Supporting Sabers Athletics

One of the reasons I went into education is the opportunity to coach and be involved in interscholastic sports. Participating on a team in a competitive situation is valuable for young people. It teaches ideas such as being part of something that is bigger than you, emotionally dealing with winning and losing, playing a role for the good of the team, develop physical fitness habits, etc. I always try to support the sports teams.

This weekend our school hosted the Association of International Schools in Asia (AISA) Cross Country Meet and schools from Seoul and Yokohama competed with our school. I am glad to have played a role as the official starter for the races.

“Humanizing” Online Education

pamoja one
Pamoja Education Model on Online Education

On the train to Tokyo earlier this week, I listened to an excellent EdSurge podcast about online courses. It made me look at digital learning in a new light.

OIS offers online courses in the Diploma Programme through Pamoja Education, the only IB-approved digital education provider. I was excited to be able to offer students more choice, especially in languages and group 3, Individuals and Societies. In our second year of offering Pamoja courses, students are taking psychology and business management. Online education intrigued me and the OIS leadership team did a Massive Online Open Education (MOOC) history course in 2105 from Harvard & MIT, called Visualizing Japan (1850s – 1920s). OIS faculty also often do the IB online courses rather than travel to workshops. Working parents appreciate not having to leave their children for several days, the workshops save the school money and there is no need for substitute teachers. I also completed many online courses in my doctoral studies at Lehigh University.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock, faculty mentor for the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative and @ONE (Online Network of Educators) summarized the research showing a lower performance in online learning than in the regular classroom. As I found in my experiences with online learning, a lack of live interaction with the teacher and other students makes for a dull learning experience.

Pacansky-Brock is leading an initiative in the California Community Colleges to “humanize” online learning. Online education can be thought of in two dimensions. First, there is the course design, which features content and methods of accessing the content. The second dimension, and in my opinion the more important one, is the online instruction. Most teachers do not have experience with digital teaching and their self-efficacy for using video is low. Short videos, with clear, accessible language are needed including using social media and video conferences. Online instruction is a different skill set and should be considered just as important, but very different, from classroom instruction. The key to quality online education is to make the student feel they are valued and connected to the teacher and their classmates, just like classroom education. Teachers should be asking, “how can I relate to my students? “

The podcast made me consider how Pamoja Education is addressing the instruction part of online education. This trimester I will be meeting with and shadowing our online students to see how they feel about their experiences.

Earthquake & Fire Evacuation Practice

fire drill
OIS teachers complete accounting for all students during our evacuation practice today. 

Every trimester we conduct an emergency drill. The guiding principle for our Crisis Response Team (CRT) is to practice our safety procedures enough so it becomes automatic. In a real emergency when nerves may be shaken, the automatic part of the brain will tell your body to do what has been practiced so often.

In today’s drill, we practiced our earthquake followed by an evacuation due to fire. Fires commonly break out after an earthquake, so it is good to practice them at the same time. Today’s exercises had a certain sense of import, with the memories of the Northern Osaka Earthquake of 6/18 still fresh in our minds.

My big takeaway from today was that focus on timing and trying to get out of the building and everyone accounted for is really not necessary. It is better to get it right, so rushing an attendance count or hurrying to get out of the building increases the chances of a mistake.

The leadership team takes feedback from our stakeholders after every crisis response drill and reflects on what we can do better. Today I am thinking a lot about accounting for everyone at school, including part-time teachers and office staff. It is also tricky to take accurate attendance when students are absent or arrive at school late. We need to build in redundancies in attendance to make sure we are not making mistakes. It would also be good for the CRT to have checklists available so we do not forget anything.

Thanks to the student, teachers and staff for their performance today!

OIS Graduate Begins Her Teaching Career


Congratulations to OIS alumna (2012) Nobuko Shigeyama on her first teaching position at the Harbor View Elementary School in Newport Beach, California. Nobuko received her undergraduate degree from Chapman University (Orange, California) with a major in Integrated Educational Studies, a major in Japanese language and Culture and a minor in Language and Literacy. She went onto complete her Master’s degree in Teaching from Chapman in 2017.

We are proud of Nobuko who studied at OIS for 13 years. She was so excited to greet her first group of fifth graders. Nobuko said she was inspired by several OIS teachers including Miyuki Endo sensei and Mr. Paul Sommer. The OIS mission of Informed, Caring and Creative allowed her to find her passion for young people and education.

Harbor View Elementary is an innovative small school with a focus on the child and educational technology. Ms. Shigeyama will have a big impact on teaching and learning at the school and her students are fortunate to have such a wonderful person and teacher. Best wishes from OIS for a successful career!



How to Make Friends, According to Science


Ben Healy’s article about friendship in this month’s Atlantic is fascinating

One of the best things about my job is being in the heart of community of students, teachers and parents. The science backs up the health aspects of having many social connections. I found particularly interesting in the article the research on size of social network and close confidants. How many people can one person have meaningful relationships with? The research in referenced in this article found around 120 people and a close circle of 10-20

Researchers are finding that people are connecting less with others and it does have negative health impacts. We should all try to have enough social interactions, even brief ones, to promote well being.


OIS 2018-2019 “We Are Family”

we are family

Last week the entire school K-12 gathered in the theatre to open the school year. The main idea of the assembly was to reinforce the idea that we are one school, from our youngest students in kindergarten A to our Class of 2019 seniors, ready to leave OIS for universities.

I gave a short talk to frame the 2018-2019 school year with our major themes:

I. Health

  1. A healthy body (exercise, sleep, nutritious food)
  2. Healthy emotions (connect w/ friends, handle ups/downs)
  3. Healthy mind (seek advice and support)

II. Be the Best Person You Can Be – Living our mission

  1. Informed – Be curious and enjoy learning; complete homework, go for high grades, do not procrastinate
  2. Caring – Be an upstander, not a bystander, be a good friend
  3. Creative – Be yourself – find what makes you different and unique and develop it
  4. Contribute – How are you going to make OIS a better school?

We introduced the faculty to the song, Final Countdown by Europe and sang karaoke to the Disco classic, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. The music brought everyone’s emotions up a level! A special thanks to OIS music teacher Daniel Ligon for his ideas and support during the assembly. I guess you can tell my age by the music we selected!

We most importantly reinforced the idea of community and helping each other learn. We are all looking forward to a rewarding school year.

Helping Our Students with Mental Health

PD screen grab jpeg

I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Institute entitled, “College Students, Mental Health and the University’s Role.  Two college presidents, Dan Porterfield, formerly from Franklin and Marshall College and Paula Johnson from Wellesley College were discussing how universities should be supporting students’ mental health. Much of what they talked about applies to our students at OIS and high schools need to begin this process before our students move on to university.

Increasing numbers of adolescents are experiencing anxiety and depression. I believe that international schools are here to educate the next generation of young people and before they can start learning, we need to ensure they are healthy, both physically and mentally. I 100% agree with Dr. Porterfield, and feel that we the educators at OIS must see the whole child – the talents, emotions, family, culture, etc. that they bring to our community. Often, emotional or psychological issues block great learning and students are not able to progress. We need to address these issues. Of course, we are not a hospital and we do not take the place of a family, but a school should be very aware of mental health, raise awareness with our families and deal with it the best we can and direct the student where they can receive further support.

One issue mentioned was stress. The International Baccalaureate is a challenging curriculum and with our Diploma Programme students, comes much stress. Many of our students are under pressure (from a variety of sources) to achieve and get into selective universities. Stress is unavoidable in our lives and can be good for us. We need to give students the tools on how to manage it. And as I always say, what is good for the students, is also good for teachers and parents. We need to focus on the well-being of all community members.

The speakers go on to talk about helping students learn how to socialize with alcohol, seek help for anxiety/depression and learn dating norms, especially when it comes to sexual harassment. Some of these topics are for the university level, but the groundwork should be laid in high school, and even in an age-appropriate manner down to the elementary school.

This academic year OIS is working on improving our pastoral care program. One major initiative will be in January when we will host a weekend workshop with Dr. Christopher Liang from the International Counseling Program at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We will be learning how to identify and support the mental, emotional and psychological health of OIS students.

Osaka is the Third Most Livable City in the World!

View of the port of Osaka

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a branch of the famous weekly magazine, Economist, publishes an annual Global Liveability Index. It was nice to see Osaka moving to #3 in the world! EIU tries to be comprehensive and objective when comparing the quality of life in cities around the globe. The overall rankings are the total of 5 categories which I put forth my point of view. Why does Osaka rank so high? 

The view of the neighboring municipality of Ikeda from the Minoh Quasi National Park taken on my bicycle ride last week. 


