Classroom Environment, Cross-cultural Education, educator professionalism, international education, professional learning

Six Worthy Reminders

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This entry is dedicated to friends and colleagues who are either commencing a new school year (i.e. those in the southern hemisphere) or teachers who are re-commencing their teaching after an extended and well-deserved holiday. Although I am sure many of you have set out lofty resolves for a successful new year, the purpose of this entry is to offer a few essential yet ‘hard truth’ reminders about the importance of carefully thinking about your classroom. I read once that a teacher’s actions and behaviors towards students in the classroom  carry more influence that any policy or rule book. My hope is that these six reminders will invite you, either individually or with your colleagues, to reflect upon and be mindful of your actions and practice as you begin the important next stage in your student’s learning journey.

  1. Culture Counts!

Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” In other words, culture trumps good intentions in the classroom and beyond. Recent cross-cultural research underscores the reality that a students’ approach to and attitude toward education is significantly influenced by their culture and community. Thus, as you plan for students’ learning this term, consider ways in which you might adapt or adjust instructional and assessment strategies so that your students’ learning experiences are responsive of and relevant to their culture and community. As Sir Ken Robinson (2010), well known for his advocacy for the arts and creativity in the curriculum, tells us, children learn best when they are “in their element”. Teachers who successfully integrate a student’s culture into the classroom experience speak of higher levels of engagement and overall achievement.

  1. Each Child is Unique!

Culturally proficient teachers see students for what they bring to the classroom so that each child feels valued. Multiple research studies tell us that teachers’ personal beliefs about students, based on personal values, inner biases and/or past experiences, can lead to differential treatment and expectations for students and this finding is found to be especimulticultural children around the globe clipartally true in international schools, characterized by their multi-cultural environments. The beginning of a new team is an ideal time to reflect and take stock of our beliefs, perceptions and existing attitudes towards our students.  The increasing
diversity in classrooms today combined with our professional responsibility to create classrooms in which each child is successful requires teachers to be mindful of their thoughts and actions and strive for equitable classrooms which provide learning for all students.

  1. Look at the Evidence!

Teachers agree on the importance of data as a valuable way of informing their practice.  Tangible evidence of student participation and progress speaks volumes when ascertaining the extent of student positive interaction with his or her learning to date. When working in international and culturally diverse settings, the careful and critical review of student data is particularly important so that you can be confident that the learning is meeting the diversity of student needs. The regular exploration of attendance, participation and/or achievement data can highlight possible flags for student progression, enabling teachers, individually and collectively, to reflect on their practice and adjust or modify as necessary.

  1. Celebrate Collaboration!

A hallmark of international schools is the diversity of nationalities found good bye good luckin the staffroom where teachers from all parts of the world come together to offer a unique learning environment for the students. Several recent educational studies confirm the value of professional collaboration as it contributes to school improvement and improved learning for students. When teachers come together, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience, and engage in discussions about how best to plan for and respond to student learning needs, the level of professional support and energy is maximized. Strong professional communities are the life blood of successful schools and for many teachers, these collegial encounters become a valuable way of seeking innovative ways to re-charge their practice.

  1. Technology is a Friend!

Education leaders agree that, over the next few years, information and communication technology will either creep or blast its way into our schools with the result that teachers will need to utilize new strategies and resources to support the learning process in the classroom. We know that technology can be a powerful tool in the classroom, yet many teachers are reluctant to move beyond their Smart Boards when considering the use of technology as a classroom aid. However, teachers who successfully integrate technology into their instructional repertoire are rewarded by engaged groups of students, keen to extend and share their learning. 2017 might just be the time you invest in your own learning, seeking ways in which you might integrate some aspect of technology into your practice; your students will thank you!

