Student Engagement: Are They or Aren’t They Engaged?

How do you know when students are truly engaged?  How do you know when a school community is truly engaged?  Partly you “just know” intuitively. When I walk into classrooms it’s pretty evident when students are truly engaged.  Leaning in, asking questions, participating, excited, lost in the dialogue and the give and take of the moments.  It’s always pretty clear.  There’s a sense of purposefulness to what is happening.  The art of teaching is truly evident when a teacher orchestrates those moments of full engagement.  It’s really special to see, and more importantly, to feel.  Engagement is felt.  To the contrary, boredom and non-engagement can also be felt.  And it’s deadly. I’m lucky.  I have many opportunities to visit classrooms.  Students at LCS are most often engaged. Sometimes the engagement is about compliance but many times it’s engagement with enthusiasm, with a sense of purpose and excitement.  This is high level and with strong meaning.  I was watching Grade 11 student presentations the other day in a Global Politics class.  They were so knowledgeable, articulate, and confident in their presentations.  I was impressed, and the audience of students were equally impressed.  It was purposeful and challenging.  

But what is the link between engagement and learning?  There is some ambiguity around engagement.  Students can look completely engaged but is the task really worthy of the intense engagement? Are students merely complying?  Continue reading

Transition in International Schools

This is a note relevant for the “Leavers”, “Stayers”, and “Newbies”.  You know who you are in an international school.

Transience in international schools is part of the landscape.   The end of another school year is approaching.    Almost all international educators and membes of an international community will be transitioning in the coming months.  Whether you are leaving or staying, you are transitioning.   Transition is something to think carefully about. Inevitably transition comes with a specific collection of emotions, actions, and characteristic behaviors.  It’s natural to “pull back” if you are leaving.  It’s also natural to “pull back” if you are a Stayer, surrounded by Leavers.  Sometimes this is simply to protect oneself from the discomfort that comes with being left behind.

The transition from being a “newbie” in a school community to being a ‘veteran” after one year, while preparing to support the transition of next year’s newbies is also a pattern to consider.  Transition may become more complicated when you are a veteran of the school, or a host country teacher who has been part of a specific school for many years and will now see another “flock” of newbies arrive, two years after the last newbies arrived and two months after they have left!  People come and go.   It’s the nature of an international school.

I urge people to remain as present as possible.  How do you want to “show up” at work amongst peers in the final weeks? My hope is that members of the community remain as connected as possible as the year draws to a close.  Students and families deserve the best, and most focused, attention and all educators deserve the best from one another each and every day.   Pay close attention to your actions, your thoughts, and your feelings over the coming weeks.   All need to manage personal responses to the multiple transitions.

The fact is that it takes an entire faculty to build and sustain programs for students in schools.  Commitment and dedication to students and learning must be kept in the forefront.


Leading Adult Learning – 6 Reflections!

There have been many days as an educator when I’ve lamented the culture of compliance we foster in schools.  Yes, we aspire towards a culture of curiosity and creativity but, in reality, we also perpetuate a culture of

imagescompliance with our learners.   Is it inevitable?  If there is an inevitability about such a culture with students, is the same to be said for teachers as learners?  Do we build a system in which the default for adult learners is compliance?  If we want kids to become enquirers and creative problem solvers, and independent learners, shouldn’t the same be true for teachers?  In reality if teachers aren’t learning, then students aren’t learning.

Ken Robinson says that “curiosity is the engine of achievement”.  Therefore, if we foster curiosity, motivation, and independent thinking, achievement will follow.  This is true for students and adults.

How do we get the best learning out of the adults in our schools?

A few ideas to remember as a leader and facilitator of adult learning in schools include:

  1. Serve as a role model for learning.  Demonstrating enthusiasm and role modeling as a learner is critical.  Sharing articles, insights, and generating excitement around learning is contagious.  Passionate and committed learners become learning leaders and role models for others!
  2. Accept that the continuum for adult learning is variable. Adults, as kids, are in various stages of development.  Adults early in their professional lives may bring different skills and approaches to learning as opposed to a highly experienced professional.  Differentiating opportunities and accepting the wide range of differences is important.  Avoiding judgments is vital.  We all learn at different rates and with different comfort levels.
  3. Recognize that some days (weeks, months) are better than others for learning.  Teaching is stressful and some parts of a school year are better than others.  The stress of responsibilities for grading, report writing, parent conference preparation, unit planning, holiday concerts, etc.  There are certain dead zones when focused adult learning just isn’t really possible! But, there are other Continue reading

A Faculty and A Garden!

