troubled situation. I don't know if listening to stories will help me. I’d like to think the conversations we have with each other will stick. I know myself well enough to know that I don't learn that way. Should I avoid taking notes on our content and just listen? Well I know that won’t stick either. At least if I have the notes I know I can go back and review. I am a much more kinesthetic learner. I need to “move around” and “do” to learn. I still know how to extract DNA from a nucleus. I can dissect a frog and locate its organs. I appreciate role playing scenarios, real life encounters that we may face some day. This gives me the experience to apply what I’ve learned.
No doubt this class was insightful. I appreciate what everyone has to say. There is an aspect of story sharing that will allow me to bring it home, but I fear I won’t remember the solutions everyone tells when it’s time for me to be a leader. I will hopefully remember the skills. I know I won't be able to mitigate every issue I encounter, but if I can get a few “solid solutions” and methods to do so under my belt before I take on that role, I think it would be a nice perk. What I mean by role play is “ A heated employee walks into your room and demands your attention. How do you respond.? “ Or an irate parent”… “a disgruntled employee”…. etc..I do think discussion and story sharing is important to understand educational theories and debates. That will allow me to gain a better understanding of the responsibilities of an administrator. I also want to learn how to “do.” I am looking forward to the rest of the Month.
This summer I focused on crafting me message in education and honing in on my skills talents and beliefs. Through many different workshops and reflections, this is what I concluded is at the heart of my purpose.
Education can be boiled down to two factors: helping and protecting. We have to remember our students are children. As much as we want to focus on achievement and test scores, a crying student outside your classroom will change your objectives for the day. What we teach in school should help student prepare for this journey of life. Students should be able to look in their rear view mirror at what they learned in school to help determine what lies ahead. We are not just teaching, we are facilitating learning. Our job is to help students decide which road is best to travel to get to their destination. Teachers are meant to guide them along the way. Students will hit a few bumps and maybe even have some flat tires, but we will be there to help them get back on that road.
We also need to protect children, not just from the obvious physical harms of the world, but protect them from trying. If they try and fail they should be able to try again. We help students become brave enough to give it another go. Some children who come to school my not have the protection at home that they do in the classroom. School should be the happiest part of their day, everyday. We need to help them with whatever issues arise. Students need to be protected and feel safe to make decisions in our classrooms that the world won't hurt them for making. When they run out of school at the end of the day, it’s not because they don’t like it, but it’s because they can’t wait to tell their parents what they learned today.
This summer I decided to take Principal certification courses with The College of New Jersey. An instructor asked us to write a brief story about a moment in our careers that made us want to be a Head of a school. Here is my story.
Being a teacher who works abroad I sometimes find it hard to fill my vacation days. That’s an odd way to start out a reason as to why I want to lead a school but let me explain. Every 3 months we have a week off, or two, or three. But my first year working in Vietnam I made one of the most incredible decisions of my life.
I owe it all to my colleague and math teacher, Seth. It was his idea to volunteer our time with a charity organization. He had some connections and prior experience with a company called All Hands. They go around the world and bring on anyone willing to lend a hand to a disaster relief site. One of the biggest restrictions an organization will face during a disaster is organization of resources, including persons and volunteers. There's usually a process to go through with lots of paper work, when all you want to do is just get up and help. All Hands lets you do that.
Around this time there was several disasters that struck the nearby country of the Philippines. An earthquake and a typhoon damaged several parts of the Eastern Islands. After a lengthy application Seth and I were approved to give a helping hand for 7 days. We spent our nights in tents, our days tearing down rubble and afternoons conversing with locals.
There was a nice mix of people at the campsite. You had some real ambitious workers, future non-profit volunteers, a handful of backpackers, and some people that just didn't know where they were going in life and wanted to help. It really was a fantastic mission. We assisted with tearing down broken School's classrooms, houses, and cement structures that were deemed unsafe to live or work in. In one house we were able to recover and elderly man’s reading glasses that was left in his bedroom drawer when his home collapsed. Luckily, he and his family made it out alive.
At the time, it seemed that most of the people in the camp were purely focused on moving from the demolition side of volunteerism to the construction side of things. That was the more serious volunteerism like Habitat for Humanity or Red Cross where you deal with emergencies and rebuilding. But Seth and I only had a week, so we had to make the most of it. We worked near schools and being teachers, we naturally engaged with the local students. They were excited to see us, as we were them. As the days went by we started to feel a bit more heartache and compassion for these children and families who all still showed up to school every day. They had nowhere to go. One school even put on this incredibly colorful performance for us during our lunch break. It was choreographed by the teachers and parents.
Being touched by the gratitude of these people, Seth and I went to a nearby market and bought jump ropes, soccer balls, basketballs, basketball nets and other items to throw around for the kids. We brought it to a nearby concrete slab and small cabin we had been working in. That location used to be their playground. Their school was no longer habitable, so the kids played outside as the parents and teachers monitored nearby.
As Seth and I began to play with the kids I saw how much joy it brought to their faces. It reminded me what it was like to be a child. “Duck, duck goose” suddenly became the coolest thing to do again. The roar the kids gave when I stuffed the basketball on Seth was the equivalent to Michael Jordan's entrance into a championship. Lifting a child up to dunk a basketball resulted in a line of children yelling, “me next.” If you didn't know any better, you would swear there was a free car giveaway. Jump rope, soccer and any other game you can imagine became the highlights of their day.
Upon returning to the campsite, we shared our story. A lot of the volunteers people thought that was very bold of us to engage with the community doing something other than our demo work. Filipino people are quite resilient, and they know that life must go on. I believe life must go on with smiles and laughs from our youth. That day I felt like I opened my own school. Even though it was only for a few hours, I felt the impact and joy that we brought to those children and families for days. That feeling of overseeing a school and giving back to the community was something I could do for the rest of my life.
We left All Hands leaving a large contribution of tools and toys to the campsite. I felt guilty leaving as we made our way to Bali. It was still the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. It pales in comparison to what other people do, but it enlightened me. I have much more respect for people who volunteer their time and effort around the world. From then forward, I looked to my administrators in search of the qualities I would like to bring to my repertoire of leadership: enthusiasm, willingness to take a risk, humor, candidness, sincerity, and devotion. I know this is not the typical categories a leader will have in a school, but I hope to someday give it a try.
I've been living in Asia for six years now. Everytime I travel I encounter some unknown situation that a guide book failed to mention. You can't prepare for everything, and its all part of the adventure when something unexpected happens. That could mean a late trip to the hospital, an evening reporting some lost items, stuck at a bus stop, ATM card not working, out of cash, or a missed flight (all of these have happened to me).
I compiled a short list of some friendly reminders to prevent any of the scenarios above. Most of these reminders are applicable anywhere, but geared towards Asia.
TRAVEL TIPS AND LOCAL FUN
Always stash a little cash where you'd least expect it. Keep a fifty or a hundred in a sock, or pair of dirty underwear. Plan to never use this. Its emergency only.
Buy souvenirs last- Your going to see that same item a dozen or so times. Each time it will change in price. You also don't want to lug around that sculpture the whole trip
Offline maps- Download offline maps of your entire country before you go.
Offline books- Always good to have the kindle app for the plane or long bus rides.
Offline apps- currency converters and google translate of languages can be very useful.
Do a google search- No matter where you go, someone's been there already, and has written about it. Use someone else's list. The internet is for sharing ideas.
Collect a few coins or bills- These make good tips at you hometown bar or for grandkids.
Medicine- Medicine can usually be bought over the counter in most of South East Asia. But check before you go. You may have some items easily available in your cabinet that you can't find here. like Neosporin
Paintings- Paintings make really good gifts. They are easy to roll up and bring home with you. But remember to buy them last
Money- Always change money first. If its a good deal then get it. Dot waste time and effort going back and forth over a few dollars. It's easier to have a little cash on hand once you arrive.
More money- Don't bother with the conversation once you arrive. Be sure to alert your bank before you leave. Then just use the local ATM. Try to make one transaction for your whole trip.
Always get data- Don't get me wrong, its great to get lost and talk to locals. But when you need to decompress and find your way, you don't want to find out later you missed an awesome event just a block away. Also helps you to call ubers or grab taxis.
Address - Long plane rides can mean a dead battery upon arrival Write down the hotel address and number. Call for hotel pick up if you want to splurge a little. Its usually worth it in unknown territory.
Photos- I'm not gonna tell you how to behave wherever you go. This isn't that type of blog post. Take as many photos as you want. but be aware of the culture. Some people may not want to be filmed. What do you actually do with all those selfies anyway? More importantly, take photos of you ID passport, credit cards, insurance etc.. email them to your self and a facebook message to friends or family in case you need help. You never know when you may need to prove your identity, or report a stolen phone
Pack light- This is the hardest one for me. In most places I try to leave clothes behind I no longer want and pick up a few new shirts. That being said, you can buy anything you need once your abroad. It helps if you buy it from a local, even if its used. You may make a nice friend a long the way.
Food- eat whatever you want. YOU WILL GET SICK! Bring some pepto dissolvables if you can to ease the pain. But always have a snack on you. Offer it to the people next to you on the bus, the kids in the street, the taxi driver etc.. Kids playing in the street love candy!
Don't be too cheap- Bargaining over one or two dollars may not break the bank for most people. It can mean a big difference for most people here. Don't be cheap and let the locals make a profit. But ask a few people what the prices are before you make a purchase your unsure about.
Try something new. You may never be here again. Even though you said you definitely will come back, you likely will plan to go somewhere else. Get out of your comfort zone, talk to locals, make new friends of different ethnicities, learn to say a few words and bring some smiles to people's faces. It goes a long way.
Recently, my coworker and friend, asked me to help her with the Mother Tongue day Assembly. Assemblies at our school happen once a month. they are usually organized by a small team of teachers or a department. They can be a lot of work. Because we don't have an official auditorium, we have to split up the middle school and High school assemblies. This worked in our favor this time because we got to perfect our act.
Deepa, was brewing deliciously strong coffee that day and I got fired up about an idea. We decided to make a 7 minute montage of songs from all corners of the earth and all different languages. We sang and had teachers and students dance/act it out. Wow was it a blast. And a huge hit. The kids were floored. The group of students who helped were so influential. if not for them we would have given up. But it was John who stole the show with his David Bowie rendition. Deepa can be seen doing her Indian cultural dance in the beginning. And Alex can be found singing his favorite Colombian song half way through.
Whole video of assembly
You can find my James Brown remake around 4:40 seconds.
Today we welcomed some potential students and parents to AAVN. Its not my ideal way to spend a Saturday, but I made an exception because coffee and snacks were provided. I think its an appropriate request of the administration to ask teachers to come in and do a mock lesson. Its part of what keeps students coming here. Its also the reason I get paid every month.
This was a really fun day to try something that our students learn on day one of film class and "wow" our incoming students and parents. We used the green screen app on an ipad to bring our guests to a UNESCO world heritage site in Vietnam. They chose Ha Long Bay and were amazed by the results. Its really a simple tool that does all the work. The app is for sale for $3 on the App store. I know people who refuse to ever pay for an app, but it does such a better job than the free versions. Kids in my social Studies class use this to recreate a dramatic scene in history or predict what the global issues of the future will be.
One of the few luxuries I miss about life back West are homemade pancakes. Iv'e stumbled across a few good egg sandwich shops and proper English breakfast joints, but hardly ever do I find a good pancake. There was one location in District 2 called Villa Song that does good french toast and pancakes. This place has a view beside the river that's to die for, but at 160,000 VND (8 USD) plus a coffee and some sides, you leave there with a 15 USD breakfast. To me, that's unacceptable in Vietnam. I wouldn't pay $15 for eggs in the US. Not to mention the Vietnamese would think your crazy to spend that when you can have a perfectly good plate of com suan (rice and pork) for 35,000 VND ($1.50) pretty much anywhere,
A while back I read an article in one of the local magazines about the top breakfast spots in Saigon. For so long I couldn't find this place. I knew it was in Da Kao, and at the time I lived in Da Kao. Every weekend I drove around looking for this place. I forgot the name, the street and I couldn't find the article for the life of me. Then one day I went to a Cu Gach cafe, which is obvious from the side of the road. I noticed tucked back down a hem (alley) was a glowing little entry ( it glowed in my mind) and a sign that said "Bunker."
Since that day Bunker has been my go to pancake and weekend breakfast spot. They have lots on the menu to offer. They even started doing bottomless pancakes for 100,000 VND. ($5). Can't beat it! Good for a couple and small groups. Seating inside and out. Wait staff is awesome and bottomless coffee makes the conversation go round.
At the time of this blog entry, I've been in Saigon for a little more than 4 years. I've seen some incredible places and been on many fantastic journeys. One thing I always felt was missing was a good cabana bar by the beach. Growing up in Long Island, New York and working in the bars and restaurants of Freeport and Long Beach made me a sharp critic of a good beach bar. Fortunately, that bar has finally come to my recent home of Vietnam.