  1. Your Classroom is Important!happy-4

No matter how we phrase it, our task is to create safe and secure classroom environments for our students. Teachers agree that positive and trusting relationships contribute significantly to student learning. Similarly, teachers and parents agree that change is a constant for students today. For this reason, the security of the day to day routines and supportive relationships developed in the classroom can offer the necessary reassurance to students that they are valued and that their efforts will make a positive difference to their learning. Teachers who have had an opportunity to travel and enjoy good times and friends over the holiday period are wise not to fall into the trap thinking that all their students have enjoyed a similar holiday experience. We really do not know the reality of a child’s home situation. Similarly, most teachers in international schools have travelled across countries and oceans to assume their position, however, when thinking about the lives of your students, perhaps their relocation or migratory experiences, (e.g. immigrants, refugee, expatriate) have not left them so resilient or optimistic about the future. Knowing that a student’s behavior is a window to their lives outside of the classroom, above all else, remember to smile and offer a genuine welcome to each student as he or she walks through your classroom door at the beginning of the term!

These six reminders are by no means inclusive of everything teachers need to consider as they plan for a successful new school year or term with their students. However, perhaps they might spark an unexpected or surprising reflection or personal awareness.

To my colleagues and friends in international schools and in both hemispheres, thank you for all that you do for your students! Best wishes for a successful 2017 in the classroom.

PD Pen

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educator professionalism, Professional Development, professional learning, school leadership

Seriously Speaking about PDP Planning

…we must acknowledge that getting there will take much more than tinkering with the types or amount of professional development teachers receive, or further scaling other aspects of our current approach. It will require a new conversation about teacher development—one that asks fundamentally different questions about what better teaching means and how to achieve it (The Mirage, p. 4).

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‘Tis the season of professional learning planning. As the academic year comes to a close (in many regions), teachers and school-based administrators are encouraged to reflect on their professional practice over one year and create a plan for personal professional growth for the next. As a principal and leadership supervisor, I have witnessed an array of individual professional planning maps, handbooks, and templates, thoughtfully crafted and completed by dedicated teachers and leaders – only to be filed away or uploaded to a shared folder for future reference – if necessary!

Research tells us that PD planning is perhaps the most single important contributor to sustained teacher improvement and thereby improved student achievement. Not surprisingly, most teachers I have worked with readily acknowledge this fact. According to a study, Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter) commissioned by the Center of International Education Benchmarking and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, teacher professional learning is the underlying element for teacher improvement and student achievement. In addition, Joellen Killion, senior advisor to the professional organization, Learning Forward, correctly spells out that a program of professional learning sets out “a set of purposeful, planned actions and the support system necessary to achieve the identified goals. Effective [professional learning] programs are ongoing, coherent, and linked to student achievement” (Killion, 2008, p. 11).

Fundamentally, teachers are no different from other professionals in that they invite possibility. Provided with the gift of time to review, reflect and consider viable and innovative ways of doing things, teachers enjoy the opportunity to set aspirations for a learning environment where students enjoy the process of learning and succeed.  Except for the most jaded teacher, imaging a better next year is an exciting and positive experience and one that most teachers willingly and optimistically enter into.

Therefore, at this time of year, I find myself wondering about the reason for the apparent disconnect between rhetoric and practice. What possible reasons might there be as to why today’s teachers struggle, even agonize, over the development of a worthwhile PDP, knowing that there is a good likelihood that it may collect dust on a shelf in the principal’s office or school’s PD room. Why is so little attemeditation_water_rocksntion given to these professional documents from the moment of approval onwards? Why are these plans typically forgotten about and neglected soon after the commencement of the next academic year? I suspect the issue does not rest with teachers; rather we would be wise to consider both the leadership and the professional culture in the school.

Without question, leadership is key here. In situations where school-based leaders promote and advocate authentic evidenced-based professional learning, the reflection and planning process is transparent and integrated into the professional culture. Professional on-going learning is expected and celebrated with the likely result that both teachers and students in this school are moving forward! Leaders in these schools are transparent about student achievement data and its’ relation to the school’s improvement planning documents. Leaders in these schools organize time and location and teams to review relevant data and documents. They ensure that a variety of helpful resources and templates are available for teachers to use and above all else, leaders in these schools hold high expectations for the professional learning capacity and commitment for each and every teacher.

