Day 3 The Envelope Please

A good  night of sleep, the memory of “The Moment” well behind, I arrive on the sunny campus ready for the final round!

The climate in South Africa is nothing short of spectacular.  The outdoor culture is impressive.  A potential colleague generously handed me a 200 page book first thing in the morning with a list of all the running events in South Africa for 2014.  You can run a race every weekend it seems.  The friendly warmth of South Africans mirrors the contagious Ghanaian smile and hearty laugh.  It could be a good place to live and, no doubt, the school would be a great place to work.  The American International School of Johannesburg is impressive.  I wander the campus a bit awaiting my first interview – the day is quiet, parent conferences are happening in another area so I’m left in the campus gardens – just me and the birds!

Two team interviews and several conversations with various folks seem to go fine.  By mid-day the interviews are over.  I was well rested and in reasonable shape and while I am certain not everyone found every answer satisfactory, I’ll take my chances.  If you are a baseball fan you know that superstars are only successful 3 out of 10 times that they are up to bat.  That’s a pretty low percentage.  What would happen if I had only been successful with 3 out of every 10 questions?  I’d be toast.  So, the day ended without any desperate last minute heroics.  No need for any desperation 3-point shots or long downfield “hail mary” touchdown tosses or bases loaded heroics in the bottom of the 9th inning.   No Sudden Death drama….

Having said that, as the admin team has their final meeting before I am to meet with the Head of School, I’m left wondering.  I have a sense of the personalities on that team and  I imagine the conversation in my head….

“He had a strong first quarter on Monday but fumbled badly during that stretch on Tuesday”.

“Let’s take a look at the slow motion replay, notice how he delicately avoided with that response.”

“Yes, but he got stuck badly by the aggressive offense of that interview team earlier today?”

“How did he respond after that brief setback?”  “Is he really up for the challenge from us?”

When you visit an organization for a few days you spend time synthesizing anecdotal data and pondering.  Peeling back the onion of any organization is always fascinating.  Personalities stand out, systems and territory are revealed and over a 48 hour period, questions lead to questions lead to opinions expressed and insights formed.  Schools are all about people and relationships.  People have much to say about their worlds of work and I am absolutely intrigued by organizational dynamics.  It’s especially interesting when you are being interviewed by those who might be future colleagues!

As Rhona and I await our closure meeting with the Head of School, I am truly at peace with any decision.   I’ve expressed

interest in two international school positions.  If neither of these work out, we are planning on returning to the US and I will find a position in an independent school. I’m not a natural self-promoter, not my style, and I’m okay with that.  However the decision goes down, I am not defined by this experience.  I feel proud of my body of work as an educator over the years and I know that I am able to create the conditions to influence learning in a positive and genuine way.  So, as the decision looms, I’m completely comfortable with the options.

Enter the office, sit across from the head of school, debrief a bit, the contract is on the table and the deal is done….the job is MINE! Rhona and I are delighted, the decision is made, we are headed to Johannesburg next year!  

While there is no end of game scoreboard broadcasting the results, I do know that the feeling is  positive and the match between my resources as a school leader and the needs of the high school at AISJ is aligned.  I think this is the case and, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t want the job.  It’s about alignment. It’s important to remember this.

Upon reflection, what else is worth remembering?

  1. Being “at peace” with decisions that impact your life’s work is truly important. I was completely prepared for rejection.  Remembering just how much I have to be grateful for is important.
  2. Refuse to be defined as a professional by the success or failure of a singular job search.  There are opportunities and matches out there.
  3. Pursuit of jobs is an intense roller coaster experience.  Levelling the roller to create more coaster is something to consider.  Finding moments of calm seas is essential.
  4. Embrace ambiguity. After most interviews and conversations there are often discomforting memories that leave you wondering.
  5. Remember to trust your instincts and intuitive insightful moments. They tell you much.
  6. Writing is a reflective activity for me and allows me to process experiences.  Writing about this job search was hugely beneficial to my thinking, and fun!!

How will you approach your next job search?

Day 2 The Parent Interview & “The Moment”

My thoughts drifted for a moment……I think I am answering a parent question about the diversity of a community and how to help build community in a diverse population, or was it a diverse community that results in diversity or a population that is diverse and community that makes a population and what was I going to do????  Hmmm…this is very confusing isn’t it?  At least, that was the internal dialogue when sleep deprivation, dehydration, tension, and possibly aliens swooped down upon the room, clouded my thinking and momentarily shut off some inner switch.

“Excuse me”.   I find myself saying.  “I think I need some water”.  Feeling the color draining from my face, I get up and take a few steps, grab a water bottle, catch my breath, rally my thoughts, sit back down, and attempt to recover a response.  I ramble for 10 more seconds and then realize I better cut my losses on the diversity question.   I press “Ctrl-Alt-Reset” to reboot my brain and take another swig of the best water I’ve had in weeks!

