Good Old School Dinners

Fish 'n' Chips

Fish ‘n’ Chips

It has now been over 2 weeks since we arrived in the UK and I have now been in my new job for a full week and only just found time to reflect and put some words into a short post for the website.  Of course I have plenty of things to write about but I want to keep this one simple and about being back ‘home’ in the UK and the initial process of reconnecting with the UK education system – something I fully intend to take maximum advantage of and to feedback on over time.

Jam Sponge and Custard

Jam Sponge and Custard

It has been a very frenetic week meeting many new people and trying to puzzle together where and how they all fit within the complexities of a school organisation.  It is very tempting to dive straight in and to commit or give input to every request or idea that comes your way as you meet people and want to give a positive first impression.  You have to be realistic though and take a step back – observe and listen and build up as accurate a big picture as possible of how you and your role can be most effective and successful in the short and longer term without making too many mistakes.

A Friday smile

A Friday smile

It is times like this in your life and career that you look for constants, things that you are sure about and that reassure you however small they may be.  They guide you through the unknown and they are there for you to anchor your trust and confidence onto to. Today, when I walked into the school canteen for lunch (the food has been great all week by the way and making the need for exercise more urgent!) my senses detected that familiar smell of fish and chips, proper English fish and chips served on a Friday and with mushy peas.  I loaded up my tray and walked down the serving station thinking this could not get any better – but it could, there it was steaming hot jam sponge and custard staring right up at me, taking me all the way back to my secondary school days.  I said a heartfelt thanks to Sharon the chef at the same time expressing my delight for this nostalgic treat and she in return gave me the biggest end of the week smile, as if to say well done – you deserve it.  I hope I did.

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One Man and a Piano

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

I was at the airport again today and had the pleasure to listen to a young man playing one of those ‘play me’ pianos in the public waiting area.  We had sat down to eat our packed lunch and placed ourselves next to the piano and talented pianist to enjoy the music whilst we ate.

Play me

Play me

Zoe immediately took her sandwich over to the piano and had a good look at what the man was doing.  She even started to move to the hypnotic tones of the jazz tunes being played.  I watched and wondered who first thought of this idea of placing pianos in public places for anyone to play?  The more I thought about it the more I loved the concept and continued watching to see what impact our pianist would have on other strangers in the waiting hall.

 

An American admirer

An American admirer

As I watched and also monitored Zoe, making sure that her busy fingers didn’t add any unwanted notes to a potential masterpiece, an American lady sidled up to the pianist and introduced herself.  She was quite animated and confident in her approach, immediately acknowledging the skills and passion of our pianist.  They struck up a common theme and chatted for a while, name cards were even swapped.  Meanwhile my oldest son had joined Zoe and the two of them had commandeered the piano as the two strangers were making plans.  I continued watching them talk at the same time cringing at the dreadful din being bashed out on the piano by Zoe and Jonah thinking I must intervene soon and save everyone from the terrible noise. Luckily the American lady suddenly shot off and the pianist re-focused his attention on the piano and set about on my two.

Twinkle Twinkle number

Twinkle Twinkle number

He asked them if they could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and to my surprise Jonah started to play the favourite nursery rhyme. The pianist motioned Jonah to play a few octaves higher and then started to accompany him with a funky jazz bass version.  Suddenly my son was playing a Twinkle Twinkle duet with a random stranger and making heads turn in one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

Isn’t it amazing how music and artistic expression and enthusiasm connects people. We only planned to be in the airport for a short while and never imagined meeting someone like Patrick – how do you plan for something like that – you don’t (but always look out for the opportunities).  I asked Patrick where he was going and what time his flight was.  He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him if he was on his work break and if he did this everyday when he had the chance.  He said no, and that he had just seen his Japanese friend off and decided to hang around and the play piano for a couple hours.  We said a big thank you and good bye to Patrick and wished him all the best with his future plans (he is starting a film business).  We walked out of Heathrow Airport for the second time in one week but this time refreshed from the positiveness of personal connectivity and social interaction and privileged that we had met Patrick, the piano player.

