Recent events stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed both universities and K-12 schools to move toward online classes.

6 Tips to Make Your Instructional Videos Shine

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on March 16, 2020.

Over the past decade, online education has become an increasingly popular option for both educational institutions and students, with about a third of all college students taking at least one online course. Some of the more popular benefits of studying online include learning asynchronous material at your own pace, access to a larger variety of courses, and learning from the comfort and confines of your home.

Recent events stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed both universities and K-12 schools to move toward online classes, a change that has left many educators struggling with how to best deliver immersive and engaging content and learning experiences online to students. Although links to YouTube videos and online worksheets are valid and can be helpful content for students learning remotely, some of the best online classes also include videos by instructors that truly help personalize the learning experience and specifically address the curriculum and learning objectives.

In my role as the Coordinator for Distance Learning at the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin, I have worked on 24 different MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) Courses in 3 different languages with over 12,000 participants from over 15 different countries. I’ve edited countless videos and seen enough Powerpoints to put a Tony Robbins crowd to sleep. Through coordinating these online courses I have seen a lot of best practices that have had a positive impact on student learning and the quality of the course. Here are six things you can do to create the best instructional video for your students.

Audio is King

Audio quality is perhaps the most crucial element of any online video. People will sit through poor video with decent audio before they will sit through a video with poor audio. Most computers have microphones that are more than sufficient. Where people really go wrong with sound is the environment where they record.

Audio quality is perhaps the most crucial element of any online video.
Audio quality is perhaps the most crucial element of any online video.

It is important to record in a quiet environment, free of ambient noise, and in a non-echoey location (a carpeted room works best). And although a computer or mobile device microphone will typically produce acceptable sound quality in the right environment, adding a dedicated microphone can help your audio really shine. My recommended setup includes a wireless microphone (Rode RodeLink FM Digital Wireless Filmmaker System) that plugs into my camera (Canon Digital SLR [EOS 80D]) when I have the luxury of filming the instructors myself. Another great option are on-camera microphones that mount onto cameras (Rode VideoMicPro Compact Directional On-Camera Microphone) or plug into cell phones (RODE VideoMic ME-L Directional Microphone for iOS Devices with Lightning Connector).

High Quality Video

Video quality really makes a difference and different cameras produce varying levels of visuals. Unfortunately, the worst quality camera in someone’s house is often the one they use most: the webcam. My first suggestion for instructors when filming a course is to use a digital camera whenever possible. I use a Canon 80D DSLR Camera. This camera is nice because it has both great quality and an audio output and input, which allows me to use a wireless microphone and listen to the audio with headphones while recording or doing a test.

Oftentimes a DSLR camera is not an option for folks, so in this case I recommend using a cell phone camera whenever possible. Most recent mobile phones record in 4K and have excellent video and good sound.

It is best to use a tripod when recording your videos. This is especially helpful for framing your shot, but if you don’t have one, use whatever necessary to position your camera at eye level or higher. Stacking books is something that works well.

Proper Framing of the Shot

I am shocked at how many instructors get this wrong. Use a medium shot whenever possible. A medium is where the subject is in the middle distance, or waist shot permitting some of the background to be seen.

If you are filming on a webcam, phone or video camera, how you position your camera can greatly improve your videos. Make sure that the camera lens sits at or above eye level, no higher than your hairline.

Show Your Face

A Powerpoint without a face or presenter is a presentation that I could have viewed on my own. A class without an instructor doesn’t feel like a class to me and lacks the personalization and touch that the best courses share. It’s important to show your face as the instructor. One of the things I most enjoy about the courses I take online is that I feel like I am in the classroom with the instructor. It’s important for instructors to remember to give eye contact and smile.

A recent Stanford study “showed that participants’ ratings of which video segments they preferred were strongly in favor of showing the face.” It should be noted that there was no evidence to suggest that retention was any better in this study.

It’s important for instructors to remember to give eye contact and smile.
It’s important for instructors to remember to give eye contact and smile.

Screencasting

One of the easiest ways to video your class is through screencasting, where you simply record your voice and computer screen. Screencasting is really effective when participants are learning a new program or working with online tools. The following tools are great tools to use when Screencasting:

  • Quicktime – Quicktime is a free program for Apple computers that allows you to play video or audio files. It also allows you to create screen-recordings. This is very easy to use. Just open the Quicktime application and click New Screen Recording. Make sure you test the audio before you record a class.
  • Zoom – The benefit of zoom is that you have the option to appear in your screencapture. In order to do this, simply go to “Host A Meeting With Video On” or choose “Screen Share Only” if you don’t want to appear. Zoom also provides an option to record to the cloud instead of your computer.
  • OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) – This is a free and open-source tool for streaming and recording. OBS has many more features and tools, which I personally find more work than both Zoom and Quicktime. It is however a great free alternative for Microsoft Windows owners.

Editing Videos

As someone who edits a lot of video, I will say that editing can be time consuming. However, there are a number of simple edits that can dramatically enhance a video’s quality and ultimately provide a better experience for your students. Removing unnecessary elements, such as time you spend finding a webpage or dead air space, greatly improves your videos. Also, with editing programs you can add text and visuals to the screen to emphasize your message and help improve retention.

There are a number of simple edits that can dramatically enhance a video’s quality and ultimately provide a better experience for your students.
There are a number of simple edits that can dramatically enhance a video’s quality and ultimately provide a better experience for your students.

Here are a few of my favorite video editing programs:

  • iMovie – iMovie is a free software that makes video editing easy. Unfortunately it is only available on Apple.
  • Premiere Pro – Premiere Pro is an adobe product that allows you to create amazing videos. Another benefit is that it integrates with all other Adobe Apps. This is more complicated than iMovie and Adobe Rush.
  • Adobe Rush – Is an all in one video editing tool that works a lot like iMovie, but with a few improved features, such as the text on screen options.

With more and more classes moving online, instructional videos are increasingly becoming the new norm. Don’t let a great lesson plan let you down by not producing an engaging video that clearly communicates your excitement, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the subject to your students. By following these tips, you’ll be able to not only create great content for your class, but possibly for other educators and students around the world.

13 Reasons to NOT go International as a Teacher

13 Reasons to NOT go International as a Teacher

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on February 1, 2020.

Recently, I wrote an article about why making the move to live and teach overseas was the best career decision I ever made. The ability to experience and meet new people in different countries was the adventure of a lifetime and added to my worldview and understanding of diversity. However, despite the romanticism and numerous benefits that teaching internationally provides, it is certainly not without its pitfalls. So, just as you’ve read my 13 Reasons Why Every Teacher Should Go International, here are my 13 reasons on the flip side of the coin.

1. The Business Side of Education Becomes Clear

Some international schools are clearly for-profit organizations, while others claim non-profit status. However, in either case, nearly all international schools are private organizations, meaning that their continued operation is a function of student enrollment. This means that schools will sometimes accept a student despite inadequate space or lack of support for students with low English skills or learning disabilities. Why? Schools will accept these students because they equal more revenue.

On the flip side, fluctuations in enrollment, particularly in small schools, might result in cutbacks in staffing at schools. Imagine having relocated to a new country and school a year ago and finally getting situated, only to hear from your school director that due to lower-than-projected enrollment you might not have a position next year. These kinds of conversations in smaller international schools are much more common than many people think.

Can private international schools truly keep educational issues at the forefront when there is a business to run and precious student tuition revenue to capture?

2. Finite, Two-Year Contracts 

The industry standard in international teaching is for schools to offer an initial two year contract. While this arrangement may seem rather harmless at the surface, I suspect that this “forced decision” for schools to renew and teachers to stay is one of the reasons that international teacher turnover is so high.

Despite all of the warning signs pointing to fallacies in this contractual model, international schools continue with this norm and teachers are expected to stay the full two years, regardless of how you feel or how bad the reality of your new school or country is. Teachers that leave early during these two years often find it hard to find another international teaching gig, even if they may have valid reasons for leaving their position early.

It is very important to do your due diligence before signing a contract to make sure that the school and country is the right fit for you. And remember, if the school or country isn’t the right fit, you need to stick it out to ensure that you can land another international teaching gig. Fair or not, a one-and-done international teaching assignment on your resume is a big red flag for schools when they are hiring.

3. Lack of Diversity

Wait, what? Despite the fact that international schools purport an appreciation of diversity and multiculturalism, the fact of the matter is that nearly all student families come from high socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, the international educator sector is largely dominated by older, white men – particularly in positions of leadership. While the lack of diversity in leadership positions is also prevalent in other job sectors, at least these are explicit efforts and initiatives to bring more women and individuals of color into leadership positions – I have yet to hear about any such initiatives in international schools at a system level.

When I went to my first international teaching fair, I was shocked by the lack of ethnicities that attended. While working in Colombia, Brazil, and Portugal, I can count on one hand how many minority employees there were. It’s ironic that schools and curriculums embrace diversity, but do not reflect it on their staff and hiring practices.

International schools claim to celebrate and promote diversity and multiculturalism, but many times the leadership structure is hardly that.

4. Politics and Helicopter Parents

What’s the second worst thing after a disinterested parent? A helicopter parent. While I always appreciate support and involvement from parents, international school parents can sometimes take this to the extreme. Families at international schools always seem to find ways to compare the status of their jobs within the community, the cars they drive, and how their children are doing in school. This excessive and competitive atmosphere can sometimes be quite painful as a teacher as it puts you in the middle of a needless and unproductive competition.

Compounding this problem is that many international schools are governed by school boards comprised of elected parents at the school. In the best schools, the school board and leadership team work hand-in-hand with clear definitions in roles and a unified vision. However, in many schools, there are blurred lines in roles, petty bickering, and hidden agendas at play, which only create a stressful and problematic working environment. Is the parent that is complaining about another kid in the class doing so as a concerned parent or as a board member?

5. Exchange Rates and Local Currency Fluctuation

Exchange rates can change rapidly and transferring money can be expensive. When I signed my contract and moved to Brazil, the exchange rate was 1.8 reals to 1 dollar. During my last year working and living in Brazil, the Real fell to 4 reals to the dollar. I went from transfering 1,800 Reals a month to transferring 4,000 Reals a month for student loans back home. Yikes.

Of course, while a change in exchange rates can play in your favor, generally speaking emerging countries’ currencies have lost long-term value against the dollar. And, with more international schools welcoming host country families, it’s increasingly likely that international teachers will be paid at least some amount of their salary in local currency. After all, the school itself also has to protect against currency risk – but sometimes, the expatriate teacher becomes the victim.

Watch out: if you’re not paid in dollars or pounds, local currency rates can sometimes plummet, leaving expatriate teachers on the short end of the stick.

6. More Classes to Prepare for than Agreed Upon

Often times international teachers are asked to fill in the gaps within the education schedule. In every international school where I taught, I was asked to teach a class or classes that I had never taught before and that were not part of my initial agreement with the school. 

In Lisbon, Portugal, for example, I accepted the teaching position with the understanding that I would be teaching two International Baccalaureate English Diploma Programme (DP) classes. When I arrived at the school, I was asked to teach an 8th Grade Middle Years Programme (MYP) Spanish Course because I spoke Spanish. Soon after, I found out that I would also be picking up two International Baccalaureate English MYP classes (8th and 9th Grade).

