General Leadership Instructional Leadership

Create a Positive Test Taking Culture in your school?

How do you create a positive test taking culture in your school?

Truly, how do you do it?

That was a question posed during a live meeting I attended in the past week.  How do you create a positive test taking culture in the school you are in?  Then part of the group discussed this topic.

I should say I had my mic and video off.  My family was in the house.  I did not say what first came to my mind.  Frankly, it was not positive nor uplifting.

That was a legitimate question discussed though.  Creating a positive test taking culture in a school in 2021.  How should we do it?  What should be in place?  How do we encourage students to have a positive attitude about test taking and high stakes test taking?  I shared this with another educator shortly afterwards and his response, get rid of high stakes test taking and students would be better off.  I fully agreed.

What is the purpose of high stakes test taking?  IB, AP, IGCSE, SAT, ACT, and all the other acronyms of tests that we require of students.  What is the point?  No truly.  What is the point of any of these high stakes tests in 2021 and why do we still allow this type of conversation to exist?

Many universities in North America and the world are not considering SAT and ACT as part of the formal application process anymore.  AP testing simply allows students to waive university level courses, so they get academic credit once they are allowed into the university if they score high enough on their assessment.  IB and IGCSE are most relevant to Europe and the British system, but not as much outside of those systems.  So, do they matter anymore?

If you are going to a specific system, then yes, some of the education programs do matter.  If one is going to Europe or the UK, then yes, a student is best served in the IB and IGCSE system based on what I know about them.  The high stakes testing do have an end goal and are perhaps a necessary evil inherent in the system.  But they have a point and a purpose as I understand.  If you apply to certain universities in the system, you know the score you are required to get for entry for example.

What about other assessments we so highly value?  What is their purpose?  Do they meet the needs of education today?  Truly, businesses repeatedly state that high school and university graduates are not completing their programs with the skills they need for their organizations to be successful.  If none of our programs are truly meeting the requirements for business, are we doing a good job with the high stakes assessments and classes we offer then test?

The question we have to ask, and honestly ask this not just the teacher meeting question of what do we think, is do we value high stakes testing and why?

Let us be brutally honest for a moment about education.  High stakes testing, if our students do well, makes the institution look very good.  We can waive our high-test scores in front of anyone looking and show them our academic success.  That success brings students to the school and puts backsides in seats.  In a private school, this is almost required.  In a public school, this is a flower in the cap of the school.

We will never get rid of high stakes academic testing in education.  No matter what we believe as educators, we will never get rid of it.  We need it as much as our students need it to demonstrate academic success for application to university.  It is our necessary evil.  It is here and it will remain in our programs.

How then do we have a discussion about a positive test taking culture in our school? 

It starts with an evaluation of your test-taking culture.  Let’s be brutally honest here, there are schools that are test-taking mills.  Their sole purpose is to get students to take as many high stakes tests as possible and pass with high marks.  Fortunately, those schools are a bit more of the outliers, but, that doesn’t mean it is not a prevailing attitude in schools.

I once heard a college counselor, who was wicked smart, tell a group of students that the correct answer to how many advanced courses and tests a student to take was simple.  Take as many as you can AND score top marks on everyone of them.  That was the only correct answer to that question he said. 

We may not be test mills, but we may very well believe that students should take a lot of tests and excel in order to make us, or our school, look good.  Where does your school fall in that continuum from no tests to as many as possible?  It is good to have that conversation and to identify why you believe that.  Then, discuss what impacts that attitude will have on the social and emotional wellness of students long-term.  Is that what you believe as a school?  Does that meet your vision and mission?

Be honest with your organization.  You must show success academically by your students.  Where they go to university matters.  Their academic success matters.  But that can look very different from one school to the next and frankly, the university admissions counselors know this.  Your clientele needs to see success from your students and the program.  Test results and scores matter, so does college admission.  At least be honest in the conversations around test-taking.

I worry when I hear comments about positive test-taking cultures though that we focus to much on academic success and taking tests.  It simply is not part of our work environment and we place too much emphasis on it for all students.  Yes, test scores on certain academic tests show an increased probability of success and earnings later in life.  But not every student needs to attend a 4 year university to be successful.

We miss the bigger picture if we focus on academic success only.  We miss the student sitting in the seat.  We miss the uniqueness of that individual.  We miss the creativity.  We miss the joy of learning if we push students towards academic success.  That is where we fail as institutions. 

Yes, we must have high stakes testing in some form at our institutions.  Those are not going away.  But be honest about why we do it in our school.  Also, do not forget that we are still teaching humans.  Let us not be so focused on creating a positive culture of testing that we forget that we have amazing musicians, poets, artists, writers and dreamers, tech wizards, creatives and those who will change the world in our midst.  They have skills that no test will evaluate and we may kill their creativity if we forget to acknowledge them.

I challenge you this year to consider, what is your test taking culture and why do you believe it?  Clearly define the purpose of your testing so you are able to articulate why it matters in your school.

School Culture

Every Person at School Matters.

Everyone matters.

Every person at the school, no matter what their role, matters.

The principal, teachers, office staff, para-educators, custodians, and kitchen staff matter.  And anyone associated with the school that is in the building.  No one should be left out of this list.

