COVID-19 is Testing Our Bandwidth

It has been 8 weeks since I started self-quarantine in my small apartment in Beijing, on January 26th, 2020. My school began online education on February 10th after having about two weeks to prepare teaching and learning policies, and to clearly communicate to all stakeholders what the ensuing weeks of online learning would (hopefully) look like. We had no idea how long that would last, and our current prognosis is a possible return to face-to-face learning in mid-April. I imagine, however, it won’t be that early as China now fears a second wave of cases as things slowly return to normal and people outside China return to the nation.

 

China has been both praised and pummeled for its response to COVID-19, with pundits, politicians, and average citizens around the globe weighing in on China’s social, educational, and political norms typically not fully comprehended even by those who live in this country of 1.4 billion people, both citizens and expatriates. From an insider perspective, I at least can attest to the safety and security I have felt over two months under quarantine, and since the last two weeks I now have a personal Chinese “community volunteer” from a local bureau who calls or texts me to ask about my health. She is ordered, as are other volunteers, to check on the well-being of foreigners, both for our safety as well as that of Chinese citizens, as in the past few weeks, thousands of Chinese have repatriated, and foreigners have received the greenlight to return to the country. Nonetheless, headlines in the West, and particularly America, continue to ravage China for its handling of a crisis now under control here and which is waging its viral war in other countries around the world.

There are a number of lenses through which the current crisis in China, and now globally, can be viewed. Cybersecurity, a recent interest of mine, has received new attention as threat actors look for new ways to prey on the vulnerable. I wrote a post on LinkedIn over a month ago about how China is leading the first-ever and largest national online learning experiment the world has ever seen. Equity for students has been a concern in China, as hundreds of millions of students and teachers were forced to switch to online learning in far less time than other nations have had to prepare. The government took early steps to ensure the nation’s technology infrastructure could handle the explosive increase of users (i.e., students) on multiple devices and streaming live or recorded lessons. Francis Miller, Director of College Counseling at Xi’an Tie Yi High School in Shaanxi Province, recently wrote a short piece for the International Association for College Admission Counseling (ACAC). He stated that, although measures have been taken to provide equal access to students across the country, this should not be equated with democratizing education for all. Additionally, the sociological effects of extended quarantine are seen in increases in domestic violence and, already, an increase in filings for divorce.

With the spread of COVID-19 globally, attention has turned from China to new epicenters such as Italy, Iran, and Spain. In America, my passport country, debate has arisen over how, or even if, a shift to online learning can work in a country whose ideals of equity in education rightly also surround home access to the internet and even food for students who depend on 1-3 free meals per day at their school. Other social phenomena have arisen, too, ranging anywhere from toilet paper and hand-sanitizer hoarding to the cancellation of athletics and other forms of entertainment, like my go-to late night comedy shows.

 

What has persisted, but has morphed and evolved once again, is the discussion around race relations within and between countries, from the East to the West. COVID-19 is the official designation of the novel coronavirus which found its epicenter in Wuhan, China. At the beginning of February, when COVID-19 was only “China’s problem,” I posted an opinion article on LinkedIn reporting the imminent fear that Chinese, and Asians generally, were likely to experience regarding discrimination, racism, and xenophobia—take your pick of words, each of them apply. Many were worried about this, in fact, and “-isms” of all kinds have taken over social media like a tempest. In that LinkedIn post, I was challenged by a few commenters to consider how Chinese people treat people of other colors and ethnicities. Those who know me or follow me on LinkedIn know I frequently discuss racism and discrimination that educators of color face in the international school world.

 

Fast forward to this week, when another one of my LinkedIn posts addressed discrimination, racism, and xenophobia—again, take your pick because they all apply. This post, however, consisted of me expressing my great disappointment in many Chinese citizens’ response to revised regulation purportedly allowing more ways for foreigners in China to obtain permanent residence status. Most of the proposed regulations already exist in some form, and it is likely some netizens in China simply don’t realize this. Their responses, however, comprised virulent racism and xenophobia toward, in particular, black and brown expatriates from around the globe. Some have attributed the heinous response to fears of foreigners returning to China who may be infected with COVID-19. Thus, many in China quickly turned from persecuted to persecutor in a matter of weeks.

