CEESA Collaborative Zoom Sessions

Central & Eastern European Schools Association Executive Director Kathy Stetson has organized weekly Zoom sessions for directors of member schools. These have been invaluable and have helped me grow as an education leader. This week a panel of directors started the conversation with some provocative ideas and the second part was a dialogue and Q & A. Most of the discussion dealt with the challenges of re-opening our campuses next fall.Below are some of my takeaways:

  • I like this idea of smaller groups of students being led by a mentor. Some governments are dictating to schools that are reopening to keep small groups of students (usually 10 or less) isolated from others in the school to assist with contact tracing and reducing the spread of the virus. Looking at it in another way, it kind of brings in the elementary school model of a homeroom teacher providing a loving, caring environment for students. This model should be moved up to secondary schools.
  • We are all struggling with balancing parents expectations and the need to provide childcare for families and keeping our students and faculty/staff healthy. What will parents accepts? We need to keep their viewpoint in our decision-making and dialogue with parents often.
  • The idea of autonomy/agency should be promoted during this crisis. Encouraging individual and groups of teachers and students to find solutions to keep teaching and learning while staying healthy.
  • Pay attention to the student voice. Kathleen Naglee from IS Helsinki informed us the seeing the joy from the students to be back on campus and with each other despite the limitations of physical distancing, should give us hope that we will get through this.
  • Peter Welch from AIS Bucharest reminded us to consider the values of 1) healthy school 2) innovation 3) sustain community
  • CEESA is calling together a group to look at what early childhood education will look like next autumn. This is an especially challenging group because it is impossible to physically distance young children.
  • One strategy is to focus on barriers around the school. The science of contact tracing says that regardless of mask or distancing, all people in an enclosed space for extended periods of time are proximate contacts. Wearing a mask has minimum benefits.
  • We will need to teach staff to protect themselves regarding handshaking (big in Uzbekistan), hugs, etc.
  • Finally, the idea of “informed consent” will be important. Schools need to be clear and comprehensive to what school will look like so parents, teachers and students know what they are getting into.

I would like to thank the CEESA executive board for leading the session and for all the collaborative Zoom sessions this spring!

John Hopkins University Covid-19 contact tracing certification course

I recently completed an online Covid-19 Contact Tracing course through John Hopkins University. John Hopkins has been a world leader in epidemiology during this crisis with its comprehensive website. Dr. Emily Gurley from the Bloomberg School of Health at JHU is teaching the course and it is available for free on Coursera.org. The class is designed to be completed in about 6 hours and leads to certification as a Contact Tracer. I took the course to help guide me in re-opening the school in 2020-2021.

Unit 1 “Basics of Covid-19” SARS-Cov-2 is the third coronavirus to emerge since 2002, with SARS (2002, China) and MERS (2012, Middle East) being the antecedents. Medical and public health experts are still learning about the disease and its spread. It has a wide variety of signs (can be physically measured (temperature, breathing rate) and symptoms (not measured, but how a case feels) that include the usual influenza symptoms. One specific symptom for Covid-19 is a loss of taste and smell.

Unit 2 “The Basics of Contact Tracing” Covid-19 has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days with 50% of symptomatic cases showing signs of the disease after 5 days. People are most infectious on day 1 of the onset of the illness and it lessens over time. They are also infectious two days prior to a positive test for infection. We should assume between 10-14 days someone is infectious. There is a small window of opportunity for contacts to be notified and start quarantine before they can infect someone else. It is usually around 3 days. It is still not clear if asymptomatic people are infectious. There are three types of exposure contacts:

  • physical – actual touch
  • close – within 6 feet/1.8 meters (distance virus can travel in air) for more than 15 minutes
  • proximate – same room more than 6 feet away, but with the infected person for an extended period of time

Isolation of a sick person usually takes place at home, hotel or hospital. The duration is from 2 days before the onset of their illness and at least 10 days from the onset, with all symptoms improving and no fever for three days. Contacts should be quarantined (movement restricted) for at least 14 days since the last contact with an infected person. To repeat, isolation is for a case (infected person) and quarantine is for contacts, healthy people that have been exposed to an infected person. In the final portion of unit 2, they identified “high-risk” situations, one category is dense contact environment which includes schools, mass transit (school bus), concerts (theatre/music), and sporting events, all of these occur at schools.

