In order to keep learning interesting for students, I’m always trying to keep up with the latest movements. This motivates me to stay current. Additionally, when I’m learning, I’m excited. This gives my classroom the extra boost to jumpstart a new topic. This year in our Global Issues class we focused an entire unit on pollution.
Generally well cover pollution as an impact of urbanization, globalization, industrialization etc.. But this time we wanted to study the root of the problem and propose solutions. Student in my class did some background reading and socratic seminars to identify the reasons for pollution their community. The discussions were instrumental to their passion for this subject. There was a lot of disagreement about what to do, but we all agreed it needed to be addressed.
The project for the unit was to put together an action campaign. We called added “action” because the kids had to do something. They couldn’t just make a flyer, put a funny meme on it, post it on our bulletin and call it a day. They had to go out and try to change people’s behaviors. You can see from some of the photos they really got involved in it. Each group tackled something different like, plastic water bottles, wasted paper, drinking straws, sanitation, and more. The built items out of wasted goods to raise awareness. They collect bottles from neighbors and returned them with a plant inside. They even visited their local dumps on their free time. They also utilized social media to spread the world #strawpocalypse, #trashtag. I was so thrilled with the results.
Now I need to decide if we rinse and repeat for next year or try to explore something new. Leave your thoughts and comments for me to read. I am sure my new favorite podcast by Angela Watson would say rinse, repeat and improve.
My philosophy of education is something that is always evolving. Each year I try to recraft it. It is also constantly evolving to reflect my beliefs and keep up with current best practices. After creating it a few months ago I have already started to see the value in revisiting it. I am a firm believer in keeping teachers happy. Happy teachers can create great classrooms and positive environments for students. The school climate needs to be conducive to growth. Hallways need to feel safe. Teachers and students should be recognized for their achievements and asked to showcase their talents. My educational philosophy can be boiled down to two factors: helping and protecting. Many education institutions want to focus on achievement and test scores, but a student having a bad day can quickly change your morning objectives. Schools should be a place where children love to come. Parents and teachers alike should enjoy the atmosphere and contribution to learning their school provides. Teachers have a duty to protect children, not just from the obvious physical harms of the world but protect them from giving up. If they fail, they should be able to try again. Teachers have the power to lift a child's spirits and make them feel a sense of worth. Teachers words are powerful and encouragement and self efficacy are cornerstones of a great teacher. School should be the happiest part of a student's day, every day. When they run out of school at 3 PM, it’s not because they don’t like class, but because they can’t wait to tell their parents what they learned today. School should also be a place where teachers feel safe. A positive staff rapport and strong sense of community are essential ingredients to the recipe of happiness. Happy teachers mean happy students. I believe in providing our staff with the means to be their best possible selves. Like their students, teachers want to learn and understand the way things work. Personal development is just as important to me as professional development. I believe an investment into someones wellbeing can reflect on their performance in the class. Healthy well being, positive mindsets, and good communicators are what makes a good school great. A school wants teachers who wake up in the morning excited to go to school, not “work.” Having crucial conversations can help build this environment where everyone strives to be their best and help the most. Leading is doing all these great things together. “ If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb.
So you’ve lived in Ho Chi Minh City for a few years, now. The cafe scene has lost its appeal, pop-up weekend markets have become tacky, district one has become a tourist hotspot and you just don’t want to drive around Thao dien anymore. You are looking for something different. You’ve been to Vung Tau traveled up and down the cost and hit all the hotspots like Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ha Long Bay etc.. You think Mui Ne is too far and your just not that into the casino at The Grand Ho Tram. Luckily there is a hidden gem not too far away. You’ll have to arrange you own transport to get there (3 million VND round trip car hire), but the Ho Tram boutique Resort is the last great escape from HCMC.
Depending on the weekend, booking rooms here can get costly. If you can make a three day weekend out of it, you'll save a little on the monday booking. The extra day really helps to whine down, because it still is 2 ½ hours outside HCMC. Rooms start around 70 USD a night and go up way over 200 USD. You’ll probably get upgraded if its a slow weekend. There are busses you can take to get you halfway there and a taxi the remainder, but the comfort of a driver and car waiting for you is well worth the price. Try to split it with another couple so you can save 1.5 million VND (70 USD).
Upon arrival you think you enter an old fort of a Vietnamese dynasty. It as the appeal of ancient city of Hoi An and a moat similar to that of the former capital, Hue. Reception has cyclo drivers to carry your belongings, though they are too small to carry my big butt, they will transport your bags to your room. There are two pools and a private tennis court that no one was using. I didn’t even need to book it. There is a restaurant close to reception that has an approximately 600,000 VND seafood and BBQ buffet. They also have a massive inclusive breakfast buffet. If you time it correctly you’ll only need to eat twice a day.
This place is not secret. There are lots of people here. But the resort is big enough that you won't notice. There are two pools far apart from each other and another quaint restaurant beside the ocean. The pools close at dark. They won’t tell you this, so get your swim in before 6PM. The chairs on the beach were my favorite place to hang out. There is the perfect mix of sunlight and shade. It also happens to be one of the nicest beach fronts I’ve seen in the country. We caught a good day because there wasn’t any trash in the water. The staff manicure the sand by had to pick up the debris washed ashore overnight. It’s a great place to swim because the waves aren't too strong. There is a large obnoxious sandbar- looking patch that has been assembled parallel to the beach. Its to prevent erosion and probably doing a good job, but it will surprise you at first.
