Welcome to Learning @ ISB!

Welcome to the learning at ISB blog! We’ve been pretty quiet the last 2 years, but we’re back and excited to continue sharing learning at its best at ISB.

At least twice per month, we’ll be publishing posts written by ISB educators sharing their thoughts & reflections on learning. Have an idea for a guest post? Let us know! Want to get inspiration delivered to your inbox? Enter your email on the right to subscribe! [Make sure to keep an eye on your ‘Other’ inbox tab for the emails!]

Have thoughts about something you read on this blog? We love comments! Feel free to leave your thoughts here or come chat with us in person.

As we relaunch this blog, we wanted to introduce Learning at its Best and our principles & approaches of learning. You probably have one of these posters up in your classroom or have seen them around the school. All of our blog posts will be written through these lenses. Want to dive deeper into one area? Check out the categories on the right to begin exploring!

Learning at its Best

ISB’s principles of learning provide a research-based foundation for how students learn best and insight into what makes our learning environments most effective. ISB’s Learning Principles are based on Tripod’s 7C framework of effective teaching: Care, Challenge, Confer, Clarify, Captivate, Consolidate, Collaborate, Classroom Management.

The approaches of learning are integral to how we design learning experiences at ISB, guiding our instructional practices.

Social-Emotional Learning – Research shows that explicitly teaching social and emotional skills increases student well-being, enhances positive behavior, reduces crises, and enhances academic achievement. A focus on social-emotional learning also creates a safe, positive school culture. At ISB, we prioritize building relationships and want every student to feel cared for every day. Our Social-Emotional Framework supports students in developing self-awareness, self-management, social and cultural competence, nurturing relationships, and taking purposeful action.

Personalized Learning – At ISB, we believe in a progressively learner-driven model of personalized learning to facilitate student ownership of the learning process and provide student voice and choice in their learning. We empower students to build strong relationships, leverage their interests, and assess their strengths and areas for growth to engage in deep, relevant learning.

Service Learning – Service Learning is infused into the curriculum and across the co-curricular program at ISB. It is a relevant learning journey that integrates meaningful action with instruction and reflection. We believe that Service Learning develops compassion and empathy, strengthens communities, and nurtures a global mindset.

C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework – The community at ISB is culturally & linguistically diverse, and we aim to serve our emergent bilingual and multilingual students so that they are able to access grade-level standards regardless of language proficiency. The C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework supports faculty in creating culturally responsive lessons that celebrate the diversity of our students.

Inquiry Pathway – At ISB, we empower students to ask questions, think critically, and reflect. Based on provocations and real-world phenomenon, students see & think, wonder & question, investigate & explore, make meaning & find patterns, and explain & construct arguments.

Design Process – Solutions to the problems of the world do not exist in silos and neither should learning. Students at ISB are given the opportunity to use design-thinking to create connections between traditional curricular areas and build empathy while solving real-world, authentic problems.


We hope you’re as excited as we are for this blog to be active again! Next week, keep your eyes open for a post from Angie (MS/HS Math Instructional Coach) with a focus on Challenge. Even better, get her post delivered to your email as soon as it’s published by subscribing on the right! After you subscribe, look in your email to confirm your subscription.

Team Collaboration for Online Learning

From the onset of COVID-19, we’ve learned that our current context can change overnight, and while we’re all aware of this, the constant changes and not knowing makes a transition to online learning especially disruptive. Working online means adapting to a new environment, battling a new set of challenges, and if working from home, the fusion of work and home life. In order to continue working efficiently and creating value under these new circumstances, we need to understand, accept, and support one other’s specific situations and needs. 

Whether we are in a position to work from school or home during a period of online learning, it is important for teams to consider how the way we work and collaborate might change as a result. If we need to transition to online learning at any point during the year, I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to work together in the “usual” way in the months prior. It takes time for a new team to “gel” and work to its full potential, and having had this time together as a team, you’ve established norms and working agreements and you’re likely well into the progression of team development.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 paper, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Forming, norming, storming, and performing in an offline environment is different to that of an online environment and to ensure your team is adequately prepared for a transition to online and a change to the way you collaborate, you may need to revisit some fundamental questions about who you are and what you are trying to do. 

I came across this Edutopia article, Four Guiding Questions for Effective Remote Collaboration by Zachary Herrmann, last year when we were preparing to transition to online learning over the winter break. Some of you might remember employing the four guiding questions to support your team’s transition:

  1. What is our team’s purpose?
  2. Who is on our team and what are our roles and responsibilities? 
  3. How does our team work together? 
  4. How does our team take pride in its work?

It is likely that most, if not all of these will change as a result of a transition to online learning, and while your team might be in a good place in its current setting, the stress and anxiety associated with online learning, can break down established systems and structures that have worked well for the team in the past. 