Unit 3: “Steps to Investigate Cases and Trace Their Contacts” Straightforward procedures from calling the infected person (case) to then following up the contacts. The important points are to determine the infectious period and identify contacts. They went through many role plays of calling a case and contact.

Unit 4: “Ethics of Contact Tracing and Technological Tools” Because Covid-19 has a RO (R-naught) of infecting 2-3 people, even stopping one infection has large effects down the line of transmission. Covid-19 has a similar rate to influenza, but a disease such as measles, has an RO of 15. My big takeaway from this unit was that the “public good” should trump individual rights. As a school leader, this comes up with requiring vaccinations to enter school. It is something that I will pay more attention to going forward.

Unit 5 “Skills for Effective Communication” This unit was a solid review of building rapport, types of questions and a good reminder of active listening. This would be a beneficial unit for young people.

I am happy to have taken the time to complete the course. The course provides a solid understanding of one of the most common tools that public health officials use to combat a pandemic, contact tracing. My critique of the course would be to add more outside resources, like photos, videos, articles from outside resources. Dr. Gurley’s slides were informative but a bit dry. The role play was excellent however, and a reminder that it is such a strong teaching technique. It also was 100% online teaching and learning, exactly what billions of K-12 students are going through right now. I felt like a student again waiting for the results of the final exam, a multiple-choice test of 40 questions. I recommend school leaders to take the course.

AAIE Webinar: John Littleford

The Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) is sponsoring some very helpful webinars every week. Last night I attended a Q&A led by well-known international and independent school consultant, John Littleford. He is a “rapid-fire”, straight-talking experienced consultant that has clear opinions and is always thought-provoking. Below are some bits of advice I took away from the session. I would like to thank AAIE and Littleford & Associates for providing the webinar.

Parents want definitive leadership from the school and act with confidence, surety, seriousness and humor. Act with “upbeat confidence” despite the large amount of unknown things.

He thinks a Reduction-In-Force (RIF) is always a good thing to have but if you do not have a clear indication that you have to use it, do not mention it because it will cause panic.

The transition for a new head of school is usually 1 to 3 years and this stage is growing.

Taking away all of the “fun stuff”, athletics, theatre, UN Day, etc. The sense of belonging and community is what brings value to our parents.

This may be a time to reexamine the “fragmented” schedule of 45-minute blocks. One idea would be a 2-week or 5-week schedule to take one class and then move on to the next one.

He suggests calculating an hourly rate for your school, the # of hours students are on campus divided into the tuition fee. You would find it is quite reasonable.

Brand loyalty is low in schools with a high transience rate, like our community. They care more about the ability of students to be able to transition to their next school or value the IB. Most parents are passive consumers of your product, not ambassadors promoting your school. Parents want to be heard and needed.

Parents in quarantine are becoming co-teachers with us. He suggests recruiting them to help promote the school’s program. Brand loyalty is listening and selling to them. You need to know their names and ask them to help.

The right amount of communication depends on the community. During this time it is important to hear from parents, some directors are asking the teachers to call parents a couple of times per week.

John is not an advocate of tuition reduction, he suggests going with upping your financial aid.

He advises to hold firm with faculty not able to come back to work due to health reasons, viewing it like a disability.

One school had an 87% of their expenses go to faculty salary and benefits. 85% is the norm for private, independent schools. Littleford is big on salary system and believes that it determines much of what kind of faculty a school can attract and keep. This is something that we need to look at in the future.

AAIE Webinar with Dr. Evans and Thompson (Part 3)

I attended another AAIE webinar with Dr. Robert Evans and Dr. Michael Thompson. Dr. Evans recently worked with private school leaders in Boston, Massachusetts. It is dawning on them, as with us here at TIS, this pandemic will be with us longer than what we previously anticipated. We were thinking of just getting to the end of this school year, but it looks like we will be dealing with this all of next school year. Dr. Thompson reminded us that we have different constituencies that we are dealing with and all of them have fears and anxieties. There are boards, support staff whose jobs might be in trouble, teachers over age 55 who are at risk if they catch the coronavirus and some parents.