On the other hand, in cultures characterized by resistance, fear, or inequity, the lack of leadership emphasis for professional learning limits and even hinders teacher energy and participation in the planning process. In these schools, where the end of another busy school year is more about counting down the days and less about professional reflection and planning, weary teachers are hardly inspired to spend time ensuring that all elements of the evaluation and professional growth planning process are directly linked to student progress. Occasionally, in instances when professional development planning does surface, discussion tends to be superficial; showing little relation to student learning. School cultures that consider the professional planning process as automated, irrelevant and somewhat distant process and their expectations for teachers is more about ticking the right boxes rather than establishing a truly professional culture. In these schools, it is hardly surprising that teachers’ planning documents sit idle.

As I think about it, perhaps the question is not so much, why is so little attention paid to teachers’ professional learning plans once they have been crafted and filed. Rather the question is, how might local school systems empower and support school leadership teams to establish and nurture their respective professional communities honoring and celebrating a teachers’ commitment to on-going professional learning for the benefit of students? This topic is too important to set aside – watch for ideas in upcoming posts.

PD Pen

 

 

 

 

 

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educator professionalism, international education, Professional Development, school leadership

Keep the High Road and Say Good Bye!

In the international education community annual teacher turnover rates can be as much as 25% in any given year and schwaving good byeool administrators must deal with a significant portion of the staff who will not be returning for the next school year. In addition to the variety and diversity of sentiments, such as excitement, exhaustion, and anxiety, that typically accompany end of the year functions and responsibilities, school leaders inevitably find teachers who are in some phase of active disengagement on their staff.

There are any number of reasons why teachers disengage and move on and I am learning that there exists a strong correlation between the reason a teacher leaves and his or her professional attitude and performance during these last few weeks. Thus I have come up with a few acronyms to assist in the identification of colleagues whose attitudes and behaviours seem to fit this mould. Perhaps you have encountered and are dealing with one of the following ‘moving on’ teachers this year.

Done My Time (DMT)

These teachers have decided that it is simply time to move on. Whether they have been accustomed to the lifestyle offered by schools in the international circuit, or they are returning home having completed an agreed upon leave of absence, their imminent departure is no surprise; rather it is part of a larger personal and/or professional plan. As these teachers are moving “to” as opposed to moving “from”, they tend to be very professional in the end of the year processes. Perhaps this is because they want to leave knowing that their contributions have made a difference and are valued. Typically hand over documentation and the exit processes are handled professionally and as efficiently as possible. For the most part, DMT’s have demonstrated satisfactory professional performance and their departure, although considered unfortunate, is accepted as a reality given the transitory nature of teaching in the international education scheme.

How to deal with a DMT: Thank them and wish them luck!

Leaving Under Grievance (LUG)

We’ve all seen them. Many of us have worked with them. We’ve listened to their sorry stories of unfortunate experiences in the classroom. We’ve tolerated their unoriginal excuses for the growing frequency of late arrivals and early departures. We’ve told ourselves that their dismissive tone and less-than-subtle shoulder shrugs during morning briefings are simply momentary lapses in professional judgement. At any other time of the school year, these encounters might be perceived as just another part of the job; but during these last few very long and hot days of another very busy academic yeabitterr, keeping perspective can be difficult.  Overall, we are patiently waiting for the end of the year.

Most LUG’s carry an iceberg-like chip on their shoulders and seem to have concluded that their anger and resentment is solely the fault of the students, school, system, or the world. LUG’s have difficulty accepting any level of responsibility for their situation and are known to spend their last weeks in school blaming and complaining, with the result that their students suffer and their colleagues must endure the ongoing evidence of unprofessional behaviors. .

