How School Leaders Can Rebalance Teacher’s Time

Image courtesy of Edutopia

The pandemic taught educational leaders to pare down the demands on teachers to focus on student learning. This article in Edutopia, “How School Leaders Can Teachers’ Job Demands and Resources” captures what leaders can do to help teachers. Demands on schools and teachers, in particular, are always increasing. At our school, we have the luxury of having many employees dedicated to supporting our mission. We provide free, after-school childcare for faculty until 5:00 PM.We also have personnel devoted to helping with housing issues which must take up a lot of time with teachers in US public and private schools. We can however, focus on school-related tasks that are busywork and not directly impacting student learning. Some of these demands that we started trying to streamline include ordering supplies and requesting maintenance work.We need to audit the tasks we assign teachers and ask if it is completely necessary. The other piece of advice is to emotionally support teachers and to allow them more control of their jobs, giving more decision-making authority to them.

Are you getting your 8 to 10 hours of sleep?

Photo courtesy of Brain Balance Centers

Sleep is often an overlooked aspect of student well-being in schools. I don’t understand why because a good night’s sleep (8-10 hours for adolescents) is fundamental to maximizing one’s performance and mood. Adolescents in the US and around the world are chronically sleep-deprived (22% of teens say they sleep at least 8 hours per night according to a 2019 CDC study) mainly due to using their digital devices which are an irresistible stream of communication with friends and entertainment. I always thought that secondary schools should have sleep pods in schools for teenagers to take 20-minute naps during the day to refresh their brains and bodies.

Another aspect is the early starting time of schools. Teenagers’ circadian rhythm is different from adults with the most active brain times starting from mid-morning to late in the evening. I know my peak brain performance time is 7:00 AM, which differs from teens. I read this was a survival advantage for early humans. With teens more awake in the evenings and adults in the mornings, this offered maximum protection for vulnerable human groups resting in the middle of a savannah. Lisa Lewis in this Atlantic article, The State Finally Letting Teens Sleep In from June 8, 2022 discusses the impact of school schedules on the sleep of teens. The state of California is following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 AM. The lack of proper sleep worsens mental health, grades, athletic performance, etc.

The Tashkent International School starts with an 8:20 AM homeroom and classes starting at 8:30 AM which is inline with best practices. However, we can do more as a school to promote better sleep habits with our teens. The IB curriculum is challenging and often teens are studying or completing projects instead of sleeping. I would like to give a workshop for our high school students about sleep during their Social and Emotional Learning times.

Pandemic Thinking – July 11, 2022

As we are approaching the start of the 2022-2023 school year, international schools around the world are thinking about what pandemic protocols they will put in place. I would like to move to treat COVID-19 cases like we do influenza or other infectious diseases. The only roadblock in my mind is the length of infectiousness of people with COVID. With the flu, most public health agencies recommend isolating 5 days, but with COVID, days 6-10, people are often still contagious, even without symptoms. The amount of time students and teachers have been outside of school has been detrimental to learning (Covid Learning Loss Has Been a Global Disaster). Our school has had close to 300 members officially report their infection with COVID and not one has been hospitalized. How do schools move forward in the 2022-2023 school year balancing

This week’s Washington Post Coronavirus Updates is full of good information. The CDC reports that very few children under 5 years of age are getting vaccinated against COVID which indicates that parents are not enthusiastic about protecting their children, probably because young children usually exhibit mild symptoms. I also read with interest the advice about booster vaccines. Most authorities recommend everyone get at least 1 booster shot after their initial full vaccine dosage. They also go on to say that getting a second booster is OK. They do not recommend getting a booster every 4-6 months until more research is done.

Some U.S. officials have signaled that more people should have access to another booster. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top-infectious disease expert, said he’s “leaning toward flexibility” for adults younger than 50 who got their last booster many months ago, and whose immunity is waning.

Washington Post Coronavirus Update – July 8, 2022

My personal takeaway is to wait to get a third booster shot. I received my last booster in December 2021, but I will wait for the cold/flu season this winter. I think health officials will have a better understanding of the effects of multiple boosters and what strains are circulating at that time.

Sky News Photo of Wuhan Institute of Virology

All of us have pandemic fatigue after more than two years. This Washington Post opinion piece from July 7 discusses the latest subvariant of Omicron (BA.5). I am also surprised that more experts are not pressuring governments around the world to find out the source of the outbreak. I think learning how this novel strain of the coronavirus developed into a worldwide pandemic will help avoid future global pandemics.

54 Days

Elementary Additional Wing – June 20, 2022

The renovation of the existing elementary building started the day after students left thanks to the work of the elementary teachers and teacher assistants. The faculty had to clear out all of the supplies and equipment. Facilities Manager Rashid Suleymanov led his crew in storing the boxes and furniture, and with Project Manager Cyril Courjeau, they prepared the Gabus construction company for 54 days of intense work. The TIS summer break from June 16 to when the teachers return to their classrooms on August 7 which is a period of 54 days. They have those 54 days to refurbish and connect the existing building to the new building. They will be installing connecting hallways, opening up doors, removing walls, replacing floors in many of the classrooms, covering the building with travertine, as well as a myriad of things that need to be done before the students and teachers come back. 

It was strange to walk out of the elementary building without the construction wall. The corrugated aluminum fence was first erected in the summer of 2018 when the utilities work first started on the project. The construction was halted and delayed for several years due to a variety of reasons. The fence has been there since my interview visit in September of 2018. Workers took down the fence so they can work on the facade and connect the buildings. 

I couldn’t help but think of the war in Ukraine and the scenes of half-destroyed buildings when looked at the construction site. Unlike Ukraine, this is hopeful destruction with the promise of a new building and an expanded elementary campus on the horizon. Cyril and Rashid and the Gabus construction team have a lot to do in the next 54 days and beyond. 

Besides the big elementary project, there are also several other construction projects taking place during the summer break on the other side of the campus. I am excited to see what the refurbished Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) will look like when we return to campus. The MPR is used for assemblies, meetings, performances, exhibitions, and classes. I always felt it should be a showpiece room for the school and thanks to Olga the designer, it will be. 

Rashid is also directing the replacement of the floors on the second and third floors of the secondary school building. It is our oldest building on campus and although we joke about it, the squeaky floors are a distraction to teaching and learning. The construction industry in Uzbekistan has improved greatly since the wooden floors were put in and we are looking forward to a modern and quiet floor for the secondary students and teachers. 

The last big project will be installing a new chiller (air conditioning system) in the secondary school building. Thanks to Finance Director Feruza Abdullina and the board facilities committee, a new system was purchased earlier this spring. The global supply chain disaster caused by the pandemic is slowing down the arrival of the chiller, so it will most likely not be installed until the Fall Break, but the foundation has been laid for cooler indoor temperatures in the years to come. 

Operations Team Meeting

Finally, I wanted to recognize the work of the TIS business office and IT Director, Hoji Kobilov. They were meeting this week to analyze the feedback from faculty and staff on how to improve the RMS system. Faculty use the RMS software to order and pay for supplies and other expenses, ask for maintenance or groundskeeping tasks and apply for professional development. Feruza and Hoji have a goal of better “customer” service. The user feedback will help the software developers make for a more efficient user experience. This will allow the teachers to focus more on teaching and learning. 

NEASC-CIE Summer Webinar

The Tashkent International School is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on International Education since 2002. NEASC is one of six American regional agencies that accredit international schools. NEASC traditionally accredits CEESA (Central & Eastern Europe Schools Association) international schools. They are headquartered in Lowell, Massachusetts and as the name indicates, they accredit schools in the states of the New England region of the US, pictured in purple below (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut). I’ve worked in international schools that were accredited with WASC (Western States) and Advanced Ed (southern states).

The United States Regional Accreditation Agencies

I attended the NEASC-CIE Summer Webinar hosted today, June 22, by the Director and Associate Director of Accreditation and School Improvement, Jeff Bradley and Trillium Hibbeln, and others from the NEASC/CIE international accreditation team. The purpose of the webinar was to give a preview of initiatives in the 2022-2023 school year. Some of the highlights I took away from the webinar are below.

  • They are launching a Community of Practice for Experienced Chairs starting in October. A chair is a volunteer educator who leads accreditation visits. Leading a visit is a big responsibility and a good leader can really make a big difference in the accreditation experience for schools so I am glad they are doing things like this.
  • NEASC/CIE will be requiring background checks for visitors.
  • The planned visits this fall are mixed virtual and in-person. I think virtual visits can be done, but they are not as good as in-person visit. There is much to be said for being together in the evenings with team members reflecting on what was seen and heard during the day. This all can be done virtually and a hybrid approach can save money/time/carbon by not sending a full team. Some team members could be virtual instead of on-site and contribute to the report and process. I think this will be the future format of accreditation visits.
  • My feedback in the webinar to NEASC was to give accreditation team chairs advice on what are the key documents from the school to read before the visit, especially for working heads of schools. We have busy working lives and being able to use our time efficiently would be appreciated. I also wanted some more advice on how to work with colleagues from the Council of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate when we are on joint visits.
  • I am interested in learning more about the collaboration between the IB and NEASC regarding the Collaborative Learning Protocols (CLP). This is a link to a presentation on the latest alignment of the ACE pathways and IB standards.
  • From what I’ve read of the ACE standards, they are really good and I am curious to see how they are mapped against the IB standards. This is a link to the 10 ACE Learning Principles and the 6 Foundation Standards. They are launching an ACE 2.0 that has more emphasis on DEIJ and SEL issues and rubrics for each of the Learning Principles.
The new logo of the 4 Cs ACE pathway, summarizing the big areas of accreditation

TIS School Safety

TIS First Responders practice triage procedures

Update: I mention gun control laws in this post as a solution for reducing school shootings. This is only part of the solution. NYU professor and podcaster Scot Galloway on Pivot this week offered the idea of trying to reduce the number of young men with no attachments as part of the solution. The idea is many young men are not part of school activities such as sports teams, theatre troupes, etc. or do not belong to church groups, YMCA, community centers, etc. They are isolated due to weak family structure and social media/internet as well. All of us should be working, especially in schools, to connect students to mentor-adults in their lives and to classmates.

The Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) has been such a great resource for me during the pandemic. They hold weekly open Zoom sessions with directors from all over the world and I always pick up a resource, an idea, or a contact every time that I join the conversation. Because the directors of AAIE are located in New York, the Thursday Zoom session is at 8:00 AM Eastern time which is either 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM here in Tashkent. I often have meetings on Thursdays during that time so I don’t get a chance to attend the live sessions as much as I would like.

The topic of conversation last week was the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Every time I hear of another mass shooting it breaks my heart for the families and angers me that this happens so often in my native country. I don’t see an end to them. Because there are so many handguns and automatic rifles produced and sold in the USA every year, it is impossible to prevent people from using them on each other and themselves. With over 400 million guns owned by Americans, how can the government and schools stop future school shootings? There are too many unstable men with either mental illness or anger who turn to gun violence. How many suicides and murders could be prevented? How do you take back that amount of guns?

TIS First Responder Train in transporting victims

We were discussing the value of safety drills in international schools to prevent violence from occurring on our campuses. There has not been a mass shooting in an international school, but there have been attacks from extremists or criminals, although thankfully, these are extremely rare. We are fortunate here in Uzbekistan not to have much violent crime. Uzbekistan is a type of police state with the government having a lot of control over citizens’ lives. There is not much private gun ownership and little gun violence or crime here. TIS still takes security seriously, however, and with the cooperation of the US State Department security programs for schools, we have established routines and facilities that will help protect students and employees.

One of my AAIE colleagues alerted me to a good online resource for emergency preparedness planning. Clearpath EPM has an online course for international schools. The course is 10 hours of training with a certificate. They also have some short courses and modules that are supported by the Office of Overseas Schools.

It was coincidental that we held this week a Mass Casualty Incident Drill. Thanks to the US embassy security and medical personnel, we practiced our procedures in the event of many students being injured. The training incident was a wall collapse in the fitness room and our First Responders (teachers trained in first aid) and doctors from the Tashkent International Clinic worked together to transport students from the incident to the triage area and off to hospitals or treated in the TIS Health Unit. In the After Action Review, we reviewed our Lessons Learned and will be processing them next week.

The Mass Casualty Drill is one of several scenarios we practice annually. Others include earthquake, fire, evacuation to safe zones, stand fast, lockdown, and bomb threats. I strongly believe if the students and staff are well-trained, in the case of an emergency, they will implement our procedures to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Secondary School Drama Students Play Different Levels of Casualties

Latest Thoughts on the Pandemic: May 22, 2022

The TIS Covid Response Team announced last week that TIS is dropping the indoor mask mandate for students, employees and visitors. This is the first time since the pandemic started in Tashkent in March of 2020 that everyone can go mask-free at all times. When transmission in the city has been low, we were able to make masks optional outdoors and in the Early Learning Center. We’ve been unlucky on several occasions this school year when we were considering dropping the mask mandate entirely, a new variant would arrive and we needed to keep the mask mandate in place.

The Uzbek government dropped all mask mandates long ago. The vast majority of the Uzbeks are risk-tolerant so you see few people wearing masks in the city. There are no requirements for schools. We took a cautious approach because of the diversity of our population. Some of the cultures in our school are much less risk-tolerant than Uzbek culture. I think because many people are vaccinated and recent variants are milder than previous versions, there is a high bar for re-instituting mask mandates. I am also seeing mask fatigue in many of our students and employees. We were handing out more masks during morning arrival which tells me that more people are not wearing masks when they were off-campus. We conducted a survey a few weeks ago and a strong majority of foreign employees want to go maskless.

The Washington Post has excellent resources about masks, a fourth booster shot, and other resources on their Corona Virus coverage. As a public service, they have made all of this subscription-free.

I was curious to see how the students would react. I sense that many of them have been wearing masks for so long that they just feel more comfortable with them on than off. Adolescence can be an awkward time for students and the masks probably give them a bit more protection against social interactions as well. In the first week of the maskless campus, probably around 20% of the students are wearing masks and as the week went on, that number dropped.

There are a lot of questions about booster vaccines. We will be offering employees and foreign parents the opportunity to get a booster shot through our sister organization, the Tashkent International Clinic. The CDC is recommending boosters (third shot) for children ages 5 to 11.

I am hearing from friends through Facebook about their experiences in China. The government’s Zero-COVID policy must be tough to teach through as the school year is ending. We are fortunate that cases are low at the moment in Tashkent and hopefully we can finish the year on-campus without problems.

Accreditation Visits

The Accreditation Team

International School leaders often volunteer their time to support the accreditation of other international schools. Accreditation is similar to an ISO9000 process in business, confirming a school is meeting the international standards of excellence. This week (April 2-8, 2022), I am the Chair of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation visit to the International School of Turin, Italy. It is a synchronized visit with the Council of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate. Unfortunately for the team, the visit is virtual and these long days and nights on Zoom video conferences get a bit tiresome. It would have been much better to visit the school to get a true feel. However, it is surprising through Zoom how much you can learn about a school. I’ve also seen a few schools in my day and can quickly assess what is going on. I also wanted to see Northern Italy, a part of the world I’ve never been to.

It is a fantastic professional development experience for me. It is beneficial to be on the other side of the accreditation process. The Tashkent International School is undergoing our Synchronized Visit from November 12-18, 2022. This week has made me more comfortable with the software platform for the reports (WEAVE), the scheduling of the visit, and, most importantly, making sure we have all of our documents and processes in place. CIS/NEASC/IB are moving towards a supportive role for experienced schools instead of purely evaluators. The IB Chair described the process as holding up a mirror to the school. I like this format and I felt the meetings I am participating in this week are robust professional discussions about education instead of trying to find faults in the school. I am learning just as much as the school we are visiting.

Youth Protection Training by the Boy Scouts of America

Schools are on the frontlines of child safeguarding. Safeguarding is defined as policies, procedures and practices that an organization employs to actively prevent harm, abuse and distress. All children deserve a nurturing and happy start to life and along with parents and caregivers, schools are primarily responsible for safeguarding children. I was reminded of this recently when I completed the Youth Protection Training course sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. All adults involved with supervising a scouting troop need to complete the mandatory training as well as undergo a police background check. TIS is acting as a charter organization for a newly formed Boy Scout Troop in our community. I am serving as the representative of Charter Organization and needed to complete the 72-minute online training program. Annually I try to do something to improve my knowledge and remind me of the importance of child safeguarding and this was a good way to do this for the 2021-2022 school year.

My big takeaway from the training was the concept of “2-Deep“. This is the practice of always having two adult supervisors at all outings or meetings. This also applies to digital communications. Always copy or include another adult, preferably the parents, when communicating to students digitally. The 2-Deep format is one of the numerous Barriers to Abuse the Boy Scouts use. Others include no 1-on-1 contact with a student without others knowing of the meeting, appropriate accommodations, a buddy system, respecting privacy, etc.

Scouting Logo
  • The training also highlighted that 25% of all sexual abuse are youth-on-youth cases and it is important to supervise when older students are with younger students.
  • I also liked the quote of being suspicious of adults who, “seem to like kids, more than the kid’s parents do”.
  • Sexual predators target organizations looking for lack of policies and practices regarding safeguarding.
  • The final unit focused on stopping bullying and keys to this were educating everyone to look out for others (supporting bystanders), stopping the behavior and acting respectfully and impartially as the adult.

I am looking forward to adding Boy Scouts to our after-school activities program at TIS. Young people more than ever, need outdoor skills and challenges that take them away from screens and into nature. We also need to educate the next generation of citizens, as the IB puts it, to create a better and more peaceful world.

The Case for Flexible Working Hours in Schools

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pandemic is permanently changing work. I read many articles and listened to podcasts about how all types of businesses and organizations are allowing employees to work from home for at least part of the week. It makes sense that people can accomplish many of the tasks, meetings, etc. online working from home and it avoids the daily commute into the office and getting ready for work (dress, makeup, shower, etc.) Hundreds of hours over a year will be saved. We also hired 100% of our new teachers online without attending job fairs in person for the past three school years. There are pros and cons to remote work and there is some loss in not being together. For example in teacher recruiting, there is something unique in meeting someone in person and I am always surprised at my initial impression of greeting a teacher at the airport versus my impression of the teacher online.

I read the Independent School Management (ISM) article, “A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate” with interest. Last school year because of the pandemic, we allowed 100% flexible work hours for faculty because of health concerns. We figured fewer people on campus for less time, the risk of spreading COVID was decreased. This school year we made reinstated our traditional working hours from 8:00 AM to roughly 4:30 PM Monday through Friday. The idea being all faculty should be on campus while the students are required to be on campus. We do allow teachers to leave campus during the day if they have to go to the bank or have childcare needs, etc. and require them to sign out with one of the assistants. We also adjusted the time teachers can leave, making some days early and one day until 5:00 PM for professional development.

The article addresses many of the concerns the TIS leadership team has about going back to flexible working hours. My takeaway from the article is with some extra planning, teachers can be given more flexible time which will lead to greater well-being. The thinking is a happier and healthier teacher will perform better and will result in greater student learning and development. One argument against is secondary school teachers have more flexible time during the day than elementary teachers and it is not fair that they can start a school day later than their colleagues. You can also argue that cocurricular commitments are greater in secondary school and many teachers are leading or attending events in the evenings and weekends.

I understand that teaching is much more than an 8-5 office job. Teachers spend many hours assessing student work, attending school events, leading co-curricular activities. For example, I am the junior varsity boys basketball coach and devote roughly 6-10 additional hours of work outside of my regular school day to games and training, depending on the schedule. I am writing this blog post on a Sunday evening as I am catching up on emails and preparing for the week ahead. Educators do it because teaching is a calling in many ways and when the development of young people is at stake, you shouldn’t really be punching in hours on a clock. Educators do get generous breaks which is needed when so much emotional energy and time is devoted to the school during the school year.

TIS does allow some flexible hours with a relatively open campus for faculty and staff and early departure times on many days. I am not sure how much further I want to go with flexible working hours. I am still not convinced that the gain of more time at home for employees makes up for what is lost while being at school with colleagues and students. I am sure there is a middle ground for us to find on this.