 

In yet another LinkedIn post several weeks ago, I discussed an article written by Chinese authors published on February 16, 2020. The new research described the effects of misleading media coverage during public health crises, with COVID-19 serving as a case study. The article discussed how such coverage perpetuates racial discrimination, negatively impacts country image, and damages mental health during a crisis such as the novel coronavirus outbreak. Importantly, the article approached the topic using a 2015 quantitative study that investigated “relationships between experiences of perceived racial discrimination…and 12 common psychiatric diagnoses…of African-American and Afro-Caribbean adults in the U.S.” This is important research that I hope will be part of a growing body of literature on race relations where, as a global superpower, China engages the topic of racism on many fronts. Already we see how research on the trauma of racism on people of color in America can inform new lines of research in China. Collaborative research needs to happen so that cultures are learning from each other, working toward solutions.

 

COVID-19 is testing the world’s bandwidth in every way possible, from online learning to the economy to politics to travel to medical supplies and, of course, the internet itself. A personal takeaway for me, however, is that racism and xenophobia exacerbate our already-stretched bandwidth. The vitriol of cultural superiority and degrees of melanin gives victory to an invisible virus. Everyone—including White people—need to do the work of antiracism with those who experience discrimination. Whatever our profession or location in the world, we—including White people—need to look for ways to advocate for those around us who don’t look like us. We/I need to collaborate, learn, and un-learn. We/I need to embrace difficult topics and conversations. Let’s not socially-distance ourselves from the values and virtues we need for a more pluralistic vision of a world equally affected by the current crisis. Let’s keep moving forward.

 

 

 

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Lucas Roberts has served as a social studies teacher, professional development coordinator, vice principal, and principal in China since 2009. His teaching experience spans grades 6-12, and leadership experience grades K-12. Additionally, he has been involved in accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 2012, first as his school’s WASC site coordinator and, since 2014, serving on visiting team committees in Cambodia, South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, and Thailand. He started the LinkedIn Group, International Educator Equity Forum, to further conversations and solutions around educator equity issues in international schools. He has served on a panel in Thailand to discuss student leadership in athletics, presented at a conference on the topic of building discovery learning school cultures in China, and has written several book reviews in peer-reviewed journals and popular platforms. An additional passion of his is to draw awareness to social-emotional and mental health needs in our transient, cross-cultural school communities.

 

Lucas earned B.A., M.Div., and M.Ed. degrees, and is currently a doctoral candidate through Wilkes University’s Dubai-based, international cohort. His research interests include diversity, equity, and inclusion in international schools, cross-cultural leadership, and what it means for schools to collaborate, not just compete, in the international school world. He is a member of the KDSL Global Advisory Council.

 

Online Learning in Oman

Our School 
Sarh Al Jaameah Private School (SAPS) is a small private school allocated in Muscat, Oman. It serves grades 1 through 3. Its blended curriculum includes Cambridge Primary International (English, Math & Science), Ministry of Education Arabic subjects (Arabic, Islamic and S.S.), Life Skills and specials.
 
What Our School Implemented 
When the Ministry recently closed schools, no direct or implicit directives were given for the continuation of learning during this time. In anticipation of a school closure, and hearing other educational organizations around the world suspending school, I had my ICT teacher to create Google Classrooms for every subject across all grades. Because I have multi-language and multi-national teachers, I needed to have something that is easy to follow, explain and implement.
I chose to adopt the Google Classroom platform because it is the most teacher friendly tool that I have seen used in schools over the years. There are few limitations to what teachers can upload or link to each classroom. You can post as little or as much as you need to accommodate your individual school goals for virtual learning. In addition, Google Meet is also in the G Suite, which allows teachers to visit the same platform to assist with communication with teams inside the organization.
Tips for Others in Getting Started with Online Learning
 
1. Humanity Above All!
Before you delve into what can be managed on the education front, consider that your health, family and well being are the most important factors in the face of this challenge. Our jobs and online learning are beneficial to those we serve, but none of it matters if we don’t care of ourselves and each other. Remember that when you begin, or continue plans you have for online learning. Remember Maslow’s perspective on learning. It will matter to educators and families alike.
 
2. Do something to keep the school community connected
As we can see, educational responses to the pandemic are different from country to country, state to state and school to school within a system. Some organizations have a plan, while some require little to no continuation of learning. There are a gazillion ways to do this. Find what works for you. Don’t worry about emulating others, but do consider some of the creative ideas that have been shared. Even if you can’t address school wide online learning, create a YouTube page for weekly announcements or encouragement, send emails with web-based sites for extension activities, or make calls to families once per week to check-in with any of the workbooks and packets that may be sent home .