While many school districts in the United States have clear policies and regulations regarding additional preps and possible compensation, international schools that find themselves in these situations are not subject to these same conditions that were negotiated between teacher unions and school districts in the States. As a result, poorly run schools or a last-minute teacher resignation might mean that you are faced with some additional classes you weren’t prepared to teach.

7. Missing Out at Home

While you’re overseas on your new adventure, life goes on without you back home. Family events, birthday parties, and get-togethers with lifelong friends become increasingly scarce as you spend more time overseas and drift apart.

The only two real extended periods of time that you’re able to make it home on a regular basis are usually during Summer and Winter vacations. These vacations are usually jam packed with only time to see the closest family and friends. And while it’s always nice to catch up with friends and family during the holidays, this also means that you’re missing out on important life events with loved ones during the course of the normal school year. And if something should potentially happen to a loved one while overseas, you’ll be on the other side of the world with very little that you can do about it.

8. Lack of Infrastructure

Some schools simply do not have enough room and space to keep up with student growth. Most international schools are for profit and therefore do not want to say no to incoming students, regardless of if they have the space available for the students or not. What this means for teachers is that they are asked to share classrooms or move from classroom to classroom. 

At one international school I where I taught, I had to teach a class in the school library with three other classes going on at the same time. I even taught a class at the “Snack Shack” (school store). At this school it was very rare for me to have a planning period in a classroom alone.

At one international school I where I taught, I had to teach a class in the school library with three other classes going on at the same time. I even taught a class at the “Snack Shack” (school store). At this school it was very rare for me to have a planning period in a classroom alone. 

9. Inconsistent Leadership 

The average tenure of international school directors is less than three years. This alarming statistic means that by the time you leave the school, the director then will probably not be the same person that hired you in the first place. This was the case In two of the three international schools I worked in, and the the number of principals I worked with are too many to count.

New directors typically brought their “suitcase” programs they wanted to implement and made sweeping changes to policies and operations. While a fair amount of turnover and fresh blood can bring new ideas and excitement, frequent turnover can disrupt a school culture and create confusion with both families and faculty. A director or principal that you felt enormous confidence and trust with can suddenly leave, creating a feeling of insecurity and nervousness with a new administrator.

10. Lack of English Support

In schools where English is the common language and the language of instruction, it is important to make sure that support is given to students that don’t have adequate English fluency. Many international schools do not have sufficient ESL (English as a Second Language) programs to support these kids. Teachers are told to modify or differentiate their lessons to accommodate these students without the support structure and resources to best serve these students.

The development cycle of a student learning English as a young child is very different than a native English speaker who enters Kindergarten having spoken English from birth in their home. In all the international schools where I taught, I had students that lacked basic literacy in English and that were receiving no additional support because there was no support to give. 

11. Lack of Support for Kids with Learning and Physical Disabilities 

Accommodating learning disabilities and physical disabilities were not a priority at the international school I worked in. The families of students that needed help physically often had to pay for support themselves. The facilities also often lacked adequate handicapped accommodations for these students. 

In regards to learning disabilities, international schools often do not have a designated space for these students or adequate staffing to provide these services. It should also be noted that the local culture and parents were often resistant to these types of services to their children. I had many parents in Colombia and Brazil that did not even want their kids to be tested for learning disabilities. They viewed these labels very negatively.

ADA compliance in international schools? Many lack the proper infrastructure and staffing to support students with legitimate challenges.

12. Language Barriers

It is challenging to live in a country where the language is different than your own. Managing banks, housing, bills and hospitals can be very challenging. I found that many schools offered support during orientation but less as my tenure grew.

Without the language and support of the human resource department, it can be a very difficult and frustrating process to manage even the most simple aspects of your life. While it’s always great to have the assistance of a kind local you’ll undoubtedly meet at your school, it is nevertheless somewhat debilitating to not be able to access basic functions that you would otherwise be able to do unassisted in your home country.

13. Never Planting Roots

Moving to and experiencing new cultures and places is a very exciting aspect of international teaching, but it can be very tiring. During my experience of international teaching, I moved to four different countries. In those countries, I lived in 10 different apartments and taught over 20 different subjects. It was difficult to establish any real roots in any of the countries that I lived in, partly due to the fear that I knew that my continued employment meant getting in the good graces of a new director or principal that would be sure to arrive imminently. This type of instability led to burnout and my eventual move back to the United States.

Being an international nomad is great, but almost totally precludes the possibility of putting down roots and establishing a home base.

Making the move overseas to teach is something that I still believe that everyone should try at least once in their life, and there are many advantages and benefits to making the move abroad. However, there are many disadvantages and drawbacks to international schools that everyone should take into consideration before applying to jobs overseas. While I will always look back on my international career with great fondness and appreciation, after a decade overseas I am happy to be back in the United States closer to family and friends.

13 Reasons Why Every Teacher Should Go International

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on September 15, 2019.

It was 2008, and I was halfway through my second year as a public school teacher in Chicago, Illinois. While I had decided to move to Chicago primarily for personal reasons (read: ex-girlfriend), there was a part of me that truly wanted to experience working with children from an urban and challenged background. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts in the classroom and genuine connections I developed with my colleagues and students, I started to quickly feel the burnout working in the public school system. Increasing classroom sizes, lack of parental support, scare resources, and bureaucratic processes all took their toll on me, and despite my former administrator’s support and encouragement, I found myself second-guessing my decision to relocate to Chicago.

After one particularly difficult day in the classroom, I started searching for opportunities and stumbled upon the website of an international recruitment fair for teachers: the UNI (University of Northern Iowa) Overseas Placement Service for Educators. The recruitment fair was scheduled in a week’s time and was only a few hours’ drive from Chicago, so on a whim I signed up and showed up, not really knowing what to expect.

The job fair is like one big speed dating exercise, and schools are quick to offer contracts to teachers if they feel the fit is right. After a few interviews, I was offered a job teaching Middle School English at Colegio Jorge Washington in Cartagena, Colombia, and after hastily calling my family and Googling as much as I could about Colombia, I decided to take the plunge – and 10 years later, after stops in Colombia, Brazil, and Portugal, I can honestly say that the decision to go international was the best decision I have made in my teaching career. Why? Here are my 13 reasons:

Quality of Life

Generally speaking, teachers working abroad earn more money than back at home, both in terms of base pay as well as the additional add-ons such as airfare and housing allowances. Additionally, living internationally usually means a lower cost of living versus back home, although there are some exceptions. But if you can get into a situation where you’re earning more than you would back home and living in a place where your costs are lower, your quality of life is sure to improve. I always found myself able to live in generally affluent sectors of international cities, with money left over for entertainment, travel, and perhaps most importantly, saving.

A higher quality of life and more vacation time from work provides greater travel opportunities and exploration.

More Vacation Time

International schools generally have greater vacation periods and holidays. Because these schools are comprised of an international population, they like to give ample vacation periods for Summer and Winter breaks so that their staff and students can spend the holidays with their families in their home countries. Additionally, international schools often celebrate both local and American holidays. For example, when I taught at the American School of Rio de Janeiro, we would have vacation for American Thanksgiving and for Brazil’s Carnival celebration. We enjoyed a long vacation from December to February for the Brazilian summer and another long break from June to July for the American summer.

More Planning Time

International schools facilitate more time for lesson plans, collaboration, and grading. It was not unusual for me to have over an hour each day without students when teaching internationally, which really gave me the time I needed to plan engaging lessons, review student work, and prepare my classroom for the week ahead. Unlike my experience in Chicago, my planning periods were sacred and valued and I was seldom asked to cover other classes, attend meetings, or handle administrative tasks. There always seemed to be an understanding in the international schools that I worked that administrators respected the time and professionalism of their teachers.

One of the things I really appreciated about working in international schools was the additional time I was afforded to plan lessons, mark papers, and collaborate with colleagues.

The Best Way to Learn Another Language

How many of us have taken a Middle or High School Spanish course as students, only to never use it and ultimately forget what we learned when we arrive to adulthood? Living in another country is a perfect opportunity to acquire a new language, as you can easily find opportunities to practice and immerse yourself with locals. With a little effort and lots of practice you will be in a position to learn another language. Learning a language is like having professional development every day, and you’ll have plenty of local friends and colleagues who will be more than eager to help you practice and develop your new skills.

Learning a new language is a highly marketable skill that will help you be more marketable as a teacher, administrator or in some other field. While teaching in Colombia, Brazil and Portugal I became fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. My language fluency is what helped me obtain my current job here at the University of Texas.

Smaller Class Sizes

When I taught overseas, my normal class sizes ranged anywhere from 12-18 students. This was an incredibly manageable number as it allowed me to really develop deep and authentic relationships with my students and provide a great deal of individualized attention and feedback. Yet, the class sizes were always big enough so that I could plan and design a number of collaborative activities and lead class discussions.

When I taught in Chicago, I regularly had classes of 30 students. Larger class sizes are more difficult to manage, particularly when the group of students is very diverse in terms of academic knowledge and skill. I regularly found myself struggling with classroom management and always felt that I was letting students down by not giving them enough attention.

Greater Flexibility With the Curriculum

In the world of public education, which unfortunately has become all too politicized, administrators are given marching orders from legislators, school board members, and other politicians on how to run their schools, with strict instructions on high-stakes testing, curriculum, and textbooks.

International schools, however, don’t tend to be bound by the same rules and regulations as schools in the United States, so administrators, and ultimately teachers, have more free reign to deviate from an established curriculum when there are appropriate opportunities for extension and depth. This freedom afforded allows teachers to feel more comfortable, adapt to the needs of their students, and personalize their learning experiences more.

Motivated Learners

International school students tend to be more motivated learners. In my first overseas teaching assignment, I was shocked to see the students prepared and eager to learn immediately from the first day, whereas in Chicago I typically needed to spend the first several months setting expectations and getting students into a good class work routine. Part of the reason international students may seem more motivated could be in part due to the selective screening process that many schools employ or the fact that parents pay a substantial amount to enroll their children; whatever the case, more motivated students means that teachers can focus on deepening their teaching and learning.

In my experience, international school students are typically highly motivated, which allows teachers to deepen and expand their learning activities.

Less Focus on Standardized Tests

In the United States, it seems that schools are focusing more on tightening standards and administering standardized exams to kids to no end. In international schools, we also had standardized tests, but these tests always felt like a smaller yet important part of a bigger jigsaw puzzle to help teachers do their jobs better.

Instead of realizing school report cards or tying bonuses to standardized test scores, in international schools we really took the time to analyze the data and discuss the results collaboratively. We were even encouraged to bring in other pieces of evidence into our discussions, such as own locally developed assessments and our observations of students to help paint a clear picture of student learning and ultimately develop a plan to improve instruction. The things we learned from all of these tests were helpful to administrators and teachers, but they were not stressful events for students and teachers. The data we received from these tests helped guide our instruction and communicate with parents.

The Extras

All of the places that I have lived overseas have had such a low cost of living that I was able to afford domestic help. When you have someone who regularly stop by and clean and cook for you after a long day of work, it really enhances your quality of life and allows you to focus on yourself. In addition to having domestic help, I was able to take private language and dance lessons, have masseuses come to my house, and even have messengers run errands. There is no way that I would have been able to afford these extras on a teaching salary in the US.