I found out later there are more beaches this way that are starting to see action. Nearly all of Vietnamese coast is pristine beachfront. But there isn’t much of an effort to take care of it. As a result of no one living there (or no money to be made), these beachfronts become garbage dumps. Trash just piles up from everywhere and anywhere. If a developer comes in they’ll clean it up and toss the trash somewhere else. If more resorts pop-up like Ho Tram Boutique, it likely won’t have a huge carbon footprint on the environment. The seem to be very eco-conscious with their building and waste.
Your unlikely to leave this hotel the entire time. Your whole bill will be given to you upon check out. Things can get pricey. Drinks range from 50,000 for a tiger to 160,000 for a glass of wine. But the good thing is it keeps the riff raff out. You’ll probably spend close to 350 USD for the weekend It’s a great place to escape the city, read a book and limit the amount of decisions you have to make in a day.
Ever since an “unplugged day” held at our school in 2016 I’ve been on a mission to better understand how technology impacts our lives. The benefits of the day were obvious, but the willingness to go back to the technology was so strong. Since then, I’ve read several books like Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter. I’ve spoken with experienced teachers at my school and inquired about how they manage their time. Most of them never open their work computer once home, but many still struggle with the urge to check their phone. I spent a portion of the year writing articles for Oi magazine on this subject. Hopefully I was able to convince one or two readers that their phone and social media consumption is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. I used my other time delving further into technology education to learn more about this growing addiction.
I don’t think many people realize the impact of these digital interruptions until they are exposed to something like Screenagers Movie: Growing up in the digital age. This year we hosted a Screenagers viewing at our school. It changed a lot of teacher’s minds about the devices in the halls. We had an overwhelming vote to rid our school of phones next year. We get many complaints from parents about how they can’t get their kids off the phone. A major concern of Vietnamese parents is how to enforce these phone rules once at home. We often hear, “my child just won’t get off the phone.” Another parent told me, “I tell them to do what their teacher says and get off the phone. Then he holds up his iPad and says to me, ‘This is not a phone.’ What am I supposed to do?” Parents and teachers often say this to me as they hold their phone in their hand and check it the first moment they can. The first step is to model what you want to see. Next, I recommend parents make a “contract” with their child at the start of the school year. It should provide rewards for following the rules and penalties for breaking your terms of agreement. The contract should be for both children and parents. Additionally, the child should have some influence on the rules. Both you and your child should sign the contract and do your best to uphold it. That means you too, dad!.
This year ISHCMC-AA took it a step further. We wanted to teach our children what life was like without these devices. For many kids from the “igeneration” (those born post millennium), they never spent a day without some form of technology in their hands. We decided to hold an “Away For A Day” at our school. This is a day that promotes wellbeing, conversation, face-to-face interaction, and just plain old fashioned fun without phones. An enthusiastic group of teachers who shared this passion convinced the staff to also put their phones away, too. Some students were scared of a day without their device. Others didn’t know how to put their phones away. Many didn’t know what to do to replace this time they spent on their phone. The feeling of anxiety was as prevalent as an exam day.
There were a few students who tried not to follow the rules, but overall the day was a huge success. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the amount of female students playing games during lunch. Our team provided the students with options like jump ropes, and life size connect four. Our English department banned together to offer a poetry cafe and reading time in the library. Boys were encouraged to bring a book to school and surprisingly many of them enjoyed it just as much as the gaming they do on other days. A room devoted entirely to board games encourage problem solving and conversation skills. Sports were offered as usual, and teachers minimized tech in the classroom.
The conclusion that we came to was that school is better without the phones. Students look up when they walk the halls. They interact with each other on their free time. They focus on building relationships in front of them instead of the accumulating followers across the globe. As humans we have this innate desire to socialize. When we feel bored we pick up their phones to connect with someone. The key is to provide your child (and yourself) with an alternative to the phone. It sounds so simple, but we should be encouraging them to embrace this time they have off the device. When given an alternative to fill that void, they will jump at the chance. Play a game with them, read a book together, have a board game night, remove the phone from the dinner table and just talk. Keep the phone out of reach. It’s a powerful urge to check our devices. An urge we are just not sure has the long term rewards we want it to have. If students and parents keep working at building these healthy skills they’ll find they, too, have a healthier relationship together.
One of my favorite things to do on the weekends is go out for a long bicycle ride. When I first arrived in this city I felt people must be clinically insane to ride a bicycle here. Nearly everyone and their belongings are on their scooters. Traffic is insane with trucks, cars, taxis, cyclos and people all mixed together. I find riding on a bicycle is the easiest way to get around this city. Minus a couple big bridges, you may reach your destination quicker than someone on a scooter. It seems as if traffic gives you a bit more space when you are on a bicycle. Ironically, people are less likely to try to run you off the road.
I don’t have an expensive bike, nor do you need one. You will need a few gears and some hybrid wheels for when you need to jump a curb. Once you have wheels (you can rent some at the bike shop in Thao Dien) all you need is a destination in mind. How you get there is up to you. Pick a temple, or a landmark on google maps and just ride in that direction. It helps if you can speak the language a bit. The bike shop does organized tours, but they come at a cost. If you can ask someone which way your going and don’t mind getting a bit lost, this can be a real adventure. When in doubt, pull out your phone. Just make sure you don’t do this while your moving. It’s just as exciting to ride around without a reason. Stop for coffee or a coconut whenever you please. On the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, you can find numerous places to eat, fish, and lay and in a hammock. If you end of on the river bank with no idea where the next place to get water is, just knock on any shed-looking structure. The friendly Vietnamese will happily invite you to sit down for a cold drink. They may want to practice a little English with you. Now that the new landmark 81 tower is in place you can always find your way home.