  1. Stability (25%) – Personal and violent crime is almost non-existent in Osaka. A lack of gun ownership and limited immigration has also contributed to the lack of terrorism or mass shootings. Another index in this category is the threat of military conflict and despite our proximity to North Korea, it did not hurt Osaka or Tokyo, another Japanese city in the top 10. 
  2. Health Care (20%) – Japanese live an extremely long time, in part due to excellent health care. I trust doctors and nurses here when my family needs care. 
  3. Culture & Environment (25%) – This is the category that is most noticed in our daily lives. I see Osaka ranking high in some areas, such as lack of corruption, censorship and social/religious restrictions. The city is a “foodie’s paradise” with great restaurants and cuisine. Shopping and the availability of products are also outstanding. One can get just about anything in Osaka and note that the city is not in the top 10 of most expensive cities in the world, although it is not cheap to live here and compares with cities in the USA. Sports and cultural opportunities to participate and view abound. Japan is the most distinctive culture of any developed nation. I ride my bicycle everywhere and could not do this anywhere else except perhaps Amsterdam. The humidity and temperature can be uncomfortable at times during the year, but Osaka does have the world’s average yearly temperature and we experience the change of seasons. I wish the insulation in the homes would be better in the three months of winter weather. 
  4. Education (10%) – EIU judges the quality and availability of private education and I hope the Senri & Osaka International Schools helped Osaka score high in this category. It also looks at public school indicators and Japan always ranks high in student achievement. 
  5. Infrastructure (20%) It is so easy and safe to drive in Osaka and the rest of Japan. it is rare to see a pothole and in this mountainous country, the number of tunnels that make one’s drive straight and flat is amazing. Public transport is also comprehensive and used a lot by everyone. There is quality housing, although people live a little bit too close together for my American sensibility. The internet connections are super fast, clean water, energy available, although utilities and gasoline are very expensive here. There are many international flights out of Kansai International Airport and Itami Osaka Airport. 

In summary, Osaka is a really nice place to live and the OIS community, teachers, parents and students are fortunate to have a high quality of life that according to the Economist at least, it one of the best liveable cities in the world. I like to think that SOIS played a small part of contributing the ranking!

Lebron James Launches The “I Promise” School


I am a big sports fan and was so happy to see LeBron James invest some of his great wealth into public schools in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. I hope educational researchers do some long-term research on the students there to see if this model can be replicated in other public schools serving disadvantaged populations.

The Akron Public School District is spending 8.1 million dollars and LeBron’s Foundation is chipping in another over 2 million dollars to support the school. The model provides much support outside the regular classroom teaching. Parents will get job placement, GED and counseling to allow them to live better lives and be able to support their children in school better. All students receive a bike to promote health and give them transportation. Many poor families do not own cars and public transport is not comprehensive in Akron. There will also be extra summer sessions focusing on STEM education, extended school days, etc. to keep the students out of their troubled neighborhoods and not supervised. The best thing about the school, in my opinion, is graduates get free tuition at Akron University.

I see growing inequalities in the USA and the best way to attack this and lift families out of poverty is to give them the advantages of middle and upper-class families. The government and private citizens and organizations need to build our education system. I applaud LeBron James and the Akron School District on this project and wish them the best for the students.

Advanced Placement Research Findings

Valerie Strauss is the editor of the Answer Sheet, the section/blog about education from the Washington Post. I subscribe to the weekly summary of articles and often find something interesting. This week she summarized the research on College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program (Seven things research reveals – and doesn’t reveal – about Advanced Placement) This is an honors level high school curriculum similar to the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme. In fact, in the comments, the IB is referred to several times.

Strauss concludes that AP is challenged by expanding to urban schools serving lower socio-economic students in the USA. This makes sense because as with the IB, it takes a lot of resources like training, support services, and an environment (class size, family support) to run a successful rigorous curriculum. Poor schools lack many of these vital services.

Some of her later conclusions about AP from the research did not sit well with me. She only found “moderate association” with passing an AP exam and university success. This may be to the difficulty of educational research to separate causes in a complex system. I would also like to know why some elite boarding schools are dropping their AP courses.

Interestingly, as more schools across the United States stretch their course schedules to incorporate more AP offerings, a small group of elite boarding schools have recently dropped their AP courses. This development presents a new wrinkle in the push for equitable access to rigorous learning opportunities. If elite schools change the definition of elite courses, old marks of distinction may give way to new ones.

I did a research review of IB studies last summer. There is a lack of studies targeting IB and student achievement.