The momentary abduction and time travel abates, the color returned but the incredible embarrassment remained.  I manage to recover, last another 40 minutes and, I believe, save the interview.  Parents remain behind, ask reasonable questions, stake a claim or two about topics they would like to address and the parent interview is over.  Phew!  I have 2 hours until my next interview.

I think it’s important to consider the job search as a type of sport.  So, if today’s collection of interviews was a 4 quarter

The Scoreboard!

The Scoreboard!

sporting event clearly I was down early by double digits after my fumbled “moment” but I think I rallied to at least tie the score after the first quarter……Lots of potential sports analogies.  I can hear the announcer recapping the first quarter.

“He was down early, but the comeback gained traction with his description of his most recent parent evening presentation.”

I pride myself on parent relationships and the ability to connect and communicate with parents.  Should the job hunt be successful I’m not particularly concerned as I know how to support that partnership.  But, the moment was a singular embarrassment.    But, I also knew, right away, it would make a great story!  It could have been worse, that’s for sure.

I wander the campus, a spectacular campus at 5000 feet in elevation (maybe it was the altitude)!  I wander around classrooms speaking to students and teachers at random.  I’m a nosy stranger trying to understand the pulse of the high school campus.

The game continues with a Student Council interview during lunch.  This is fun.  A former JIS Pattimura student who Making_Comebackrecognizes Rhona, and a 12th grader who used to attend LCS years ago who is good friends with some of my current students are among the handful of student leaders.  We talk policies about student athlete absences, discuss whether the school needs a track, the merits of 85 minute blocks vs 60 minute blocks in a schedule and in general what the students feel is needed at the school.  It’s lunch time, a bit rushed, but they were interested in sharing opinions.  Talking to thoughtful kids who want to engage with you always leaves me hopeful.   It goes well, it’s mid-day, I glance at the scoreboard and things are promising.

I enter my 4th quarter interview with the search committee knowing that a strong closing performance is important.  Sleep deprivation is countered by yet another double expresso – and some tasty coffee at that.  A potential colleague reveals his true love – his office coffee machine!  Life is good.

A healthy exchange with the selection committee, no alien abductions, no “senior” moments, no drama, results in a promising overnight scoreboard.  Day 2 closes with Rhona and I out to dinner with Tony and Nancy Mock.  Unbelievably this is the first time we’ve met this fun couple but our paths, mutual connections, and histories are well connected from our collective years in Asia.  Wonderful to make new friends over dinner.

So, what did I learn?

  • Multi day interviews with various constiuents are challenging.  But, they provide opportunities.  A singular moment, unless it’s a real doozy, does not seal one’s fate.  If you treat the experience like a sporting event, you have to figure out how to keep the offense moving, defend your territory with integrity, rally when needed, and go for the big play when you have the opportunity!
  • Finding stories and anecdotes that meaningfully reflect your practice is helpful.  These can be told from the heart!  I remember the author John Marsden talking about writing to Grade 8 students.  His most important advice was to write about what you know.  Telling relevant anecdotes, related to your work (and the question at hand) is a powerful tool.
  • If you don’t have a good answer, sometimes it’s really okay to admit that you need time to either better understand the scenario or that it’s difficult to speculate.  In other words, grasping for a poorly considered but a seemingly defined answer may do more harm than good.
  • Being true to yourself and finding the comfort zone in conversations is essential.

Day 3 looms ……. and so do a couple of interviews and decision time…..


Job Hunt Day 1 – The Faculty Interview

OK, truth be told, Rhona and I are visiting a school and I actually finished the first day of a 3 day interview visit.  Not only

And the judges say? COPYRIGHT EXPRESS & STAR......01/05/2010

And the judges say?

that, it’s early morning hours after a fitful sleep tossing and turning between the first day “autopsy” and the second day “preparation”.

Flights almost anywhere from Ghana result in overnight flights and early morning arrivals so the coupling of economy class overnight seating and a 3:00 pm full faculty interview after arrival must be considered a challenge to relish.  Frankly, it was downright civil compared to what my administrative counterparts in a school in Japan posed to me several years ago.  On that occasion I flew overnight from Jakarta to Tokyo on a Friday evening, navigated the challenging path from Narita airport to the suburbs of Tokyo on a cold December Saturday morning, placed in a meeting room that felt like a cold storage facility, and was subjected almost immediately to a 2 hour administrative team interview.  But I digress….

Yesterday was most definitely a civil beginning!  Four seats to myself for on an under subscribed flight was a lucky break – it would have been more fun to be bumped up to business class but I’ll take those extra seats and the horizontal position any day!  Arrival at the hotel – check, leisurely breakfast -check, shower & shave – important/check, and pick out the optimal shirt/tie combo that would be sure to impress the 3:00 crowd!  All set….