Every single person that a student could come across in a school building on a daily basis is important an matters in the life of a school.  You never know when an interaction between a staff member and a student or community member could color the entire view of the school.  It can happen in a few moments and give an impression of a school that you don’t want.

I remember vividly, to this day, walking into the office of the school.  I was a substitute teacher for one of the physical educators who was out that day.  I showed up, checked in with the office, but was told by a secretarial staff that the teachers were in a meeting and I needed to sit and wait. So, wait I did.

As the morning drew on, I realized I did not have a timetable or lesson plans.  So, being responsible, I asked the same person.  She said they had something and gave me a generic set of teaching materials.  Frankly, it was nothing more than basic school and district information and far short of a full timetable or lesson plans.  I was told that the teachers would come and get me when the staff meeting was over.  So, I sat back down.

I kept an eye on the time and realized it was getting close to the start of school.  So, again, being responsible, I went up to the same staff member and asked about going to the class, getting a key, or what I should do.  I said it appeared that I had a first period class that I was covering.  The staff member responded, “I told you someone would come and get you when the meeting was over.  Sit down and wait for them.”  Now, I was younger in my career and liked the district, but I was annoyed by being treated this way. So, I my oppositional defiant nature got the better of me and I sat down.

I watched the staff meeting get out, right before school started.  All the teachers left the meeting and went presumably to their classes.  I did the only thing I had been told to do.  I sat down and waited.

Warning bells for class rang.  The class bell rang.  Students arrived in the office to get their tardy slips as they were late.  A solid 10 minutes into the first class period, I strolled up to the class and asked if anyone was going to come and get me.  The secretary looked shocked and asked why I was still there.  Well, no one came to get me.  She was visibly annoyed with me when she told me to go to my class.  I told her I didn’t know where I needed to go.  She was even more annoyed giving me directions. 

When I finally arrived at the lockerroom for my class, I learned that the teacher I was covering was a female, not a male teacher.  Information that would have been helpful some time before.  When I told the male teachers what had happened, they just shook their heads and apologized saying this was not the first time this had happened.

Now, imagine a front facing staff member acting that way to your parents or community members.  Being annoyed that they had the audacity to ask questions or try to do the right thing.  Then, responding as though it was your fault.  What kind of a message does that send to the community?  Is that the kind of message you want students or families getting?  These are the first people the community meets when they enter the school.  It does beg the question about how the rest of the school community acts.

I did have the opportunity to sub at the school again.  I turned it down.  The lady who organized the substitutes for the district was lovely.  She asked me why and I relayed how I had been treated by the front office staff.  Sadly, she said she understood and I was not the first person to say this.

It begs the question, why do we accept this?  This was a staff member who dealt with the public regularly.  Other staff members do not face the public, but they do face the students.  They interact with the teachers and families on a regular basis. They are also sharing in the reputation of the school.

Now, I should say that I have met many front offices staff as well as other support staff in schools.  In most cases, they are nothing short of amazing.  They not only care for the facility, but they also look out for the kids.  In fact, they often know more about some kids than the educators.  They build amazing relationships with these students that we would never expect.  They are valued members of the community.  I make it a point to try and get to know these staff members and let them know how much I value them. 

Do you know your staff members?  Do you now their strengths and what they bring to the table?  Do you support them and allow them to teach or work with students?  Some of them bring amazing gifts to the table.  For example, at one school, the school custodian built his own telescope would give star talks in the parking lot some evenings.  Another example, a facilities supervisor taught students how to make paper from recycled school paper.  These folks have gifts and skills to share.  Let’s make use of them.

Every person in your organization is a gift.  My current principal said this year that we are all called to the school for a reason.  We may not know the reason yet, but we are all gifts and an answer to prayer.  Those were powerful words for us.  It was an acknowledgement that we are there for a reason.  That we bring our gifts to the table and we will help the community thrive this year.

Imagine if every member of the school community felt that way.  That connected to the school community as a whole.  What a place to work that would be!

I enter the gates of my school this year and the security are smiling and saying hello to staff and students.  Teachers and administrators greet each other.  Students are smiling and laughing and helping each other out.  Other staff support teachers and students with a smile.  The community is an amazing place to be.  Kids are cared for and known.  Teachers are making a positive impact.

True, my school is a private school with many benefits.  However, it is still a school community that is working together to lift students up.  Not every private school does that.  Some public schools do it better.  How is your school doing?

I hope as you enter this year that you lift each other up.  That you rally around your school community and recognize that everyone needs to lift and build the community.  This year, more than many in the past, we need to lift our students up.  Build positive, healthy communities to best teach and support our students in the coming year.

Reach out and tell me how you are doing it this year.

General Leadership

Why Educators need to read Chris Voss

“What were needed were simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs and persuade the other guy of our empathy.  We needed something easy to teach, easy to learn and easy to execute.”

Read that quote again.  Don’t worry, I will cite the source below.

Now, read that quote again and think about it in terms of many situations you have been in as an educator or administrator.  You have been in situations that require us to calm people down, establish or re-establish rapport, gain or regain trust, and get a student/parent/staff member to elicit a verbalization of needs and persuade them that we are in fact empathetic.  That describes many of the tense, high stress situations that educators and administrators find themselves in on a regular basis.