More Classroom Resources

As a public school teacher, I have very vivid memories of purchasing my own classroom supplies for both myself and my students given the lack of resources at my school in Chicago. Although I always tried to be creative and resourceful, there were simply times that even basic materials weren’t available that I needed.

At international schools, the only items I ever had to buy from my own pocket were the specialized grading pens that I couldn’t find abroad. Overall, I found that if I needed something for my classroom, I got it. Sometimes the wait was a little long because it needed to be imported from overseas, but international school administrators didn’t seem to hesitate to supply teachers with an adequate set a supplies for their classrooms.

Due to higher tuition levels, international schools have access to more capital and are thus able to furnish and equip teachers with more classroom resources.

Expand Your Worldview

Moving abroad gives you a new perspective and appreciation for both your own and others’ culture. It forces us to challenge our beliefs and values, and to seek to understand those of others. It gives us the opportunity to look at our own culture through the eyes of others. Through this dialogue and interaction comes understanding and acceptance, and I think that is a small step in helping to be part of a more peaceful and understanding world. In addition to meeting tons of local friends, I met many international families and colleagues who had either recently made the move overseas or relocated from another country. This helped me create a truly worldwide network of friends and more importantly, to understand the world and people more.

Meeting people from different backgrounds, customs, and cultures has been a wonderful way to expand my worldview and gain more appreciation for diversity.

Lasting Friendships and Relationships

The friendships and relationships you make while living abroad last a lifetime. The challenges that come with living abroad help create lasting bonds, and I still keep in regular contact with many of my former colleagues and students. In the absence of having my actual family overseas with me, each school community became my adopted family where I turned to for support and advice. There are a lot of difficulties and challenges that come with moving abroad, and these experiences foster lasting bonds that last a lifetime. You will make friends from different backgrounds and cultures and in they end they will feel like family.

An Expanding Market

The international school sector is rapidly expanding and new schools are opening every day. This means that there are more teaching opportunities abroad and a need for qualified, native-English speaking certified teachers. As more international school students aspire to study in the top universities in North American and Europe, the more teachers will be sought after and better compensated for their services.

Living overseas is one of the best professional decisions that I ever made. It expanded my worldview, allowed me to improve my professional practice, and even led me to meet my current wife. Although I have since relocated to the United States (my next article will be about the pitfalls and negatives of living and working overseas), I am forever grateful for the experience.

Is this a suicide note or a poem?

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on December 12, 2019.

As a teacher, I found that poetry was one of the best tools for getting to know my students. When I taught Middle School English, I began every school year with poetry for this reason and because it also allowed me to bring in music, teach figurative language, and sensory detail. Although poems are typically shorter pieces of work, they nevertheless require students to reflect, express themselves, and connect with their emotions. Without fail, no matter what students wrote about in their poems, their personalities and true feelings came out. Every poem helped me gain insight into their feelings and their lives and ultimately served to better understand them as individuals, which would in turn enhance their learning experiences.

One year, I received a poem from Jaime (a fictitious name for a real student) that made me question whether or not the student was creatively expressing his ideas honestly and transparently, or if his work was a legitimate cry for help. Jaime had always struck me as a respectful and well-adjusted student, although in the first weeks of class, I had regularly encouraged him to participate more in class discussions and to overcome his reluctance to speak. His poem read:

Jamie’s poem.

I know that no one will hear my sound

And no one will feel my pain or even feel my emotions

That’s it, everything is gone

My time is over

I feel dizzy

Or maybe everything around me is creepy

I’m not crazy, I’m not a sickly person

I’m just dead morally, waiting for the deadly body

I’m fed up from this life

I’m fed up from people

I’m fed up from myself

There is no medication that can help me

There is only drugs

It’s too late now

I lost my mind

I lost my life

I lost my feelings

I lost my dreams

Ahhh, wait.

I found the solution

Staying up all night listening to sad music and injuring myself by a blade is the solution.

I’m thinking, “Why am I even in life? Why did God create me?”

If he even exists

Is this the life which I made my mom suffering for mine worth love?

Wait

What am I saying?

Don’t listen to me

I’m gone

And my last words are

I’m lost

I’m gone

How does a teacher react when he or she reads a poem from a student like Jaime? Did Jaime have legitimate thoughts about hurting himself, or was this a fictional or glorified account written for poetic purposes? While I was undoubtedly impressed with Jaime’s diction and prose, I couldn’t help but wonder if the poem reflected a darker reality that he only felt comfortable sharing through poetry.

I decided that it would be better to err on the side of caution and reached out to colleagues and school administrators. What are some of the lessons learned about this experience, and what advice should teachers consider if they suspect students may be a danger to themselves and/or others?

Act Fast, Don’t Wait

When I first read this poem, it was over a weekend. Students had given me their final drafts on a Friday for me to look at before they would turn their poems into poetry videos. I read this poem on a Sunday, and after reading and discussing it with my wife, I decided to contact the counselor, principal, and director of the school. Contacting them allowed me to come up with a strategy for the next day of school to address the poem and his thoughts with the student.

Having the support of trained professionals and school administrators quickly melted away any apprehension that I had about violating the student’s confidentiality, hurting his feelings, or misinterpreting the intent of the poem. It was helpful that the staff that I shared this issue with expressed their appreciation that I had shared this information with them, as well as their genuine concern for the student. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if you ever find yourself in a questionable situation where you may suspect something to the student, it is still better to immediately act fast and report your suspicions to school administrators.

Act Fast, Don't Wait
If you suspect something may be wrong with a student, make sure that you act fact by informing school administrators as soon as possible.

Is there any immediate danger?

After speaking to the school director, principal, and counselor, we decided that the student was not in any immediate danger. Still, we needed to talk to him as soon as possible. Had we felt that the student was an imminent danger to either himself or others, we likely would have initiated a much more serious and immediate intervention.

Hold an initial conversation

Do you speak to the student, and if so, what other staff should be in the meeting? How and when do you notify the student’s parents? Should other students be questioned or spoken to regarding Jaime’s behavior?

Together with the counselor, we agreed that we would speak with the student first thing Monday morning with both of us in attendance. It was reassuring to know that I had the support of the school’s counselor, and we agreed to report our findings to the principal and director afterwards. We also agreed that after the initial meeting, the counselor would speak to Jaime privately just in case he wanted to share any information privately.

Be transparent and express your concern

The first thing I did when I got to school that Monday morning was to find the student. Part of me did this because I was worried about him. I was afraid that maybe he had done something to himself over the weekend.

During our meeting, we expressed our admiration for his poem and the effort that he had put into it. We also told him that reading the poem created a genuine concern for his safety, which was the rationale behind me reporting this to other staff members at the school. Expressing these two beliefs was an attempt to have Jaime understand that we cared and appreciated him so that he might tell us the true meaning behind his words.

Listen

After I let Jaime know why I was talking to him, I asked him directly, “Are you thinking of suicide?” Jaime said that he had thought about it but was not seriously considering it. 

I then followed up with the following question of why he had thought about it? He was unhappy with moving from the country where he was from. He was unhappy with losing all his friends. He felt inadequate for not getting into another school. He was unhappy with his parents. He felt alone. He said much, much more, most importantly, I listened and took mental notes.

I ended with the question of “how can I help?” For this question, he didn’t have an answer, but I assured him that I would start by checking in with him more and that I wasn’t going to back off on checking in with him. 

Listen
Together with the school counselor or another person that school administrators designate, find a safe space to speak with the student and listen.

Use Your School’s Support System

A lot of schools have processes in place to address these concerns. Unfortunately, our school did not have a comprehensive school crisis plan to deal with these issues. I did, however, work closely with the counselor, and we created a plan to address this particular student in order to support him at school and ensure that he stays healthy. Throughout the year, he met with a counselor, and I continued to check in with him.

Don't Give Up
Make sure that you use all of the resources available at your school so that a plan can be formulated to best support the student.

Notifying Parents

Even if the child is at low risk of committing suicide, the school needs to inform parents immediately of the concerns. It is always best to have parents in to discuss the issue and to meet with both the counselor and the appropriate school leadership team member. A couple of key things to follow through with parents is to make sure that they sign that they have received notification about the issue. Parents can also provide some valuable background information about family mental health history that may provide additional insight into how best to support the student. Some international locations will have great support organizations within the city where they live, and others will be limited. The counselor should have a network with local and international organizations for the parents to reach out to as not all parents will know where to turn. Remember to document all meetings with the parents and students.  

Notify Parents
Keeping the parents in the loop on a continual basis is important to align efforts and to note any behaviors both at school and at home.

Throughout the year, Jaime and I built a strong relationship with trust and transparency. I did see an improvement in his academics throughout the year as well as in his adjustment and socialization. Although Jaime had apparently not had any suicidal thoughts to the point where he felt compelled to act upon them, it is always important to be constantly observant and responsive to different ways that students communicate and express their feelings. With students’ emotional needs and wellbeing becoming an increasingly important topic, teachers are the first line of defense and often play a vital role in connecting with students.

Rio: The World’s Best Beach City

Rio: The World’s Best Beach City

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on November 13, 2019.

Five years after the World Cup and three years after the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is still the place to be.

Rio de Janeiro, or the Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvelous City) as it is affectionately known by in Brazil, is one of the most breathtaking cities you will ever visit. It is one of the most visited cities in the world with picturesque beaches, stunning mountains all within minutes of each other, and a party-like atmosphere.

Rio de Janeiro has a little bit of everything for all types of tourists. For the adventure seeker, there are spectacular hikes, surfing, rock-climbing and kite-boarding all within minutes of each other. For those looking for parties and nightlife, the city of Rio has you covered with festivities and dancing everyday of the week. Crowded botecos (small bars) line most streets if you are looking for a cold beer or a Caparinha, Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça (distilled sugar cane juice), sugar and lime. Looking for a relaxing and chill vacation? Rio’s world renowned beaches and Bossa Nova vibes will fit perfectly for you. From Copacabana to Ipanema and Leblon to Barra da Tijuca, a beach chair awaits you so that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.

Despite its natural beauty, year-round pleasant weather, and party-like atmosphere, Rio is not without its challenges, many of which were highlighted during the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2014 World Cup. Safety, violence, and corruption have plagued Rio de Janeiro and Brazil as a whole in recent times. Economically, the country has fallen into a recession, with high unemployment and devaluation of the local currency after numerous years of expansion and growth. The lack of sewage infrastructure and treatment facilities has led to massive runoffs into the ocean, contaminating and polluting the local water supply.

As someone who lived and worked in Rio for six years, I’ve seen firsthand both the promise and potential that this beautiful city has to offer along with the frustrations that come along with civic inefficiency and governmental corruption. Ultimately, I loved my time in Rio and would recommend a visit by anyone with a thirst for culture, adventure, and nature.