Arrival at school, a double expresso, a campus tour, dialogue with the Head of School, review of the 3 day gauntlet, and several bottles of water later and it’s time.  The stage is set for that first hurdle – a full faculty interview!

Anyone who has worked across a K-12 school knows that a high school faculty meeting crowd is different then an elementary faculty meeting crowd.  It’s simply the way it is!  In fact, HS faculty get a bad rap on this front.  I’ll give this faculty credit, they played along nicely with my activity to open up my interview. I asked them to identify the traits and qualities they were looking for in their next Principal and then enter them into an online application @ .  Their entries created a cool word cloud of their responses and we were able to examine this together.  My plan was to examine their responses and then present my even cooler powerpoint which would dramatically connect my self-identified traits/qualities with what they had identified and, voila…..the perfect match would reveal itself….and we all would live happily ever after.   Being a risk taker is hugely important, and I was taking a bit of a risk.  As a risk taker, you have to be prepared to “fail well” or “fail up” so that you can do even better the next time.  Though, in my one off situation there is no “up” to fail towards with this audience.  It’s a one off situation!  While the cool word cloud and my even cooler presentation were not exact matches, it didn’t really matter.  Several ideas and some overlap surfaced, a strategy for using a piece of technology was modeled for teachers, and my risk taking behavior was put on display.  (By the way, I had never used this online program before which some might say is a stupid thing to do in front of  a faculty who you are trying to convince of your rational, thoughtful, non-impulsive and well prepared educator style).  Having said that, schools are generally “risk averse” BUT we want to help kids learn to be risk-takers…Hmm….does anyone sense irony?  But I digress…

Here’s the point.  I can’t really give an autopsy about the interview because I can’t remember what happened.  The hour long interview flew by.  Questions, of which there were many, were flung from all corners of the vast room.  I ducked, I darted, I bobbed, I weaved, I handled some questions flawlessly and my love of sentence fragments probably got the best of me for others….and then, it was 4:00 pm.  I was, like……is this it?  Are we really over?  I’m just getting warmed up, I’ve got more to say….I didn’t tell you about the time I…… Come on you guys, give me some more….give me your best shot, I’m ready for it….

When you are standing in front of 50 folks and you are so focused on answering questions and moving from one topic to another, it really is hard to recall exactly what you said throughout the time so actually dissecting it is tricky.  What I do know is I felt genuine, honest, and I do believe I communicated that I know a reasonable amount of stuff about what is good to do in schools for student and adult learning!

But now… the 4:00 am autopsy, here are 5 things I wish I had said to the faculty yesterday AND I wish I said them with the gusto that they deserve:

  1. Don’t “vote” for me if you aren’t fully committed to building a high school culture in which every kid feels cared about, mentored, and connected to an adult.  This means all teachers must be fully engaged in creating this culture.  This is so fundamental that if you don’t want to own this culture, then we probably aren’t suited to work together.
  2. Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t want to spend time examining and reflecting on your instructional practices and curriculum while aiming to be a better teacher. If you think you are already a master teacher and there is no more for you to learn about your craft, then you are kidding yourself and we probably aren’t suited to work together.
  3. Don’t “vote” for me if you think the current general structures of high schools including the reliance on Carnegie units (credits), the over emphasis on SATs, the over emphasis on traditional grading practices, and the traditional silos of high school departments are best for student learning and preparation for the challenges kids will face in their futures.  Taking a close look at innovative practices going on in schools around the world would be an exciting endeavor.   If you are locked into the industrial model of schooling and you don’t want to examine and consider possibilities, then we will have challenges working together.
  4. Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t think all kids should have a high bar set for them and that all kids are capable of reaching a high bar.  If you don’t believe that kids are capable of aiming high, we will definitely have trouble working together and you need to really think about your work.
  5. Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t think parents and students should have a voice.  Defining parameters and systems for that feedback and that communication is essential.  Parents rely upon our work with their kids.  We have a responsibility to them.  Feedback from students about their learning is critical, their voice is important.   It’s about building community, and communities involve all constituents!  If you don’t believe this, then let’s talk!!

I could probably dig further for some other messages and round out a top 10 list BUT I have to prepare for Day 2….the birds are chirping outside our hotel room and morning is here.   It promises to be a long day of interviews and meetings.  I wonder what the journey will be like as the day rolls on?




The Job Hunt

So Much to Consider!!

So Much to Consider!!     (

Alright.  I’m 58 and job hunting….I admit it, I’m getting old.  My spirit is youthful (some say I’m an arrested adolescent), I’m in solid physical shape (I bike, run, swim), I’m reasonably current with teaching and learning, and I’m flexible about where to go next.  Seems like I’ve got potential.