Once in a while we see LUG’s who are victim of some unfortunate and/or irrational decision.  I wonder if their situation is more an example of ‘collateral damage’, meaning that they have ended up in the wrong place or with the wrong people at a very wrong time. These situations are unquestionably sad as the reasons for their departure are typically unwarranted and we can only hope that their next posting will offer a new start and reward.

How to deal with a LUG: Smile, stay professional and avoid face to face encounters.

Leaving But Don’t Know It Yet (DKIY)

We have all probably seen teachers who seem oblivious to their lack of professionalism or consistent poor performance. Their self-absorbed nature is almost overwhelming as they boast about their ability to take advantage of their situation (e.g. excess leaves) or they celebrate their nonchalant approach to completing their end of the year responsibilities. Frustratingly, such teachers are seen flitting around the school, applying a light-hearted touch to their responsibilities. Ironically and unbelievably, these staff members think that their contributions are just what the school needs!

How to deal with a DKIY: Stay professional, keep expectations high, document everything and avoid one-to-one interactions.

(Secretly) Planning to Abscond (sPA)

sad-goodbye-clip-art-461344Absconders are a sad reality within the international educational context. When teachers accept a two or three year contract, they typically do so with the intention to fulfil their professional obligations. However, for the sPA’s on our staffs, something seems to have gone terribly wrong and these teachers have made the decision to leave and are quietly planning a swift exit and are selling off their possessions.  To their colleagues and supervisors, sPA’s often seem crestfallen and low-spirited, carrying out their responsibilities in a joyless manner. For the most part, sPA’s appear compliant, yet upon closer examination, their work is minimal at best.

On the extreme, some sPA’s are deceitful and sly, appearing to be agreeable and cooperative, all the while planning their departure and knowing that the suddenness will create difficulty in terms of staffing when school commences once more. Perhaps the most lamentable fact about sPA’s is that most of them have also decided to give up on teaching as well. Their initial optimism upon graduating or naïve belief that the work of a teacher is easy has been extinguished to the extent that they can no longer see a future as an educator. This is sad.

How to deal with a sPA: Stay positive, keep expectations high and offer as sincere thank you when they make any kind of positive contribution and if the opportunity arises, ask about plans for next year.

The last few weeks of the school year are busy enough and for school leaders the focus is undeniably on ensuring that all end of year tasks are duly completed while planning for a successful school opening in a few months’ time. Mentioned above is the fact that transition and teacher turnover is a reality in schools, and especially in international schools; however dealing with the mixture and complexities of emotions and behaviours as displayed in LUG’s, DKIY’s and sPA’s can present an additional challenge. A quick review of the many journal articles, remind school leaders good bye good luckto stay focused on the tasks at hand. By quietly and consistently reminding staff of our expectations regarding professional performance, principals and other administrative staff demonstrate their commitment to their school community and their own sense of professionalism.  The end of the school year should be a celebration of accomplishments and achievements and while it may take energy and some gritting of teeth, school leadership teams need to work together to ensure that the apathy and negativity of LUG’s, DKIY’s and sPA’s does not become pervasive or toxic. Surround yourselves with those professionals who may be weary, but are positive about their work and are looking forward to a rewarding and well-deserved vacation.PD Pen

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Professional Development

Charging Up in June? Say It’s Not So!

A celebratory ‘count down’ calendar greets any who enter the staff room. Teachers’ lesson planning books are skeletal and often hidden under stacks of files. The classroom daily agenda is officially posted but cotm_countdownnsidered ‘flexible’ due to frequent interruptions such as field trips and/or year-end celebrations or just organized “clean out time”. Staff meetings agendas include any number of end of year checklists and staff interactions are characterized by expressions such as “not long now!” or “on the home stretch!” Minor student infractions are easily overlooked and/or tolerated as are those of the professional staff as socialization over tea and breakfast take priority over scheduled duty. And to top it off, the extreme heat outside makes getting a bit of fresh air seems more fantasy than reality.