My faculty is a vegetable patch.  A garden patch of plants with an array of personalities and skills with different needs, styles, strengths, offerings, and flavors that always need tending.  My faculty, my vegetable patch, always needs tending.  It’s hard work – you reap what you sow.    I’ve gardened in my past life as a teacher in rural Vermont – preparing, planting, tending, and harvesting.  It’s hard work. You reap what you sow is a truism for gardening and “principaling”.

Preparing garden beds in the Spring was always a challenge.  I remember breaking out the roto-tiller and turning over the soil.  If you started too early, the soil was too wet and muddy.  The tiller would inevitably get stuck in the wettest corner of the garden.  Gathering pick-up loads of manure to mix in the soil was always essential.   Once the soil was prepared and beds for planting were made, it was time to plant and watch the personalities take shape!

As with any faculty I’ve got a slew of personalities and faculty with wide ranging experiences, background, styles and needs.   They mimic the classic vegetables in my Vermont gardens.

Tomatoes off the vine were always a huge treat.  But, they were a little trickier to grow.  They easily suffered early damage from frost if not protected.  They needed careful tending in the early days.   Late frosts in early June could damage tomato plants so one needed to cover them up at night with buckets.  Some faculty need a bit of protection early in their years but, with the right conditions, can produce succulent tomatoes by mid-July. Continue reading

“Learning for All” Includes Parents!

Everyone in a school community is learning.  That’s the bottom line.  Clearly students are learning (we hope!) and, in my schools where I am determined to lead, teachers are learners.  If they aren’t learning, they aren’t on the essential path of continuous improvement.   As well, and equally important, parents should be learning.  Parents should be engaged as learners and much of this ongoing learning can, and should, be focused upon their children.  The art and science of parenting is often described as the most difficult job one will ever love.  For non-parents, it might be hard to get one’s head around that last sentence!

So, if parents need to be learners where do they learn about their kids and parenting?  I do remember when my kids were young (they’re now in their 20’s) and our bedside tables were loaded with parenting books.  They were of some use, some of the time.  For me, the best learning came from conversations.  Conversations with my wife, conversations with friends with kids, and conversations among other adults who concurrently shared the challenge of parenting. It didn’t matter if we were good friends or shared similar values, expectations, or approaches to parenting.  What mattered in those conversations was that we shared the love of parenting. You learn alot from listening to others talk about the challenges they face as parents.  In my experience as a school Principal, just about all parents care deeply about what lies ahead for their kids and how best to respond as parents.  Many are open and eager to engage in conversations to explore ideas and hear about the approaches from others.

I have facilitated numerous parent discussions in workshops and evening presentations over the past 15 years.  I believe schools have an obligation to support parents in their learning.  Promoting evening workshops facilitated by administrators, teachers or counselors is always appreciated and always provides strong support for parent learning.  Moreover, it builds bridges between the school and the parent community. It is important!

Last week, our counselors facilitated another such evening (I contributed to a degree).  Below is a .pdf of the presentation. It’s worth reviewing.

ParentingTeens-LCSNov2013 pdf

As well, I believe in trying to provide solid resources to parents.  There is so much online for parents to review.  Here’s an absolutely terrific site for parents.  So much is addressed within this site and this organization.  It is rich with potential.   Here’s the Common Sense link:

This web site is a truly excellent site!  As well, check out the links on my blog for parents and students. There are many resources that I have tried to identify for parents and students.

Finally, another site that I found through my twitter feed in recent days is this:

This has little to do with direct parenting, but it is a really interesting site, very provocative!  I’ve been passing it along to teachers and colleagues in recent days.

Stay connected and continue to communicate with your friends, your school, and, most importantly, your children.  Communication, honesty, trust, integrity are the essential ingredients. Ensuring there is a communicative relationship is the most important advice and the most essential skill in the tough job description of parenting!