Constructive paranoia

a convoy of cousins

a convoy of cousins

During my time in Vietnam and meeting new family I have been thinking a lot about a term that I read recently in a book by Jared Diamond.  The book is:  The World Until Yesterday, and is all about what we can learn from traditional societies.  The term he used was constructive paranoia and he used it often to describe a cautious approach that people living in traditional societies adopt to avoid danger or potential death even though to us it may seem an extremely low risk or even paranoid.  An example Diamond used was when he (frequently) stayed with communities in New Guinea and that they never slept under old trees at night for the fear that they may fall down and crush them.  Although the likelihood is small on a particular night, if you were to sleep under trees every night as many Guineans do then the chances of an old tree eventually falling down and crushing you increases, therefore the most constructive long-term approach is to avoid them altogether as sleeping shelters.

easy riders

easy riders

If you had asked me before our visit to Vietnam if I would allow my kids to ride on motorbikes in a country where there seems to be little regulation on the roads I (and especially my wife) would have said no way!  Nothing paranoid about that, just a total agreement that motorbikes are to be avoided if possible in countries like Vietnam and Thailand where the accidents involving motorbike accidents are high.  It is difficult though when you arrive in a situation that is totally new to you and you suddenly find yourself in the hands of your hosts who so happen to be family.  Things happen fast and people are speaking in a language that you don’t understand but you can start to gather an idea from the body language, gestures and the accumulation of motorbikes around you and triple the amount of helmets needed per motorbike!

walking in the river to the sand dunes

walking in the river to the sand dunes

Of course you think fast and make eye contact with your wife (and mother of your children) to quickly reassess the situation.  The cousins are all excited though and so enthusiastic to see you and show you around – they really want to take their new family guests to the beach.  The kids are all excited as well, the chance to ride a motorbike is a complete novelty to them and they of course believe they are indestructible.  Your heart says go with the flow but your brain is telling you that this is not a good idea and to think it through a bit more.  There is also the culture factor – do you stand your ground based on a mental risk assessment and possibly offend people that you have just met and are putting you up in their home.  Or do you shift your perspective and realise this is how people commute in Vietnam, everyone does it – you are placed on a motorbike days after birth!  Are we going to just sit in the house and feel safe and walk everywhere?

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

I know my wife’s feelings about motorbikes and what surprised me most was that she understood that this was an important time to go with the flow and to enjoy the cultural experience.  This doesn’t mean we should be neglectful of risk, still be risk aware – paranoid enough to be constructive but not averse to the opportunity.  We made sure that everyone is wearing helmets the right size and that the most experienced motorcyclists were in control of the bikes.  The cousins soon got the message that we were happy with the situation but alert to the potential risks in a subtle way.  They drove at a good speed and we always felt very safe without us having to say anything to them.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

We ended up using the motorbikes everyday while we were in Phan Theit and Mui Ne and the family were over generous in their desire to transport us around and to spend time with us – telling us what time they would meet us and pick us up each day.  We could of course taken taxis but this would have been less sociable and not as an authentic way to see the country, plus the kids really loved their motorbike experience and each one had their favorite cousin to ride with – often sandwiched in between Oanh or myself!  If we had opted not to embrace this opportunity we would definitely have missed out on three amazing days visiting; the Flying Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, eating fresh crab on the beach, shallow river walking through a sandstone gorge, a sunset over Mui Ne bay and most importantly of all making close and honest bonds with special family members.

 

 

Game, set and tears!

I can't see over the net!

I can’t see over the net!


The other day I posted some thoughts on the learning state referred to as ‘flow‘ and made a connection to cycling and my own personal observations of my two oldest children taking to cycling.  The reason I did this is because I have been impressed with their development and growth in confidence and ability as cyclists.  My four year old daughter has now cycled over 12 kms in one go with no gears on her small pink bike and her little legs going like the clappers up and down hills.  Her skill and ability has definitely been matched by the challenge and resilience required resulting in a rewarding outcome for all.

Keep your eye on the ball!

Keep your eye on the ball!

We have been trying tennis as a family and sometimes take the family rackets with us on a more casual bike ride or walk.  Unfortunately though, we are a long way off any state of ‘flow’ with our tennis experience.  Although everyone is very keen and excited at first it is not long until the tears appear and their patience is being lost.  Why is this the case?  Tennis is just a bit of fun, trying to hit a ball over a net, we are not expecting Wimbledon champions (yet).  Obviously tennis is proving to be a lot more frustrating though and requires a different range of skill sets.  Maybe my wife and I (we are know Agassi and Graf by the way!) are not the best tennis coaches either and the children can easily spot this.  Where have my teaching skills gone and why am I also getting frustrated and losing my patience with my own children – there is only so many times you can say ‘watch the ball!