Purpose 

I think we can all agree that, in an online environment, it is impossible to replicate exactly what we would do if we had students on campus. With this, it is important for teams to recalibrate their purpose to ensure that they’re working on the right things at the right time. How have the team’s goals changed and how will you measure success? When we first shifted to online learning in February, 2020, without knowing how long the situation would last, we prioritized academics and a continuation of what would have happened had we been on campus. On reflection, our purpose had changed and until we were able to identify that, we were not in a position to talk about strategy and action. 

People 

Most teams at ISB will have agreements around who is responsible for what. This might be reflected in the responsibilities of a course or unit lead in Middle or High School or a Subject Area Representative (SAR) in the Elementary School, for example. In an online environment we shift to a more blended approach, with synchronous learning supported by asynchronous content housed on DX or Seesaw. How might the roles and responsibilities on your team shift as a result of this? Having a candid conversation about how team members’ efforts should be reallocated and how different duties may need to be assigned will be critical to team success.

You’ll also be collaborating with coaches, coordinators and facilitators in different ways than what you might when students are on campus. How might your team leverage the support of these people to identify high quality learning materials and ideas for online learning? 

Process

Even if we are in a position to work from campus, this does not guarantee that all team members will be able to do so. Last year we were lucky enough to have faculty children on campus, but after only a few weeks, this was no longer an option. This meant that those with children had the option to work from home. Whether you have one team member or the entire team working remotely, it is important to reestablish how you will communicate, share resources, make decisions, and how you will report on progress in this new working environment. 

Pride 

We’ve had time to build positive team culture in the on-campus setting, but how does this change in the online setting? Take time to consider what your team’s rituals and traditions might look like and how you will maintain that sense of pride and belonging. An online meeting as a team can be tough after a full day of teaching – how might your team achieve the outcomes for your work while connecting with each other as people? 

The Harvard Business Review article, 4 Tips for Effective Virtual Collaboration, summarizes the purpose behind team collaboration in an online environment well: “It’s to make sure that you and your team are aligned on your goals and most effectively moving ahead in accomplishing them. You can collaborate effectively from far apart, even when you have an incredible amount to do, if you collaborate with intention and focus” (HBR, 2021).

It’s right for us to be preparing for a transition to online learning, but let’s cross fingers and toes that we don’t have to!

 

REFERENCES

Herrmann, Z. (2020, April 17). 4 guiding questions for effective remote collaboration. Edutopia. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-guiding-questions-effective-remote-collaboration. 

Tuckman, B.W. (1965). ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,’ Psychological Bulletin, 63(6). Available here.

4 tips for effective virtual collaboration. Harvard Business Review. (2021, August 27). Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2020/10/4-tips-for-effective-virtual-collaboration. 

Appropriate Challenge and the ZPD

While we all love a good acronym, it can be frustrating when they get thrown around and you feel like you are not in the know.  Chances are, however, even if you don’t know what ZPD is off the top of your head, you probably think about it in the context of your classroom all the time.

ZPD is short for Zone of Proximal Development, which was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s and was elaborated on until his death in 1934.  The ZPD is used to describe the distance between what a child can do independently and what they can do with the assistance of a more knowledgeable partner (Eun, 2019).  That more knowledgeable partner could be the teacher, a peer, or even an interactive computer program.  The ZPD is the basis for a lot of our current scaffolding practices such as simplifying a task, monitoring ongoing performance, and adjusting the level of assistance provided.  We can also see the influence of the ZPD when we use graphic organizers to support student thinking, help them choose a “just right” book to read, or reference the learning continuum from student Map results to target learning.  The ZPD goes beyond scaffolding, however, framing student-teacher collaboration and negotiation as a bilateral process as opposed to something that is always done by the teacher.  Finding appropriate challenge and thus avoiding boredom and confusion and the subsequent distraction, frustration, and lack of motivation, is thus a shared responsibility.

Closely tied to the concept of a ZPD are social practices associated with learning, both in and out of the classroom.  Vygotsky believed that learning was a process of knowledge co-construction and becoming a member of a community, reframing learning to be more than just an accumulation of knowledge (Renshaw, 1998), but rather a property of the interaction between the students and the learning environment (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  In our classrooms students are learning more than just the content we teach, they are learning the vocabulary and ways of talking about the different subject areas, they are learning to communicate and verify different knowledge claims, and they are learning the values and beliefs that form the implicit and explicit features of our community culture.  Knowledge and abilities are dynamic and are the result of a student’s history and social interactions in the world and we all come to master our cognitive functions in unique ways and through participation in different activities and cultures.  Thinking through the lens of the ZPD can give us another way to think about developing cultural objectives that are meaningful for our students and how they see themselves and form their identities in the various content areas they move in and out of throughout the day.