But, OMG I have an interview coming up!!!!!   I have 25 yrs as an administrator and I’ve spent hours  interviewing candidates for teaching positions BUT I can count the number of times I’ve been interviewed in my life on my fingers.  Not very many, considering I’m almost the big Six – Oh.  Interviewing takes skill and especially interviewing over skype.  Being quick on your feet – at least for me – is always a challenge, especially as I often consider my most insightful thoughts as a series of linked  sentence fragments.  Sentence fragments don’t really sound very impressive in interviews!   I need the face to face conversation, but even then I probably tend to “over talk” everything!

Then there is the brushing up on buzzwords and trends.    I certainly had read about STEM in the US  and the focus upon Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math and the absolute need to build programs that nurture engineering skills in students.  But, recently STEAM has become equally valued Continue reading

Teaching Thinking (and Other Critical Skills)!

Teaching Thinking!  Is this an impossible task?

Clearly the work of teachers and parents is to help students become better thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators.  We want students to become more creative and critical in their thinking.  It is challenging work.  How do you support students in becoming true inquirers who are curious, interested, and capable of asking probing questions?  How do we support students as they engage with their own thinking?  How do we help students develop resilience?

True Resilience!

True Resilience!  (

Below is a “story” that I’ve held onto for years. I remember hearing this story when my own children were young boys.  I found a source of the story online as a letter to the editor to the New York Times.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the New York Times on January 18, 1988

‘Izzy, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?’

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11 (1988), was once asked, ”Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

His answer has served as an inspiration for me as an educator, as a credo for my son during his schooling and should be framed on the walls of all the pedagogues, power brokers and politicians who purport to run our society.

The question was posed to Dr. Rabi by his friend and mine, Arthur Sackler, himself a multitalented genius, who, sadly, also passed away recently. Dr. Rabi’s answer, as reported by Dr. Sackler, was profound: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn Continue reading

“It’s Confusing”: One Parent’s Honest Response

After an evening presentation to a group of Grade 11 parents last week during which we laid out the roadmap for current 11th graders as they navigate the IB, the college search, the essays, the Internal Assessments, the Mock exams, the college applications, the SAT prep, the SAT exams, the decisions, the deadlines, the co-curricular options, the need for balance, the need to take responsibility, the need to stay close as a family, and the need to breathe…..parents were asked to offer a word or phrase to capture how they (the parents) felt at that moment.

“It’s confusing”, said one parent.

These 16 year olds who will turn 17 as Grade 11 students are setting out on an incredibly intense course of activity over the coming months.  They join thousands of other young people at this impressionable age in taking charge of the list above. This week they start that process with the PSAT exam and their first quarter progress report for Grade 11.  This is a first glance at how many of them are achieving in the IB Diploma Program.  The fun begins.  Parents must find ways to support and bolster their child during these challenging times.  Kids need parental support.  Being informed of the challenges and the roadmap that lies ahead for kids is really important for parents.  The stress, anxiety, and pressure is very real and must be managed.  Parents are critical to the management of the challenges.


Apart from the intensity of school responsibilities, most Grade 11 students are begging for more freedom from their parents.  Extended curfews, more freedom to roam on Friday evenings, greater privileges are requested.  Parents must navigate these difficult and challenging parental decisions.  Its’ not easy, in fact, it’s confusing.   Most parents are often in some form of negotiation with their kids.  It is part of parenting and part of navigating the teenage years.  It’s important.

When this parent used the word confusing, however, I read into his response another source of confusion.  It’s confusing parenting 16 year olds.  It’s confusing parenting a 16 year old child Continue reading

A “Bubble” Called School

Our students live in a bubble called school.  They are sheltered, protected, and innocent.  While our IB MYP and bubblesDiploma Program strive to develop internationalism in our students and strengthen their learner profile attributes, our students are sheltered from so many realities of the world.  I am worried.

There is a war against ISIS, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram steals “our girls” in Nigeria, Egypt is struggling as democracy has slipped away, the intractable Israeli/Palestinian problem persists, Ebola devastates parts of West Africa, climate change threatens the globe.  Wars, beheadings, kidnappings, disease, and natural disasters: where do you start with generating understanding?  It struck me the other day that there are probably students of mine who are viewing some of the graphic videos posted on youtube coming out of the middle east.  How do they make sense of this violence?  I am worried.

What do our students know (and care) about these challenges in the world?  As we develop and nurture our students as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and inquirers who are compassionate and empathetic, how are we helping them learn about and make sense of current events, current news stories, and the state of the world?

My hunch is that some of our students have an idea about the events around the world.  However, most middle and high school students are so caught up in their own worlds of social engagement with peers that dismissing the news is easy to do.  Most are probably innocently naïve about events in the world.  Frankly, and in my Continue reading