Sound familiar? Given that the above description could even remotely resemble school environments in the Middle East today, the question remains, how can school leadership teams (SLT) motivate and support on-going professional learning amongst and within the learning community up until the last day of the academic year? A cursory review of education journals and websites indicates that these last few weeks offer an invaluable time for both individual teacher and collegial planning and organizing for the next year. For example, conducting and analysing year-end bench mark assessments, moderating student work samples, revisiting and updating Individual Education Plans, sorting teacher and student resources and co-planning for the first few weeks of the next academic year. In addition, an integral element of the teacher professional growth model requires teachers to reflect and articulate professional learning goals for the next year and taking the time at the end of the year to share and actively plan for success makes sense.

I appreciate that motivating teachers at the end of a long year is challenging and consequently requires courageous and innovative thinking. Over the years I’ve witnessed inexperienced SLT’s try to cajole the teachers into action with unsurprisingly poor results. Teachers, and especially tired teachers, can be very stubborn! Conversely, I know of SLT’s who have organized a whole scale and scripted program for end of the year planning which often ends in an unfortunate situation where teachers are both tired and grumpy and now resentful! The reality is that neither of these two approaches has enabled a schools’ leadership team to successfully close out one academic year as well as effectively plan for a strong school opening in a few months’ time. Perhaps it’s time for a new approach; an approach that acknowledges both the existing school context as described above and the fundamentals of adult learning.

  1. Encourage and create a positive culture of professional learning. Capitalize on teachers’ inherent curiosity about innovative approaches for teaching and learning. Cultivate and celebrate a culture that enables teachers, individually and collectively, to engage deeply as a learner and to reflect upon the impact of their learning on student achievement.
  2. Promote the expectation that all members of the professional community are responsible for their own growth and learning. Encourage this attitude through carefully scripted questions, prompts and feedback which help teachers to refine their learning goals and progress. Assist teachers to understand their unique learning needs and explore together how these impact wider school goals and targets.
  3. Ensure that each and every learning goal is purposeful and aligned to support individual professional growth (i.e. improved questioning strategies), recognized school improvement targets (i.e. a new program implementation) and larger system or district initiative. Plan for and utilize a variety of group learning activities. Carefully guide and scaffold individual, small group, and whole group learning so that teachers fully engage with the learning. At this time of year, if you are introducing a new way of working or planning, initially connect this to an existing practice and slowly build the complexity of thinking and task. Remember that the goal is to stretch and expand the teachers’ thinking about his or her performance. Pay attention to the groups’ energy and build in frequent ice breaker and energizer activities as these are effective in building trust and comfort for learning together.
  4. Keep the learning meaningful – relevant and practical. Organize the time so that each day there are opportunities for job related activities such as hands on ah-ha-wordle-10gzot0review of student data, make and take sessions, peer review and planning of potential resources, collaborative content review and development. As the SLT, your task is to ensure that teachers have the resources necessary to encourage, capture and sustain teacher participation. In addition, SLT staff can foster deep understanding regarding the connections between learning today and its impact on student achievement.
  5. A key role for the SLT is to articulate high expectations for teacher involvement and learning. During these last weeks of school, effective SLT members are upbeat, positive, encouraging and professional. Purposeful SLT members are visible and consistent in supporting and encouraging teacher participation in the school’s learning program, offering timely feedback and questions that extend thinking and reflection and constantly reminding teachers that by working together as a professional collaborative community, students’ learning experiences will be enhanced during the next academic year.
  6. Build in some fun! Similar to our students, adults learn best when they are relaxed and intrinsically motivated. During these last weeks, ensure that there are multiple opportunities to celebrate and laugh together by recognizing milestones and achievements as well as sharing goals and aspirations for the future.

Without a doubt, the academic year is winding down and for many, the urge to gear down can be pervasive. Over the next few weeks, the challenge for SLT’s in our schools is to charge up and establish an environment and set in motion a plan which encourages and motivates teachers to recognize that this ‘down time’ offers an opportunity to learn and grow together and in effect, guarantees a relaxed and well-deserved extended holiday. Next week, I’ll offer some ideas and tips about harnessing the energy and expertise of those who are leaving the school. Stay tuned!PD Pen

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Uncategorized

Football Frenzy in the Classroom!