When we think about learning and the ZPD it is easy to see how students learn through the support of a more knowledgeable peer, but this social component of learning is supportive for the development of the higher mental functions of both students (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  The collaboration provides a space for the more knowledgeable student to reflect and make concepts explicit in their thinking.  These roles often evolve as well, with students taking on different roles at different points in their learning.

So what role do I play as a teacher?  Think of students not as just separate individuals in the same place at the same time.  Rather they should be engaged in a collaborative activity that fulfils a specific goal where the ZPD is created based on the need for collaboration and assistance to make progress toward that goal.  The teacher’s role is thus facilitating the interrelated zones of students as they take control of their own learning.  We are on a continuous journey with our students as they progress through different and evolving zones and make sense of the world.  Vygotsky said it well, suggesting that teachers must be focusing “not on yesterday’s development in the child buy on tomorrow’s” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211).

References

Eun, B. (2019). The zone of proximal development as an overarching concept: A framework for synthesizing Vygotsky’s theories. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 18-30.

Renshaw, P. (1998). Sociocultural pedagogy for new times: Reframing key concepts. The Australian Educational Researcher25(3), 83-100.

Shabani, K., Khatib, M., & Ebadi, S. (2010). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development: Instructional implications and teachers’ professional development. English language teaching3(4), 237-248.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (eds.)., The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 1. Problems of general psychology (pp. 39-285).. New York: Plenum.

A Plea for Positive Education in Schools

Author: Simon Zopfi, HS PE Teacher

 

 

 

The rise of positive psychology

“Dr. Seligman, how would you describe the state of the field of psychology today?” “Good.” “Okay, Dr. Seligman, that won’t do. We better give you two words…” “Not good.”

“Look, Dr. Seligman, we can see you’re not comfortable in this medium. The best we can do is give you three words…” “Not good enough.”

Dr. Seligman, the Head of the American Psychological Association at the time describes his interaction during an interview with CNN in his TED talk about Positive Psychology in 2004.

Until the late 1990’s psychology was the science of finding out “what’s wrong with you” and trying to get people from a constant state of suffering into a state of coping with everyday life.

A lot has changed over the last 20 or so years. Psychology still concerns itself with relieving suffering but the field has expanded further into the science behind human flourishing. Dr. Seligman himself launched the era of positive psychology in 1998 when taking on the role of Head of the APA and stood at the foundation of the development and implementation of his work in schools, calling it “Positive Education,” working with and living on campus of Geelong Grammar School (GGS) in Sydney for 6 months.

Researchers and teachers put their heads together and developed the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education. A science-informed framework that outlines and guides the usage of positive education in schools. The foundation of the framework is built on students’ and staff’s character strengths, linked with 6 different areas being positive relationships, positive emotions, positive health, positive engagement, positive accomplishment and positive purpose. The outer layer encourages anyone to learn about Pos Ed, embed its theories in everyday practices and live its philosophy by paying it forward.

By no means is this the only model out there, nor is it claiming that the implementation in our work happens through this framework alone. Outstanding educators and people are highly likely to already apply many elements of Positive Education in and beyond their teaching spaces. Positive Education is also not the same as “happiology” yet recognizes life’s challenges, ups and downs and the struggle in search for meaning.

Positive Education in Schools

Schools can be stressful environments for both staff and students. Getting through piles of paperwork, lesson preparations and staff meetings can overload the systems on the regular.

Navigating the social landscape as a developing adolescent of friendships and first loves while submitting assignments, taking assessments, dealing with not making the school’s varsity team while deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life, are experiences that most students go through too.

 

Positive Education might be the light at, what sometimes feels like, the end of a long tunnel. Positive relations can be built in classrooms, hallways and meetings if we are more aware in our conversations and use active constructive responding. We create a more pleasant learning environment if we focus on people’s character strengths and the areas that they shine brightest in. Teaching about neuroplasticity will help students understand and believe in the moldability of their capabilities. This will in turn nurture a growth mindset and the development of grit, paving the way for positive accomplishment.

Positive accomplishment encourages intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy causing us to continuously engage in activities that we thrive in. Dedicating your time to something you are willing to work for and develop a passion around, can lead to peak performance and flow states or “being in the zone.”

Providing regular opportunities for staff and students to exercise, reducing the workload to support getting enough sleep and providing healthy snacks at work, all fall under the domain of positive health. People do better when they feel better and people who feel better do better too. Placing ourselves in the service of others by the ways of caregiving, service learning and supporting others around us, can lead to a sense of purpose and meaning for ourselves. Concepts that make life truly worth living.

The field of positive education is a fascinating area from which we can all benefit.

