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.

Omicron Wave Data

Courtesy of the Washington Post – January 8, 2022

The Washington Post is doing excellent reporting of the pandemic and providing free access to articles concerning the pandemic. I’ve been disappointed by the sensationalist headlines of the New York Times during the pandemic. They misinform readers about the severity of the variants. In the chart above from this week’s Washington Post, you can see that although cases are at an all-time high in the USA, the number of hospitalizations and deaths are not. I interpret this as vaccines and boosters providing protection and perhaps the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous versions of the coronavirus.

The Washington Post also included another article from CDC in their weekly COVID news summary showing that children should get vaccinated as it does provide the same protection against hospitalization as in adults (see article at the end of this post). I also wonder about how seasonal influenza combines with coronavirus this winter. My takeaway from both these articles is thinking about how schools manage cases in light of a higher number of cases due to Omicron, but a similar rate of hospitalizations and deaths. I see that vaccinated people and young people are much safer in the pandemic than unvaccinated people, older people and those with health risks. Do we need to tighten our protocols? Do we need to go Virtual for a few weeks while the Omicron wave goes through our community? The data from South Africa is showing that the wave is much shorter in duration than previous waves (see chart below).

Washington Post – January 8, 2022

We don’t fully understand why pediatric hospitalizations are up, CDC director says, but vaccination clearly keeps kids safe

Washington Post, Francis Stead Sellers,

The omicron variant, which is sending U.S. children to hospitals in record numbers, is keeping people guessing — even the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the agency’s director.We are still learning more about the severity of omicron in children,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters Friday, noting that the increase in hospitalizations is occurring among all age groups.Rates are higher than before among pediatric populations. As of Jan. 1, the rate in the 4-or-younger age group was 4.3 per 100,000. Among those ages 5 to 17, the rate was 1.1. While concerning, the pediatric numbers are still minimal compared with older people: For those over 65, the rate is 14.7 per 100,000.The new variant is rampaging through the United States during the winter months, when other respiratory diseases, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are prevalent. Some children are being affected by the two viruses at the same time, making it hard to assess the severity of omicron. Others, who come to hospitals for elective surgery, test positive for the coronavirus but are completely asymptomatic, further confounding the picture.The increases in child hospitalizations could also stem from there being more opportunities to catch the highly contagious omicron variant or from children’s lower vaccination rates.Despite such uncertainty, the CDC director presented compelling data for the efficacy of vaccination:

  • Just 50 percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated and only 6 percent of those ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
  • The rate of covid-19-associated hospitalizations in unvaccinated adolescents ages 12 to 17 is about 11 times higher than fully vaccinated adolescents of the same age range.

The best way to protect young children who are not yet eligible for vaccines, Walensky said, is to surround them with immunized family members, caregivers and teachers.

My Latest Thinking on the Pandemic: January 4, 2021

Sam Harris is an American philosopher, neuroscientist, author, public intellectual and most importantly for this blog post, a podcast host. His Making Sense podcast is available via subscription from occasionally he makes some episodes open to the public. Sam’s December 14 conversation with Yale professor, Nikolas Christakis, “What Have We Learned from the Pandemic?” is available to the public. I read Christakis’s book, Apollo’s Arrow at this time last year. The 3-hour podcast is a kind of “State of the Pandemic” conversation as we near the end of the second full year of the COVID global pandemic. Christakis believes the first patient contracted the new coronavirus around October 1, 2019 and the first person carrying the virus left Wuhan around November 1, 2019. The TIS Academic Council started planning for the pandemic on January 22, 2020 and the first case arrived to Tashkent during Spring Break in March of 2020. The long podcast covers a lot of ground including breaking down the recently released shorter quarantine and isolation guidelines from the CDC.

Automobile Airbags are a Good Metaphor for COVID Vaccines (image courtesy of ExtremeTech.com)

As Sam Harris says, how much proof do vaccine skeptics need with billions of humans vaccinated without problems? This was the first time I heard that probably everyone will be contracting COVID eventually. I chose the low probability of a vaccine reaction versus getting COVID without a vaccine. Christakis compares vaccines to an automobile airbag; the vaccine does not guarantee you will not contract and/or die from the coronavirus, but it does greatly improve your chances of survival. The same goes for airbags which are standard issue in most vehicles sold.