What if teachers were more like football fans? I wonder if such a simple, single-minded approach (as is often characteristic of today’s football fan) to the educational world would ease and/or   enhance a teachers’ professional attitude. My observation is that most football fans display an unbridled passion for their chosen team. This emotion borders on the irrational and can be the source of whoops of joy and exultation when the team is doing well or ungodly moans of despair when the boys are struggling to keep up to their opponents.

Football fans are unquestionably loyal; almost blindly so. To suggest that it might be a nice to support the efforts of a neighbouring or rival team is as close to heresy as one can imagine. Perhaps it is the tribal nature of the football fan that accounts for the enthusiasm and cacophony so evident in their participation in the club’s call to arms or anthem at the beginning and throughout each match.

I suspect that many well-versed football fans are in reality arm chair managers and coaches as they spend hours with other like-minded followers – rehashing, reliving, and regurgitating each play, subsubstitution, penalty, missed goal etc.  Irrepressiblebelieve football fans are known to tune into game highlights repeatedly perhaps hopeful of an allusive insight about the play or a player. Above all else, football fans are true optimists. They are hopeful beyond imagination at the start of each season; hopeful of a strong place amongst the league’s top teams. Fans are equally optimistic at the commencement of each game as they rant for the demolition of their opponent. Equally noteworthy is the veritable comradery within the football fan community. They wear their teams’ colours and emblems with honour, even in face of defeat and display a unique strength of conviction in the teams’ eventual and well-deserved success.

So, what if teachers today were more like football fans? What if the class represented a teacher’s chosen team?  For starters, we might see teachers intently focused on individual and group effort. Football fan teacher faces would light up when surrounded by their students and as instructors, they would defend their particular classroom when responding to challenges and anything that happened to get in the way of the leaning process. Similar to the football fan, teachers would commence each class with a high energy and positive welcome followed by subsequent and unbridled cheers of encouragement when the momentum for learning lagged throughout the day.

If teachers were more like football fans, there would be no room for nonsense when it came to learning. In the world of these rabid teachers, expressions such as “He tried his best” or “She’ll have a better day tomorrow” are not acceptable. Football fan teachers want to hear, “Dig in!”, “Move it!”, “Get up and stop your whining!” Essentially, football fan teachers want results! The good news is that when the results eventuate, football fan teachers erupt in leaps of exhilarating great joy. Imagine the atmosphere! If teachers were more like football fans, they wouldn’t be embarrassed to show their emotion and passion for learning. They would be unquestionably proud in moments of student success and unbelievably frustrated and disappointed when their students falter and stumble. However, later in the day these same teachers would seek out other football fan teachers and breakdown each and every aspect of the learning process in their classroom in order to generate new approaches and plans that could lead to success with learning.

Teachers who are like football fans would bear evidence of their profession with pride and every movement, grimace, gesture or vocalization would be emanate from their loyalty, almost obsession, to their commitment to the14076799-football-fans profession and their responsibility as educators to the students in their classrooms.

If teachers were more like football fans, they would exist in an ever hopeful mind set; optimistic of every students’ chance of success with learning. The commencement of a new academic year brings a feeling of excitement and belief that this year will be one of the best! Similarly, the beginning of each school day is electric with positive energy as the teachers welcome another chance to advance in the learning league. At the end of the day, football fan teachers leave their class exhausted yet the feeling of efficacy is intensely infectious as the teachers look forward to what the next day will bring.