If you have made it to the end of this plea and you are as enthusiastic about it as I am, I strongly recommend looking into the 8-week professional learning course “Discovering Positive Education 2.0” by Geelong Grammar School. Enrolling in this comprehensive program is by far the best professional development I have come across and has changed the way I approach teaching and learning from here onwards.

Go well, friends…

September 2021 TTTs

Several times a year, we turn professional learning over to our faculty & staff during Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTTs) sessions. TTTs focus on improving our collective professional practice, allowing us to engage with our colleagues. On Wednesday, September 22, we were excited to have our first TTTs of the school year.

90-minute Sessions
Coding Fun! Spiced up narrative writing
We will tell stories with animations using Scratch (examples). With voiceovers or speech bubbles, students can re-tell, summarize, or create stories with animations. We will also look at the scratch community and why it is a great world for students to get into.

 

Graffiti: Write your name in style
Take a chance to explore and play on the ISB Graffiti wall as we learn basic techniques and introductory methods in the skills of spray paint art. Limited to 14 people.

 

Jewelry Design
I’ll teach you how to use some software, and you’ll use it to design some jewelry. You’ll walk away with some new skills and some new bling!

I’m C6ed… Now What?
This follow-up session from C6 will dive deeper into Content, Language, and Cultural Objectives. Why do we write them? How do we write them? And most importantly how do we make these meaningful for students.

 

The Mindful Use of Power in the Classroom: How Authority Distorts Respect, Honesty, and Trust—and What You Can Do About It
Presentation of research on the distorting effects of power and authority on people’s perceptions and perspectives, followed by strategies and techniques to facilitate greater respect, honesty, and trust in school settings (and examples/case studies to discuss).

 

Ceramics – Learn to Play
Join us for some stress-relief ceramics fun, and to create something that you can take home and brag about it! 🙂

45-minute Sessions
Sip and Read
Love the smell of a new book? Come discover the delightful new books the ES library has purchased to support our SEL focus! ABAR, inclusivity, equity, LBGTQIA+, friendship, emotions, and more! Hey MS/HS folk, picture books aren’t just for little kids! These big concepts are often best deconstructed using accessible stories so come browse! Staff Resources

Exploring Backstage
Take an all-access tour of the ISB theatre venues to see what goes on backstage. If you are curious about all the theatre ‘hidden spaces’ or how the magic happens, then now is your chance. There will be stairs involved as we visit the highest and lowest spots in the theatre.

 

Singing for Mind and Body
In this session, we will learn a couple of easy songs to sing in a group and discuss how singing can positively affect your mental and physical health.

 

Wellness with Basketball
We will host a wellness option of a friendly basketball game! Co-ed and any skill level welcome, you can play in long pants and shirt or whatever!

 

Hill’s School of Hot Sauce 
Want to learn to make your own hot sauce? This is the wellness activity you’ve been looking for! This will be the first of two sessions. You’ll need to be able to come back on the morning of Sat Sept 25 or at 4:30 on Monday Sept 27.

 

ABAR Conversations 1
For those who want to know more about ABAR, ask some questions, and begin engaging in this work.

 

Deconstructing DX: Learning how to create beautiful lessons
In this session, we will learn how to create units, lesson pages, quizzes, and assignments in DX. This is a great way to make lessons accessible for all!

 

Having Fun With Glyths!
What are glyphs? Glyphs are a pictorial form of data collection. Glyphs can be used as a fun SEL activity or as a summative assessment. Come and learn about a fun way to assess students using paper and glue.

 

Excel 101
Learn some simple Excel tips and tricks. In this session, we will focus on the basics of how to work with Excel. Bring your laptop and any burning questions you have and we’ll explore together.

 

 

Ideas for in-depth reading in Chinese classes
Wondering how to teach students to read? Want to know more about strategies for in-depth reading? Join this session to enhance our collective knowledge and skills on effective reading. Staff Resources

 

Making excellent graphics
Want to improve your graphic design skills when making resources for your classes? Join us as we look at some simple rules and techniques for improving your visual communication skills. Staff Resources

 

Integrating creative data collection and visualization with a Dear Data project
A Dear Data project gives students an authentic way to collect data about their own lives and present their findings with a creative visualization. Topics can include any content area, including SEL topics. Students keep a process journal throughout, integrating literacy and notebooking skills.

 

Executive Functioning Skills 101
This session will go into detail about what Executive Functioning Skills are, why they are important, how we can build on them at school, and tips on how parents can reinforce them at home.

 

Simplify Your Life with Power Automate and Mail Merge
How do you empower students and personalize communication quickly? Come see examples using two tools and brainstorm how you might leverage them in your classroom! Resources: Slides, Mail Merge Survey, TTT Automation Mail Merge Sample.xlsx, Student Interest Survey Template.docx, Power Automate Survey, Power Automate Home Page

 

Classroom management for TAs
Work with kids but not trained as a teacher? Come learn basics of managing a classroom and feel more confident while support students’ learning.

 

Practical Practice for Reading in DL
This workshop bases on Chinese reading and learning in DL program, but is applicable to other language reading. It focuses on using reading assessment data to plan and arrange reading activities; planning stations with word study, character learning, self-reading, and guided reading to students across a big range of language proficiency; sharing station examples.

 

ABAR Conversations 2
For those who are ready to have some deeper conversations, lean into some discomfort, and continue to engage in this work.

 

Fall 2021 Cohort 1 C6 Homework
Need some time and support to catch up on your C6 homework before our next session Saturday? Keen to collaborate with colleagues in the cohort? This session is for you!

Screen Time from Head to Toe 

Authors: Caleb Hill and Randen Morisako 

In our high speed, high tech and highly global word, we may find ourselves doing more of what you are doing right this second – looking at screen. Like me, you are probably longing for the offline world to resume what is so important for developing children. An analog world of using your hands to create art with a paint brush, gain insight from a newly opened book or give a task-affirming high five just cannot be recreated through eLearning 
Teachers, parents and students alike need to manage this carefully in order to avoid overuse, stress and yes, injury.  

EYES 

If we aren’t mindful of screen time many of us are at risk to develop what ophthalmologists call “digital eyestrainFor children and adults this can lead to dry eye, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision. While some symptoms may be temporary; they can persist if breaks are not taken. These symptoms do not mean special glasses are required or that an eye condition if forming; instead it could mean they aren’t taking enough breaks.   
Most doctors recommend what’s called the “20-20-20 rule” – Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something that is 20 feet away (about 6 meters).  

source: https://www.carillonvisioncare.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/digital-eye-strain.jpg

If you find you oyour child’s eyes are drying out quickly you may need to place a humidifier close to your eLearning space, use eye drops, and drink more water. The level of lighting in a room when using a computer or iPad should be roughly half as bright as other activities such as writing on paper. Decrease the brightness on your screens and try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures aren’t shining directly on them.  
If you find dry eyes persist it could also be an issue as simple as not blinking enough. Blink! 

MIND-BODY CONNECTION

Adults and children need to be moving. School has changed over the years and rarely at ISB will you find a group of students all sitting at desks for long periods at a time (exam time excluded). Students are missing that up and down interaction with their classmates and teachers and it adds a lot of extra pressure on parents. That’s why its so important to TAKE BREAKS. 
There are zero negative side effects to taking a physical activity break when you are working. It will help you work smarter and more efficiently after getting your heart rate up. As mentioned by Lissa in Strategies to Survive Working at Home its important to move your body. Students should take AT LEAST ten-minute break once every hour to rest their eyes and move their bodies. Set a timer to limit yourself and take breaks.  

source: https://www.pngfind.com/pngs/m/468-4680505_the-benefits-of-working-out-extend-beyond-just.png

PE teachers are providing workout videos or activity suggestions multiple times a week and encouraging students to get at least 60 minutes of activity every day with 30 minutes of vigorous activity. This means that they are raising their HR and potentially getting hot and sweaty too.  
If you can safely do it, getting outside and taking a walk is more than enough to get your blood pumping. Get out for a morning walk before you start your eLearning, breathe some fresh air and look out the window to give your eyes a break. 

NECK AND SPINE 

Do you find yourself bending your head down to look at your screen? This is called “text neck.” For every 15 degrees of downward gaze your spine experiences an additional increase in stressYou can limit the risk of text neck by monitoring the amount of time, you spend staring down at your phone.   
Another strategy is to ensure that your laptop or computer monitor is set up at the right height. Your monitor should be set up so that the top of your monitor is perpendicular with your gaze. This ensures that you should be able to see the bottom of the screen with no more than 15-degree downward gaze. 

source: https://notsitting.com/proper-height/

WRISTS 
When using a keyboard and mouse we are at extended risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is an overdevelopment of the wrist/forearm muscles and causes irritation the nerves in the lower arm causing pain, numbness, and even tingling. Making sure that your hands and wrist are in the right position while working may prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Periodically massaging or stretching your forearm muscles may also prevent muscle tightness in the forearm.  
 

source: https://inside.ewu.edu/ehs/occupational-health-safety/ergonomics/

 
A simple forearm stretch is to straighten one arm out in front of you with your palm facing out and fingers pointed to the sky. Using your other hand, apply light backward pressure to the tips of your straightened hands finger. You can repeat this stretch with your fingers pointed down for a different muscle group. 

LOWER BACK 

Long bouts of sitting may cause back pain especially in the lower back. Be sure to sit properly with a straight spine. Using a lumbar support chair or small pillow on your lower back may support muscles there and keep your back from slouching.  

Source: http://www.chairsadvisor.com/maintain-good-posture-when-sitting-at-a-desk-all-day/

During this time, one technique may be to try using a standing table. If you decide to do so make sure that the desk is high enough so that you don’t have to look down at your monitor and develop text neck. 
Sciatica is characterized by pain, numbness, or tingling that runs through the lower back, through the buttocks, and sometimes down the lower leg.  
By using a well cushioned chair and making sure that each buttock is evenly on your chair are some strategies to prevent sciatica. Other strategies include taking periodic breaks and including stretching or foam rolling of the glute muscles to make sure they do not get overdeveloped from prolonged sitting. 
Staying physically active during this time is extremely important. With a regular dose of physical activity, we can help limit the effects of prolonged sitting and screen time. Your eyes, brain and body will all thank you. Now… take a break! 
 

10 Strategies for Surviving When Working from Home

Whether you are working from your apartment in Beijing or a beach in Thailand, working from home can be a challenging shift. When I first began working from home part-time 3 years ago, I wasn’t always sure how to find balance. I still sometimes struggle with being productive when there are so many distractions. Every day, I continue to learn how to be my best self without physically being in a school. Below are 10 strategies that have helped me transition from a structured work environment to the flexibility of an online work environment. I’d also love to hear your strategies in the comments!

Be Patient

First and foremost, practice extreme patience for yourself. Some days are going to be harder than others but remember that this is a learning journey and your perception of success will probably ebb and flow daily. Your colleagues and students also deserve your extreme patience. For your students, learning independently and the daily deluge of information has the potential to be just as, if not more, overwhelming as it is for you.
How might your expectations of what you are able to accomplish in a day need to change? How might your expectations for your students need to change?

Create Space

I have lots of places that I am comfortable and cozy in our apartment, but those spaces haven’t always supported my productivity. If you don’t already have one, create a space where you feel productive and inspired. While you’re working, minimize distractions by putting your phone away and turning off notifications on your laptop.
How might you create a dedicated area that allows you to focus? What might it look and feel like?

Find Balance

Working from home doesn’t have to be all work or all play. There have been days where I have worked way too much and other days where I have not worked nearly enough. Just because you are no longer restricted by school hours does not mean you should work all day, every day.
How might you find or create joy during your day? How might you incorporate play into your day?

Keep a Schedule

Make time each day to review your to-do list and map out what your day will look like. We’re used to a very rigid schedule, and now it is up to us to create our own schedules. I have a daily (paper) planner where I schedule my day and keep a running to-do list. Electronically, I have also used Asana to keep track and stay focused.
What will you do today? When do the tasks on your to-do list need to be accomplished? Which hours of the day are you most productive? How will you chunk your day and hold yourself accountable? How might you keep track of your various projects and tasks?

Treat Yourself

Celebrate small successes. Did you just spend 50 minutes dedicated and focused? Allow yourself 10 minutes to relax and give your brain a break. Read a good book, go for a swim, play in the snow.
How might you use ordinary moments to reward yourself?

Move

We’re used to being in constant motion, standing 6+ hours a day. Working from home reduces the reasons to leave the house, making it easy to inside for days on end. But, our brains need us to move. Be intentional about getting up and being active. Find reasons to leave the house. Use the resources at your fingertips to get up and move:

  • Two of my fav online workout channels: Pilates and strength.
  • More online workout ideas: here, here, & here. And some Barre videos here.
  • Not into videos? Do these 7-minute workouts on your own. Or, set yourself an alarm every 10 minutes to get up and do 10 repetitions of an exercise of your choice. Have a trampoline at your disposal? Go jump on it for a few minutes!
  • Looking for more interaction? Join Victoria’s virtual Zumba classes! More info in her WeChat group.
  • Hate exercising? Walk around while listening to these podcasts.

How are you making the intentional choice to move? How are you sharing your success with others?

Make Time to Collaborate

We’re used to being around people all day, popping across the hall to ask a colleague a question, meeting with team members to design authentic learning experiences. When I first started working from home, it was often lonely. Finding ways to embed collaboration in your daily schedule will allow you to share your successes, get support for your wonderings, and alleviate the stress of feeling like you have to do everything alone now.
How might you be intentional about connecting with colleagues? How might you use the tools that are available to us to support collaboration? How might collaboration benefit student learning?

Find Your Jam

Did you know that Spotify has all sorts of playlists for the workday? Get a confidence boost, find your focus, visit your favorite coffee house, get through the whole workday, or stop procrastinating. Silence more your thing? Revel in it!
How might you find your unique jam?

Collect Data

When I first started working from home, I had no concept for how much time I was spending actually working or what tasks were taking up my time. Keeping track of what you’re spending your time on gives you concrete data (I use Toggl) that you can later reflect on and learn from.
What data might you collect? How might you collect it? How might you use this data to support your future productivity?

Brush Your Teeth

This is might seem silly or obvious. But I have found that getting out of my PJs and brushing my teeth before I begin my workday has been beneficial for both my productivity and sanity. Do the people in my virtual meetings know that I’m dressed & have clean teeth? Nope. Do I feel better about myself? Yup.
What rituals will help you transition into and out of your workday?

Your turn!

What strategies have you found useful as you have undertaken the adventure of working from home? We’d love for you to share in the comments below so that our ISB community can benefit from your experience!

Written by:
Lissa Layman
llayman@isb.bj.edu.cn @MmeLayman
Professional Learning Project Coordinator

ISB Parents: Jiāyóu!

Image Credit: Pixabay

If you are a parent in Beijing right now, you are being challenged (and here’s a virtual hug).   A mere two weeks ago, life was fairly normal – we were finishing up a short stent of school and work between Winter Break and Chinese New Year and we were excited thinking about our Chinese New Year plans – being with family, eating delicious foods, and some more relaxation time.  Then, we started hearing more about the coronavirus…  As an international school, we were told that schools would not reopen until we receive further guidance from the Beijing authorities.  And since then, we have gone through the gamut of emotions, decisions on whether to stay or go and watching media from sources within China all over the world.  We are trying our best, with no clear end in sight. It has been hard.
Now, many of these emotions are still very much alive and we are feeling up, down and all around on a regular basis.  And now, our kids are at home with us and started “eLearning” while we are trying to work AND keep it all together. This is definitely not easy.  With two working parents and two kids at our house, Monday was exhausting.  We were trying to figure out our “new normal” and when everything is dependent on technology and there is information coming from multiple sources, it was a lot.  I’m sure you felt it too.
As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  What can we do? And, what can we do to support them and stay sane and healthy ourselves?
Here are some ideas:

  1. Talk to your kids!  They are stressed. Many of them are hearing us talk about what’s going on and are scared about the virus and being locked in.  They are sad that they missed their last basketball games, APAC tournaments, recitals, concerts and maybe thinking about what more they potentially may still miss in the coming weeks.  They miss their friends.  They miss the autonomy they have when they walk out the door every morning as they exert their growing independence as teenagers.  Let them vent a bit.  Ask them what they are happy about or what they are worried about and let them know it’s okay.
  2. Give them space!  Many of us are spending most of our days in one location –  houses, apartments or even hotel rooms, some of which are only temporary, and that is really challenging.  While it’s good to check in on your kids, give them breaks.  Let them go listen to music and tune out in their rooms.  Don’t make them sit and work behind their computers all day.  Make sure they are taking breaks and give them some room.
  3. Give them some new responsibilities!  Use this opportunity to have them contribute more at home.  I know my children have learned to do their own laundry the past week.  They’ve learned to make new foods and they have more chore expectations than usual.  It’s good for them to learn more life skills and also contribute to the family.
  4. Keep them social! Make sure your children are chatting with friends.  Most of our children are communicating with their friends via school tasks through Seesaw, Dragon’s Exchange, email, Flipgrid or the hundreds of other amazing tools teachers are using to promote social, engaging learning.  Face to Face contact is important too – not just WeChat or Instagram messaging – make sure they are making face to face contact with friends and family, so they are chatting with people outside of your house too.
  5. Encourage exercise!  This is challenging.  Most of us are self-quarantining, but when the weather is nice, get out for a family walk.  Do the PE personal fitness activities sent by their teachers as a family.  Do a yoga or HIIT workout together. It’s amazing what a little exercise can do for the mind and soul.
  6. Keep to a schedule! While most of us can do school and work in our pajamas, try to keep to a schedule.  Keep a reasonable bedtime for your family.  Eat meals together.  Make sure everyone isn’t connected to their devices all day.

As for us parents, these are all important points too.  Make sure you are talking to people to validate your feelings and relieve stress.  Ask for help!  We are a part of an amazing community.  We are all together in this and all we want is what’s best for our kids.  If you need help, there are so many people that are here willing to help – our Leadership Team, Teachers, Counselors, Support members, and fellow parents.
If you have ideas or successful activities plans that are working for your family, share them in the comments or with your parent communities.  We are in this together!
Jiāyóu
加油

Written by:
Julie Lemley
jlemley@isb.bj.edu.cn @JulieLemley
Innovative Programs Leader
ISB ES & MS Parent

Inclusion at ISB

Inclusion at ISB
I was asked to write a blog about inclusion at ISB. As an inclusionist, it seems this ought to be an easy topic for me to write about and yet, after 30 years of doing this work, I still find myself at a loss in defining inclusion in our international schools.
You see, the idea of inclusion as well as my own thinking about inclusion has expanded and evolved over the years. In the early 1990s, I worked in a group home with adults with intellectual disabilities. Inclusion meant ensuring they had access to the community and participated in social activities with peers without disabilities. During that same time as a special education teacher I taught in inclusive schools which meant all students were taught in their neighborhood schools with their same age peers in the classroom.
This narrow definition of inclusion held true until I moved overseas in 2000. For those of us who have been teaching in international schools this long, we remember the days where we either didn’t accept students with diagnosed disabilities or we only accepted students with mild learning disabilities. Often, we accepted these students in elementary school where we felt confident in meeting their learning needs and then determined by middle or high school they wouldn’t be able to manage the rigorous, academic program. So, we did what we thought was in ‘the best interest’ of studentS and encouraged them to find a different school placement. Inclusion meant we accepted some students into our school for some period of time. Whether or not we provided adequate and professional services was another matter.
Thank goodness we’ve moved forward and now better understand the needs of our international families and their children. Some of our schools have been forced to be nimble and adaptable in terms of the students we enroll and some of us have enthusiastically chosen the pathway of greater inclusivity. I’m proud to be in a school where the latter is true.
International schools have expanded inclusive services where we now welcome students with Specific Learning Disabilities,  communication disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, etc. – and we have invested in professional resources to meet the needs these high incidence conditions present. A few international schools around the world have or are starting programs for students with intellectual disabilities, pushing the boundaries of inclusion even further.
And yet these definitions of inclusion still feel too narrow. Inclusion isn’t just about accepting students with identified diagnoses. Inclusion is really about equity and access for ALL. Inclusion is for all of us and when it comes right down to it, we are all unique and have the need to be included in our school community, regardless of gender, race, disability, religion, social beliefs, socio-economic status, sexuality, language background, etc. I encourage ISB to think about and define inclusion in this broader sense, emphasizing equity and access for all, rather than thinking inclusion is only for those with learning disabilities. Because of our privilege, our responsibility for including others is great. We have an opportunity to make the world a better place by embracing our differences and celebrating the value we each bring to the school community.
I went home for the winter holidays and witnessed firsthand the work so many advocates have done over the years in including those with intellectual disabilities into the community. While at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, I ran into a gentleman with intellectual disabilities I supported 27 years ago! He is now 60 years old, living a full life that included work (he’s retired), friendships, and an active social life. My heart was full knowing he was accepted and fully embraced in his community these past years. This acceptance and sense of belonging is what I wish for EVERYONE at ISB.

Our parents have changed their perspective, but have we changed ours?

One part of my job is occasionally leading parent workshops. I think they are so important, but they give me so much anxiety. I will spend several hours planning for a 1 hour workshop. I will rehearse what I am going to say over and over, because I want it to be perfect. At least that’s what I tell myself. But in truth, what I really want is to fill the time to avoid parent questions. Because I hold this assumption that parents are angry we teach math this way; I assume our parent community thinks more traditional methods, quick repetitious pace, and rote instruction is what is best.  
And that’s implicit bias. I was adopting a single story of what these parents are like because it has been fed to be over and over. Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of accepting a single story in this brilliant Ted Talk. What’s more, this single story and Chinese education is wrong. In fact, according to this Quartz article, in typical Chinese math classes there is more time spent on collective learning and less time using an individualistic approach. The whole class does not move on until the entire class has the concept. In a sense, collaboration and support of one another is nurtured. 
 At the most recent ES math parent coffee, my co-presenters and I did our best to be inclusive of the parent community. Many of the slides were written in English and Mandarin, they were able to collaborate, we provided materials for them to take in both English and Chinese, and we used several visuals to accompany our slides. We created space and access for our parents to not just sit and get but engage. And  the 40 parents that attended were beautiful examples of learners. They explored the mathematics problems, listened to one another, collaborated, had a laugh, and took risks. Not once in the oral or written feedback did I hear anything about parents wishing we didn’t teach math this way, nor was there anger or frustration that math class looks different now. The sentiment was appreciation for the opportunity to learn this way.  
Now I don’t want to sugarcoat it, I’ve been at ISB for 5 years now and I know that the parent feedback about our approaches to teaching math has not always been this positive. But, if our parents have shown us that they are willing to change, why are we still holding these negative biases about what we think they think? Have we been as willing to grow, change, and shift as our larger parent community?  
So. I hope next time you feel that discomfort when a colleague says something about our parent population, or a group of students, or a cultural group, in seriousness or in jest, that you’ll remember that people can grow and change. And I hope it encourages you to say something. 
 We have a responsibility as educators to move our community towards cultural proficiency. I know it can make things awkward. I know it can make people uncomfortable. I know it takes bravery. Brené Brown, a prominent research storyteller says, “courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” Seems like something worth doing, doesn’t it? 

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