As educators and educational administrators, we need to respond quickly and empathetically to situations.  Our students, parents, or other teachers need to know that we are listening and responsive to their needs.  We need the situation to be calm so that we can address issues, establish rapport, and gain or regain trust.  And we need something that is easy to teach and learn as well as being flexible enough to execute in a variety of situations that we face with many different audiences.

This was not taken from any of the many quality educational texts available on management or conflict resolution.  This was written by Chris Voss, renowned lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  This quote can be found in Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. 

The natural first question is, who cares?  What does Chris Voss, FBI negotiator have to do with education or educational administration?  Educators and administrators never deal with international kidnapping negotiations or anything nearly the difficult.  True, we will most likely never be called upon to negotiate a high stakes incident in our school lor buildings, but I will put forth, you need to read this book.

Within in the school setting, we negotiate all the time.  We have been trained to find the middle, the compromise or, as the book is titled Getting to Yes.  This is what we have been trained in and taught about.  With this as our background, we negotiate in one way that may not be the best way to address situations.  Often, we are on the ones on the losing end of the actual negotiation or discussion.  We assume we are in the negotiation for one result, but the game is being played differently by the person across from us.  We compromise and work to resolve issues that the other person should be wrestling with.

Chris is a master storyteller drawing upon his years of experience in the FBI and law enforcement.  He shares specific examples of success, and even failures, as the key learning points for negotiation.  His key point is that the rules of negotiation are not what we think they are.  The strategies we use assume logical, calm, rational individuals who want what we want.  In most cases, that is not what is happening. 

Consider that in school.  Do students, parents, or teachers actually want what we want?  Do they come from the same place that we do when discussing issues or say discipline?  Rarely do they.  When we negotiate, we are communicating to gather information and influence behavior.  As Chris Voss points out, a hostage negotiator must win, but we in the educational field do not have to win all the time.  We do need to know when we need to win though.

Chris Voss draws upon years of practical field experience in dealing with hostage situations around the world to share key points about negotiation.  What he does not do is give a guidebook for how to negotiate.  Instead, he provides a few basic tools that were effective in his line of work, explains how and why they work, then provides real life examples from situations for the reader to consider.  What I found fascinating was that he explains why the worst answer the person can get is “yes” in this situation.

As educational professionals, we need to recognize that we are not always in a win – win situation.  We also need to recognize that, in key situations, we do not need to go fast. In fact, we need to slow down and listen.  In this fast-paced world of resolving issues quickly, slowing down actually makes us better at our job as we can listen, think, and process better than if we if we rush to resolve issues.

This book is full of solid, useful information backed up by key examples and descriptions.  It is not how to book though.  For the “how to” you will need to seek elsewhere.  This information provides additional tools for the toolkit when working in difficult situation.   Most importantly, the information and skills are transferrable to other situations rather than specific to anyone.

Educational professionals need to know how to negotiate and resolve conflict.  The greater the number of tools in your toolkit, the better off you are.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to improve their skills of negotiation.  Not to mention, it is just a great read overall and full of quality content.

If you want more information about Chris Voss, please see the Black Swan Group website at:

Check out his book on any of the major booksellers websites.

General Leadership School Culture

Administrators: Do You Ask Your Teachers to Review Your School Online?

It is that time of the school year.  August.  A time when schools are starting to ask their teachers if they plan on returning for the following school year.  Yes, schools are starting to ask now because the first job fairs are in mid-October.  Some schools have already asked their teachers and administrators if they are returning and decisions are being made.

What happens next?

Teachers start to explore options for their next job.  They set up their international job search files, get their references, and start to check out what jobs are popping up.  Then, they go to read the reviews that teachers from those schools have posted online.  I have been doing this myself. 

Administrators, some of your schools do not look that great online.

In this COVID influenced school year, many schools are simply struggling to get by.  There are an inordinate amount of challenges facing schools and administrations as they simply try to survive the myriad of struggles that they are facing.  Some schools do not even have enough staff in the country to open their doors in the coming weeks much less thrive in this environment.  These are all legitimate challenges.

Trust me, the job reviews sites are full of examples of international schools handling this pandemic exceedingly well, and very poorly.  There is always a significant uptick in reports at the end of a school year from departing staff.  If we are honest, those people who are most likely to report on their experience at schools are first, those who had a poor experience, second, those who had an amazing experience, and finally, the smallest group, those who want others to know what is happening there.

I always take job reviews with a grain of salt.  One has too.  The school is never as bad, nor as amazing as the review makes it sound.  Much of one’s experience at a school is a result of the individual experience with those who work in the school.  That can be high subjective in the long run.

However, one also finds commonalities in experiences with educators in schools.  For example, I have been reading about several schools that now have multiple new reports following COVID.  These schools are not receiving high marks for the quality and performance during this pandemic.  These individuals want to tell others about how bad the school has treated them as a warning to not consider this school.  A few have spoken very highly of their schools during this pandemic.  They have been very positive about their experiences.  These reviews are few and far between though.

As an administrator, how should you manage these reviews?

An administrator once told me that he wants all his teachers to review the school online.  To that end, he tells his staff at the end of the year to go online to any of the sites that review schools and review him and the program.  He said he wanted teachers to give a fair review of the school and have multiple pieces of information online about the place he led.  His reason?  The more information that was online, the more objective the picture of the school, and his leadership, would be.

Of course, this was in addition to internal monitoring of the school and end of year reflections.  As you may imagine, this was an administrator who ran a good school.  He did not worry about a large number of bad reviews.  He was comfortable reading about the school in online reviews and acting on any concerns that arose that he was not aware of.  As you may imagine, there were not many poor reviews of him or the school.

Administrators need to be comfortable in their own skin.  They need to be comfortable seeing their name online in public view as they are public figures.  The reality being, if an administrator is doing their job well, the reviews will generally be positive.  We must be comfortable knowing that not everyone likes everything we do.  If we don’t ask for feedback, it will be given in other ways that could be more harmful.

I like the idea that we ask teachers to complete online reviews of the school in public forums.  First, it gives credibility to the school.  The school gets its name out there in the public forum and other teachers can make decisions about the school based on the feedback provided.  Second, it updates what it truly happening in the school.  Many of the reviews are from years past and the school has changed significantly.  The leadership has changed, and the reviews have not been updated.  Current information allows teachers to make educated choices about their next school.  Finally, administrators gain another place for feedback about the school and their work which allows them to improve.

If you have not asked educators to provide feedback for the school in online reviews, I highly suggest that you do.  Yes, it will be scary the first time when you ask, but you will be surprised at the response.  I guarantee it will not be all bad.  The simple fact that you are willing to ask for feedback says something about your quality as an administrator of an international school.

If you have not used online review sites, I suggest the following three sites as a starting point:

International Schools Review:

International School Advisor:

International School Community:

Classroom Management COVID-19 General Leadership

Classrooms in Crisis: Could We Move Classes Outside?

Last week, I wrote about managing the physical space of a classroom in the time of COVID-19.  There are many questions we have about opening school under the current health conditions that remain unanswered.  I will return to more considerations about restarting the classroom indoors moving forward.  However, I will divert a bit to consider another option for teaching that has come to light recently which will allow us to explore other viable options for teaching out students.

Allow me to digress a moment to review where schools around the world are with re-opening plans.  Currently, there are three basic models being considered.  First, return students fully to school in classrooms with some form of distancing and safety protocols in place with a somewhat normal timetable.  Second, return to a form of online instruction for at least part of the year where students access their content online.  Third, provide some form of a hybrid model where students will learn in part face to face and in part online.  There are variations in these three models, but there are no other unique or trend setting considerations being made at this time.

As an American, I have seen President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, among others, push for students to return to the classroom.  Parents and teachers have said something similar, but with a caveat.  Students should return to full and normal school when it is safe to do so.  There are others who feel that students, around the world, should return to normal education to restart economies and learn face to face.  Some countries have demonstrated that it is safe to return to school after they addressed the concerns of COVID-19 in their country.  If we believe that we should have students return to school and do not believe it is safe to do so, then what are our options?

Consider the following option that is being considered in some schools in the United States and around the world.  While teaching outdoors may not be appropriate to your situation, it is a unique framework for discussion about options and possibilities that you could consider at your school.

Shift your classroom outdoors

A recent and by all appearances viable option for teaching students face to face in the fall is to move the classrooms outside.  Using the school grounds, parking lots, and perhaps streets, classes could be taught outside rather than inside the school.  While this is not a viable option for every school in the world based on climate, weather, or perhaps safety, a great number of schools could teach at least some of their classes outdoors starting in the fall.


This does not come from a wild brainstorming conversation, on the contrary, some schools and educators are discussing this idea as a viable option.  In fact, there are programs that already encourage schools to get their students outdoors and in nature.  Green SchoolYards America for example has encouraged schools to turn asphalt covered playgrounds into green space to play.  Green School International has schools with classrooms that do not have walls and encourages students to be taught outdoors.  Green SchoolYards has been integral in the push for moving classes outdoors during this time of COVID-19 based on research that it is safer for students to be outdoors than in with the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.  Even the push for outdoor kindergartens shows us we can teach students outdoors safely.

Facility Requirements

The greatest challenge a school will face is preparing facilities for teaching outdoors.  There will be costs involved for this shift to provide a teaching space outdoors.  Students will need some form of a roof over their head to provide shade or protect from the rain.  Students will need a place to sit and a place to write on.  Teachers will need a place to teach, perhaps a white board.  Projection and power for electronics would also need to be considered, but not necessarily provided.

Is it possible for a school to provide a teaching space, outdoors, with protection from the sun and rain where students could learn?  It is quite possible that they could.  A realistic issue would be space on the campus.  Is there enough space on the campus, if one includes the parking spaces and fields, to provide teaching areas for all students?  Could the school expand to the street in front of the school safely if needed?

This would be a significant shift in the spacing of the school and there would be costs involved.  Teachers would need to re-consider how their classroom was set up and the instruction provided.  Specific courses would need to consider how to teach subjects, such as science, band and choir, and art as well as others outside safely. 

Instruction and Learning

Teaching outside could look like instruction inside the classroom.  However, this will take the greatest shift for educators.  How do we teach our classes outdoors when we have limited materials available?  What does a lesson look like?  What materials do we use?  Do we teach the same outdoors as indoors?

