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By Ian Warwick, AEC Facilitator
How do we embed habitual excellence? How can we promote a culture where working hard and creating excellent work is the norm? Can we get students to believe that they are capable of doing better than they ever believed possible?
Ron Berger believes that any work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that they are capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. “There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less; they’re always hungry.” Aristotle asserted that we are what we repeatedly do. “Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
The core element for embedding excellence into every day lessons is that the resources and tasks are pitched to challenge the most able in the class based on an assumption that their most able students will be able to attain the top grades, and can afford the time to go ‘off piste’ as needed. It is critical that teachers have the time to embed content and concepts and get deep knowledge across and do not lower their own expectations of what their students can or will engage with.
Another prerequisite is that teachers are experts in their field and are on hand to respond intelligently to awkward or tangential questions and support students in how to learn from the specialised feedback given. Sometimes here the problem is psychological: the teacher fears they will not know the answer to a specialist question. Across the world there are brilliant and inspirational teachers who freely confess to how much they don’t know. Their response is simple honesty in the face of a question they can’t answer, along the lines of ‘I don’t know the answer – but I’ll find out and respond to you tomorrow.’
Also important is to insist on a default student ‘persistance’ in terms of work ethic, with a clear expectation regarding accuracy and precision in the use of high level subject specific language. The importance of language as a thought crystalliser is key. It is there for a purpose in every subject area and that is to offer precision of explanation and thought. Simplification of these terms serves only to devalue the language and reduce the level of expertise that can be demonstrated by the student. The core characteristics that excellence demands from students are dedication and determination supported by teachers through rigorous and relentless reinforcement of scholarship. The reward is improved motivation through the learning; students wanting to develop their subject knowledge, wanting to learn per se, rather than just to do well in exams.
There are many potential gaps to understanding what the appropriate level of challenge might be for our learners in terms of the work we set and accept. To begin with, how do our students come to understand what is required from them? The first elements are inevitably their culture, home background and peer group. These set up powerful expectations. For some students, they have become used to doing pretty well -- quite possibly without too much effort. This is a dangerous starting point. Automatically, their perception of what standards might apply have become corrupted. It is too easy to say that they should get used to producing what they are capable of achieving. They won't know. None of us really do. We are all under-challenged underachievers. Modern life virtually demands it.
The second standards gap occurs between the exam boards perception of standards and the school or departments perception of standards. If a school sets up an expectation of what ought to be achieved by its students, it is highly likely to be working from quite a distorted perception of reality. Every school has its own ideas about what can be demanded or expected from the students it is engaging with, effectively its own success criteria. These may well be far below what could actually be possible, but how would we know? A school might unintentionally be constructing a glass ceiling of compliant underachievement based on a fear of over demanding and burning out their students.
Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what they feel comfortable with to hand in. Berger argues that ‘changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.” One of the reasons students produce slapdash work is that no one sees it. If we create a culture where students regularly, and publicly inspect each other’s work. Find somewhere to display the work students have done; give them dedicated lesson time to assess it and then get them to suggest how it could be improved. Feedback should be kind, specific and helpful. If one of these components is missing then the chances of it being received and acted on are severely reduced. The key is to be soft on people but hard on content. Once feedback has been received then students need to do the work again. And again. Until it’s as good as they can possibly make it. Along the way they will have ‘failed’ and their efforts to improve will provide visible evidence of failing better. The end product will be a gift – something in which they can take pride – something they want to show off. It can be useful to get students to blog their work so that it reaches an audience beyond the school and their immediate community. This makes them more aware of their audience and results in them being less prepared to tolerate second best.
To find out more about Ian Warwick and his AEC Deep Dives go to the website.
(Ron Berger, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ Heinemann Educational Books, U.S. (2003) p8)
(Ron Berger ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ Heinemann Educational Books, U.S. (2003) p103)
This month I have begun to re-establish contact with our schools across Africa – particularly our heads of school. We are certainly blessed to have such a depth of talent and commitment leading our schools in the AISA region. In my conversations with them I note that the types of issues our school face are often similar regardless of where our schools are in Africa. Note that I say similar but not the same - and it is this diversity that makes our work at AISA such an interesting challenge.