3. Create and use a model that is teacher, student and family friendly 
Work together to create a plan…
  • Begin by drafting a plan that all of your staff can have input on. Brainstorm all of the things you think are necessary, practical and feasible based on your goals, resources and current global situation. This includes non-instructional staff. Everyone may have a perspective that may not be readily evident unless you have a variety of views. What do you want to accomplish? Google Docs are great for planning, time-saving and convenient in or out of the workplace.

Online Learning Plan

 

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4. Consider the capacity of your staff
Remember that everyone is not an expert in using/implementing technology effectively. Choose platforms, apps and resources that are teacher friendly because they are the ones that have to develop assignments and navigate your chosen online learning tools.
5. Set up a mock online learning environment – Perfect to engage in professional learning and development initiatives!
Experiment with teachers before asking families to engage in the process. You don’t want to be trouble-shooting with parents unnecessarily. The process can be cumbersome. I created a professional learning Google Classroom for my staff first, requiring a couple of assignments, responses and uploads based on one of our SIP goals with my teachers:) The plan was to incorporate a blended learning environment prior to the school closing. This allowed me to demonstrate and engage my teachers in person, explaining and translating while on the interactive board and their devices. It proved to be very productive and reassuring. The additional benefit to the staff is that we get to engage in continuous professional learning. Use some of this time to catch up or reinforce school wide best practices or introduce others.

 

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6. Keep student work and planning simple
  • Ensure clear expectations (uniform criteria)
  • Compact curriculum
  • Cover essentials only
  • Minimize assignments
  • Refrain from formal grading
  • Make some of it fun!
  • Encourage
  • Praise
  • Give Feedback/Support
Note – Remember the context for why we’re all even having online learning. If students/families aren’t able to keep up with assignments, consider what they may be trying to manage at home. Encourage them to complete what they can, and remind them that our role is to provide some continuation of learning and access. The whole world has a lot on their plate right now. We are just trying to minimize the gaps we all know will occur during this crisis.
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7. Monitor the progress of your online learning
Teachers can and should provide feedback to students with appropriate next steps, praise for their effort to keep up with work and support parents in this homeschooling environment. Administrators, add yourself to each classroom and you’re able to address accountability and support teachers in the process. Note – All the classrooms show up in your Google Classroom app, but you can disable the notifications, so you’re not inundated with participant responses.
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8. Consider feedback and modify plans where necessary 
We’ve seen many memes and responses to the plight of schools and families’ frustrations. While many of these are hilarious, we need to understand the explicit and underlying messages being conveyed. If the online learning we create is overwhelming, stakeholders will not engage in the process, at least not effectively, making the best of plans all for naught.

9. Use available platforms to communicate with each other
We are using Google Meet. For those folks required by your local education authority (LEA) to implement online learning, choose one of the many platforms to hold meetings online for discussion on some of your school’s online initiatives. Most are now free to access. For some of our international schools, this may be difficult, as most VOIPs are blocked. However, some countries, like Oman have suspended restrictions due to the crisis at hand.
Our staff has had very successful meetings on Google Meet. Both my English and Arabic speaking staff engaged to discuss progress and next steps. It offers accessibility using closed caption, chatting sidebar, optional mute, screen sharing for the initiator/presenter of the meeting and multiple screen layouts. The staff took turns in verbal responses while typing thoughts, ideas and questions to be included in our discussion. Responses are used to follow up.
 
10. Consider and document how you’ll continue to incorporate these wonderful practices in the future!
 
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Natasha is currently the principal of an international school in Oman. As an education specialist (Ed.S.), and founder of Key Education Solutions Consulting (KEDS), she also employs 20 years of experience to engage schools, and families in research-based, best educational practices. Professional learning and development of educators is her passion, particularly in the area of Mindset research, and its implications in educator effort and evidence within the classroom.
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Thank you, Stuart Dennis

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Yesterday I found out my former Head of School in Dubai (GEMS World Academy) passed away. In one of our emails he asked me to do an interview. This blog post is dedicated to him.

 

Hello Kevin,
Maybe you’ll consider to do an interview  as part of my little series of interview articles for LinkedIn. Honestly, this is nothing more than a intellectual stimulation for me whilst I’m going through chemo again. However, a great way to connect with amazing people like you.

 

  1. How would describe your leadership style? How has it evolved over the years and why?

I see myself as a coaching leader. Many times I enjoy supporting teammates in fulfilling their goals and providing feedback to aid in growth. The one on one interaction and finding out where people are and how to best be of assistance is where I get energy.

 

  1. Who are your leadership idols and why?

My business advisor Alister Aranha as he always ask great questions and pushes my thinking.