These are very legitimate questions.  Teaching outdoors would not look the same as indoors.  I would put forth that it should not.  This is an opportunity to provide flipped lessons on basic content to be watched at home, then expand on the content in the classroom.  This provides us with an opportunity to return to written note-taking using standard practices such as Cornell Notes.  Each student could have their own notebook for each subject where they could write the notes, draw, color code, and practice their listening and writing skills.

Group discussions could take place about topics, obviously from a distance.  Socratic Seminars could occur at all levels.  Ideally, students would read text in advance, which is either provided in print or electronic format, then discuss it the next day.  Group discussions and work could take on a whole new meaning and value in this setting.

Creativity would be needed to determine how to best teach in this setting.  Each teacher would need to determine how the class looks for them.  It is important to note that teachers are not in this alone though.  There are amazing teachers in the district who can support each other to provide high quality content and ideas for others.  Subject area educators should work to support each other at all levels.  It will be a challenge, but it can be done.

Basic Needs

Food, water, shelter, toilets, and social and emotional well being are the areas that will be most relevant for our classes.  Food delivery for lunch from the kitchen is an option that most schools are mostly set up for.  In my experience, most food comes to the school pre-packaged and is heated on site.  It is then put out for students to pick up.  Food could be delivered to a class site, or students could go get food at a specific site.

Water bottles should be required at school.  Each student should have their own bottle that is labeled and left at school.  It would be filled first thing in the morning and then some method for re-filling should be provided.  These will need to be cleaned at least once a week.

Shelter, as mentioned in the facilities requirements section, would need to be provided.  Sunshade and protection from the rain would need to be purchased in the form of tents.  On days of severe weather, the classes could have a flipped school day where students stay at home and work online, or complete assigned homework or study.

Toilets.  In my opinion, students using the toilets in the building will cause minimal concern for health and safety.  Limit the number of students in the building and then close the lids before flushing to minimize overspray.  Something we should be doing anyways.  Simply do not allow large groups in the toilets at any one time.

Social and Emotional health and well being will be our greatest area of concern.  Some of our students are not in safe environments.  They may be physically threatened.  They may suffer mental abuse.  They may simply not have enough food to eat.  We need to be hyper aware of this issue and plan to address it and not increase the concerns when students are at school.  Additional counseling team support should be available as school returns to live teaching.

Staff Conflicts to Teaching Outdoors

There are some teachers who will state that they can not teach outdoors.  There will also be contractual issues that arise that will need to be addressed.  School education associations and unions will need to sit down with administration and work together to resolve these issues.  There will be concerns that must be addressed on both sides.  However, I genuinely believe if both groups work together to resolve these issues in creative ways while collaboratively resolving issues, it can work.

These are unique times.  They require creative and unique responses.  What they do not require are those teachers who simply state they can not teach outside because they do not want to.  That is not a real option, that is a positional statement.  How can you teach outside?  What in your contract prevents you from teaching outdoors?  These are administrative level issues that can be resolved.

Teachers must realize that we are addressing issues that we have not dealt with in over 100 years.  Yes, you can teach outside.  Just because you may not have your computer, projector, and PowerPoints does not mean you cannot teach.  In fact, I would argue that you could do some of your best teaching in this new environment and break free of the constraints of technology that have held you back.  If it is just because you do not want to, well, you could teach in the classroom or online.

Challenges to Teaching Outdoors

There are no simple answers to shifting entire schools outdoors.  Elementary schools would have very different issues that secondary.  Some schools will have significant weather issues such as heat and cold or storms.  Bad air quality is a reality for my school.  Some schools simply do not have the space to have all their classes outside on campus.  What about transitioning students from class to class?  Can we get Wi-Fi boosters and routers outdoors?  Will we use technology and if so, how will we charge them?  Teachers will complain.  Parents will complain. Community members will complain.  Students will complain. There will be normal student issues.  There will be new issues.  It will not be the same as teaching inside.  And these are just a few of the issues that will arise.

One issue that has not been addressed is school safety, which would be a legitimate challenge.  Outside events could happen.  Students could leave.  These are all known events and have already been planned for by most schools with clear responses already prepared.  However, it would behoove a school to give serious consideration to how their school safety might look.  For example, a school in Alaska that has issues with bears would have a very different response than a school in downtown New York.  This is also an area where facts must precede public opinion about safety.  I would put forth that, with certain exceptions, an outdoor program could be run safely.

Making the shift to outdoors would be the greatest hurdle to overcome.  There would be resistance to any plan such as this.  However, if we can show that the benefits outweigh the challenges or negatives, it is a viable possibility.

In Conclusion

There are no good answers to starting school in the fall and the above items just scratch the surface.  A great many changes need to happen to make schoolwork in the fall and all should be considered.  Everything should be on the table as an option for what school changes might occur in the next months.  The idea of opening school’s outdoors is just one option to consider.  The framework of how to do it and challenges is like any other option provided.  I hope that your school district is considering opening school in a safe, science-based manner in the fall.

Classroom Management General Leadership

Classrooms in Crisis: Manage the Physical Space First

What does your classroom look like in the fall when you return?  Will you return to a classroom with half the students?  Will you teach fully online?  Fully live?  A hybrid model?  Will you have to address the issue of a 2-meter distance between each desk and each student?  How will you teach group work?  Will you have barriers in place around each desk and workspace?  Will students wear masks all the time?  Will you school take care of your own health and safety needs? 