A key part of meeting that challenge is to offer you, our members, a rich assortment of learning opportunities. Those coming up in the next few weeks are described elsewhere in this eCircular. Let me highlight a few here:
Hopefully your head of school is joining us for the School Heads Retreat (SHR) in Vic Falls in a few weeks (21st - 23rd September 2018). This is a chance for our school leaders to catch their breath and reflect on their goals and objectives for the year ahead. It’s also a great opportunity for them to network with each other and (re)establish those important connections that serve the Heads of AISA schools so well throughout the year. Following straight after the SHR is the AISA Solo Heads workshop which specifically targets the unique needs of another important group in the AISA community – our very small schools.
AISA’s ever growing Professional Learning Institute (PLI) programme has started and will continue to is take place right across Africa right throughout the year. If you cannot find something addresses your needs I invite you to write to me with suggestions I can pass on to our PL design team.
The AISA Educators Conference (AEC) is in Dakar 20th - 23rd October. Here is the AEC programme summary so you can check what’s on offer. It’s a very rich programme of learning, wellbeing and socializing taking place in one of Africa’s most fascinating and picturesque cities – Dakar!
Just a reminder that there is NO AISA LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE (ALC) this year since we’re holding a combined 2019 AISA Conference for our 50th anniversary in Cape Town in November 2019 (save the dates: 21st - 23rd November 2019 – it’s going to be an educational and social extravaganza)
Role: Elementary and Middle School Counsellor
School: The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK)
The AEC 2018 Early Bird Deadline has been extended to Fri. 31st Aug. 2018.
Find Out More
AISA is delighted to announce our new Webinar Series, live on the last Wednesday of each month. These are different to many other webinars, as each follows an interview format with a host asking questions of the guest/s to create a lively, interactive discussion. The topics explored will focus on both personal and professional growth, with the first topic being “Top Tips for New Arrivals”.
Registration is free of charge for members.
Date: 29 August 2018
To Register in advance, visit: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cELtbLSeR-KFez3SSQpN2w
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Webinars will be posted on the AISA Facebook page after live broadcast.
The Hand Out Project at the International School of Kenya (ISK) is a student led club that uses 3D printing technologies to create mechanical prosthetic hands for individuals who need them in underprivileged communities. The club is part of a larger global network known as Enabling the Future (ENABLE). Member groups of this network, which are set up in different locations worldwide, are known as chapters. In early 2017, we 3D-printed our first prototype prosthetic hand and shared it with engineers at ENABLE, resulting in our club becoming the first and currently only ENABLE chapter in East Africa.
Recently, Hand Out joined another service club, Operation Cure, on a service learning field trip to CURE Kijabe Paediatric Hospital. During the trip, the students visited the prosthetic engineering department, one of the only ones in Kenya, where they were able to show some of their prosthetic prototypes to experts in the field and learn more about the needs and challenges faced by the hospital and its patients. During the course of the visit, the club learned about Paul, a 5 year old boy from Nyeri, who tragically lost his hand in an accident involving farming machinery. The experts at CURE Kijabe referred Paul as a possible candidate for a Hand Out prosthetic hand.
The Hand Out club arranged for Paul to come from Nyeri to visit us at ISK, accompanied by his mother Beatrice, and established that he could be supplied with an elbow powered prosthetic. In order to print the correct sized prosthetic, measurements were taken using a measuring tape, a 3D scan and scaled photographs of his arm. In addition, a cast of the limb was taken enabling the students to take further measurements and test printed products against a life-sized model without Paul having to make frequent trips to ISK. Paul then had an opportunity to choose the colours for his new hand. After some lengthy deliberation he chose a combination of the red, yellow and blue - great bright colours for a little boy!
Over the next couple of weeks students from Hand Out worked diligently on the construction and customization of the 3D printed hand for Paul. Students printed out all the parts needed to construct the prosthetic and they assembled the arm to ensure it fit the measurement constraints and the mould taken.
Last week, Paul came to pick up the prototype together with his whole family including his older sister. He could not wait to test it. Within the first 5 minutes he was able to pick up various objects, which was amazing for all of us to see! This is the prototype that he will be testing and providing ISK feedback on the design and construction. ISK students will then use this information to modify the final hand. During Paul’s visit, the students already noticed a couple of changes that need to be made:
He plans to come back in early June for the final fitting.