Finally, yet another link to a brilliant article that every parent should read is this one:

Passion of Parenting 

If you take anything from this blog post as a parent, take this article!

What do you do to grow your knowledge and understanding of parenting? Who are your resources?  If you are an administrator, are you connecting and supporting parents in their challenging roles? If you are a parent, with whom are you exploring ideas and approaches?  How are you learning and making those connections?

Ten Tasks of Adolescense

Over the years one collects various expressions, articles, and handouts that are timeless for their value.  The print may fade over the years but their place on my bulletin board above my desk remains.  One such article/handout has been with me for about 10 years, always on my bulletin board.  The “Ten Tasks of Adolescense” is a great reminder of the challenges middle and high school kids face on a daily basis.    Just as a parent watches the growth of their own child over the years, teachers gain levels of satisfaction in watching the development of their students over time.   When you think of the challenges that kids face in

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

navigating day to day, week to week, year to year experiences as their minds and bodies are changing so rapidly, the role of schools and of teachers becomes so special.  To be a great teacher, you must be tuned into these adolescent tasks.  To be a great teacher you must be focused upon the relationships you are nurturing with students.  Adolescent life is full of challenge and opportunity, great teachers maximize both.

Have a read of the 10 Tasks of Adolescents.  At the bottom is an interesting extract focusing upon the importance of relationships between adults and students in schools.

The Ten Tasks of Adolescence

From Raising Teens, A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action, a. Rae Simpson, Harvard School of Public Health 

Adjust to sexually maturing bodies and feelings Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviors. Their task also includes establishing sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
Develop and apply abstract thinking skills. Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking. Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes, they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardize them.
Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems. Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
Understand and express more complex emotional experiences. Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
Establish key aspects of identity Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity, and as well sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up society.
Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting  (and other) roles Although the tasks of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.

The Relationships Gap

Looking closer at students’ perspectives has shown us that strong relationships with teachers are crucial. The quality of teacher relationships seems to be correlated to how much effort students put forth in their school work, and indeed, research indicates that effort is more important than innate ability when it comes to achievement (Dweck, 2006). As both the number of standardized tests and the stakes related to passing them increase, student effort must keep pace.

Our survey results imply that building relationships with students help increase their effort, which is consistent with research showing that the relationships students have with teachers is one of the best predictors of hard work and engagement in school (Osterman, 2000). When comparing responses of students who agreed with the statement, “ I put forth my best effort at school” with those who did not, we saw dramatically different perspectives on student-teacher relationships. Students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely as students who said they did not to agree with the statement, “Teachers care about me as a individual.” Similarly, students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely to agree that “Teachers respect students.”

Another telling survey finding was that 56 percent of students who reported that they put forth their best effort also said they have a teacher they can talk with if they experience a problem, whereas only 32 percent of the students who did not put forth their best effort agreed with this statement.

Some survey results indicated that many students lack a solid, trusting relationship with a teacher. For example, only 45 percent of students surveyed agreed that “Teachers care if I am absent from school.” How is it that more than half of the almost 500,000 students surveyed do not believe teachers care if they show up? Teachers must work harder to develop relationships with students and change these kinds of perceptions. Doing so will foster students’ connectedness at school — an undeniable catalyst for increasing students’ investment in learning.

Schools can — and should — implement practices that lead to strong teacher-student relationships.

Excerpted from Got Opportunity?

Russell J. Quaglia, Kristine M. Fox and Michael J. Corso; Middleweb,

And We Are Off! – Day 1 has come and gone!

Welcome to Day 2

OK, another school year is officially starting.  Heaps of energy and enthusiasm as usual on day 1.  Excitement around the school.  New hair, new shirts, new shoes, new teachers, new students, new furniture, and some new changes around the buildings.  New books in the library, new laptops to borrow, and a few new food items for sale.  There is eager hopefulness in the air!  Fresh coats of

Seniors!  Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

Seniors! Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

paint on walls and tables that covers up some of the pencil and pen markings from last year’s crop of students.

So what!  What’s it matter?  The fresh coats of paint only matter for a little while;  paint wears thin.

I’m writing this note during the early morning hours of Day 2.  The only thing that really matters is how we decide to “Show Up” at school on Day 2, and Day 3, and Day 4….etc.  All the appearances of new beginnings don’t matter unless you decide to “Show Up” and make the most of what’s on offer.