These are just a few of the questions that teachers are asking right now as they prepare to return to school.  They are legitimate and important questions to ask.  However, they only address part of the problem that will be in place in some schools when students return.  It is important that we take time to rationally think through what our fall classes will look like to be the best managers of our classroom space.

As I look at classroom management, it is not just a set of rules and consequences that one puts in place to ensure discipline.  For me, classroom management is everything that you as an educator do to ensure the class runs smoothly, procedures are clearly in place, and the students feel safe and build positive healthy relationships.  A well-managed class allows the teacher to provide instruction, address issues as they arise, and transition more effectively from one part of the class to the next in as smooth a manner as possible.  To that end, let us look at your classroom as you may be teaching in the fall.

First, it is important to acknowledge a few very vital issues.  Much of your classroom set up may be out of your control based on the school policies that will be implemented for health and safety reasons.  The number of students you teach, and whether you teach live, online, or a hybrid class will also be out of your control.  There will be fear about the return to the classroom that will impact how you teach on your return.  Finally, there will be a high possibility that you will transition from live to online teaching at least once during the school year.  Much of this will be out of your control, but you can plan for it now.  So, how can we prepare for the uncertainty of the Fall?

Manage your classroom space first.

Your teaching space will be dictated by the health and safety requirements of your district.  I realize that this seems ominous to consider since your classroom is probably too small for all your students to physically distance.  If we dwell on this basic issue, we will never move forward.  So, acknowledge it, and work with what you have.  Make sure you document this and address it with the administration and save this information and any responses for late.  Now, let us move on.

What can you do in your space?  How many students will you have?  Will they have their own materials?  Will they have isolation or cubby type structures that are physical barriers?  Will the class look welcoming?  Will they be sitting in row?  Facing the wall? 1 or 2 meters apart?  How close can you get to them?

I would strongly suggest you draw a map of your classroom on larger paper to get a sense of what the room looks like.  Include all the desks, any group teaching space, and where you will teach. Also include doors, storage, power outlets, water faucets, and toilets if they are in the room.  Last year, these could be afterthoughts, but this year, you need to consider everything.

Here are some questions to ask about the physical movement in the classroom by your students:

  • How and where will students enter the room?
  • Where will students store their items when they enter the room?
  • Once in the room, are students allowed to move about or will they be required to sit down at their desk?
  • Are all students able to see the teaching area?
  • Is your teaching area or desk cluttered and a distraction or tidy and organized?
  • Does the physical space feel inviting or isolating?
  • Do the students have their own material at their desk?
  • How does a student get water once at their desk?
  • How does a student go to the toilet if necessary?
  • How does a student sharpen a pencil or get a new pen if needed?
  • What if a student can not see what is written where do they move?
  • What if a student has a question how do they ask it?
  • Will electronic devices be used during class?  Where will they be stored?  How will they be used?  How will they be monitored?  How will they be cleaned?
  • How will students transition in and out of the space during normal times of movement to lunch and recess?
  • How and where will you teach the class?
  • Does every student have a line of sight to the teaching space?
  • Will you teach in small group settings?
  • How will you move about the room to check students based on distancing?
  • If you must teach both live and online, where will you place the camera?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself about your teaching space as it will be vastly different than last year.  If possible, walk through your room like a student.  Enter as they would.  Sit in their space.  Think like a student.  Think like your best student, your most challenging mobile student, your quiet introverted student, and your most extroverted student.  Then, plan based on what you know about each of them.  This year will require a great deal more planning than in previous years.

The physical space of the classroom sets the tone for the students as they enter the door.  Remember, they may be excited to return as they have been isolated for months.  They may be nervous about catching COVID-19.  They may have been in exceedingly difficult situations socially based on their home life.  Every one of them will be in your class and they need to feel welcomed.

The class will not be the same.  You will be required to manage the space differently.  This is the first step in effectively managing your classroom space, addressing the physical area.  You cannot return to what you did before because students will return under vastly different conditions than before.  It is imperative that you spend time considering the physical layout, travel patterns, and issues with the space of the classroom before you can move on to addressing student needs.

In future writings, I will discuss other considerations for the management of the classroom from my perspective as an active educator working in a classroom space.  Until then, please continue to add constructive thoughts to the conversation for the safety of our students. 

As a side note, if your school administration or district are not providing for the health and safety needs of your physical space, you need to document this, report it through the proper chain of command, and keep copies of everything.  Your health and safety are also a priority as is the students.  I fear that this year will be one of litigation based on the spread of the coronavirus in schools and teachers will bear the brunt of these issues.  Protect yourself legally and, if these concerns are not being addressed, use the proper legal means to find an appropriate resolution.

If this interests you, please take a look at other writings on this site or #classroomsincrisis articles at

General Leadership Instructional Leadership Technology Use

Classrooms in Crisis: COVID-19

          Education is facing one of the greatest disruptions it has faced in recent year.  The COVID – 19, the coronavirus, has forced schools to go from standard classroom teaching practices to fully flipped classrooms.  Instead of using technology
for classroom support, technology is now the teaching tool.  This is changing the face of education at a rapid pace.