As a side project there are also a couple of students who are experimenting with the addition of electronics and sensors into the hand. At the moment they are focusing on integrating a waterproof flashlight into the palm. In many parts of rural Kenya electricity is scarce and having rechargeable waterproof light would be of great help.
Since Paul is young and growing quickly, he will have to come back for regular fittings and updates for the prosthetic. Here the true benefit of 3D printing is apparent. Students can continually customize the prosthetic to match Paul’s growth rate. Furthermore, this can be done at a cost of only $30- $50 per prosthetic hand, compared to the $1200 Paul was quoted from the hospital. Hand Out is committed to a life-long partnership with Paul, therefore it is imperative that the club continues to grow and maintain active members.
If you are inspired by Paul's story and would like more information about the club and Paul's journey please visit the club website http://handoutisk.com
Maciej Sudra - Design Teacher at the International School of Kenya
Denzil Mackrory - Physics Teacher at International School of Kenya
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On our way from the AISA conference to the ISK school tour, our visit was pretty much cut short before it began. Our driver (ferrying a busload of leaders and associates) evaluated floodwater rushing across a city block… and gunned forward. As the dark water rose up the steps of our bus, we stalled out in the middle of the rising current. Trash began to whirl outside the bus windows and local residents appeared from surrounding apartment complexes to check out the bus full of trapped mzungu. Negotiations for our extrication began… as well as theories as to what might happen if we remained stuck in the rising water. After some rile and a discounted price, pants were rolled up and our bus was pushed free.
When we arrived at school, they’d even saved us some wine.
My international motorcycle license, a fistful of battery packs and boundless optimism. Always eat the local yogurt first upon arriving. Don't pass up a street vendor with a long line. Always try to find out where the locals go for fun. Our world is a spectacular place, full of endless possibilities!
EquipMySchool.com now additionally serves as an international marketplace, connecting all your favourite brands to over 260 International American and British curriculum schools worldwide. Register with us online and start building your order today!
Welcome to the first AISA member spotlight, a place where we highlight some of the talented and interesting people working in our member schools. We hope you enjoy getting to know the AISA community.
Name: Megan Bagdonas
School: American International School of Lagos (Nigeria)
Role: Grade 5 classroom teacher
Lagos is a giant melting pot of African culture with vibrant energy. There is always something happening - be it art shows, music performances, food festivals, or sailing regattas. Sometimes it's not always easy to find, but it's always there if you look.
Lagos life can feel a bit hectic, frenzied and frustrating at times, but I think our staff does an excellent job of being there for each other - not just for school issues - but mental health issues. I felt welcomed from the beginning and try to pass that on to new staff. We don't compete against each other, we look after one another.
I was originally a newspaper journalist. I was awarded a research fellowship to study in Tanzania for a year and I fell in love with this continent - it's variety, it's landscape, it unique (and sometimes puzzling) outlook on life. I vowed to try and find a way to stay. Teaching came naturally, and I worked at various schools in South Africa and Mozambique before deciding to make teaching abroad my life career and got a Masters in Education to work in major international schools.
Book: Cloud Atlas (David Mitchel)
Movie: La Vie en Rose (biopic on French singer Edith Piaf's)
TV Show: Modern Family, of course (My father and brothers work on the show!)
Honestly, it keeps changing. I once wanted to get back to teaching higher level IB courses in the humanities, but am now really loving teaching 5th grade! I would like to move more into helping organize international trips, and perhaps get more involved in coaching.
I love Mozambique for it's expansive and varied coastline and all the fantastic islands. Also, they have the best prawns in the world!
Make your home a place of beauty and a respite from the chaotic world around you. Create a space that smells lovely, looks as enticing as you are, and make your bed a heavenly dream. Sleep is so important! Take time to decorate and add flourishes that will make you proud of your living space. Think of your home as your foundation, or a showcase for the life you've earned and created for yourself.
AISA is delighted to announce the following student award winners for 2017/18.
Keep an eye on the AISA website as we feature some of the stories of these remarkable students. Well done!
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