Getting To & From Rio

There are two airports in Rio de Janeiro: Galeão International Airport (GIG) and Airport RJ Santos Dumont (SDU). Galeão International Airport is the second busiest airport in Brazil; São Paulo’s airport is the busiest. Galeão, also referred to as Tom Jobim, was renovated ahead of the Olympics and offers plenty of international flights, but the prices aren’t cheap when compared to flying into other countries. For travelers arriving to Rio from a destination within Brazil, the smaller Santo Dumont may be a better option. Although the airport is somewhat dated, it provides easier access to the city, so check to see if this is an option prior to purchasing.

Regardless of which airport you fly in and out of, be sure to budget for at least three hours to get to the airport. Traffic to and from both airports can be horrendous, and the congestion and lack of quality road infrastructure can sometimes mean that it will take up to an hour to drive as little as 15 kilometers. Unfortunately, mass transit options to both airports are limited, as the metro and subway do not service the airports. The wait is worth it, though: pack a camera for takeoff or landing as you’ll be treated to fantastic views.

A plane takes off from Santos Dumont airport over Urca, Rio de Janeiro.

Getting Around Rio

According to a study by Dutch transport technology company TomTom, Rio de Janeiro has the third worst traffic in the world (Rio Times Online, 2015), but that doesn’t mean that getting around the city needs to be similarly painful. With some smart planning, you’ll be able to navigate the city with a minimum of stress and visit a multitude of sites and destinations.

Mass transit options such as the metro, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), or bus system are affordable options for travelers that not only are cost effective but help avoid the most congested roads at peak times. Rio’s metro system is comprised of three main lines that run regularly, which are air-conditioned, clean and efficient. You can purchase a prepaid card or recharge an existing card from a kiosk in any metro station using cash (no change given) for a minimum of R$5. Subway maps are displayed in every metro station, and the metro’s hours are Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to midnight and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays and holidays.

The BRT is a bus line that was created for the Olympics in 2016 to help people to get to more isolated places in the West Zone and North Zone of the city. The BRT is a great option for getting to more remote beaches, like Recreio. This bus system is easy to manage and connects with the Metro system at many stops.

The bus system is more tricky to manage. Buses run regularly around the city, but due to traffic the times are inconsistent. Buses are a great way to go short distances between neighborhoods and beaches. Google Maps is one of the best ways to navigate the bus system, as the app tells you where to meet the bus and a predicted departure and arrival time of buses.

Ridesharing apps such as Uber are another option for getting around the city. In addition to the added security of a ridesharing app as it tracks your location and assigns you a verified driver and car in the system, these apps typically are more competitive economically than hailing a taxi off the street. Also, unlike many airports, Uber is allowed access to both airports in Rio. Santo Dumont Airport includes an Uber Lounge, which offers customer service, wifi and a waiting area. In addition to Uber, other ridesharing platforms that have local traction include 99Taxis and Easy Taxi.

Perhaps the most relaxing way to get around Rio is by bicycle. Dedicated bike paths run throughout the city, such as from Copacabana to Leblon, provide a unique and personal way to get to know the city. On Sundays, several streets close off to traffic, making this an ideal day of the week to explore Rio. 

Rio’s Must Destinations

The beauty of Rio is that the main attractions and activities are located within 30 kilometers of each other. Because Rio is Brazil’s largest tourist attraction, the list of things to do and places to visit would be massive. Here are my favorite spots from years of living and visiting the city.

IPANEMA/LEBLON BEACH
IPANEMA/LEBLON BEACH

IPANEMA/LEBLON BEACH: Ipanema and Leblon Beach are essentially the same beach separated by a canal offering spectacular views of the famous Morro Dois Irmãos mountains. The beaches are lined with hundreds of barracas (pop-up tents that rent chairs and sell beer and snacks), so you don’t need to prepare for your day at the beach – just show up.

PIER MAUÁ
PIER MAUÁ

PIER MAUÁ: The world’s largest street mural is a can’t miss when visiting Rio. The mural was created by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra and depicts portraits of indigenous people from Ethiopia, Thailand, Europe, The Americas and Papua New Guinea. The mural measures 623 feet long and 51 feet high for a mammoth 32,300 square feet.

COMPLEXO LAGOON
COMPLEXO LAGOON

COMPLEXO LAGOON: A spectacular food court and movie theater located on the edge of the lake called Lagoa de Freitas (pictured). The outdoor seating area provides amazing views of the lake and Christ Statue. Complexo Lagoon is no ordinary food court.

BAR DA LAGE
BAR DA LAGE

BAR DA LAGE: Located on top of the hill in the Vidigal Favela, this bar has a beautiful deck with cold drinks and music. It’s the perfect place to catch a sunset and grab a beer, especially after the Dois Irmãos Hike.

PARQUE NATURAL MUNICIPAL DA CATACUMBA
PARQUE NATURAL MUNICIPAL DA CATACUMBA

PARQUE NATURAL MUNICIPAL DA CATACUMBA: Located on the other side of Lagoa de Freitas from Complexo Lagoon is a little sanctuary with sculptures and short but steep hikes that offer impressive views. 

PARQUE LAGE
PARQUE LAGE

PARQUE LAGE: Parque Lage is a former mansion turned art school. The structure resembles a Buddhist Monastery with a cafe that offers breakfasts and light meals.

MUSEUM OF TOMORROW
MUSEUM OF TOMORROW

MUSEUM OF TOMORROW: Built on the waterfront at Pier Mauá ahead of the 2016 Olympics, this unique architectural structure is surrounded by pools, gardens and leisure areas. The museum offers free admission on Tuesdays.

MORRO DOIS IRMÃOS HIKE
MORRO DOIS IRMÃOS HIKE

MORRO DOIS IRMÃOS HIKE: This quintessential 3 hour round trip hike in Zona Sul is a moderate trek that offers everything from favelas to beautiful views of the city, ocean, Christ Statue and surrounding landscapes.

SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN
SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN

SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN: Take a breath-taking cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf or hike from the beautiful idyllic beach, known as Praia Vermelho (the Red Beach). The views from the top offer breathtaking panoramic views over Botafogo Bay, Flamengo, and the surrounding city of Rio. Clássico Beach Club is located on the summit and offers drinks and food.

MURETA DA URCA
MURETA DA URCA

MURETA DA URCA: Enjoy classic appetizers and beverages on the Urca wall near Bar da Urca, a popular destination for locals taking in the sunset. Be sure to try the classic Brazilian appetizers: Casquinha de Siri (Sea Crab on the Shell) or Bolinho de Bacalhau (Codfish Balls). Show up early to secure your spot on the wall. 

SALGUEIRO SAMBA SCHOOL
SALGUEIRO SAMBA SCHOOL

SALGUEIRO SAMBA SCHOOL: This famous and historical Samba school holds feijoada parties throughout the year as they get ready for Carnaval. These parties typically take place on a Saturday or Sunday and include Brazilian soul food and, of course, Samba music.

LAPA/CARIOCA AQUEDUCT
LAPA/CARIOCA AQUEDUCT

LAPA/CARIOCA AQUEDUCT: This bohemian neighborhood is well-known for its live music, bars, street food and iconic Carioca Aqueduct (pictured). If you go during the day be sure to check out the colorful staircase, Escadaria Selaron and the Catholic cathedral which resembles a pyramid.

CHRIST THE REDEEMER
CHRIST THE REDEEMER

CHRIST THE REDEEMER: Christ the Redeemer is considered to be one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and is Brazil’s most recognizable symbol. There are three ways to get to the iconic structure: cog train, van or hike. The hike takes a full day starting at Parque Lage.

PEDRA DA GÁVEA
PEDRA DA GÁVEA

PEDRA DA GÁVEA: A strenuous hike that offers the best views of Rio de Janeiro. This hike is not for the faint at heart. The summit is 2770 feet high, making it one of the highest mountains in the world that ends directly in the ocean. To reach the summit takes anywhere from 3-4 hours.

CT BOUCHERIE
CT BOUCHERIE

CT BOUCHERIE: This small, charming French restaurant located in Leblon offers savory cuisine. The restaurant serves classic Brazilian sides and does a great job by including a vareity of proteins. Be sure to make a reservation or show up early.

BOTECO BELMONTE
BOTECO BELMONTE

BOTECO BELMONTE: A perfect stop for a chope (cold draft beer) after the beach. It’s located a few blocks from Leblon beach and on the same road as CT Broucherie. The people-watching here is terrific.

THE PEDRA BONITA TRAIL
THE PEDRA BONITA TRAIL

THE PEDRA BONITA TRAIL: Pedra Bonita is a is an easy half-day hike with views of the city and the Tijuca Rainforest. The beginning of the trail leading to Pedra Bonita is located in the parking area of the hang-gliding ramp, where tourists and locals hang-glide and parasail to the nearby beach of São Conrado. 

Carnaval
The Queen of the Drummers or Rainha da Bateria leads a samba school in the Carnaval Parade.

Carnaval

No visit to Rio is complete without experiencing Carnaval, a yearly event that begins the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. The official celebration lasts a week, but the festivities begin weeks before Carnaval as the Samba schools and everyone else prepares for the festival. Carnaval is one of the biggest parties in the world and although celebrated in different forms and locations throughout the world, Rio definitely lays claim to the biggest and most unique Carnaval celebration.

During the week of Carnaval, a variety of different events highlight the festivities. The different Samba schools compete against each other in elaborate parades with one school being crowned the winner. A large parade, filled with dancers and costumes, passes through the center of Rio at the Sambadrome. Blocos, or street parties, are everywhere. The blocos are free and lively with Samba music, drinking, dancing and costumes. And of course, the beaches are full of people looking to continue the party and enjoy the weeklong holiday.

Living in Rio de Janeiro

Most tourists and expats are drawn to the neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, or Barra da Tijuca due to their relative safety and proximity to the beaches. However, these areas are somewhat small geographically and therefore prices reflect the high demand of these areas. Two to three bedroom apartments in these sectors average around R$3,000 per month (approximately $794 USD), but be aware that apartments typically come unfurnished and any condominium fees are not included, which can add another R$1,000 – R$2,000 to your rent bill.

As of seven years ago, the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Brazilian Reals was approximately 1 to 1.74. Unfortunately, due to recent economic challenges and the country’s recession, the current exchange rate is 1 to 3.78, meaning that the Brazilian Real has lost more than 100% of its value compared to seven years ago. Despite this devaluation, prices locally in Reals have remained relatively constant over the years, meaning that visitors or expats with access to U.S. dollars will find themselves in an advantageous financial situation.

Independent Schools in Rio de Janeiro
Independent Schools in Rio de Janeiro.

Until recently, citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan were required to apply for a tourist visa to be granted access into the country. As of June 17, 2019 visitors from these countries are permitted to stay in Brazil for 90 days by simply presenting their passport upon arrival, with the possibility of extending their stay without exceeding 180 days. 

To work in Brazil, you’ll need to make sure that you have a work permit or visa, which your employer should be able to apply for you on your behalf. Be wary if employers ask you to work under the table or to front the fees in advance for your visa costs.

Brazilian Flag
The Brazilian flag with the national motto “Ordem e Progresso” (“Order and Progress”).

Rio de Janeiro has recently received a fair amount of negative press due to certain safety issues and also because of the large corruption scandal known as the “Lava Jato.” But through these challenges, I am certain that the warmth and spirit of the Brazilian people will shine through to visitors of the country. With abundant natural beauty creating a tremendous backdrop for any vacation, Rio really does live up to its name of the Marvelous City. 