Take of advantage of the lesser traffic during peak sun hours in HCMC. Between 10 AM and 2pm it gets really hot. But there are far less vehicles on the road. Ideally you’ll want to start about 7AM and finish by 11AM. Depending on how much sunshine and endurance you have, you can keep going. No need for a camelbak. You can stop for water almost anywhere, but better to prevent the overuse of plastic. Vietnam is pretty bad when it comes to throwing out trash properly. They’ll hand you a plastic bottle, inside a plastic bag, with a plastic straw, wrapped in plastic. Also, wear a mask and sunglasses to prevent the dust from entering your nose and eyes. You may not be able to fight off PPM particles that enter your lungs, but a banda or cloth over your mouth will prevent you from getting a headache. With this in mind there are some heavy transportation roads you’ll want to avoid. You’ll know them when you see them.
Recently some friends and I went on our own self guided tours. Starting in Thao Dien, District 2 we went full circle around the city and to other points of interest. Each trip is a different day, though you could knock out a few at the same time,
Here are some of my favorite and recent destinations:
Our Fourth annual Sunbear Sound Film Festival came together this year. We took it up a notch and decided to offer trophies this year’s first three places. The kids loved it. The whole event has a warm school spirit feeling. I used to think we needed to grow this event and make it as big as possible. I thought that as time went on each year should become more lavish, with better facilities, prizes and decoration. While some of that is true, not all of it is necessary.
I no longer feel the need to involve other schools into our film festival. I know this because I attended an Across Asia Youth Film Festival. The event was mostly adults in the audience. The kids were all dressed up so it was important to them, but the feeling in the air just didn't match the celebratory feel we had. The event was well put together and films were spot on, but the feeling is irreplaceable. Where we lack in glitz glamour and paparazzi, we make up for in school culture.
What’s important is that the students have the opportunity to make the videos. Time is the most valuable resource for these kids. There wasn’t any time built into our schedule for kids to film together. Since I only have a film club once a week after school, it is really difficult to get the whole school on board. I will have to use the advisory periods better next year. This year they weren't able to change the advisory content and as a result I had less submissions that ever. But these difficulties make us more prepared than ever for our next event. The most important improvement this year was our documentation and organization to reuse next year.
None of us know how to spend our free time wisely. In today's day when we are so easily distracted by the media in our hands, we may never learn how to produce that media ourselves. But our media literacy class, which consists of mostly middle schoolers served as a good feeder system for the commercials and advertisements. Making media has become just as important as consuming media. The curators of the content we are exposed to can shape and shift society's views. It’s important for our kids to learn how to interpret what they see as well as have fun producing their own.
The art of storytelling. It's easy to say your thoughts to yourself, but difficult to captivate an audience. Storytelling reminds me of a time when I attended high school. Our assistant principal asked me to be in a stage performance. I said, "sure, this will be easy. I act everyday." Well surprise surprise, it wasn't easy. I soon learned that it takes practice and perfection. Telling a story is quite similar to acting. We may think we are experts because can visualise ourselves in our minds, or watch our movements in the mirror, but our audience may be hearing and seeing it for the first time.
Every monday in class I start the lesson by telling the students a story from my weekend. Students are locked in and focused. They hang onto every word and wait for my punch line. They are more focused than if I were to be reviewing for an exam. They laugh, make eye contact with me and neighbors, giggle, “ohh” and “ahhh.” Often I like to use something self-deprecating. I like to tell them stories of how I got confused, lost or struggled with the language. This humanizes me to them. It also gives them ways to relate to me as language learners
Recently my Head fo school started off two meetings with a good story. It made me want to share mine.
He talked about his sports day growing up and how he nearly made a girlfriend during a competition. He made fun of himself, as well. The kids loved this. Vietnamese kids love anything tied to romance. It’s pretty funny. It was a great opening to event day.
He also talked about the time he took a dive into the ground on track and field day. This story was told at a staff meeting. We all had a good laugh. It helped us remember that Mark is a good guy. He’s a respectable guy too. As a Head of a school he’s got a difficult job. He’s got to make tough decisions. But listening to a story of him falling on his face, really gave us a chuckle,
Here my attempt at a good sports day story:
On my sports day in grade 6, I had my first inter elementary competition. I had been training all my life for this race. I was a fast runner, not a long distance. As an athletic 6th grader, I was expected to get most of the points in all the boys events.I was amped all day. I am not sure how I slept the night before. If this event was occuring today, I’d get cold feet. I did really well on the shotput and placed first in the long jump. But the big attractions were the relays. The 4x4 really was one of the final events and for the 11 & 12 buys. This was the biggest event of the day.
The gun fired. My team was slow. We were behind for all three segments of the race. I was lined up with about 4 other boys all serving as their team anchor. We waited anxiously for the third runner to come our way. We all dreaded the worse case scenario: losing the baton. I recall taking a few steps ahead as my teammate handed it off too me. Rob Hoffman, someone whose name I heard over and over again as the guy to beat, had a good 20 feet on me. We rounded the bend of the Jerusalem Avenue school track. I closed in on him. Spinning my legs as fast as I could as if there were no ground beneath me, I caught Rob. I past Rob and the crowd went nuts. Cheers and screams erupted as I got closer to the line in the gravel and passed the audience. Rob and I both slowed down only to hear “keep going” “your not done yet.” Rob took this opportunity to use his quick response and cross the finish line, only 10 feet ahead, before me.
I was devastated. I couldn't believe I stopped at the wrong line. He stopped to. I placed second as everyone expected. But in my mind, I know I beat him. He knew I beat him too. We talked about it some other time later in HS and had a good laugh. He went on to be a long distance runner on track and field. I played lacrosse. I guess it was meant to be.
I still think about that story. Even though I didn't win that day, it made a good story. It had an impact on my life. It’s these days that matter most to the kids. Give it your best effort. And don’t stop before the finish line.
Another great storyteller who often inspires me to read and write is Malcolm Gladwell. I am a big fan of his podcast. Listen to his talk on David and Goliath. He really captures your attention.
Over Christmas 2019 my uncle Bruce and cousin Lucas visited me from New York. They are big time cycle enthusiasts and participate in a Long Island charity race every year. They also never stop talking about how great of an experience it is. That gave me the idea to take them biking through vietnam.
Now if you don’t live in Vietnam, or are only visiting, it’s important to know that anything that you rent will never be as quality equipment. That holds true in the West as well, but here it’s an exponential difference. Also important to know that “bike lanes” don’t exist. At times, you'll be mixed in with trucks, tankers, and all the time alongside scooters. Lastly, Vietnam has a beautiful countryside, but plenty of pollution. So be prepared to have your breath taken away, sometimes, just by smelly streets and burning trash. Of course, Bruce and Lucas will find out when we get there.
We had just finished our one day adventure hike in Tu Lan cave. If you have time, do the multiple day hike with Oxalis Adventure Tours. That was a great experience. We stayed at Chay Lap farmstay which was referred to me from a Patrick Scott a traveler writer for the Wall Street Journal. Vietnam has some of the biggest caves complexes in the world and the single largest cave on earth, Hang Son Doong, that was discovered as recently as 1991.
So I partnered up with a friend Shi of mine who I know from the Tu Lan Adventure race back in 2017. Shi was working for https://www.orientalskytravel.com/. Our stay was a good 20 minutes away from town and an hour away from the airport, so we had to meet our driver somewhere convenient. On a side note, we left a bag at the airport the day before and the people at the Chay Lap farmstay were able to help us get it back. They are total lifesavers. That would have never happened anywhere else… on earth. We chose to meet on the main strip in Phong Nha that has lots of cafes and restaurants. We could have gotten on the bikes right there and drove to Dong Hoi. Our goal was to reach Hoi An in 3 days. Shi told us this was going to be hard and it would have been three- 70 mile biking days. Bruce and Lucas didn’t seem to think that was terrible, but they were on vacation. So we decided to drive a bit until we reached an enjoyable place to start.
Not far from Dong Hoi we unloaded the bags, stretched our legs, started our gopros and “saddled up.”
We were really glad we started where we did, because the road and view driving wasn't anything spectacular. Coming into Phong Nha is spectacular, you’ll see many beautiful rice paddies, and thatched huts. The smell of burning leaves fills the roads, but will sting your sinus the moment you catch a whiff of melting plastic.
We biked until we reached a military cemetary Trung Niem. We crossed over the Demilitarized zone on a long wooden-plank bridge at Di tích lịch sử Đôi bờ Hiền Lương - Bến Hải. On the “North side” we entered an old, crummy museum and paid 60 000 vnd (3 usd) for a ticket. Apparently there is more to see than we saw, but we were anxious to hit the road. Having Shi with us was a huge help because he knew where to go and what was worth seeing. Anyone can easily take out their GPS and do this ride themselves, but there is something special about doing it with a Vietnamese native. We got to pick his brain and stop and look at locals farms and houses without feeling intrusive. Shi is also a really funny guy to be around. I’ll provide his contact at the end of this post.
Another thing we didn’t know was the amount of up and down cycling we were about to do. Vietnam’s coast is mostly flat, but the roads aren't. We spent a lot of time on the back streets of farms and countryside, equally beautiful, but more challenging, especially with our rented bikes.
After a good four hours through the whindy roads and backstreets we made it to the shore sweaty, dusty and clearly exhausted. Not having much of an appetite for anything but water at this point, we took in some views from on the jetty outside the lighthouse north of Nhat Ke Beach. The beach was terribly polluted and looked post apocalyptic. But I know from my rime here that the Vietnamese don’t really enjoy the sun. At night, shi said, many people come down there to dine and drink. Vietnam could use a bit more legislation to help clean up the shores.
From there we headed south along the coast. A lot of the shore was set for development so we couldn't see much of the beach. Bien Bao Beach looks like it will be a fantastic area to lounge in the next 10 years. It has a long stretch of nice white sand and gentle waves. But right now it's not very accessible. You can walk out there and hang, but it won't be pleasant. There is lots of washed up trash on the beach that not one seems to care about.
Back to the countryside where we met a farmer feeding thousands of ducks. I’ve never seen this many ducks in my life. Shi asked him if we can help feed them and we did by unloading massive amounts of feed from huge 50 kilo bags. You probably would have drove right by this place if not with Shi.
Our first night of rest was set for Hue, the ancient city at the very popular https://www.huonggianghotel.com.vn/. Shi took us around to some local spots for frog legs and special rice-crusted chicken cuisine that the locals love. The morning we packed up and hit the road again. It would have been nice to cycle around Hue for the day and return for the night. I’ve been to it before, but my family members have not. Hue is a cool city and lovely in the morning. Vietnam wakes early, much earlier than other places I’ve lived. By 5AM coffee is ready and street food is already being sold. Bun Bo Hue is a popular local dish but you can get pretty much anything. I always opt for the banh mi egg sandwich on the go. We walked our bikes through the vegetable filled wet market, the largest in Hue. Its is sensory overload. With chickens running rampant, trash collectors blocking your only passing and scooters going in and out picking up some items for their home or business. We biked around the ancient walled city, which can be a 3-4 hour tour by foot then took off to the countryside again.
About 3 hours outside of Hue we started entered these narrow back channels of rivers and fish farms. Rolling throw people yards and tiny neighborhoods, you will pass large tombstones they have set for their family. It’s here, one wrong turn and you can lose yourself. Its hear that it ook too long to take a photo and ended up not knowing which way my team went. I guess they went left, but then didn’t I biked 30 minutes in the wrong direction, hoping id see them at some corner. I was using my vietnamese to ask locals where to go and they just kept pointing me in different directions. Turns out no one saw my team and I was 5 K away! I had no phone and no wallet on me. I didn't even have Shi’s number. This was a rookie mistake. The trip could have ended there, and I’d bike back to Hue, but thankfully Shi found me. All in good spirits and no one hurt we carried on another few hours towards the Hai Van pass. Skipping the crummy area and heavily trafficked road, we opted for an air conditioned truck.
We picked back up alongside Dam Cau Hai and then into Lap An lagoon, just across from Lang Co beach. What a site. This was the most pristine scenery we've seen. This is where you’ll see the lush green mountains and the nearby coast at the same time. I've passed through this area by bus, car and even motorbike, but other cyclist out there know there's nothing like biking. Perhaps running this would be just as scenic but more “breathtaking,” breath we couldn't afford to lose.
Just after the Lagoon, the hill yp the Hai Van begins. It’s not too hard to miss the entrance, just follow the road up. There is a tunnel that was built years ago that will save you the journey, but thats far cars. Along this path your going to see scooters and big trucks, massive trucks that are unable to make the sharp 180 degree turns. Best advice is to drop your gear really low and take short rests every now and then. At some points you may need to walk the bike. If we had $4000 bicycles,maybe wouldn't have needed to stop as much. But we didn’t. And when life gives you lemons, you know how it goes, make lemonade. Have plenty of water to drink because the only place to get any will be at the very top. Also be prepared to enter the clouds and get wet. The moment we made it to the top, which was about 2 hours up, a dark cloud came over us. You could tell it was going to rain, but there was still a glimpse of light along the horizon. I chose to cycle down which is the most fun part of the whole day. In pitch black you could easily go off the rail. Maybe even worse than getting airborne would becoming roadkill from the trucks and cars that make the turns on the wrong side of the road. Thankfully we had the headlights on our truck to guide us down. Tap your brakes gently and coast your way into Da Nang. It was a too dark to see much of the coast, so we stayed in the car as it started to rain and made it to our hotel halfway between Hoi and Danang. The buffet and spa at the Centara Da Nang was well worth it.
During the day Hoi An can be peaceful and relaxing. We didn't bother to see the city at night, when most people go for the lanterns, because the streets get filled with tourists buses from Chinese and Korean tour groups. We spent the following days on foot. We walked around getting coffee taking photos and just sitting still. So for three guys in good shape and avid bikers, this was a difficult ride, but one our family will be talking about forever.
Total distance 321 Km
Total biked:140 Km
Time: 2 days (approx 12 hours of biking)
Cost: $150 a person. Includes all food and accommodation, bike rental etc...
Do you recall a time when you were a child and you learned something new by going outside? Think of that time you scraped your leg and learned how to use hydrogen peroxide and bandage the bleeding. Or how about the time your bike chain fell off and you had to learn to put it back on? Simultaneously you learnt not to wipe the grease on your shirt and that lead you to learn how to do your laundry, and that clorox was for the whites only.
Do you recall a time when your parents wouldn't know where you were for 2- 8 hours a day? I recall when the only time I looked at a screen was between 7 and 9PM after I played outside, completed my homework, ate all my vegetables and set out my clothes for the morning. 7-9 pm usually consisted of TGIF with my siblings or reruns of Seinfeld with my father.
I don't think I was the only child to experience this type of upbringing. We had one TV in the house for most of my childhood. By the time I graduated highschool we had two computers and several more TVs. Before I went away to college I bought my first laptop, but this was still years before the smartphone would inundate our lives.
In this Tedx Talk Dr. Peter Gray delves deep into how children, across cultures species and for most of human history, would spend most, if not all their time in unorganized play. What is “unorganized play” you ask? It’s simple. Just play. Children are all really good at making up games, using their imaginations and learning to work together or against each other outside of parental supervision. This is usually done at recess, which has gotten shorter and shorter over the years, on the weekends or even the summer. Now our students have so much on their schedule, there is very little time for anything unorganized.
I first heard this video discussed on The Cult of Pedagogy with Jennifer Gonzalez. It lead me to look up Global School Play Day. I am hoping this is something our school can adopt in the near future.
Smartphone Dilemma Part 3: Digital Distractions- How smartphones have increased our working hours even after we leave the office.
This third installment of our smartphone dilema series will focus on some current trends being discussed and shed new light on what the phones do to us. If you haven’t read any of our previous articles, here is a quick summary: phones are changing how we behave, and the evidence is pointing in the negative direction. Phones are more ingrained in our society than ever before and that isn’t going to change. The social media aspects attached to the phone have created a psychological need to stay connected. Everything from the interface of the phone to the time you get your notifications are designed to keep you hinged to it. Going a day without your phone has become harder than quitting smoking. And unlike smoking, none of us really want to quit our phones
Generation Z, also known as the “Igeneration” have never known life without the iPhone. Do you remember the days when we had to go to the library to get a book? How about writing a paper and doing a works cited with the library rolodex? Those days are long gone. Fast and accurate responses are no longer a luxury, they are the rule.
A few years ago, if you had your phone out while talking to someone it was considered rude. Today, it’s almost normal to be multi-tasking especially around the office. Buzzfeed created a Netflix special titled “Follow this” which accurately pointed this out. I catch myself doing this every now and then, but I have to tell the person I'm speaking with, “I'm just gonna jot this down,” to make it clear I am only taking notes. So if Netflix is creating shows about tech addiction and Tim Cook is announcing built in programs to control your on screen time, why are we still using these products every day? How come we can’t stop?
Firstly: They make us feel good.
Secondly: They have replaced face to face communication
Thirdly: We depend on them more than ever.
The science behind the notifications is indisputable. We feel good when we get a message, someone likes our post, or a post gets lots of comments. Dopamine is released in our minds, which is why we keep going back to our phone. Dopamine is associated with the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction we feel when we receive a reward. We keep refreshing our news feed in hopes of something new and exciting to release more dopamine. The short term effects of this is us looking at our phones habitually.We don’t yet know the long term effects of this, but we end up in this dopamine driven feedback loop consuming our attention.
Phones are ingrained in our workplace and are an essential tool for information. Try applying for a job without an email these days. It’s impossible. You are required to have an email in order to communicate with your work team. I can only imagine the look on my boss’s face if I told him I deactivated my email, because it is bad for me. Our jobs, our lives, our bills, everything requires we stay online. There are very few services you can receive these days without an email address.
We are expected to stay connected. We are expected to know what's going on in between emails before and after work. But we don’t benefit from this. In 2017 France imposed new laws to prevent people from getting emails after a certain time. It's called the “Right to disconnect” or “Le droit à la déconnexion.” This new law guarantees employees in France the right to ignore messages that aren't sent or received within their regular working hours. According the the Washington Post. The reason for this law was because of an increased number of work related stress in the lives of French people. “The motivation behind the legislation is to stem work-related stress that increasingly leaks into people's personal time — and hopefully prevent employee burnout, French officials said.” I think this is something we will start to see more of in the future.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries workers and unions in the US fought for better working conditions and shorter working days. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards act was past and stated 40 hours was the full work week. Anything over 40 hours would require the employee to be paid time and a half. Our ancestors would be ashamed of us if they knew we were talking to our bosses and colleagues after we returned from a long day of work! We voluntarily, and sometimes, subconsciously work more because we carry work in our pockets.
Email speeds up productivity, commerce, and transactions. Email also makes it easy to recall what one another said. But it's extremely hard to convey our emotions. Not every message needs to be communicated via email. We have voices and faces, and we shouldn’t let that go unused. Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and the creator of one of the top TED talks of all time “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” said in an interview “human bonds are human, and they require human physical interaction. You have to look someone in the eye before you trust them. The relationships you build physically are not only more efficient, but deeper.” We must never replace face to face interaction with computers. I am afraid what the next generation will look like if we lose your ability to look one another in the eye.
In 1972 psychologists Paul Ekman and Carroll Izard determined there are six facial expressions that are recognized by cultures around the world: disgust, sadness, happiness, anger, fear, surprise. These emotions are easily displayed by changing our facial features when we meet each other, however, it is impossible to detect these facial expressions through text (that’s what emojis are for). In a recent HBR podcast titled “Avoiding Miscommunication in a Digital World,” communications expert and speaking coach, Nick Morgan, talked about the importance of face to face conversation. Nick said, “face-to-face meeting is very efficient in one important sense: that is, we humans care about each other’s intent. Intent is very hard to convey except face-to-face, where it’s easy and effortless.” Email and texts don’t allow us to do this. Nick met with lead neuroscientists in their field and asked “So if email is so bad, what should we do about it?” The lead neuroscientist responded, “pick up the phone and read your email to the other person.” Doing this allows people in real time to clarify their feelings and emotions. My guess is most of us have avoided a phone call only to text back seconds later. You may ask,”What about skype and facetime?” Nick argues it interrupts that natural speed of a conversation, and we often end up looking at our own image on the screen instead of directly into their eyes.
We use to have an alarm clock, a calculator, a flashlight, a calendar, as tangible objects. Now they are all on our phone. So we have to look at them every morning and every night. If we want to know what’s on our to do list, well we can look at our phone there too. Whatever happened to just sitting and enjoying a meal? Now if I am having lunch alone I watch the news, send friends messages, check my updates. It’s like we are never alone. There will always be this noise and distraction as long as we are tethered to these devices. According to a friend and colleague Chantra Chindawongse, electronic screen time is a serious problem for our youth. “Children are increasingly “chatting” with one another via a screen more than in person. This disconnected-connection is present even when they are together. Just go into a restaurant and see how many cell phones are out during dinner.”
So go ahead, leave your phone at home. Go to the office without it one day. Email will still be there, but it wont nearly be as easy to check while you use the restroom, eat lunch or wait for the elevator. Still not sure if your phone is addictive? Try giving it up for an hour. Then try two hours, or a day. Most of you will realize you, too, are dependent on your phone. Go to a mall or a coffee shop and count how many couples, friends or families you see sitting together using their phones. Hopefully you’ll be more cognizant of your usage after seeing this. The observations are clear: people can’t put down their phones. And maybe, just maybe, not having WiFi in your hometown this coming TET holiday might be a good thing.😉
Talk to the people in your office
Get our kids back to the arts, getting dirty and being outside.
Don’t use your phone at lunch
Leave your phone somewhere it isn’t easily accessible
Play games with your kids on the device. (Nothing was better than me beating my dad in donkey Kong).
Keep the phone out of reach in the morning and at night.
The senior leadership team asked me to lead the first half of our post-field studies week professional development day. Several teachers just finished their trip and even returned from another country less than 48 hours ago. With good reason, many teachers didn’t want to be there today. I know from experience it is a day a lot of us would rather stay in bed. I just returned from a Gun's n' Roses concert in Taiwan than ran back to back with field trips, so I had to find a way to practice while in transit. During the flight I created a "Script" to help me plan my talking points. I know great speakers practice their speeches, so I practiced what I would say. I put all my ideas on paper and tried to anticipate any questions that would come my way. It is a good habit of mine and helps calm the nerves. But I know I won’t be able to do that for every meeting or workshop I hold as a leader.
When I arrived that morning I saw Jen, my cooperating administrator, and colleagues chatting in the teachers lounge. Jen handed me a handful of the biggest paper she could find for the workshop before even saying hello. I requested “large” paper and markers two weeks ago, but was handed A 3 paper I could have retrieved from the photocopier. It’s one of those “murphy’s law” things: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” I said,”that’s it,” and we laughed together. With no markers and no paper I had an hour to prepare. I thought I would be up in the assembly room alone setting up, but instead I found the most talkative person in the school, who thought it would be nice to take a nap. It was a bit annoying and I had to walk away from him a few times while I was moving the tables. He did end up giving me a hand in the end, but not before he told me all about his weekend. As much as I would have liked to take a nap, there was work that needed to be done. In the meantime, Thi, our school Tech Assistant, came up and set up the slides and computer. The lesson I learned here is that you need to give yourself time, no matter how prepared you think you are, expect the unexpected.
Many people trickled in during our late start “chair yoga.” I informed our mindfulness coach we were ready to go whenever she is. I had to interrupt her, but she did it at the drop of hat. In order to stick to the time schedule we had to be willing to end our morning conversations, otherwise we could have easily chatted for 2 hours about life (I am sure the teachers would have enjoyed that, too). After chair yoga I told everyone to get some coffee and come back in ten minutes. I kept reiterating that if we stuck to the time, we would finish early. I felt I was going to be scorned if I promised that and didn’t come through on it. When you are in charge of the day, you have to gently but assertively move people along. No one else is going to do it for you.
I stuck to my script and moved through my slides. My school leaders, Jen and Michael dropped by to see what was going on and loved the energy. Michael, our Deputy Head, sent me an email after the event and Jen gave me a high five. While I was trying to give instructions, there were a few people that were extra talkative. It felt like they were interrupting me, but I didn’t make a stink of it. I just let them finish. I didn’t want to act like a teacher towards my peers. I would say I handled it pretty well because the rest of the teachers were respectful. Its OK to hear a little chatter here and there and I think that is expected. I knew this was a day teachers wanted to talk. I just rolled with it. The day was supposed to be about conversation and sharing anyway.When we are in front of our peers its essential we remain calm and give them the respect we want.
Teachers had 15 inites to draw and present a summary and “2 grows and a glow” about their week with the students. Once I gave these instructions things began to fall into place. The instructions were easy to read and follow.I kept them projected incase teachers forgot what the instructions were. I also started drawing with my group and went over my schedule by about 5 minutes. I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take teachers to draw and present for our workshop. They wanted more time! It took an extra 5 minutes just to get teachers to put their markers down. Once we started presenting it was hard to get teachers to stop talking. We all wanted our voices to be heard and share some wild stories about the field trip. I took a few photos of people drawing and presenting. Occasionally I initiated the clapping to move things along, but teachers like to talk! I felt the urge to remind them they only had 5 minutes several times, but I didn’t. I was glad I didn’t because that would have changed the mood. Everyone was enjoying each other’s stories I didn’t want them to feel like I was micromanaging .
As a result of going over scheduled, the planned survey requested by the admin was pushed to the afternoon. Dr. Alex was scheduled for the afternoon. With a little negotiation out in the open, we agreed to do it after lunch. We also had shout-outs for thanksgiving and happy hour. I did not need to lead any more for the day. I did not get a big round of applause or anything, but I did hear a big “Thank you, Bill” after. This felt good.
I think it’s important to go slow and plan small. If you plan for 45 minutes, it will probably go an hour and a half. If things are working well then keep them going. Give gentle time reminders when necessary, but don’t cut people off. If teachers are taking a long time to wrap up their thoughts, others will notice. But if an administrator were to try to jump in and cut them off, then this will be the part others notice. Be respectful towards your peers and don’t always try to have an answer. Many time others teachers will have answers and its OK to let them shout it out. We can’t be up in front of everyone pretending to know it all. Be humble and vulnerable to say I don't’ know or ask anyone else if they know the answer.
Da Lat is a wonderful place. I'll let the photos below speak for themselves. Visiting is a great opportunity to get outdoors. The city itself has lots to offer too. There are plenty of cafes and yummy places to eat. There are also a bunch of snacks and local eats native to Da Lat. It can get cold, so even your coffee is served hot here. Things are different here. It doesn't feel like a big city, because its not. There are no traffic lights in the whole city, though I bet they could use one. To get out of the city. There are so many opportunities to explore the countryside and do something different from your routine weekend.
Getting there can be difficult. The bus drive on Futa Bus line can take 5- 8 hours. It's a dangerous ride too. You may not notice it because your sleeping during the night, but during the day plenty of car accidents on those bendy roads. Additionally, the airport is about an hour from the city. So even flying from HCMC can add up to 4-5 hours.
How you get there is up to you. But once you arrive take a look at this short list of things to do:
High ropes courses
Canyoning (see images)
Cycling & Camping with Phat Tire
- If you have time take the ride to Nha Trang. Its amazing
Rent a scooter and get lost in the countryside
Visit some temples and Elephant falls
Eat avocado ice cream
Explore like the locals
Walk around in the city square at night.
Hike Lang Biang on your own.
-It's more difficult than one might think. If you reach the big white sign where people take photos, your about 1/4 of the way there. Bring water and snacks. There will be nothing available once past that sign. Whole hike could take 3-5 hours.
Biduop Nui Ba National Park
- Find a trail and stick to it.
Skip the crazy house and the “grand opening, grand closing” cafes. They aren't worth your time. They'll be closed as soon as someone buys the shop because it was popular on tripadvisor. Have a blast and google search these places before you go. Also, stay at the very friendly and cozy Dreams Hotel. I'm going to regret posting this because they will likely not have room next time I go. Killer breakfasts!
Oh and if you want to know where that place is with the epic blue water, check it out here “ Tuyệt Tình Cốc, Đạ Tông, Đam Rông, Lâm Đồng, Vietnam” I recommend taking the for hire truck up there from the entrance as roads can be brutal. It’s also about two hours outside Da Lat.
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 to replicate what an administrator might do. I Think this is a very underrated means of professional development. Observing a 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. 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 from class." Since then, I've drastically reduced the amount of 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. 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 time to 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 a valuable teaching tool and can have a direct impact on your students, staff and pedagogy.
If you want to get out of the city for a weekend head out to Cat Tien National park. There isn’t a whole lot to do here, other than eat relax and view nature. You can go on a few botanical garden walks and cycle around. The real gem here is Tai Lai longhouse located a few kilometers away from the park entrance. If you stay with them, you’ll get the authentic camping- countryside experience. They offer biking, kayaking and daily hikes. But you won’t have a private room or air conditioner.
If you opt for a bit more comfort stay at the Cat Tien Jungle lodge. They’ve got a nice riverside pool that is great to whine down in after a day in the foliage. But expect a rooster outside your window and inconsistency with their breakfast preparation. It’s also close to the park entrance. You can rent crummy bikes inside the park and take them as far as you please. Watch out for mud trails as certain parts of the trail will be closed or difficult to bike through. Any local bus will drop you off 20 minutes from the park entrance. A taxi into the park will cost about 300,000 VD or arranged with your hotel.
It’s a two hour drive outside the city, but feels like you are in the countryside. I’d say the area is pretty well kept for a national park in Vietnam. They do a good job promoting eco sustainability with the signage, but I am not sure how effective it is in maintaining the park entrance. Will you see millions of birds and massive eagles? Not likely. You’ll have to spend a few hours walking and biking to see something extraordinary. We did see a massive hawk-looking bird that was the highlight of the trial. Have fun and bring your own water bottle.
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:
3E. Energized engaged and empowered is a professional development weekend that started 4 years ago. This event was previously closed to outsiders, but as of last year has been open to any teacher in the world. This is the second year I was asked to participate in the event. Last year I had to decline because of my schedule. This year I thought it would be great opportunity to team up with Jennifer Pratt, my cooperating administrator, and try something new. This event was held at our neighboring and much bigger school ISHCMC primary. Though they don't have many more students and staff than us they have a much bigger campus and way better facilities. Jen thought it would be good if I got involved with this, not only for my leadership internship, but also because I had some good things to offer. She knew I recently completed a Google level 1 and level 2 teacher certification, so we decided to run a work shop on teaching teachers GSuite.
It came down to the wire with printouts and last minute planning by Jen and I. We worked out some kinks the day before with some students. Working side by side with her was much better than going it alone. She had good insight, and I had to learn how to be receptive and compromising. We never really rehearsed what we were going to say, but we both had a good idea of what needed to be accomplished.
When the class started Jen showed up with all the printouts needed. I was setting up the class. But the projector didn't work. We were unable to show our video so we had to plug a little comic relief. The we went around and introduced themselves. Once we broke them up into groups to work on different apps of G Suite at each station things went smoothly. In hindsight, I would have got to that room much sooner to prepare for the day. It was a good thing we made hard copies of all the documents AND provided links to them in the inside the drive. Some teachers operated online, while others turned every page of the pamphlet.
There were a few times that we were at a loss for words. Some teachers wanted to spend their whole time at one station (we prepared five). This workshop was very beneficial to my career and teaching skills. I had to learn how to cooperate with another teacher who shared my agenda but had limited time to help implement it. She gave me many alternatives to my original ideas, which turned out to be great. Teaching adults is very different from teaching children. Being able to lead teachers and remain positive during the times when our judgement is questioned is a skill I’ll need as a leader. One area that stood out was when another teacher offered me an option to connect to a wifi through the projector. This was something I hadn't done before. I didn't want to take any chances experimenting with a new classroom and app. I suspected there were some firewalls that may prevent that as well. I had to kindly deny his offer.
A couple other teachers demonstrated great improvement in their Google apps for education ability I was happy to see a few colleagues use our material and build their own google site in that 90 minutes. After the event I stayed around for any questions from them. At the end of the session we asked if there was any feedback we can have. One teacher wanted to know about more Gsuite apps. We left them with one module that had extra challenges at the end. Jen and I both gave each other a high-five and felt good about the whole thing. Others told us how helpful the workshop was.
Jen and I debriefed about it the following day. Jen said, “after the event I heard nothing but great things people had to say.” We both agreed that most of the teachers got bogged down in their own agenda.They found something they wanted to work on and stuck with it It would be good if we can ask them to rotate so they can expose themselves to a little bit of everything. I agreed with Jen and felt, most of the logistical things could be improved but overall, it can be in our next PD.
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.
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