The selfish side of me wants to keep this place a secret to prevent an overflow of cheap backpackers, however, it would be a crime to deny the hard working people and family run restaurant from making a business. Cocobeachcamp, though owned and operated for 13 years by the same friendly owner, has just recently come on the scene as a worthwhile beach destination. They have done a fantastic job of promoting sustainability, enveloping their bungalows with a duck pond and vegetable gardens. Their small shacks and retrofitted campers are painted by a talented young French artist. They are a selfie goer's dream come true. During the weekday they have a very affordable dollar menu which includes beers and food.
Cocobeachcamp, three hours by bus (150,000 VND or 7.5 dollars) offers visitors tents for couples and large families. The tents have fans, pillows, sheets, mattresses and electricity available. Public showers and bathrooms are available to all. The campers, and huts range from 30- 50 USD a night, depending on the season. If your a foreigner, try to avoid the Vietnamese holidays, unless you want a real dose of the culture. Vietnamese flock to this place to picnic, photo op and enjoy the beach. Its no secret to the locals anymore, as there isn't a whole lot to do in the town of Lagi. Please be appreciative of the hard work and effort that 40 plus staff memebrs work in sync to make available to you. This type of service would cost you a minimum of 6 USD a beer back in the Western world. If you do make the trip and decide to go elsewhere there are a few knockoffs just beside Cocobeachcamp. There is also a little bit more luxury and isolation a few hundred meters North. If you want an entertaining DJ performance (music stops at 11ish), a seaside BBQ, fresh squeezed juices with custom cocktails, not to mention the variety of sporting activities offered during the day, Ccocbeaccamp is the place. Check it out and keep this hidden gem beautiful. Be nice to the staff. They are awesome people!
This is the first year I didn't dress up for TET. The outfit I bought last year bleed color and my neck was blue for several days. I guess that's what you get for buying a cheap dress. But that didn't stop me from having a blast with my Vietnamese friends colleagues and students. This is their holiday and being a guest in their country I want to embrace and be a part of it as much as possible.
The kids put on an incredible performance this year. It was a mix of Vietnamese and English but it really helped me understand the holiday and difficulties that come along with it. It was a parody much like my our National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. Our stage decor was the best its ever been. Each year our students and the Vietnamese teachers that organize it out due themselves. And my colleague, Frank, was nominated as a fund raiser to be taped to the pole. It was really a lot of laughs.
Psychology class has been such a rewarding experience. It’s a lot of work, but I strongly feel every class is so valuable to the students lives. I am anxious to come home and read the text book and find clever new ways to apply and share the concepts with class.
We watched some really fun prank videos that portray perception, analyzed experiments conducted by famous researchers like Milgram and his study of obedience, demonstrated some in-class activities on shaping and conditioning behavior, and learned how we learned by recreating studies like Bandura's bobo the clown experiment. The second half of the year we will focus on about 5 more chapters while simultaneously preparing them for their semester long research project. They will either create an experiment or create their own. I am very anxious to see what they come up with. Of Course, Syracuse requires I guide them, and thoroughly review them along the way.
This year I have two Technology Education assistants. This is more easily described as an internship for them. They are working closely beside me and learning how to use the latest gadgets at our school. We just received 2 new Go Pro 5, two DJI Osmos and Phantom drone. Additionally, they will be teaching other students how to use these items.
But this program is not all fun and games. I have asked them to make a year long goal sheet to share with me and each other. They will host workshops for teachers and students that focus on technology education "101" seminars. The whole year is going to be about learning and teaching themselves. They will shadow me, but I'll try to let them figure out as much on their own as possible.
Student Henry really wants to learn the Adobe products and create Adobe 101 lessons for students and teachers. Amy is really good at advertising and design so she'll make some graphics for school clubs. What got us really moving along was the advancements Google Sites has made. We share a page to communicate and mark down our ideas. I'm really looking forward to building these students into leaders and experts.
We recently purchased some google cardboard. Henry and Amy created a 7th grade science lesson. Students watched a 360 tour of inside the human cell. They were asked to identify several items and then label it on a handout. We could have lowered our expectations because all students had different phones and app restrictions by their parents made it difficult to get everyone on task. It worked much better to simulate a "Zombie attack" in my 11th grade global issues class. See images below.
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