Some of the concerns discussed were as follows:

  • The possibility of running concurrent programs, on campus and online
  • Dealing with a wide range of attitudes towards coming back to campus, some are eager and tired of being stuck in their apartment, others are fearful to leave their house. This is compounded by international schools having faculty living a long way from their homes and extended family. Schools are hearing from older teachers moving to retirement instead of risking their health working with so many different people.
  • Some leaders are getting pressure to make decisions sooner rather than later because many people do not like living with uncertainty. Dr. Thompson recommends the wisdom of Anthony Fauci, “the virus sets the timetable”.
  • One school in South East Asia follows the regulations from the government and goes one step beyond and have stronger measures. The school leader suggests having an outside body (third party) validate the measures the school is taking to reassure parents. In that particular school, 82% of parents sent their children the first week and now it is up to 95%.
  • Dr. Thompson sees some “staff denial” and they don’t think they appreciate that they should be “fighting” for their jobs by providing the best possible online education.
  • Dr. Evans feels that most parents want to send their children to school and are desperate to get them out of the house. He does not like too many surveys because parents are not professional educators. Schools should take the lead, tell parents what they are going to do and they can then make a choice.
  • An elementary school in Switzerland that started today, 80% of the parents sent their children and they are expecting more. They focused more on isolating groups of 10-12 and avoiding crossing groups to limit the contact. Therefore, if someone tests positive, then easy to quarantine that small group.This is referred to as an enclave.
  • Copenhagen International School is up to 90% attendance in their elementary. They were anticipating 50% return rate, but started 80%. Grades 6-10 are coming back on Monday with 750 students back on campus. Cafeteria is offering online orders in advance and sending them to students to avoid congregating. CIS has 3 teachers not coming in with clear guidelines from the Danish government and those teachers have certification from a doctor. They are providing support for students that are online.

Covid-19 Reading: A Corona Corps and more interesting ideas

I am reading, listening and watching as much as I can information about the coronavirus and its spread. Elemental by Medium, a science-backed health and well-being online publication in an article titled, “If the Coronavirus is Airborne, what does it mean for us?” refers to early studies possibly showing that crowded indoor environments like restaurants, homes and public transport readily transmit the virus and there have not been any confirmed outdoor spreading of the virus. However, everything with this virus has been complicated. My takeaway from the article is to make sure we are physically distancing and keeping our distance from each other.

While the images from spring break in Florida were used to tarnish Generation Z as irresponsible and selfish, the truth is that most young people did exactly what was asked of them—despite the fact that they are at relatively low risk of a serious case, let alone a fatal one. Leaders called on citizens to self-isolate to flatten the curve. And the class of 2020 listened. Generation Z is doing its part, for everyone, simply by staying home.

“The Next Great Generation” The Atlantic, May 7, 2020 Julian Zelizer

The excerpt above is from Princeton University Professor’s article in The Atlantic. He highlights the sacrifices the Class of 2020 is making, even though their age cohort is not really affected by this coronavirus.

One of my favorite authors and podcasters, Scott Galloway, a marketing professor from New York University suggests forming a Corona Corps, similar to the Peace Corp. These young people would be put into service, helping with contact tracing, food and medical deliveries, administering testing, etc. He thinks that taking a Gap Year would be beneficial as they would serve something bigger than themselves instead of most likely, attending online university classes in the fall. The Corps would be an army of young people, unaffected by the virus that could help society get through this pandemic.

Dr. Galloway is a big proponent of a Gap Year, especially for young men who mature slower than women. He reaffirmed what I already knew, that for many young people, an emotional, life-changing experience focuses what you and what you really want to do with your life. The key is to find that experience for the gap year. For me, it was going abroad for the first time at age 25 to teach in Colombia that helped me find my true vocation. I would have preferred to do this at an earlier stage.

“The welfare of your School Community: An aaie Webinar

Dr. Robert Evans addresses our AAIE Zoom Cohort yesterday

Having lived through a major earthquake during my time as a school director in Japan, I always see a silver lining in disasters. One of the positives to come out of this global pandemic is the Association for the Advancement of International Education’s helpful and insightful webinars. They are connecting international school leaders from all over the world to share ideas, discuss common challenges and help each other. Yesterday’s webinar featured one of my education gurus, Dr. Robert Evans. He was giving his advice with his work partner, Dr. Michael Thompson on how to deal with tragedies in schools. The Boston-area educational psychologists have worked with many schools after 9/11, a sex scandal, deaths of students, etc.

Their main message was the 4 Cs and 1 E of leadership in the time of crisis.

  • Courage – The community wants to see their leaders during times of crisis act with calmness, focus and facing the problems head on.
  • Connection – The head of school is the architect and overseer of connecting within a community.
  • Candor – Always give people the truth and people prefer blunt honesty, even if they disagree with it, rather than someone they think they agree with, but in the end, cannot trust.
  • Clarity – A leader needs to decide what is negotiable, what people can give feedback and what is the decision of the leader alone.
  • Empathy – It lowers the anxiety level of people when leaders listen to their colleagues. Dr. Evans is a master of this.

Economist JOurnalist Speaks at TIS

Author and journalist Joanne Lillis

I believe international schools should be a center of exchanging ideas, deep conversations and intellectual study. I loved last night’s talk by The Economist Central Asian correspondent Joanne Lillis hosted by the TIS librarian Susan Waterworth. She talked about political change in Central Asia. She recently got permission to report from Uzbekistan and it was interesting to hear her opinions of the opening up of the country.

The event was well attended with a variety of parents, students, faculty and friends of TIS. There were plenty of questions. It was good for our students to hear the route she took to becoming an international journalist and author. I read her book on Kazakhstan (Dark Shadows) and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the country. I would like to thank Joanna for finding time in her busy schedule to come to our school and to Susan for organizing and promoting the event.

Annual GDPR Training

Office Staff GDPR Training

Since returning to the Central & Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) region, the concept of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has been on my radar. This idea comes out of the European Union and it focuses on protecting personal data. Schools handle much information about students, parents and employees. This includes school reports, photographs, videos, health records, etc. GDPR asks us to think critically about what information we collect, why we collect and how we store and use data.

The TIS Technology Director and TIS technology integration specialist led the administrative staff (business office, secretaries, etc) in raising awareness about the data we have. I realized that as the director, I have a huge amount of information, some of it sensitive. The workshop got me thinking about how I protect school data and data that I might not think as sensitive or confidential, actually is to someone.

I will do the following:

  • set my sleep password on my computer to 1 minute from 5 minutes
  • reconsider what we collect in teachers’ personnel files and where that information is kept
  • I will go back to my iPad instead of a regular notebook. I take a lot of notes during my meetings, conversations, work and if I ever lost this notebook, it might be harmful.

My question I am still struggling with is the handling of videos and photos of students and parents.

Understanding Child SEx Abusers & Managing Allegations of Abuse

Dr. Joe Sullivan (left) trains police, educators, businesses, etc. (photo courtesy of The Independent)

I am attending four days of child protection conferences with the Council of International Schools at the International School of The Hague in the Netherlands. It is a sad topic to be thinking about for the week, but vital for schools to be knowledgable in this area.The workshops raised my awareness of the role and responsibility of schools in safeguarding children. I also am developing a forensic lens when evaluating employees and potential employees to work at the schools I lead. Dr. Sullivan estimates that 3-5% of international school teachers are attracted to children in an inappropriate way with a certain higher percentage that crosses appropriate boundaries in their interactions with students.

Dr. Joe Sullivan is a forensic psychologist who specializes in understanding the motives and methods of child sex abusers. He is a profiler that is called to crime scenes when the police have a suspect in mind. He has interviewed and studied, both in clinical and criminal contexts, hundreds of child abusers. It was a riveting and sad/sickening presentation. He featured interview clips of child abusers to get his main points across. Dr. Sullivan is now a consultant for international schools with his firm, Forensic Solutions.

  • Many abusers get caught through downloading child pornography. Dr. Sullivan stated that 80% of these abusers have committed a sexual contact offense before being caught.
  • A sexual interest in pre-pubescent children emerges around 12-13 years old. Dr. Sullivan presented his “spiral theory” on why some people develop an attraction for children. He thinks that it is not a genetic component, but how certain people make sense of childhood experiences.
  • The vast, vast majority of child abuse is never reported and most abusers never get identified or convicted. Therefore, police background checks will only catch a small percentage of abusers (5% of 7%). Dr. Sullivan suggests schools do “integrity screening” and ask prospective employees child safeguarding questions with a lie detector test.
  • It is good for school personnel to “think like an abuser” to look for signs of child abuse. In one case, a custodian set peepholes in bathrooms, playgrounds, changing areas to video children and later share in the dark web of child pornography.
  • Child abusers groom children to coerce them not to disclose to other adults.
  • 48% of child abuse is perpetrated by children.
Sullivan’s Spiral Theory

The introductory workshop was followed by a “deep dive” with Dr. Sullivan who was joined by Tim Gerrish, former Scotland Yard detective and member of the CEOP (Child Exploitation Online Protection Center) and Serious Sex Offender unit. He is now an independent consultant that works with international schools on child protection issues. Jane Group Consultant Jim Hulbert also aided Sullivan as we went through several case studies of Managing Allegations of Sexual Misconduct. These were both current and historical, sex abuse cases.

Tim Gerrish works with schools on their child protection policies and procedures

I really think if the subject matter was not so horrible, they would make a great Netflix series. The forensic psychologist (CSI), Scotland Yard detective (Sherlock Holmes) and Chicago lawyer (LA Law) makes a dynamic mix of genres. We had some gripping discussions. Here is a list of takeaways from the two days.

  • There are five mandates in a sexual misconduct case for a school 1) protect victim 2) find other victims 3) notify law enforcement 4) fair process for the alleged perpetrator
  • When receiving allegations, try to get a first-person account in writing and signed, if not, then a third-person account.
  • Have a paper trail with the investigation, put on paper and store in the head’s office safe. Also include an event log with the rationale of why or why not the school acted in a certain way.
  • Communication is the key, clear letter with enough details, no interviews with media, give talking points to employees, “as said in the letter”. We will share what we can, when we can, when the inquiry/investigation is finished. There are four lenses to think about optics, the Moral (#1), Legal (#2), Reputation (#3) and Media (#4).
  • Warren Buffet says that it takes six years for a business/school to get back its reputation if it mishandles a child abuse case.
  • A challenge for international schools is mobility. Teachers and students move frequently all over the globe.
  • Dr. Sullivan recommends new directors to make “Significant Tool Timelines” for all teachers. This is a 1-page timeline of an employee’s work history, including date of birth, graduation from university, teaching qualifications, previous schools/jobs, etc. I should be looking for unusual dates, gaps, etc.
  • Be careful and really plan well the interview with the alleged perpetrator. Some points included, “tell me about” not “do you remember”; allow silence, people will say things they normally would not; keep a neutral face, not too friendly, but not too judgmental.
  • Dr. Sullivan pulls stories apart and looks at it from different angles to evaluate the validity of the account; this is called a Statement Validation
  • he is also a big proponent of “integrity screening” which is a 20-minute automated test that measures blood flow and pressure that indicates lies, and he claims it is 85% accurate; he thinks it will eventually be standard practice for school teachers to undergo this screening
  • For school leaders, when an allegation is made, we should take the stance we are evaluating a teacher’s “suitability to work with children” not if they are guilty or innocent.
  • schools need to be aware of civil liability, this could include negligence, the statute of limitations, defamation, wrongful termination, insurance, etc. In the biggest case, a school paid close to $2 million dollars to victims; a couple of hundred thousand dollars to do right by the victims and protect the reputation of the school is worth it according to Jim.
  • In the case of a current abuse allegation, the crisis response team will cover safeguarding (students), employment (teacher), communication (community/media).
  • Parents are looking for transparency, fairness and strong actions to protect students from the school.
  • The “deep dive” portion of the child protection workshop gave me plenty of repetitions looking at different case studies and it helped me feel comfortable dealing with allegations.