As a student and a member of the LCS community, how will you carve out your path at LCS this year?  Will it be as an active, positive contributor?  What are the most fundamental goals that you have for the year?  Is it about friendship? Is it about academics? Is it about being positive? Is it about being kind? Is it about making the varsity soccer team? My favorite question when speaking individually to students is “What kind of student do you want to be?”  Over 20 years of asking that question to hundreds and hundreds of students the response 99% of the time is: “I want to be a good student”.   What does being a “good student” look like?  The common response is earning good grades.  But this falls short. It’s not about the grades.


How will you contribute to a positive school climate? How will you be a good friend and a good classmate? What will you try hard to avoid?  How will you “Step Up” and continue your growth as a teenager?

While Day 1 is a great way to start the year and you have begun to taxi down the runway, Day 2 is where you can truly rev your engines, release the powers within, and begin your flight through another school year.

Make sure you watch this video when you are done!!!  Have a great start!

Jelly Beans & Living Life to the Fullest






Girl Rising and CNN reports – Must Reads for LCS students!

Check out the links to the Girl Rising reports on CNN.  I urge LCS students to navigate the CNN reports and articles. It looks pretty interesting with powerful stories from around the world.

Girl Rising on CNN

Why is it that CNN has devoted so many stories and so much journalism to these stories of females from around the world?  Why do you think that is the case?  The stories about educating females, forced marriage at early ages, child slavery…they are all powerful and important.  CNN has some very famous people writing some very strong pieces.

You should really check these out.

Along the way, read this piece on school proms.  It’s on the Girl Rising web site as well.  It gives us, at LCS, something to think about.

Another School Year Ends….an important assembly

Congratulations to all of us for getting to the end of another school year.  The end is always a busy time with lots of activity.  From the activities with the Grade 12 students that culminated with graduation on May 24 to final exams a week later to sports day to the final couple of assemblies and then……it’s good-byes all around, some permanent and some temporary until August.   It is an emotional time.  It is important to feel emotion when a good friend is leaving or a teacher you respect is moving on, that means the relationship has value in your life.

I appreciated the last few days of school.  In particular I appreciated the final assembly.  The final assembly allowed us to acknowledge and send off all of our Grade 6-11 students who are leaving LCS.  Every year students leave…..and it is emotional.  We also farewelled 12 teachers.  Students did a great job in farewelling the teachers.  Students, through their claps and cheers and expressions of “we will miss you” created an atmosphere of appreciation that sent a powerful message to their teachers.  These relationships matter.  All students should know that these relationships matter to all of the teachers as well.  Teachers care deeply about their students.

A school is just an empty set of classrooms until students and teachers show up.  Then relationships are built, connections are made.  It is in the power of the learning amongst teachers and students in schools that real change happens.

I hope and trust students have finished the school year in strong fashion and that you are prepared to enjoy the next couple of months and, most importantly to me, that you are well rested to begin again in August. There will be many new students, new courses, and new ways to explore options and interests.  For right now, on a Sunday night at the close of the first weekend of summer vacation, enjoy the horizon of time that stretches in front of you.  I will be sending periodic posts in the coming weeks. I want you to read my posts!!! Maybe, if you are so motivated, you will even leave a comment!

Transitions…It’s that time of year!

Schools have a unique rhythm and we are heading into what is the most sensitive, stressful, and emotional collection of experiences within that rhythm.

In the coming weeks many members of the LCS community will be in the midst of transitioning away from LCS and Accra. Students will be bidding farewell to friends and contemplating the uncertainty of next steps. Parents will also be experiencing similar transition steps. It can be challenging.

During this process, students will also be immersed in activities at school including pushing forward with academic projects including final exams for high school students. The stressors grow in the coming weeks.

Graduation is the penultimate ceremony and most significant and memorable transitional event. The pomp and circumstance of graduation are greatly symbolic of the multiple layers of transition that our high school graduates will experience.

Generally we think about the impact on those students who are leaving and we do our best to ease their challenges for departure. However, years ago it became very apparent to me that transitions are also about those who are not leaving. Those remaining Continue reading