John Ritter, one of my first international school heads, because of his wealth of knowledge and experience around school leadership.

Cynthia Buck was the first principal who hired me in Virginia. She set forth a clear vision and was always supportive with our team goals and my personal goals.

 

  1. What is your greatest leadership success?

Setting up a company in a country outside of the USA. This was done in 2013 in Dubai. There was a lot to learn but so worth the journey.

 

  1. What’s the toughest leadership challenge you’ve faced?

Being comfortable speaking up and out about issues related to diversity, inclusion, and equity in the international education space.

 

  1. Looking forward in your current role, what excites and motivates you as a leader?

Interacting with future talent in the present. This is built into our KDSL Global Fellowship Program. In one year these educators learn more about entrepreneurship and launch a new product or service.

 

  1. What lessons in leadership are you still hoping to learn?

Focusing on a few things would be something I need to revisit. In the past I would choose 3 big things to focus on daily.

 

  1. Do you see your role also a leadership mentor and trainer? Is succession planning at all levels in the organisation important you? How do you achieve this?

I see myself as a leadership learner. This is due to being willing to learn from others based on their experiences. Legacy thinking started with the fellowship program we set up in 2017. It was the idea of how do you give back to the new and next generation of those who work in education? We empowered consultants to start their own ventures and engage in a range of projects. This was my experience which allowed me to learn lots about what I enjoyed and what I did not.

A big change is coming in 2020 at KDSL Global around planning ahead. More to come in the near future.

 

  1. What’s your advice to experienced school leaders looking for the next big step?

Learn what you can where you are. Write down and work on your next big thing but do not allow it to consume you. This may make you miss out on lessons and learning in your current context.

 

  1. What’s your advice to inexperienced leaders in school looking for the first big step?

It would still be learn what you can where you are. Seek a mentor who can serve as a guide. Seek and sign up for opportunities to serve as a leader wherever you are currently working.

 

  1. And finally, how do you relax? 

Meditating

Running

Reading

Just pausing and taking a break from work
Stuart, ‬
‪I’m crushed to hear the news of your departure. You are the reason I came to Dubai. Your vision and leadership were impeccable. I feel you tricked me as well when I found out upon arrival that I’d be teaching the daughter of the Head of School. ‬

‪Thank you for checking in with me & encouraging me to pursue my goals and dreams. You signed every form I brought your way when I wanted to learn, grow, and develop. I’ll miss our updates. ‬

‪In today’s international education leadership space I find few like you. You hired a Black man to teach at what was then the most expensive IB school in Dubai during 2008. I didn’t put my photo on my CV. On our phone interview I learned about you & your expectations.‬

‪You shared leadership opportunities & served as a reference for me countless times, connected me with education leaders around the world, and added me on your team. ‬

‪Thank you for the opportunity to serve, learn, and for being a true leader.‬

Education Entrepreneurs: Virtual Panel and Networking

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Education Entrepreneurs: Virtual Panel and Networking hosted by Vanguard Educators and KDSL Global

Saturday March 28, 2020

1:00-2:00pm CST

Join us for an online panel with Education Entrepreneurs who have worked around the world. 

 

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Kevin Simpson owns and operates KDSL Global. This education consulting company launched in 2016 in the USA and in the United Arab Emirates. He and his team has served thousands of schools, educators, and leaders worldwide in over 20 countries. The majority of this work in education has centered on American curriculum schools. Since 2008, he has been focused on education in the MENA region, assisted numerous schools with accreditation, training, development, school improvement, and school start-up projects.  Simpson is co-founder of the UAE Learning Network and leads the GCC ASCD Connected Community. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University (USA). Currently, he is studying in the Association for the Advancement of International Education’s Institute for International School Leadership and founder of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color.

 

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Dee Azlan, also known as the Business Artist, is a successful graphic artist and entrepreneur educator who specializes in the advocacy of women in the field of business. In addition to being a sought-after, elite, international makeup artist and talented photographer, she is also the founder of THEORY Beauty Cosmetics.After successfully launching her beauty brand internationally, she now travels to inspire budding entrepreneurs to discover their gifts, passion, and purpose to build a brand that is authentic to their identity using her signature entrepreneur program, DNA Method.

Her expertise as a visionary problem solver enables her to identify obstacles that stunt business growth. Moreover, Dee’s creative and critical thinking abilities bring clarity and purpose to the process of building an effective and decisive business development strategy.