It frustrates me that so many people around the world refuse to get vaccinated. The latest variant Omicron is partially a result of the virus being able to spread in unvaccinated populations. Viruses usually mutate to a more highly contagious and milder form as a survival advantage. If a virus rapidly kills its host, it usually will not be able to spread. A milder, more contagious form of a virus can survive for longer. However, after watching HBO’s excellent, “Station Eleven“, I fear a future mutation might be deadlier.

WHO Uzbekistan Vaccination Data

According to the WHO, over 33 million vaccine doses have been administered here in Uzbekistan and over 16 million people out of a total population of 34 million have at least one dose. As with many countries, getting accurate data is difficult and all COVID statistics in Central Asia are vastly under reported. I think the vaccination data is more accurate than cases, hospitalizations and deaths data because of the WHO’s COVAX program and its network of public health officials working with local Sanitary Epidemilogical Stations.

One of my big lessons from the pandemic has been that people react very differently to the same conditions. This has made the pandemic the most difficult time for international school educational leaders around the world. However the pandemic progressed and whatever measures schools took to protect employees and students, there is always a portion of the community in disagreement. Atlantic journalist and podcaster, Derek Thompson is an insightful voice on the American and international media. He describes the division between people and media regarding their view of the pandemic in this conversation on the Bill Simmon’s sports podcast. I think he is correct in his analysis of the two “teams” in different phases of the pandemic (table below). I remember some teachers not feeling safe enough to stay in Uzbekistan versus teachers wanting to stay on campus. The next phase of the pandemic revealed the difference between locals and expatriates regarding their receptiveness to vaccines. We are now onto the third phase and people take a range of precautions in their daily lives.

Pandemic Phase 1Team PandemicTeam Flu
Pandemic Phase 2Team VaccineTeam Anti-vaccine
Pandemic Phase 3(Team very cautious) vs. (Team Get Along with my Life)Team Anti-vaccine

We will be issuing our latest TIS protocols this week. I can’t believe that this is the third academic year that is impacted by the pandemic. We managed to have almost a restriction-free 2021-2022 so far. 100% of the classes were held on-campus for all 78 school days so far. We even managed to hold cocurricular activities with our first interscholastic soccer, volleyball and basketball games. We also held our first music and theater productions to live audiences of parents and students. We had our first full faculty professional development sessions and social gatherings. The only aspect missing is international travel and exchanges. I am appreciative of the efforts of everyone, employees, students and parents to make this possible.

What will the winter and spring of 2022 bring to TIS? The evidence from Europe, South Africa and the Americas is showing that we will eventually have a huge spike in mild cases. Derek Thompson describes the Omicron variant like an invader of a castle. It is able to get over the moat and castle wall (vaccine-induced immunity) but the knights crush the invader inside the castle walls (mild symptoms). I am not sure how we will handle a large number of mild cases. The CDC has given us guidance to halve the length of quarantine and isolation (10 days reduced to 5 days). An option for schools will be week-long grade-level or school-level quarantines and providing Virtual Learning. We may choose to press on with on-campus teaching and learning, knowing that most cases are mild to moderate and significant percentage of our community will be home on 5-day intervals. I am waiting to see how long the omicron variant wave lasts, which will also factor in our decision-making. One wild card will be the Uzbek government and their mandates. TIS will be using more rapid antigen tests, following the reduced quarantine/isolation guidelines of the CDC and continuing with masking/ventilation/distancing.

Failure Resume

Daniel Pink Talks about How to turn your screwups into opportunities.

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite thinkers and much of his writing helps my leadership. I subscribe to his Pink Cast and have read several of his books. One of the concepts in his latest book, The Power of Regret is the idea of making a Failure Resume. Our normal resumes highlight our accomplishments and as Daniel puts it, “our awesomeness” but a failure resume highlights the occasions where we made mistakes. Stanford professor Tina Seelig makes her students write a Failure Resume and people who do, seem to learn some big life lessons from doing this. I really want to read her book with my soon to be 19-year-old son, “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World”.