I am coming to the realization that blogging and being a school leader are activities that are sometimes not compatible. This is not meant to be an excuse for my lack of posts this term. It is just to say that my focus has been on learning and developing in my new role.
As we enter into the final weeks of the school year, the energy level around the school increases. Our 12th Graders are finishing their exams and approaching a real milestone in their lives; graduation. Teachers and students are busy finishing units and assessing learning achievements for the school year. In addition, performances, show cases and exhibitions fill afternoons, as students display aspects of their learning in a number of disciplines.
With all that is going on, I feel it is important for our students to be mindful of this moment in time. Realizing that friends will be parting for the summer or much longer than that, it is important to enjoy this time together. However, it is also a chance to finish the school year on a positive note; pushing yourself to exert every effort to do your best. I witnessed many examples of students doing that at Primary Sports Day today, and the same can be achieved in every subject and activity.
I wish everyone a strong finish!
After a wonderful Fall Term of parental leave with my children, I returned to SIS this week and began my new role as whole school principal. For more than 5 years as Primary School Principal, starting each morning at the entrance of main building and greeting students and parents has always been a highlight of my work day. After several months away, returning to SIS this Tuesday morning was particularly special. Seeing the smiling familiar faces again, and meeting new students and parents reminded me how much I enjoy our friendly school environment. Although I am adjusting to being back at work and slowly settling into a new role, it is nice to receive such a warm welcoming return to SIS. I am certainly looking forward to this new term ahead with the SIS family!
In the Primary School at SIS our Spring Term Parent conferences are designed to allow students to take on a leadership role in informing their parents about their learning. There are several reason why we have adopted this format for our 2nd Term conferences, however one reason stands out. The reason being that this type of conference empowers our students to take ownership of, pride in and responsibility for their learning. Students spend time before their conference reflecting on their learning. They might select pieces of work to show to their parents. They might also rehearse what they are going to say at the conference by developing a script with their teacher’s support. Of course the level of autonomy and independence given is adjusted to meet the student’s age and ability. However, our intent is to provide our students with as much freedom as possible, as exemplified by having students conduct the conference in their mother tongue if they are more comfortable doing that. The goal is to reinforce our school’s philosophy of student centered learning in a powerful and practical way.
How can we help children become more self-aware, more confident, more attentive and focused, less distractible and more “present” in the classroom?
The concept of mindfulness and the skills it helps develop are topics we have been exploring this academic year at SIS. Our focus on these concepts was kicked off before the academic year began, with our teachers participating in a mindfulness presentation during an in-service day. We have also spent this past month’s Professional Learning Community meetings digging deeper into this topic; with several teachers going as far as video recording a mindfulness exercises they performed with their students and then sharing those videos with the group. However, we began looking deeper into this topic by reading and discussing several current articles. I have included links to those articles below, as they do a much better job of explaining this concept than I can.
For the rest of this blog post, I would like to share with you one of the reasons I believe mindfulness, or the practice of being more present, is an essential 21st Century skill. Our students are growing up in an information rich world. Some could argue it is a world of information overload. Many of our students carry devices enabling them constant connectivity to a wealth of information and/or distraction. This is not something negative in and of itself. However in this world, how do we teach our students to be independent thinkers, to challenge themselves to take the time to solve a problem without relying on Google? How do we give them the skills to be able to “turn off” the constant stream of input, and master the ability to focus their attention on their own consciousness? The concept of mindfulness is nothing new, but I think the ability to clear one’s mind and pay attention to the present will be an extremely valuable skill for our students to possess.
And just to clarify any misunderstandings, I do not see students sitting in the lotus position while meditating for an hour as the only type of exercise to develop mindfulness. There are a wide variety of activities which develop mindfulness skills, as explained in the articles below, and many of them can be used at home as well as at school. So, I welcome you to read the articles and hope you are inspired to take a moment to reflect about your own ideas and ability to be more present in your own lives.
And a TED Talk
Having recently returned from the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) annual teachers conference, I would like to share my thoughts about a particular topic that was of major focus. This topic was how we as educators can engage students in service learning experiences. For us at SIS, this is a timely topic as we are in the beginnings of developing our Nepal Project campaign as a whole school community, multi-faceted service learning project. This prompted me to reflect on how we in the Primary section of SIS engage our students in service learning and how challenging it is to create meaningful activities for students who’s ages range from 3 to 12 years of age.
In reflecting on this topic, two opinions have become clearer to me. Firstly as with many issues in life, opinion varies greatly in regards to what constitutes a meaningful and appropriate service learning activity. At SIS we plan to address this issue by initiating a number of activities over the course of the school year. By providing our students with multiple and varied opportunities to participate in service learning, we can at least expose our students to different ways of helping others. Secondly, I was struck by how profoundly lucky and fortunate the majority of the members of our school community, myself included, are. We have the luxury of debating the merits of this charitable activity or that. After watching images presented to us at the ECIS conference of orphans in places such as Romania and South Sudan, it was hard for me to feel motivated to discuss differences in opinion in how best to engage our privileged children in service activities.
However, I do not wish to sound negative or dismissive. That members of our community have diverse opinions on how to best engage our students can be extremely positive. I believe as a school community, we must encourage students, parents and teachers to not only participate in constructive dialog, but to put their ideas into action.
Should Primary school age students have homework?
If not, why not?
If so, what purpose should it serve?
Also what should it look like, how much is appropriate and what effect does homework have on student learning and/or wellbeing?
This past week, many of our homeroom teachers took time to discuss the issue of homework. Using the forum of their Professional Learning Communities, our teachers shared ideas from four articles as inspiration for discussion. You might be surprised, but even among educators, the concept of homework is highly debatable. This stems not only from their experiences of homework as a teacher, but also as students.
I will return to this topic in a post later this month. However, I would invite readers to comment on this post with their views, experiences or answers to the questions posed.