 

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Jason Hayes is the founder of Vanguard Education and the author of The Art of Teaching: The 5 Elements to Inspire.  As a researcher, inspirational speaker, and author, Jason aims to inspire businesses, organizations, and schools to be comfortable with change and the unknown in order to achieve personal and organizational goals.  Jason has the magnetic gift of connecting to, energizing, and inspiring various audiences. Mr. Hayes’ 3Rs “Rewind, Review, and Renew” method is a paradigm for organizational and personal change through recognizing and understanding history.

 

To attend this free event please email kdslglobalinfo@gmail.com to register.

KDSL Global interviews Nicole Fedio of Mathematique

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KDSL Global recently had an opportunity to interview Nicole Fedio, one of our math consultants based in Saudi Arabia. She recently collaborated with our company in Egypt and was a presenter at the Middle East Maths Teachers Conference in Dubai.

Tell us about Mathematique.

Mathematique is a boutique mathematics consulting business. When I think of it, an image immediately pops into my head. It’s a Venn Diagram that first appeared in the Toronto Star in 2016 (see graphic below). Mathematique sits firmly in the center of the four overlapping circles: ‘What I love’, ‘What the world needs’, ‘What I can be paid for’, and ‘What I’m good at.’ After two decades of math teaching and math coaching experience, launching Mathematique allows me to share my deep and passionate love for exploring the teaching and learning of mathematics with others, centered by those four prompts.

What I bring to mathematics consulting is my dedication to the craft of coaching. It was after working with hundreds of teachers as a coach that I decided I wanted to venture out on my own as an independent consultant. Providing quality professional development to educators is more than just delivering content. It’s about building relationships. It’s about asking participants the right questions so they form their own understanding of the material. It’s coaching adults to answer their own questions. If we want our students to become problem solvers and good questioners, then we must first model this as educators. The mission of Mathematique is to empower educators with the mathematical expertise needed to inspire the problem solvers of the future. And my vision is to live in a world where I never hear, ‘but I can’t do math’ ever again.

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What do you say to people who say they aren’t a math person?

When people claim they can’t do math or say,  ‘but I’m not a math person’ my first response is to ask why. Too many people carry trauma from the way they were taught math in school. Too often I hear, ‘I used to like math until…’ I think one of the main issues is how narrowly we have defined what it means to ‘do math.’ As a coach, I worked at a school where I would regularly share intriguing math problem solving activities with teachers. The PE teacher loved solving them. Her solutions were unique and showed a complex level of understanding of the problems. Without fail, after finding a solution she would say, ‘but I’m not a maths person. I didn’t take maths past grade 10.’’ In her mind, maths was complicated formulas, algorithms, and something that she still could not access. It was not problem solving, finding patterns, or making meaning out of data. One goal I have is to expand the definition of what it means to be a ‘math person.’

 

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Three things you would share with a new math educator.

When working with new math educators, I first remind them to be kind to themselves and to give themselves some grace. Teaching is such a wonderful profession because it’s never the same day twice. And that is both a blessing and a curse. We are continually growing, learning, and evolving as educators. When I think back to some of the things I did in my first few years of teaching, I cringe and want to write blanket apology letters to all of my former students. Instead, I can reflect on what I would now do differently given the same circumstances and help others not to repeat my mistakes. Secondly, I would advise new math educators to dive into the art of questioning. Questioning is key. Asking the right questions of both their students and themselves is a pathway to growth. When a student asks a math question to which the teacher does not know the answer, consider that a great learning opportunity. It’s OK not to know and to research the question together with the student. Or, it’s perfectly fine to take the time to come back to the student later with an answer. And thirdly, find your positive math community. Surround yourself with people who are excited about the teaching and learning of mathematics and trying new things. Your community might include colleagues at your school, or it might be a virtual community online. Find the people like me who will help nurture your inner mathematician and encourage you to keep asking the necessary questions of both yourself and of your students.

 

 

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Nicole Fedio is an independent mathematics consultant at Mathematique Consulting. With two decades of experience as an educator, Nicole taught high school mathematics in Ghana, Venezuela, Guatemala, Boston, Seattle, India and China. For four years, she was the K-12 district math coach for a group of six international schools in Saudi Arabia. She earned a B.S. in Mathematics from Penn State University and a M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University. She is a National Board certified teacher.

She holds a deep and passionate love for exploring the teaching and learning of mathematics. She finds joy in helping others find their inner passion for the subject. Her vision is to live in a world where she never hears, “but I can’t do math” ever again by supporting teachers to rewrite their students’ mathematical stories. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleFedio