Saturday, March 26, 2016

Food for Thought: Positive Psychology course by Coursera

Dear all,

Thank you for all your hard work since January. This is always a hard part of the year because everything gets crammed into a short period of time between the winter and spring breaks. In addition the temperature gradually or, as seems the case this year, jumps up from being pleasant to plain hot. Of course this adds to the sapping of energy and susceptibility to illnesses that also occur annually at this time in South East Asia like flu. But when one looks at the amazing activities and events that have taken place in the last few weeks alone we should all be proud of ourselves and the school we are creating for our stakeholders.

Hence my Food for Thought this week is to introduce you to a Coursera course that comes highly recommended by a number of our teachers who have already taken it. This course will help not only help to further your knowledge for our movement towards becoming a Positive Education School but will also add more knowledge to help you take control of your own thinking and living.

Here is the link to the course The new course starts on the 11th of April, so you can register now. If you want to get ahead and do some listening and watching course videos you can preview and download the first week from the left hand side of the site. As you will see looking at this 6 weeks course it reinforces beautifully where we are aiming to go both as a school and as a professional community of learners.

It would be great if large numbers of us could find the time to take this course because it further builds on Step one of Positive Education which is about our own learning and understanding as teachers.

Have a relaxing and re-energizing vacation,



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Food for Thought: Disrupting Education

Dear all,

I hope that all of you who managed to attend the International Festival yesterday enjoyed it. I think it was a special day for our international community to share their cultures and enjoy each others company. Perhaps next year we need to make it a little longer so that all the different tastes and flavours have time to be digested. A special thanks to all those who helped the PTO make the day such a great success. 

This week's Food for Thought centers around the ideas of Will Richardson who speaks a great deal about the need for schools to transform. Thankfully as with many of these talks you should be able to see what you are doing in the classroom as being aligned in some way with his thoughts and suggestions. The word 'disruption' has been used consistently around school this year for activities and workshops and here it emerges again. I too am often confused by the need for education to transform. I see it nearly everyday at home with Kenneth who now uses the iPad more as a platform to connect and learn from Minecraft teachers on youtube, rather than actually playing the game. For him it seems so natural to connect via the internet with others to find solutions to the problems that he faces in his game world. Will Richardson talks about this world that exists and how much of education is lagging behind with computers and connectivity.

Have a relaxing Sunday,


The following excerpt is from the book “Freedom to Learn” by Will Richardson. Tradition and Nostalgia 
Without question, the biggest barrier to rethinking schooling in response to the changing worldscape is our own experience in schools. It’s what we know, and as educators or parents, the familiar feels safe to us and for our kids. Intellectually, we may be able to make sense of the argument laid out in this book, that the world has changed, that being a learner is more important than being learned, and that for our kids to have the best chance of success in the world, they have to be able to flourish in freedom. In DIY U (as in “Do It Yourself University”), author Anya Kamenetz (2010) explores the many new potential paths to becoming educated in the abundantly connected world and interviews a number of parents who expressed just those sentiments but were unable to “sanction” any different type of school experience for their kids. Read the comments on any article about progressive ideas in education in the New York Times or elsewhere, and you get the sense that most are still in the business of doubling down on doing better on traditional outcomes rather than rethinking the whole concept.
To be brutally honest, I’ve struggled with this myself. In fact, looking back on it, given the chance to do it over with my own children, I’m pretty sure I would have done it much differently when it came to their schooling. Don’t get me wrong—my kids weren’t seriously harmed by school, and their teachers, for the most part, were good, caring people who were doing their best given the pressures of policy and parents and tradition. But it could have been so very much better than it was when it came to giving them an environment that honored their own learning and developed them as curious, creative, passionate learners in the world. I’ll admit, on some level, to feeling a great deal of sadness about that. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions why we didn’t pull our kids out of school or find more progressive schooling alternatives for them. I’ve been called a hypocrite, in fact. And I totally understand why.
It’s no excuse, but my enlightenment around these issues came very late in my life. By the time I fully understood learning in both the traditional and modern sense, my kids were too entrenched in their social circles and activities to consider pulling them out. Instead, we’ve tried to “co-school” them, encourage them to pursue their passions and learning outside school, and limit the deleterious effects of standardization and control as much as possible. This has not been easy.
So how do educators move to help teachers and parents and community members to a place where they have modern convictions about schooling and the courage to advocate for them? In a word, we work to educate them. If we are convinced that learning environments that give students more agency and freedom over their own learning are what our students need and we are committed to bringing those environments into our schools, then we have to make that case to all members of the school community. I’ve seen superintendents do this by engaging in book studies with parent groups, sharing curated readings with them through newsletters and websites, and actively engaging community members in discussions about the future and our efforts to ready our kids for it.
Will Richardson is a parent, former educator and author of “Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.” This excerpt is from his latest book, “Freedom to Learn.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Teaching mindfulness to teens

Dear all,

Hope you are having a great weekend.

Next week we have Pippa Legate back in school for our second Safeguarding visit of the year. Please give her a traditional warm ISHCMC welcome. Also Wednesday is budget day so if there are any items that would be additional to our normal spend please let your Principals know immediately with a cc to me.

This week's Food for Thought returns to focusing our attention on our mindfulness time with students at the start of the day. When I walk round at this time I have to admit I feel that some of our students are missing out on an opportunity to be empowered for their lives ahead, as ultimately what happens in our brains dictates how we live our lives. The article has good links for those still needing some assistance.

Ensuring that mindfulness is embedded and being shared with all our students is the first step for ISHCMC towards becoming a positive education school. As you know that is going to be one of our major goals over the next couple of years.

Have a good day,


Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfightcc


“In today’s rush we all think too much – seek too much – want too much – and forget about the joy of just being – Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness is the practice of ‘just being’ – being aware of the present moment and approaching it in an accepting, curious and open manner. Research on mindfulness practices in schools has shown the benefits to students are wide-ranging, including decreased anxiety and depression, enhanced social skills, increased optimism, and improved academic performance. In fact, researchers are finding through neuroimaging that mindfulness practices change the brain. Dr. Iroise Dumontheil, from the University of London, found the brains of adolescents who practiced mindfulness for as little as eight weeks were able to more quickly refocus on a cognitive task after being distracted. 
With this ever-growing body of evidence, many teachers are keen to weave mindfulness into everyday practice in the classroom. However, some teachers are unsure where to begin, what techniques to use, or how to overcome the challenge of doing something that is outside of the students’ (or the teacher’s) comfort zone.  
As educators, we want our students to be the best they can be inside and outside of the classroom. We want to help them be confident in their abilities, be in control of their emotions and attention, and to feel good about themselves. Teaching them how to be mindful is a beneficial, proven approach to help them achieve this. Here are some basic practices teachers can use to scaffold their students’ learning of the skill of mindfulness.  

Set the scene

When first introducing your students to mindfulness, you can pique their curiosity by giving real-world examples of the powerful ways mindfulness can help them cope with everyday problems. Here are some good hooks for students:
  • The pressure of preparing for and performing well on exams can trigger stress and anxiety. Mindfulness can help teens relax, pick up on patterns in their negative self-talk, and re-focus their attention. 
  • Today’s world is hectic and over-stimulating and can cause us to lose sight of who we are. Mindfulness helps teens slow down, spend time in silence without distractions, learn to be comfortable in their own company and better understand their strengths and passions.
  • Getting into arguments with those we are close to can flood us with negative feelings and thoughts, making it tough to concentrate on anything else. Mindfulness helps teens hold these experiences lightly, view them as temporary and let go of them more easily.
  • Teens love learning about the brain and how it works. Share the latest research with your students on the ways mindfulness can help their brain harness feelings and thoughts.

Model mindfulness

A common question from teachers interested in introducing mindfulness into everyday classroom practice is whether it is necessary to engage in mindfulness practices of their own before teaching these to students. 
As we know with teaching academic subjects, be it maths or history, successfully engaging students does not just depend on whether the teacher has a good amount of content knowledge, it is also about the personality and life experiences they bring to a lesson. Good teaching often comes from reflecting on our learning process and on our struggles to understand complex concepts. 
Reading about mindfulness practices and being comfortable with your script can be a good start. But that may only get your students so far in developing a meaningful and impactful mindfulness practice. Authenticity, particularly with teenagers, is vitally important to engage them deeply, help them recognise the benefits of what they are being taught, and develop a sense of trust. Teenage students appreciate the honesty and openness of teachers who share personal stories of setbacks and growth. This does not mean that the only way to help your students take mindfulness seriously is for you to engage in daily mindfulness meditation yourself. But it does help to be able to share personal experiences of how mindful practices have positively impacted your life.  For example, you might disclose how using mindful breathing helped you get through a stressful job interview. 

Use teen-friendly mindfulness practices

One of the most effective ways to engage teens in mindfulness practices is to use metaphors, comparing abstract concepts to concrete, real-world items. Some examples include:
  • Instructing your students to picture their thoughts and feelings as bubbles floating past.
  • Getting your students to create mindfulness glitter jars to help them understand what happens when their thoughts and emotions get all stirred up.
The best place to have your students start their journey with mindfulness is getting them to focus on their body. This helps ground them to the present moment, builds their physical and emotional awareness, and you can relate it to sport. In sport, when we have present-moment awareness of our bodies and an acceptance of that moment, we become completely focused on the athletic task, are not as easily distracted by external events, have fewer negative thoughts about our performance, and as a result we achieve peak performance.  
Here are some useful mindfulness resources that you could use to engage your students:
  • Reachout Breathe – an app that reduces the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by helping the user control their breathing and heart rate.
  • Music e-scape – an app that uses the user’s music library to help them reach their desired mood.
  • Smiling mind – an app for young people that makes meditation more accessible.
  • Guided meditations – a range of guided meditation recordings for teens.

Challenges to practice

Some common complaints of students about mindfulness is that their minds wander too much or they cannot sit still and do nothing. Let you students know that mindfulness is a practice. Like any sort of training, there will be days that are easier and days that are harder, and that distractions are part of the process. Introduce the mindfulness concept of self-compassion – not judging ourselves on how good or bad we are going, but embracing who we are in that moment. 
Despite your best efforts to ‘hook’ your students, some still might not be motivated to engage with mindfulness. If this is the case, you may want to consider using a creative approach that links to prior learning. In his recently published book, Mindfulness & Character Strengths, Ryan Niemiec, the Education Director at the Values in Action (VIA) Institute in the USA, suggests there is great value in basing mindfulness practices on one’s top character strengths. Character strengths are “those strengths we bring forth most naturally across multiple settings and infuse us with energy. As they are core to identity, they help individuals to function at their best and maintain a sense of authenticity” (p. 26-27). Using the VIA youth survey, help each of your students identify their top character strengths and then engage them in individualised practices based on these strengths. If a student’s top strength is Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, you might engage him or her in guided imagery, such as visualising walking through a serene landscape. If confronting time constraints, you might instead choose to identify the top three most common character strengths of the entire class. If a top strength in the class is Curiosity, you could engage the group in walking meditation. If Kindness is a top classroom strength, you could engage the class in loving-kindness meditation. 
Some students may be skeptical or think practicing mindfulness is pointless. It often takes just one session though to change this opinion. Giving your students the chance to experience these practices first hand can be the most powerful testament of how mindfulness does calm the body and refocus the mind. Similarly, some teachers may find it daunting to teach mindfulness because, unlike other areas of learning in the classroom, we are unable to measure how much impact mindfulness has actually had on our students or what level of skill they have acquired. Rest assured, mindfulness is a truly personal experience, it takes time and practice, and a bit of commitment and flexibility from the teacher will go a long way.  So we encourage you to take that daring leap - give mindfulness a go with your students today!
If you would like to get more ideas on how to introduce mindfulness practices into your classroom, come along to our upcoming one-day training course, Exploring Mindfulness.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Food for Thought:Starting to think about our future pathways for students

Dear all,

Often the litmus test to what we are doing with students emerges from student led conferencing when parents receive a guided tour of their children's learning and thinking based on their work during the year. Parents comments were extremely positive and showed their increasing acceptance and understanding of where we are taking learning at ISHCMC.

This week's food for thought links to where we want to be going with ISHCMC students in the future. We want to provide more, especially for secondary school students, choices as they move through Grades 6-12. We hope that this will take our curriculum from serving the average student to serving all students. This talk by Todd Rose identifies the need for greater variability.

Of course there are many ways to add variation to our curriculum and increase learning opportunities. The most obvious of these is the internet and the explosion of online courses. Here is a link that I was just sent by a teacher for free online courses that would be of interest to both students and yourselves. Definitely worth a look.
Finally this move to greater variation and choice for students links with providing engagement and motivation. This Mindshift article by Kathy Perez provides 20 strategies for keeping students engaged and motivated in your classroom. Some of these strategies we are already using in our classrooms but many others are quite original and interesting. Perez is a fan of brain breaks and stresses that it is the " teacher's job to to make sure there are lots of quick, effective brain breaks built into the lesson to give children a moment to recalibrate. Perez says teachers must be prepared for a diverse cross section of learners with a large toolkit of strategies for teaching in multiple modalities, with many entry points to participation and content."

Have a good Sunday,


For those interested in the environmental discussion started by Al Gore's  TED talk, here is another short documentary that further supports Cowspiracy and Race to Extinction.....Seaspiracy