So, what if teachers were more like football fans? Maybe we would see students learning with teachers who are focused and passionate about student success. Maybe we would see and hear teachers celebrate the banners of their professionalism. Maybe this would be a win-win situation! Imagine!PD Pen

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‘Farch’ Thinking Hurts Teachers and Students

I continue to be surprised by the number of people who do not realize the tremendous responsibility placed on classroom teachers today. Regardless of language or culture, teachers, by nature of their profession, have an irrevocable influence on the development and learning for each child entrusted to his or her care. As I visit schools and classrooms this term, I can’t help but reflect on this reality; it is both exhilarating and frightening, depending upon the skills, knowledge and energy of the individual teacher.

I wonder if others recognize just how difficult the teaching profession is. Although from all appearance, little has changed in the process of schooling (i.e. classrooms, annual calendars, time tables, grades, homework etc.). Conversely, I would argue that expectations for teacher performance have undergone significant change over the past decade. For the moment, let’s set aside the endless heartwarming narratives in which teachers have fulfilled a meaningful parental or counsellor role in a young person’s life. Rather, let us take a look at all of those expectations and responsibilities placed on teachers as they plan for, deliver, and reflect on the act of teaching in the classroom – five days a week, 10 weeks a term and, typically, three terms the academic year.

It is difficult to imagine the amount of energy it takes to meet the above expectations on a daily basis. Classrooms can be unpredictable at the best of times and the best teachers I have seen have the remarkable skill of being sufficiently attuned to classroom dynamics so that their fully prepared “Plan B”, “C”, or even “D” is manageable, let alone effective. In many office environments, staff often have the flex time for general and informal banter around the coffee pot or water cooler. Regardless as to whether or not this practice is deemed valuable, given the typical single classroom design in the majority of schools today, such social opportunities seldom exist for the daily classroom practitioner. The reality is that for the most part, teachers work very hard, over long periods of time, and in isolation.

For both novice and experienced practitioners, the planning process is a critical, yet time-consuming responsibility. Working either as a team or an individual, the processes of researching available and/or required system documents, planning for effective and differentiated classroom experiences, designing and crafting learning activities and experiences, assessing and recording student progress, and reflecting on one’s personal performance and efficacy is difficult and time-consuming. There are no two ways about it!

In addition to the demands of the daily, monthly and annual planning processes, many teachers in the Middle East are confronted with the reality that second language teaching is much more than using images, games, and songs. Teaching students for whom English is a second language takes significant understanding, skill, and patience and when teachers underestimate or minimize the challenges and default on their professional responsibilities, not only chaos reigns in the classroom but also students become disenchanted and ultimately learning opportunities are lost.

And then we add FARCH! The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Farch’ as the combination of February and March. The term aptly depicts those long dark and very cold winter days leading up to April and the promise of spring and vitality. Many years ago, a principal colleague in Saskatchewan, Canada ascribed to the theory that when teachers shift their perspective, have fun and smile more often they are better able to survive the challenges of ‘Farch’ in schools which in turn creates a happier and healthier place for teachers and students. Over the past few weeks school visits have suggested that this time of year can feel equally long and difficult for teachers in the Middle East. Although not encumbered by snowy landscapes and frigid temperatures challenging their colleagues in Western Canada, teachers in the Gulf region unquestionably share the pressures of a demanding second term. This past month, I have encountered some typically very skilled, energetic and positive teachers moaning and groaning about the seemingly endless demands of the organization (e.g. standardized assessments, performance appraisals) as well as the challenges of motivating students whose behavior mirrors their high levels of frustration with dreary days. Although the temperatures in Abu Dhabi this year bear little resemblance to those in Saskatchewan, I hunch that Farch thinking is festering in the minds and actions of Abu Dhabi teachers as they eagerly awaiting April and the promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Without a doubt, when ‘Farch’ thinking creeps in, both students and teachers suffer.

During these last few weeks leading up to a well-deserved trimester break, I hope teachers in the Middle East as well as in Saskatchewan can find a few moments to sit back, reflect on the importance of their contributions as teachers and their professional responsibilities to students and their learning, regardless of the time of year and celebrate their efforts in the classroom and the staffroom. Farewell ‘Farch’! Hello April and a new beginning!PD Pen

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