Even the ball boy is too slow!

Even the ball boy is too slow!

I find myself often reflecting on my parenthood qualities and why, as someone that has taught young people (both primary and secondary age) for more than 15 years, do I often fail as a teacher within my own home and family environment?  It is not that my children expect a teacher, they want a father and of course I try the best I can and I am still learning everyday with every challenge that they throw my (our) way.  Teaching is about going above and beyond for every student and that is something that I always strive to do and achieve, it is not easy and takes a big time commitment but why else would you go into the teaching profession if you weren’t prepared to do that?

What a volley

What a volley

Parenting is an even bigger (life) commitment and of course you want to go above and beyond for your own children but have to do this over a more prolonged period of time and make sure that you get the balance right.  You can’t be a world class parent all of the time and you can’t always expect your children to ‘flow.’  A good friend said to me the other the day: you have to choose your battles with your own children – you can’t win them all, there are many phases that they are going to go through – let them explore and discover the highs and lows.  Always support them and help them to gain in confidence, there are many different games to be played but not everyone will be a winner but there will always be many points to learn from.  They will eventually discover which sets to go for and it is our job as parents (and teachers) to make sure they ultimately play a winning match and be successful in life.


 

Aware, Able, Act

Have you ever heard a tree breathe?

Have you ever heard a tree breathe?

Aware, Able, Act:  separately three simple words but together they combine to make a very powerful vision.  A school’s curriculum or learning programme (as I prefer to call it) is very similar to this concept.  We constantly use words to describe and explain all aspects of education and teaching, each one with their own relevance to specific students and their progress through school, each one seemingly important in their own right: assessment, holistic, standards, creativity, progress, leadership, independent, collaborative, the list goes on…  These words can look and sound very impressive and you will often see them on most school’s websites, in prospectuses and throughout publicity materials that promote and explain elements of a curriculum.  They mean very little though if there is nothing to bring them together, to link them like a helix that intertwines through everything a school does for its students and make learning authentic.  A really good school will have a learning programme that does this, and will be fully aware of the ‘DNA’ that brings these words and their impact on the students alive.

crushing egg shells for fertiliser

crushing egg shells for fertiliser

Aware:  All schools provide students with knowledge; it is the basis of education and the key objective to passing tests and exams ultimately gaining qualifications to (apparently?) be successful in life.  There is a lot more to life than just passing examinations therefore we want our students to be inquirers and critical thinkers to become socially and emotionally intelligent, not solely to be spoon-fed and reliant upon the passing of information, there is so much more to know, to feel and to find out.  Realistically students today can find the answer to anything without a teacher (my son is forever on Youtube watching National Geographic); the important thing is the process and how to gain the knowledge and questioning its validity.

what a learning environment!

what a learning environment!

Able:  Education is not from the neck up!  It is important to allow our students to learn in the ways that best suit them, to use all of their senses, emotions and skills, to be able to learn outside of the box.  A good test (for the students and teacher!) would be to observe a class with no teacher and to see what the students would do?  Giving children the knowledge and making them aware is important but a good programme will also ‘equip’ them, give them the tools and the confidence to use their knowledge, to be independent learners and to share it with others.

we dance together

we dance together

Act:  Too many people make the mistake of jumping straight into action.  Without real awareness and the vested time in life skills, cultural awareness and confidence building then this can be a negative experience rather than a proactive one and in the long-term this can be quite damaging in many ways.  With accurate and detailed knowledge and a confident skill set young people are empowered to make a difference, and they will.  This is not a powerful vision but a reality.

going above and beyond for learning

going above and beyond for learning

The Global Citizenship Award realizes this reality and helps young people graduate from school:  Aware, Able and Acting.  You to can also be part of this learning experience and make the most of your potential as a global citizen.  Choose an Identity, set yourself a challenging target and get reflecting – we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Setting personal targets help you to flow

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Cycling is a great way to push yourself, just as many other sports and hobbies are – especially if you enjoy doing them.  You don’t always have to push yourself though as it is often just as rewarding to do something to relax and to take your mind off things.  On the flip side I also find cycling an excellent opportunity to reflect, go over previous experiences and events and to also formulate new ideas for upcoming projects and activities.  I have realised that this happens best when really exerting yourself in the saddle and taking on the terrain – the brain seems to have a positive connection with the effort being put in to get up a steep hill and the exhilaration you feel by beating a best time or furthering a maximum distance achieved.  I am sure there is a biological explanation or a proven concept for this – I compare it to the state of FLOW, a theory first explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

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Flow is where you lose yourself in the function, when your skills to do something are being challenged by the difficulty of the task or a personal target to succeed.  You can often recognise that you have experienced this state when time has flown by – as a teacher it is especially rewarding when you hear your students say that they can’t believe it is the end of the lesson, ‘the time has just flown by!‘  To me this signifies that they have experienced the following attributes to their learning during that lesson:

Engagement, challenge, ownership, confidence, fun, skill utilisation and development

IMG_1788

I very much enjoy cycling with my own children and watching them grow in confidence as they have moved from their tricycles to learning wheels and then onto their first proper bikes.  My oldest son is now cycling with gears and is always inquiring about the science behind how they work and why they make uphill cycling easier, etc.  My daughter, who has only just turned five, doesn’t have gears on her little pink bike but loves the motivation and challenge to ride as far as her big brother – she has just rode her first 10kms and was very proud of her achievement.

IMG_1821

What impresses me is when I see them jump on their bikes without any encouragement and watch them ride around the garden and compound.  They set up little bike tracks and obstacle courses and challenge each other to do different tricks.  They are exploring their abilities themselves and using their confidence to be even better cyclists with a more diverse range of skills.  I want them to set themselves personal targets (Jonah now wants to cycle 20kms – without his sister!) but not at the cost of not enjoying the experience and possibly putting them off that activity or hobby permanently.  Getting the balance right is important, knowing when to let go and not to push them too far is not easy as a parent or a teacher but it is worth it to seek that optimum state of flow and an independent resilience to be successful in life.

You may also like this post: Congratulations to Poppy Mulford on achieving the Global Catalyst Award

The Michigan Difference

Contributed by Brittany Tang

Michigan

After spending three weeks at the University of Michigan, I am starting to feel the energy in the air, the buzz of academia, the passion and excitement of being part of what is essentially a small city. The first week I dipped my toes into the academic pool of my classes. I got used to what was expected of me and how to succeed. After I felt sufficiently settled and comfortable with my studies I started searching for leadership positions and community service based clubs to join.

I ran for and was elected President of the Events Planning Committee (EPC) for the HSSP (Health Sciences Scholar’s Program) community. As the President, I help facilitate weekly EPC meetings, I design agendas and communicate with the representatives from each HSSP committee. I am also a member of the HSSP Community Service Committee. Myself, along with others in the committee plan service endeavors for the HSSP community: volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House for families with children in critical condition, volunteering at Indian Trails Camp for children and adults with disabilities, ect. I recently received an email from a 4th year MD PhD student who is working to establish an NGO to help provide health care for people in Uganda. A group of  students including myself, will be establishing a sister program for the undergraduate school to raise awareness for the NGO Progressive Health Partnership (PHP) as well as raise some funds. The link to the project is as follows: Progressive Health Partnership | People Helping People. I am also part of an organization called the VIEW (Volunteers Involved Every Week).  The mission of this organization is to “empower students to become educated leaders and create social change in partnership with local organizations and communities”. This club in particular, stood out to me because of its emphasis on global citizenship and community service. I am very excited to be part of the team!

Finally, from a more academic point of view this past week has been extremely busy because I am in the process of searching for undergraduate research opportunities. I sent out multiple applications for multiple research projects and I have had lots of very educational interviews. I am really enjoying the entire process of finding a project I am interested in researching to securing a place on the research team. I have yet to commit to a particular project, at the moment, however by next week I will have my research position. Overall, I think the most important thing to remember is that balance is so incredibly important. Attending university has really challenged me in a positive way and has allowed me to grow into the individual I endeavor to be. I hope to continue down this path of leadership, service, academia and research and I am very excited to see how this first year turns out!

To read more posts by Brittany please click here.