          Most educators have never experienced this level of disruption to their craft.  If truth be told, they are still working with models from an age gone by.  The skills
required for the students of tomorrow are here today.  More importantly, educators are faced with the reality that the skills they like to talk about, are now skills required of

          We, as educators, love to talk about how we are forward thinking, using technology as an educational tool, and teaching skills of tomorrow.  Now, with the discussions going through many social media sites, classrooms are severely disrupted and in crisis.  The technology available that is supposedly so widely used is now the same technology that many realize they only use at a superficial level.  Never before have teachers had to face the challenge of using technology to flip classrooms as
the only method for teaching.  The façade of technology use has become apparent.

          There are those who have said that the classroom can be replaced by technology and teachers presenting material online.  Right now, that hypothesis is being tested in real world labs across Asia and soon to be other parts of the world.  Students are isolated in their homes, learning via computer and schooling themselves.  Many are
struggling with the technology, struggling with online learning, struggling with isolation from their peers and human support.  No technology can replace a real person and the
relationships formed in the classroom.

          The question then becomes will this experiment work or fail?  Those who say education can be done using a computer and online education have the opportunity to see the results in real time across a large number of schools.  What will we learn
and take from this?  What will be the benefits of the flipped classroom at this scale?  What learnings will educators take from this so that they are better prepared to teach using technology is this setting?  What skills must truly be taught to students so that they could be successful in this environment?  Or will education simply write this off as an anomaly and do nothing to shift to the future?  What will we learn from this disruption?  These classrooms in crisis with significant academic assessments bearing down on them?

          I would love to hear your thoughts.  Are we going to be better off as educators because of this significant disruption to our lives?  Will our student?  Or will we simply return to the status quo when this crisis ends?

#classroomsincrisis #education #teaching #classroommanagement

Check out this post and more at:

General Leadership Instructional Leadership Technology Use

Educationally Disrupted by COVID-19

          Education is facing one of the greatest disruptions it has faced in recent year.  The COVID – 19, the coronavirus, has forced schools to go from standard classroom teaching practices to fully flipped classrooms.  Instead of using technology for classroom support, technology is now the teaching tool.  This is changing the face of education at a rapid pace.

          Most educators have never experienced this level of disruption to their craft.  If truth be told, they are still working with models from an age gone by.  The skills required for the students of tomorrow are here today.  More importantly, educators are faced with the reality that the skills they like to talk about, are now skills required of them.

          We, as educators, love to talk about how we are forward thinking, using technology as an educational tool, and teaching skills of tomorrow.  Now, with the discussions going through many social media sites, classrooms are severely disrupted and in crisis.  The technology available that is supposedly so widely used is now the same technology that many realize they only use at a superficial level.  Never before have teachers had to face the challenge of using technology to flip classrooms as the only method for teaching.  The façade of technology use has become apparent.

          There are those who have said that the classroom can be replaced by technology and teachers presenting material online.  Right now, that hypothesis is being tested in real world labs across Asia and soon to be other parts of the world.  Students are isolated in their homes, learning via computer and schooling themselves.  Many are struggling with the technology, struggling with online learning, struggling with isolation from their peers and human support.  No technology can replace a real person and the relationships formed in the classroom.

          The question then becomes will this experiment work or fail?  Those who say education can be done using a computer and online education have the opportunity to see the results in real time across a large number of schools.  What will we learn and take from this?  What will be the benefits of the flipped classroom at this scale?  What learnings will educators take from this so that they are better prepared to teach using technology is this setting?  What skills must truly be taught to students so that they could be successful in this environment?  Or will education simply write this off as an anomaly and do nothing to shift to the future?  What will we learn from this disruption?  These classrooms in crisis with significant academic assessments bearing down on them?

          I would love to hear your thoughts.  Are we going to be better off as educators because of this significant disruption to our lives?  Will our student?  Or will we simply return to the status quo when this crisis ends?

In light of the worldwide impact of the virus on schools and students, how do we respond as leaders to the rapidly changing face of education? Real life technology use is upon us today. Are we ready for it? How will you view professional development differently in the future as a result? What can you do to prepare for next time?

General Leadership Uncategorized

Work / Life Balance

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Simon Sinek

As educators, we are always looking for ways to create balance in our lives with the amount of work we put into our positions and the amount of ‘living’ we do outside of school.  I wish I could say I have a magic formula and solution to this quandary, but I amel human, and honestly, there is no perfect formula for work/life balance. I have two children, a partner, and I work full time.  I have my days and weeks (and months) where I barely know what is up and what is down. But, as I get older and wiser, I am realizing that the daily grind and sacrifices that I have allowed work to take over in my life is a problem. And I have begun to re-invent the way I look at my career, happiness, and health. 

Simon Sinek eloquently speaks about stress versus passion, I have decided that I am passionate about my own health. When I am healthy, everything around me seems to flow with more clarity and I tend to make fewer mistakes.  Even on days where there are crises, I am able to clearly look at the problems and come up with quick and effective solutions. When I do not take care of myself, my job starts to feel more difficult and grueling and I am not the best mother and partner that I can be.

Forbes shared an article about top tips in work-balance, many of which I grasped when seeing that my happiness level in my job was decreasing and my effectiveness and positivity at home was plummeting (  I decided that no one else was going to change something in my life to make it better. My school was not going to give up many of the initiatives or expectations that they have.  My family was not going to start doing everything for me to make me feel better. I had to be the one to change, and the first thing I did was make me and my health a priority.

I used to exercise when I could fit into my schedule or at times that I preferred, such as mornings.  When I had a friend continuously ask me to take a walk with her or take laps in the pool together after school, I often said “No, that is not a good time for me to workout, I like to workout before school.”  Many mornings, I did not want to get up to workout and I was missing the opportunity to have someone to workout with. So, instead, I started to say “Yes.” She began asking me to join her for hikes and I said “Yes.”  When we begin to say yes to healthy things that help us connect, good things start to happen.

Seeing the positive results from prioritizing health, I began to set new goals for myself.  I put mindfulness and yoga into my weekly schedule. I picked up a few new hobbies or activities such as pottery and glass cutting. These activities are a positive outlet for my stress and keep me grounded to always remember the things that are important to me.  

I must say, I am more positive, feel healthier, and I enjoy my job more because of these changes.  I still work some long hours and have some stressful periods of time, but I more clear-headed and have more to look forward to when I am not at work.  

Check out the following articles to help you on your journey to finding more health and happiness in life:

8 Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today:

6 Tips For Better Work-Life Balance:

Grappling with Work-Life Balance:

General Leadership

Dealing with Loss

We wanted to tell you all at once before we told the rest of the staff that your friend has died.

Those are about the hardest words a person can hear.  Questions arise.  Emotional turmoil and internal struggle ensues.  One can run the gamut of emotion in one day for no external reason whatsoever.  The loss of a friend, especially when one is overseas, is hard.

Your father is dead.

At no point is the loss of a family member easy.  The loss of a father is impacting, emotional, and can be crushing.  The same emotions arise as with the loss of a friend.  They are that much more impacting though because it is a family member.  When one is overseas, it is so much harder to deal with because the first thought is a return home to be with one’s family. 

On October 28, 2019, I learned of the passing of a very good friend and colleague who was teaching with me overseas.  Two weeks later, on November 7th, my father passed away. 

I consider myself an emotionally strong person.  As an educator, I handle most things that come at me well.  I know that I am generally good in crisis or high emotional situations.  I am not a person who gets rattle easily.  This has been one of the hardest seasons in my life for me personally.  What most people don’t know, I was shattered inside.

The only people who had a real sense of what was going on with me emotionally were my wife and close family, a few very close friends most of which who were not where I was teaching, and the counselor at school.  For everyone else, I had to put up a façade and smile on the outside while inside I was questioning so many things and hurting.  As I write this, the pain is still very real.

Dealing with the loss of a friend, loved one, or family member is difficult under the best of circumstances.  Dealing with the loss when one overseas can be crippling.  I put together a list of items that we had to address dealing with our friend who passed overseas.  Consider these for yourself and how you as a person or school might answer them if someone passes where you are:

  • Do you have a will?
  • Do you have a Do Not Resuscitate certificate in the native language (if those are your wishes)?
  • How do you want the body handled?  Cremation?  Sent Home?
  • What does insurance pay and what is out of pocket?
  • What governmental bodies do you need to talk to if a staff member of friend passes?  What are the laws that come into play in this situation?
  • What is the bereavement leave policy and is it sufficient to address the needs of the person who is suffering the loss?
  • Who will be the support system for the person who is suffering loss?  Foreign Staff?  Local Staff?
  • How will a memorial be arranged?  For the family?  For the staff?  For the school and community?
  • What counseling resources are available and on hand for the school community?
  • What is the school policy on honoring contracts for family members that remain in the community?  Will the contracts be enforce or will the staff be allowed to be released?
  • What are the long – term supports for the staff member moving forward?

These, and many other questions, arose during the time we addressed the passing of our friend.  In addition to the above questions, if the family member who passed is overseas, a few more questions should be considered:

  • What is the bereavement policy for taking leave to travel overseas?
  • Who pays for flights for travel?
  • What support does the teacher need at school during this time?
  • Who is caring for the family and children?  What care is needed?

Again, these and many more questions arise.  It is a very difficult time in the lives of people when a loved one passes.  With so many questions that arise and the struggle of dealing with the emotions is real.  And every person deals with grief differently.

Finally, how do you support the people who are supporting the caregivers?  When my friend passed, I found myself supporting both the family and the caregivers.  We were a strong, small network who worked together to get through it all.  When my father passed, I only told them and my administrators.  The only reason was because my friends memorial was the weekend right after my father passed.  And, I had jobs to do which I simply had to finish.

We often forget that, in the midst of our struggle and dealing with loss, we have to do our job.  We have to teach and lead.  We have to be strong for others, make decisions, and do the day to day job of teaching.  We have to put on a work face and do the work we have to do.  And when the memorials have been taken down and memories fade about the loss, we have to remember that those who have lost loved ones are still grieving and need our support.

The loss of someone close to us is hard.  The loss of someone overseas can be that much harder.  As a school, we are the support system for our staff family.  As difficult as it is, we need to talk about how we would handle the loss of a staff member or extended family and plan for it. 

I used to think that I had a good handle on how to address loss as I have dealt with loss of friend before.  I have learned that I don’t have as a good a handle on it as I thought after dealing with loss firsthand while overseas.  Please talk with your leadership about how you will deal with loss in your own school or organization.  Because you never know when your community may need to support someone who has lost a loved on.