School Spotlight: Colegio Nueva Granada

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on October 9, 2019.

Colegio Nueva Granada (CNG) is one of South America’s most recognizable and prestigious international schools, located in the Colombian capital city of Bogotá, Colombia. Under Dr. Eric Habegger’s leadership as school director over the past nine years, CNG’s reputation has grown even further, with the school being recognized by Advanc-ED for its commitment to continuous improvement, an extremely selective faculty appointment process, increased numbers of international students, and an ambitious campus improvement development plan. SchoolRubric’s Ryan Sagare recently traveled to visit CNG and visited with Dr. Habegger about his accomplishments at CNG and vision for the future.

Watch: Preparing Our Kids for a Changing, Diverse World – Dr. Eric Habegger | Colegio Nueva Granada

Thanks for joining us today. I’d like to start by asking if you could tell the SchoolRubric community a little bit about yourself and your background.

Interestingly enough, I started my education as an international student – a global nomad. I came with my family here to Bogotá, Colombia in 1963 and attended CNG as a first grader. I remember learning how to read at CNG and the classroom still exists where I first attended the school. Our family went back to the States and I went off to college and became an English teacher, and my first overseas teaching job was here at CNG in 1985 as an eighth grade English teacher. Then my wife and I left, got our Master’s degrees, and CNG called up again. I came back to be a high school principal from 1991 to 1995.

We traveled the world and went to the Middle East. We went to Japan, coastal Venezuela, and Paraguay, and then the job opened up at CNG. I have been the director here for nine years and both of our children have graduated from CNG – so I’ve been a student, a teacher, an administrator, a parent, and school head.

Prior to his appointment in 2010 as CNG school director, Dr. Habegger spent time in Qatar, Japan, Venezuela, and Paraguay.

Since your experience at CNG and Colombia has spanned several decades, can you describe some of the significant changes you’ve seen, both at the school and in the country?

In the 60s and 70s, probably 90 percent of our school population student demographic would have been expats. When personal safety and security became more challenging in the 80s and 90s, that completely shifted. Embassies and multinational corporations would not bring dependents into Colombia. So when I first started at CNG, probably 95 percent of our student population was Colombian. We learned to love Colombian culture and make super connections with students and families. Those were very special times in the 80s and 90s although obviously issues with narcotraficantes and la guerrilla were certainly challenging. However, our overall Colombian experience was wonderful and that’s what brought us back in the future.

That demographic [90 percent Colombian students] has significantly changed today. Ten years ago, we were about 65 percent single passport Colombian student, and now that’s down to 47 percent. So over the last two years for the first time in probably 50 years, our majority population holds a different passport than a Colombian passport.

You’ve been at CNG for the past nine years. Can you talk about what you would consider to be some of the school’s biggest accomplishments during your tenure?

I’d say the biggest accomplishment starts with the quality of teachers and administrators. We had about 150 applicants to CNG back in 2010, but over the past three years we have averaged almost 4000 applications for approximately 25 openings each year. So we’ve really made significant advances mainly because of the incredible quality of educators who want to come to CNG and want to come and travel throughout Colombia and Latin America. And as we know in the international school world, the quality of teachers and administrators is in essence the quality of the entire program.

The rest of it is in the details. For instance, in terms of the rigor of the program, we started with about 200 students sitting for Advanced Placement exams on a given year at the high school level. This past year, we had 750 exams sat and our highest ever student performance in CNG’s history. So that’s quality teachers working and day in and day out and students rising to the challenge. All of our indicators have gone up over the last nine years.

Another accomplishment that I’m very proud of in terms of what our educators have done is that in our last accreditation visit two years ago CNG received the highest index of education quality in Latin America as evaluated by Advanc-ED, the world’s largest accrediting agency. So again, a testament to the hard work of teachers and students to achieve that significant honor.

So I’m guessing the number 320.40 must ring a bell.

It certainly does. That was our overall assessment rating – and that’s across 47 different indicators. So a great accomplishment by the school, the community, and our educators.

Specifically, what would you say are some of the leading indicators that made CNG stand out from an accreditation standpoint?

Probably within the accreditation report, the number one theme that came through by the seven-person team that evaluated CNG was our commitment to continuous improvement. In 2010, students, teachers and parents reported concerns about the quality of the academic program, the quality of our teachers, and discipline. We put all those aspects on the table – we said, “Houston, we have a problem and we need to improve it. Here’s our action plan and we’re going to put that action plan in place. We’re going to evaluate [the action plan] using a variety of different metrics and find the results.” And as a result, we had about two-thirds of our students concerned about bullying yet today that is under 2 percent. We had about 82 percent of our students in 2010 who were concerned about the quality of our academic program, and today that is less than 1 percent. So we faced issues. We went after them. And that commitment to continuous improvement is what drives CNG day in, day out every year and we ask our community to participate. We listen and then we address those issues that most impact teaching and learning.

When we took a look through your website, one of the things that stood out to us was a focus and stated commitment to diversity. In a more specific sense, how does that actually manifest itself here at CNG?

Obviously the diversity piece is important to both our Colombian and international school community be- cause of the realization of what our world is like today and what it’s going to be, which is multinational work teams working 24/7 where in multinational companies you’ll start with a project and that project basically will follow the sun around the world. And when I talk to so many of our parents who are in business, industry and the diplomatic corps, what they tend to share with me is they can readily find high quality people in their various areas of expertise within their companies or organizations, but where they struggle is whether those people have the interpersonal skills to work with other diverse people in work teams. And so I think our community understands and values that reality where 30 years ago so many of our parents would have had Colombian companies but now they’ve sold those companies and they’re working with big multinational groups.

Due to an updated admissions policy and heightened interest from international families, CNG’s student demographics recently surpassed 50% international, as measured by passport nationality.

Changing the tune a little bit, I’d like to chat about your neighbors – the foundation that CNG has started. What is this program all about?

Our foundation school started 15 years ago. It started because members of our community were looking up and seeing that we were doing charitable acts for events that happen in other places – an earthquake in Mexico, a flood in Bangladesh. And it really forced some reflection and thinking and the thought was here in this city, we have needs – and one of those needs is the neighborhood literally a half mile south here of the school where it is the displaced people of Colombia who have to leave their regions in many cases because of violence. And one of the issues that we saw was that the mothers had to go out with their husbands in order to try to make work or stay at home with the children which would certainly impact the economics of the family. And so our school established a daycare and worked with those kids so the mothers could join their fathers and help advance the economics of the family unit.

We fell in love with those kids and we thought, “how in the world can we stop their education after only two to four years?” As a result, we began to build a purpose-built facility here on campus and added at grade level each year. At the moment, we’ve had three graduating classes get their education at the fundación which is supported by donations from our entire school community.

That’s great. Are the students at CNG involved in any way with the foundation?

Yes. Every grade level will have interactions with their fundación hogar counterparts – their peers. That could be read-alouds at the primary level. In middle school, that could look like a recycling campaign. In high school, that might be the two senior classes working together to build picnic tables so that the foundation students have the opportunity to eat their cafeteria meals outside on nice days.

Every grade level will have an even playing field interaction during the year with the foundation students. One of the wonderful aspects is to watch, for instance, has been the Destination Imagination competition – the foundation kids beat the CNG kids, so that demonstrates that everyone is capable whether you are born into a very well-to-do family or a family that’s had challenges in life. Education can even the playing field. And that makes a big impact, I think, on both communities in a very positive way.

Colegio Fundación “El Hogar” is a foundation supported by Colegio Nueva Granada that enrolls nearly 500 students and graduated its first senior class in 2014.

It seems like CNG has some ambitious capital improvement projects going on with its facilities. What projects are the school currently working on?

Sure. About 15 years ago, there was a class-action lawsuit in Bogotá on the eastern slopes of the entire city across 50 miles. There was a building moratorium as a result of this lawsuit, and CNG has not been able to lay one single brick in those 15 years. The courts overturned that [moratorium] a year ago due to the fact that CNG has been here on this site since 1959 and therefore have due process rights to build.

We therefore we put together a seven-building master facilities project plan which addresses infrastructure needs as well as innovative learning spaces for the future. We will have a bridge for safety reasons crossing the Circunvalar which will be done here in May. We will have a cafeteria because right now we have one cafeteria and we start lunch at 10:40 a.m. and we end at almost 2 o’clock – we don’t want the cafeteria to drive the academic master schedule. We’ll have a new sports center, a new high school, a new early child center as well as a performing arts center theater and black box. So we’re really to allow facilities to expand what students and teachers can do in terms of the learning environment, and we’re already underway with three of those projects (the bridge, the cafeteria, and the sports complex and transportation logistics center).

We touched on this previously, but perhaps you could speak a little bit more about the changing demographics at CNG. It seems pretty interesting how the school has actually grown its international population at a time when most international schools are seeing higher and higher numbers of host country students.

When I came in 2010, I took a real targeted approach with the board related to developing a very clear admissions policy. With the school wanting to ensure diversity for our Colombian community as well as international population, we capped the number of Colombian students by percent in every grade level. We also decided to decrease the number of students in the school from 1,850 to where we are now at around 1,710. Although with a master facilities plan we could grow, we receive about 850 student applications every year and we accept about 160 students. We therefore decided to focus on the diversity within the school and not grow the school versus potentially becoming less diverse as a result.

So between that specific targeted admissions policy as well as the fact that CNG became more and more the school of choice as our academic program and quality increased, it’s sort of like you build a quality program and they shall come. And that’s what happened. We were getting about 80 percent of embassy populations and now we’re getting around 95 percent of those populations. And in that regard, the rich get richer: better quality programs, higher college admissions, more demographic diversity. It’s a very positive cycle for the community.

An ambitious master facilities expansion plan includes a walkway bridge, which will help improve safety and security for students, faculty and visitors.

You mentioned earlier that you are extremely selective with your students and I know that this extends to the staff you hire as well, but that doesn’t really happen unless there is increased visibility and interest from prospective staff members in CNG. How have you been able to systematically attract more top talent?

In general, I think more and more with social media and the fact that international educators are fairly well connected, it’s amazing how so many candidates are able to pinpoint the top five or ten schools in a region. And as candidates begin to leave CNG to go to other international schools, they’re telling their colleagues which are the better schools in Latin America. Again, it’s a factor of the rich getting richer the stronger your program is seen. For someone who wants to come to Latin America or who is looking for a specific type of professional development environment where they know they’re going to grow and get better, what they view is important when they see and talk to teachers who have been here and think, “Wow, that’s a pretty good teacher. That must be a good school.”

Our brand recognition and name recognition continues to build and it gets cycled again and again. This year, about 20 percent of our new hires were hires that were connected by word of mouth and referrals from either teachers who are currently here and who said “Hey, we’ve got an opening in third grade and middle school math – you have to apply. We love it here.” Or they are people who have heard about us from colleagues around the world and say “I was told that if I want to go to the top school in Latin America, apply to CNG.”

I’ve heard that you have a bit of an unorthodox interview style. Can you tell us a little about your logic behind that process and what you’re looking for from candidates in your interviews?

You’re asking me to give away trade secrets… but part of that came out after being a principal for 13 years and working with four different directors on three different continents and watching their interview styles.

I saw more and more that most schools use a more scripted interview approach, and what I found was that in a scripted interview approach you find that candidates appear to care so much about curriculum, instruction, assessment and kids – but it’s because you’re asking leading questions related to those areas.

So we flip the interview and for the first half hour, the candidate is in complete control and they ask questions about what’s important for them to know because in the other interview style which tends to be also 30 minutes, they’re asked questions and maybe they get to ask one question at the end. We wanted to flip that because we have found that their questions tell us more about them than them answering a scripted interview question. You know exactly what’s on the top of the mind of that candidate, what they really value and what is important. We find out five times more information about that candidate than if we ask scripted questions for an hour because it’s a tape recorder for them. They’ll have 10 interviews a day at a recruiting fair that all blend in together and at the end of the day they can just repeat and replicate it, so we find that the initial flip interview really gives us a sense of their psyche.

A competitive recruiting process has led to greater numbers of quality staff, which Dr. Habegger largely credits for the school’s improvement over the past nine years.

CNG appears, at least reputationally, to be one of the most recognizable schools in not only Bogotá but also Colombia and Latin America. Given that, what do you think your role should or shouldn’t be in improving education as a whole in Colombia and perhaps even on the international stage?

Our vision statement talks about improving students’ learning through mind, body and character – and the key part is through leadership and service. If we’re not doing it as an institution and asking students to do it for themselves, then it’s a mismatch. We have to demonstrate and model for students our commitment to leadership and service.

So for us, one of the areas that we are best known for – actually worldwide – would be for our learning center. We have 50 full time faculty and staff providing comprehensive special education services for mild and moderate to severe learning needs. We help those students go off to college – 99% percent of all of our students go off to college and universities. So we have become an education site and model school for schools around the world to look at our practices, our programs and our policies. We’re also passing on information as asked by Advanc-ED and the College Board related to our character education and service learning programs through the fundación.

We’re also sharing information about our Capstone projects, because some of our students have done some incredible projects through their research and are making an impact in the community around us. I’ll give one example – a girl did a project looking at women in prisons here in Colombia and what she found was that many did not know about all the social services available for women, so she developed an app that women can download on their phones to look at all the services available for things such as spousal abuse, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse… and the list goes on and on. Those kind of projects, I think, have put CNG at the forefront in terms of recognition for the way we’re approaching education and having students understand that it’s not learning for learning’s sake but the impact it’s going to make as they leave these walls and go on in life – and I think we’ve been recognized for those types of efforts and their effectiveness.

Just a couple of more questions. What is the school governance model and structure at CNG?

We have a seven member elected board. Three are elected on a two-year cycle and the other four on the other cycle so there’s always continuity. CNG has fortunately had a long history of board stability and board interest in director longevity. It’s very difficult in international schools to advance programs with significant board and head turnover. If you look at the model of flagship schools in every region you’re going to find the following factors: One, stable board structure. Two, longevity in school administrators. Three, tuition that helps ensure program excellence and quality costs. It’s difficult when a school community wants excellence but doesn’t want to pay for it. Those three factors in place with that governance piece being critical are so important. We also have one board non-voting member and that is the U.S. Embassy appointed representative to represent our U.S. mission population. And that’s our board structure.

Last question – your predecessor, Barry McCombs, was here at CNG for 13 years and you’ve been here nine. That’s an amazing run for an international school director – how much longer do you plan on being at CNG?

We just talked about governance, and one of the aspects that is very important to the board and myself is to advance the school significantly and there’s still work to do. The board recently extended my contract now for another five years, so I’ll be here 14 years and maybe beyond that because I love the school and this community. It’s an important place for the Habegger family and we still have much left to accomplish. My goal is to serve this community for as long as I can by helping the school continue to advance with quality teaching and learning.

Christina Hoffman is originally from Ontario, Canada and has taught overseas for the past four years.

Teaching Abroad: How My Love for Travel and Culture Helped me Find a New Home

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on May 7, 2019.

Christina Hoffman is originally from Ontario, Canada and has been living and working overseas in Bogotá, Colombia since 2015. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with SchoolRubric’s Ryan Sagare to discuss her experience living abroad, why she decided to pursue an international teaching position, and offer advice to prospective teachers looking to make the move overseas.

Thanks for spending some time with us today. Can you tell the SchoolRubric community a little bit about yourself and your background?

I’m originally from Ontario, Canada. I went to school in Peterborough, Ontario at Trent University and studied my Bachelor’s of Education at Queen’s University. When I was at Queen’s, I had a really cool opportunity to go to TORF (Teachers’ Overseas Recruiting Fair) which is the international teaching fair. It’s something I always wanted to do since I love traveling and I love learning about new cultures. I didn’t want to stay in Canada, because it was difficult at that moment to get permanent teaching jobs so I thought it would be a great opportunity to go internationally. So I went to TORF and got about 10 job offers in one weekend. It was the craziest experience of my life and I ended up deciding to come to Colombia. My mom used to work in Colombia about 35 years ago. I always wanted to come and learn about the culture and learn Spanish, so I signed a two year contract to move to Bogotá… and here I am now. It’s fantastic. I’ve been here for four years and I’m absolutely loving Colombia.

Your story is a little unique in that you didn’t spend time teaching in your home country and immediately decided to relocate and work abroad.

In Canada and in Ontario where I’m from, it’s especially difficult to get full time teaching jobs. I saw a lot of my friends applying for different school boards and they were getting supply teaching jobs. I didn’t find that so appealing because I really wanted to start right away in the field of teaching and to have experience in the classroom right away with my own kids. And I thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to teach and to also see if teaching was for me because I wasn’t 100 percent sure that this was the path that I wanted to take. So I figured that by getting experience in the classroom right away I could figure out if I really liked it and if I wanted to continue in that path. I found that the fair was a great opportunity to get experience right away and to learn about teaching around the world. I wanted to develop relationships with other teachers and to see the style of teaching in different countries, which would help me grow professionally.

After attending the TORF job fair in Canada and receiving 10 job offers, Christina decided to accept a position in Bogotá, Colombia.
After attending the TORF job fair in Canada and receiving 10 job offers, Christina decided to accept a position in Bogotá, Colombia.

What made you ultimately decide to accept the job offer overseas?

I loved the culture – that was I think one of my biggest things. I traveled a bit to South America before and I really, really loved the people. Honestly, I think it was also the school because I made a really good connection with the people who were interviewing me and I really liked the ideology of the school because it sounded like a very forward-thinking school. It sounded like they really wanted to be innovative and involve the kids a lot in decisions being made at school.

Another thing that I loved was that the school was very Colombian. There was a small percentage of international teachers and a small percentage of international students which is pretty unique for international schools. So because I really came to Colombia with the intention of learning Spanish and learning about the culture, I thought it would be a really good immersion experience for me to figure these things out.

Tell us about your first year overseas: the positives, negatives, adjustments, surprises.

I think the biggest kind of shock getting here was trying to figure out my life. I was coming to a new country in which I had no friends and I had never taught before. It was everything at once and it was very overwhelming. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anybody. And because the school was so Colombian, I didn’t have a lot of international friends to connect with right at the beginning. I was really lucky because the Colombian teachers at school were fantastic and they became my family. When I arrived at the school, I was a Primary teacher for two months and they changed my position after two months to High School, which I was not trained for. That was an extra challenge for me. But I think that one year I really learned a lot about resilience. I learned to keep on moving and to ask for help whenever I needed it because it was probably the most challenging year of my life both personally and professionally.

I had learned how to teach and I’d gone to teacher’s college but nothing is the same as having your own classroom. And then being in another country and another culture with a different language… so it was all these things kind of kept coming together that made it really challenging. I was super lucky that I found a great group of people at the school and outside the school who helped me, but the first couple of months were really difficult.

A lot of international school teachers seem to jump around from job to job and a lot of them have even returned home after a few years. Yet you seem to have found a niche living overseas.

Originally I had a contract for two years at my first school and I decided to renew that contract for one more year, so I stayed a total of three years because I changed jobs midway through my first year. I wanted to have two full years of doing the same thing so I would feel comfortable with the curriculum. By the time I got to the end of my second year here, I felt like I already had a great Colombian family. I had really good friends, both Colombian and international, that supported me and I felt really comfortable. And I loved the culture. I think Colombia is an amazing place to travel – there’s so much to do here. The holidays are fantastic. So I feel like the work-life balance is really nice and I feel like there’s there’s still a lot that I want to do around South America.

Last year, I resigned from my previous job and went travelling in South America for four and a half months because I wanted to see more of South America. I ended up coming back to Colombia because I have a Colombian boyfriend, and so that’s kind of why I decided to come back and I really love this country. I don’t know if I’ll be here forever but I feel like I still have some time left in me for Colombia. I wanted to experience working in a different school that was a bit bigger and a bit more established from the school that I was at before. And I was ready for something new. But I’m in love with Colombia. It’s a great place to live.

Christina taught her first three years at Colegio Knightsbridge and started this past year at Colegio Gimnasio Campestre (pictured).
Christina taught her first three years at Colegio Knightsbridge and started this past year at Colegio Gimnasio Campestre (pictured).

A little bit along those lines, what kind of advice would you give a teacher in the United States, Canada, or elsewhere looking for an international teaching job?

I think it’s important to look for a culture that you identify with because for me one of the biggest and best parts of being in Colombia is actually learning about the culture. I think that some international teachers will go to a school that’s very international and only have friends who are American, Canadian, Australian or whatnot and they don’t necessarily get to learn about the local culture. So for me, I think that’s one of the best things about living here – I want to stay because I have Colombian friends and I have connections with Colombia, whereas if all your friends are international and they’re constantly leaving then it’s hard to make that connection. So my advice would be to look for a country that you’re interested in – you’re interested in the food, you’re interested in the people, and you’re interested in the travel experiences so that you want to immerse yourself. I would also recommend to look at a school that will challenge you in terms of giving you opportunities to grow and that will give you opportunities different from your home country. One of the biggest reasons why I went abroad was I wanted to get to know about different ways of teaching and so I’m really looking for that in the schools that I’m working in, so that I have new opportunities to grow, for professional development and to connect with teachers with a variety of experiences.

How would you characterize the main differences between education in international schools in Colombia versus back home in Canada?

The first school that I worked with utilized the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme so I used the PYP (Primary Years Programme). The school that I am at now has created their own curriculum that is very inquiry-based. It’s also very reflective so the students have to look a lot at metacognition and they have to reflect a lot on how they learn. I think that’s one thing that I haven’t seen as much of in Canada. I don’t think that this is common in Colombia in the public schools; however, I know that the private schools here are trying to be very forward thinking in that they’re trying to be very 21st century, they’re trying to integrate technology, they’re trying to integrate metacognition and find a balance between different subjects and fuse them together, which I really enjoy. Another thing that I love about the school that I’m at now is that it’s very connected with the community. So while the students are at a private school, they’re trying to connect the students with the world around them and with the realities of the Colombian education system which is that most kids are not in a private school. That’s something that I really appreciate because the school gets kids to go out into the community and volunteer and they do trips all around Colombia to learn about the culture around them. I’ve seen this at some schools in Canada of course, but I think that’s one thing that has really stood out about these two schools.

You had mentioned earlier that at the job fair you received 10 job offers. That really seems unusual for a candidate with no prior teaching experience.

It was definitely a very unique experience. I think something that made me stand out was that I had some international experience before – I’d been in Ecuador a few years prior volunteering for a Summer. So I think that if a school can see that you have a little bit of international experience and that you’re comfortable in another culture, they will find that to be a positive attribute because they know that you’re able to adapt, you’ve seen different things, and you’ve experienced hardships and perhaps things that you’re not necessarily used to.

I think it’s also great to get other experiences apart from just being in the typical classroom. So getting experiences with kids or with adults – it doesn’t matter with whom but in leadership positions where you’re showing where you’re giving guidance. So I taught music classes. I helped program activities in a day program for elderly people. I’ve done a lot of random experiences but all with the same goal of being a leader and providing support for different groups of people. It’s good to figure out what your strengths are and then how to make your resume look different than everybody else because you’re right, coming straight out of teacher’s college there aren’t many opportunities out there. I really kept my options open and I didn’t say “I just want to go to Europe” which is what a lot of first year teachers will do. So if you want to go internationally, keep your options open and see what options come to you.

Most private international schools in Bogotá are located in the northern sector of the city, and the city has an approximate metro population of 10.7 million.
Most private international schools in Bogotá are located in the northern sector of the city, and the city has an approximate metro population of 10.7 million.

Last question: any recommendations for places to go or things to do while in Bogotá?

It’s not necessarily the best place for tourists, but to live in – it’s fantastic. It’s a really cool city because it’s very international and you can also get the real Colombian experience. One of my favorite things to do is play Tejo which is a game where you have these metal pucks and you have to throw them at a little paper triangle filled with gunpowder so they explode. Everybody is drinking beer and that’s a very typical Colombian thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Lots of old men do it in the little towns around Bogotá. So you have to play Tejo if you’re in Bogotá.

The nightlife and international restaurants in Bogotá are excellent. I think the lifestyle here is fantastic. But one of my favorite things about Bogotá is that it’s easy to leave and it’s easy to travel around Colombia. Right around Bogotá, they have some beautiful areas where you can go hiking and biking. You can rent amazing houses in the countryside where they’re overlooking canyons with flowers or go horseback riding. You can take a short flight to the coast and go to the beach. So it’s a really flexible lifestyle. For me, the temperature is perfect because it’s like Springtime all year round. And you can have a really nice balance of having fun and working.

The people here have a great mentality. They’re very family-oriented and you’ll become a part of the Colombian family if you come here. You’ll make Colombian friends and they will invite you to celebrate whatever festivities with them. You can go to the festivals around the country. It’s just a very lively and lovely lifestyle with lots of music and lots of dancing, so if you like that kind of lifestyle then Colombia’s is a fantastic place to live.

My 3 Most Memorable Lessons as a Teacher

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on May 2, 2019.

Teachers, admit it: we’ve all taught those lessons that flop. The instructions and goals (or objectives) aren’t clear, the activities are boring, and worst of all student interest is low. What seemed like such an engaging lesson in your head as you played it out turned out to be anything but in real life, and you’ve made a note to scrap it by jotting “never teach it again” in your lesson plan book.

But every now and again you create or borrow a lesson that has real impact. Just like when students have those “ah-ha” moments, teachers likewise have moments in their careers where they will always remember great lessons that engaged, connected, and captivated students. Some former students who are now adults might even recall these memorable lessons, keeping their former schoolwork or even expressing how the experience helped them tremendously in their future studies or even their jobs.  

Over the course of my teaching career I have been fortunate enough to have planned and delivered several of these memorable lessons. Here are 3 of my proudest lessons that I still remember to this day and talk about with my former students.

The Literature Trials

Some great lessons you create. Some you borrow. And others you inherit. When I started teaching at the American School in Rio de Janeiro, one of the first question my 8th English students asked me was “when are we going to be doing the Literature Trials?” I had never even heard of literature trials, but parents, colleagues and administrators wanted to know when I was going to do “The Trials.” During the first week in my new teaching role, the secretary helped me reserve the auditorium before I even knew what “The Trials” were.

The Literature Trials are an event, a dramatization and theatrical performance. The gist of the trials is that a character or characters from a novel are put on trial for a crime they did or didn’t commit. The famous pig Napoleon from George Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm is on trial for abuse of power. Lennie from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men is on trial for the killing of Curly’s wife, and so on.

Students are dressed as the character from Animal Farm with the lawyer on the far right representing them.

After reading various novels throughout the year, the students were put into different teams: the defense team or prosecution teams. The teams would prepare and on the day of the trial, battle each other in the courtroom. The students had various roles within their team: creative directors, characters from the novel, and lawyers. For weeks the students would scour the novel’s look for evidence to help support the arguments to either prove a characters innocence or guilt.

On the day of the trials, the creative directors prepared the costumes and exhibits they designed and created. The lawyers rehearsed their opening and closing statements based on script they created and evidence they gathered from the novels. The different characters from the novels practiced their rehearsed lines from their teams and strengthened their arguments against possible questions from the opposing team. Parents packed the auditorium to watch their kids and their peers. Teachers and administrators made up the five-person panel jury and judges podium. The atmosphere was electric.

Each trial lasted an hour and a half with it ending with the judge read the jury’s verdict. Team’s celebrated and complained depending on the outcome. But everyone had fun, and no one ever forgot the stories told in those books.

The jury was made up of teachers from all grade levels and subjects.

Below you will find an example of a student written introduction to the trial from the novel Speak:

The trial introduction by Namanh Kapur (the Baliff from the 2012 trial of Andy Evans from the novel Speak):

What would you do if you found yourself trapped in a situation that you had absolutely no control over? The moment you’re living takes control over your body and your mind and tension consumes your thoughts. You cannot speak, you cannot move, you are paralyzed as a statue. “In my head, my voice is as clear as a bell: ‘No I don’t want to!’ But I can’t spit it out” (Anderson, 135). “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson is a remarkable novel that gets us involved in the story as if we were with the protagonist at all times. The book is a first person account of a young girl named Melinda Sordino. It talks about how her life used to be – happy, joyful, and unworried – and how it suddenly changed completely in one single night – full of preoccupations, melancholy, and fear. What exactly happened nobody knows… what would you say? It’s up to you to decide.

The Academy Awards of Poetry

Do your students cringe when you tell them you are going to teach them poetry? My students did. That is until I started doing poetry videos and held the Academy Awards of Poetry.

I found that poetry is a powerful way to learn about my students and teach them important elements of writing, such as figurative language and imagery. I began all my English classes with poetry. My favorite way to start poetry was by introducing my students to my favorite poetry song by Rhythm, Rhyme, Results called Figurative Language. It’s a cringe-worthy rap song that teaches figurative language. When I initially presented the song to students, many of them rolled their eyes and laughed, but they never forgot the lyrics or the different types of figurative language mentioned in the song. Years later I met up with some old 8th grade students who were on college spring break in Portugal and they still remembered our poetry unit, and in particular, our now-famous song.

After discussing elements of poetry, the students create poems using figurative language and imagery about anything they wanted. They then turned their poems into videos. They analyzed lyrics in music and different poems we read in class. They created drafts of different poems and some students turned their poems into songs. Heck I even created embarrassing rap songs using poetry elements to help inspire them: My Name is Mr. Sagare.

Students created videos from their poems, which included voice overs, images to help tell the story and background music.

When the poems and videos were done, we screened the poems in the auditorium and voted anonymously on the winners.  These poems taught the students a powerful lesson in writing. And their poems taught me powerful things about them. Below are a few of my favorites from my students:The

Biography Videos

It’s no surprise that two of my memorable lessons incorporate videos. Videos have images that leave lasting impacts. For the biography videos, the focus was on non-fiction writing and revisions.

Students chose someone that they were interested in and began to create a story for this person. Students chose singers, actors, icons, historical figures and even their parents. Below is an excerpt from a biography of one of my students in 8th grade:

Triple jump is one of the toughest sports for your body and requires a lot of training that causes many injuries. Sigurd Njerve was a triple jumper from the 90s, despite his big injury in 1997 that made him quit, he was one of the best Norwegian triple jumpers ever. Sigurd was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1971 and he is still alive now. He attended the 1996 Summer Olympics and been the first Norwegian to jump over seventeen meters in triple jump. He was a tall athlete, according to himself, he was 1.80 meters tall when he was fifteen. At his top level he was 2.07 meters and he still is.

For a month the students read biographies and watched biography clips and they edited, revised and perfected their writing. All students were required to make ⅓ changes to their prose. In the end they had the choice to use the revisions or scrap them.

When they had read, marked and given feedback, the students recorded their voices and put their voices over images and added text to help tell their stories. Here are a few of the biographies that the students created:

On the day the biographies were due, students brought popcorn and treats and gave constructive feedback to their peers. It was fun for everyone to learn about people that have impacted their lives or that they simply found interesting or wanted to learn about.

The students celebrating their biography videos.

Although I am not in the classroom anymore, I always reflect fondly on my time as a teacher and miss the day-to-day creations and interactions with students. I keep in touch with many of my former students, most of whom are now either studying in university or working, and consider them friends. We often talk about the most memorable lessons when I was their teacher and I am hopeful that other educators can perhaps learn from my experience.

¡Bienvenidos Bogotá!

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on April 25, 2019.

In recent years, Colombia has steadily built a reputation as an international travel destination. Since 2006, tourism to the country has increased by over 300% to over 3.2 million foreign visitors in 2017 (Colombia Reports, 2018). With a diversity of activities ranging from coffee tours, sun-swept beaches, rainforest exploration, Spanish classes, and festivals, there is no shortage of activities and experiences for a full cultural immersion of this Latin American gem.

When tourists plan a trip to Colombia, most typically focus on either the Caribbean regions of Cartagena, Santa Marta, or San Andres in the search of sun, surf, and general relaxation. Other visitors are drawn to the Eje Cafetero, or coffee region, where temperate weather, thermal pools, and finca tours are the norm. Festivals such as Novembrinas in Cartagena, La Feria de Cali, Carnival de Barranquilla, La Feria de Manizales, and Festival Vallenato bring large swaths of visitors to join the holiday mood with locals for a rich and full cultural experience.

Although airports in Barranquilla, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena service international flights, the majority of international tourists typically arrive to the country through the country’s capital, Bogotá. However, most passengers typically only spend several days in Bogotá, electing to quickly use Bogotá as simply a transportation hub to get to their final destination. With a population of eight million within the municipality and 11 million in the metro area (World Population Review, 2018), Bogotá offers a multitude of experiences and destinations that are often overlooked by travelers. Here, we highlight some of our favorite and most notable places to experience as well as some important facts for those considering a longer stay in Bogotá.

Key Colombia Facts and Statistics.

Getting To and From Bogotá

Most international airlines offer service to Bogotá from major airports around the world. Direct flights from cities such as Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Miami, New York, Mexico City, Houston, and Los Angeles make Bogotá an ideal hub and destination for travelers entering or exiting Colombia.

Air travel within Colombia is quick, cheap, and easy. From Bogotá, flights can typically be found on airlines such as Avianca, LATAM, VivaColombia, and others for anywhere between $80-120 USD round trip. Flight times are generally between 45-70 minutes, making Bogotá the perfect base for a weekend getaway from the buzz of the big city. For more adventurous travelers, each city typically has a bus terminal and tickets can be purchased on charter buses to other cities. Although travel times are long and roads are not always in the best condition, traveling around the country by land can be a great opportunity to see the Colombian landscape and really get to know the countryside well.

View of downtown Bogota, Colombia at dusk

Getting Around Bogotá

Almost anywhere you go, you’ll see yellow taxis around that you can flag down. It’s recommended that you always ensure that the taxi driver uses the meter and that you take a picture of the taxi information (driver name, license plate) located on the backside of the passenger seat and send it to a friend or colleague. Although the safety of Bogotá has improved tremendously, security problems still persist, and it’s always helpful to document your taxi information.

Another option that many travelers use is Uber. If you already have the app configured from back home, using Uber in Colombia should be seamless and provides immediate security as the taxi driver and car information are automatically stored in the app. A word of caution, though: Although plenty of people use Uber in Colombia, it is technically illegal and the driver will probably ask you to sit in the front seat and tell police that you are “amigos” if stopped.

Mass transit options in Colombia are quite unorganized, and if you muscle the bravery to ride on one of the TransMilenio or other buses throughout the city, be prepared for crowded conditions and bumpy roads. In particular, be sure you keep a close eye on your belongings, as pickpockets have been known to work on these buses, taking advantage of crowded conditions and general disorder. Traffic in Bogotá has been rated as the most congested in all of South America and fifth in the world (The City Paper Bogotá, 2018). Despite improvements in mass transit, road repairs, and initiatives such as Pico y Placa (where certain cars are restricted from driving during specified hours to relieve congestion), traffic in Bogotá can be an absolute nightmare and frustration. If possible, try to plan your city transportation during non-peak hours or check a driving app such as Waze or Google Maps to ensure you understand the traffic situation beforehand.

Bogotá is centrally located in the country, making for an ideal hub to explore other regions of Colombia.

Destinations

In a city as large as Bogotá, a list of destinations and places to visit would be expansive and difficult to formulate into a comprehensive list. As such, we’ve taken some of our favorites spots and listed them here.

Monserrate (Carrera 2 Este No. 21-48 Paseo Bolívar, Bogotá) Mount Monserrate is a great way to spend the day. A round trip to the top via a cable car will cost $21.000 pesos (approximately $7.00 USD), or adventurous souls can walk to the top on a paved trail that will take anywhere between two to three hours. The views of the city from the top are amazing. There are restaurants and a classic Catholic church at the highest point. On Sundays, the price is cut in half, which means the crowds are double.

Ciclovía (Various Locations) Every Sunday and on holidays, approximately 76 miles of streets are closed to traffic from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. for the Ciclovía, a program the local government has run since 1974. Some two million people, one quarter of the city’s population, head out for the Ciclovía every week to cycle, run, and walk (Instituto Distrital de Recreación y Deporte, 2019). This program has been so successful that many other countries have started to follow suit. But remember, Bogotá did it first.

 Crepes & Waffles (Cra. 12a #83- 40, Bogotá) No Colombian experience is complete without a visit to Crepes and Waffles, which is almost as ubiquitous in Colombia as Starbucks in the United States. The restaurant is famously staffed with single mothers, a nod to their social mission, and offers a variety of crepes and desserts at affordable prices. Although we’ve listed the location in Zona T, you’ll find a Crepes & Waffles in nearly every single shop- ping center throughout the city.

 Usaquén Market (Cra. 6a #119B-05, Bogotá) Every Sunday the streets of Usaquén close to traffic and local artisanal vendors line the streets to sell crafts, artwork, toys, and more. In addition to vendors, lively street performers are scattered throughout the area, making for a nice leisurely stroll.

Andres Chía (Calle 3 #11A-56, Chía) Andres Chía was actually the first of many Andres Carne de Res locations, including Andres D.C. Located in Chía, a small suburb north of Bogotá, the location is full of colorful knick-knacks and wacky, surreal souvenirs that line the walls from floor to ceiling. It has a Carnival-like atmosphere and offers a wide range of activities for families including magic shows, a climbing wall, cookie-making and much more. Choosing a dish here can be a lengthy process as the menu is 78 pages long and features a wide range of delicious BBQ spreads.

Parque Jaime Duque (Autopista norte km 34, Sopó) Created in 1983 by a former Avianca pilot, Parque Jaime Duque is a family theme park with amusement rides, restaurants, and museums. This is a great experience for all ages and an excellent day trip idea.

La Cabaña Alpina (Carrera 4 Zona Industrial, Sopó) Alpina, one of the largest producers of dairy products in the country, has a beautiful cabin where they sell their products and offer a great family experience. Although it’s a little outside the city, this makes for a great weekend activity with picturesque mountains nearby and fresh air.

Parque Ecologico Pionono (Vía Pionono, Guasca) If you’re looking for a reprieve from the concrete jungle of Bogotá, check out Parque Ecologico Pionono. It’s about an hour north of Bogotá and offers a great hiking trail and panoramic views. At only $5.500 pesos to enter the park (about $1.83 USD) or $27.600 pesos to camp overnight (about $9.20 USD), this is a great getaway day or overnight excursion to reconnect with nature.

BOHO Market (Cra. 7 #120-20, Bogotá) A trendy, all-in-one destination with an organic food market, restaurant, dessert shops, and a fashion expo with clothes, watches, decorations and more. The main building has four floors for exploration, an outdoor seating area, and expo in the back.

Abasto Restaurant (Carrera 6 #119B-52, Bogotá) Located in the trendy neighborhood of Usaquén, Abasto is an ideal brunch spot that serves delicious dishes such as roast beef sandwiches and fresh juices. Try heading over on a Sunday, where you’ll be able to visit the Usaquén artisanal market afterwards. There is another restaurant location in Quinta Camacho.

Andres D.C. (Cl. 82 #12- 21, Bogotá) Located in the trendy Zona T with restaurants and bars galore, Andres D.C. has perhaps the most prestigious reputation as the nightclub of choice. With multiple levels representing different themes, be prepared to put on your dancing shoes and party late into the night.

Club De Tejo San Miguel (Cra. 26 #78- 20, Bogotá) The game of Tejo is a popular game among the working class of Colombia that can be played by anywhere from two to ten players at a time. The idea is to score 21 points before your opponent. Points are scored by throwing a 1.5 pound steel puck 40 feet towards a slanted piece of clay with steel ring known as the bocín. The bocín is lined with four firecrackers placed at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock that create a loud pop and spark when hit. Each team throws one puck per round. For a throw to be valid, the puck must fall directly on the targets, without having contact with external elements such as the floor, boards, edges of the court or other locations.

Living in Bogotá

If you’re thinking about spending more time in Bogotá as opposed to simply passing through for vacation, the first thing you’ll want to get a handle on is the cost of living. Expatriates typically live in the neighborhoods of Cedritos, Parque 93, or Usaquén. A two bedroom, two bathroom apartment will cost approximately 2.5 million pesos per month (approximately $833 USD). Domestic help in terms of nannies or cleaners is relatively inexpensive, with the going rate anywhere between $40.000 – $60.000 pesos ($13.33 – $20.00 USD) for a full day of work. Be careful that any domestic help you allow in your house is properly vetted; the best way is to ask any Colombian friends or contacts for references.

La Candelaria district, Bogotá, Colombia.

To work in Colombia, you’ll need to make sure that you have a work permit or visa, which your employer should be able to apply for you on your behalf. Be wary if employers ask you to work under the table or to front the fees in advance for your visa costs. If you’re in Colombia on a tourist visa with an American passport, you’re limited to a total 180 days per year, independent of the number of trips you take.

Schooling in Bogotá

The intersection of increased safety, multinational corporations, geographic desirability, and diplomatic offices has brought a steady wave of expatriate families to Bogotá. Additionally, Colombia is also beginning to see a greater number of host country students enroll in international schools, as upward economic mobility, a desire for English fluency, and aspirations to study in universities abroad has increased demand for quality schools.

Independent Schools in Bogotá

Finding a school to match your child’s needs can be challenging. Believe it or not, location is one of the key factors to take into consideration when selecting a school. Because Bogotá is a highly congested city, transportation to school can easily take over one hour each way, a critical consideration especially for families with younger children. Another factor to take into consideration are the demographics of both the faculty and the student body. While some families prefer access to expatriate teachers with native English ability, there are an increasing number of schools that employ Colombian teachers with a high level (but perhaps not fully native) level of English. Schools with expatriate teachers typically have higher tuition and enrollment costs, as these schools often pay for relocation and housing costs of their international staff. Student demographics is another important consideration for families. Schools with a higher host-country student population have greater student enrollment stability and greater exposure to Spanish versus more internationally-minded schools (as measured by nationality) with greater numbers of expatriate families. Schools with more host-country students tend to focus more on the Colombian national curriculum and the Colombian standardized exit exam used for national university admissions, as opposed to schools with more expatriate students focusing on examinations such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Despite its expansive size, most international schools in Bogotá are located in the northern part of the city, where former fincas were subdivided to create building sites for schools.

Bogotá often gets a reputation for being a busy, congested city that is best served as a transportation hub or for economic and business purposes. However, once you get to know the people and the variety of different places to visit, we’re sure you’ll begin to see Bogotá as a vibrant, diverse, and culturally significant destination.

¡VEN Y CONOCE A BOGOTÁ! 

5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Your Students

This article was originally published at SchoolRubric.com on March 24, 2019

If you’re a teacher who struggles with classroom discipline, a natural reaction might be to focus on establishing clearer rules, enforcing consequences, or getting administrators involved. While all of the above (and more) can be effective strategies, my experience has taught me that the most important thing to having a consistent and positive classroom environment is through building relationships with your students.

Relationships with your students have an enormous impact on your student learning outcomes. Simply put, if the your students like you and respect you, they will perform better and generally be more motivated. These five tips helped me to foster relationships with my students, many of whom I still have contact with years later.

Listen first.

One of my first educational jobs was working with adjudicated youth in the wilderness of Utah. One of the mantras we repeated with the students was “seek first to understand then to be understood.” When I eventually moved into the classroom in a traditional K-12 setting, I found this mantra to be ever as true. Always ask the students their side of the story first. Who knows what is going on in their life? Maybe they didn’t get that important paper done because a relative passed away or some other stressful event in their lives. It’s easier to not jump to conclusions when you listen first. In the process, not only do you appreciate and learn more about the circumstances behind that one specific situation, you also learn more about them as a person and individual that will help guide your future interactions.

My students gave me my first Brazilian national jersey with my name on it. They also gifted me a shirt that says “orgulho de ser Carioca” or proud to be a person from Rio de Janeiro.

Teach creative and memorable lessons.

When a lesson is creative and memorable, it’s usually because the students were engaged in the lesson and had the opportunity to produce an original product or content piece to demonstrate their learning. While perhaps as a teacher you won’t receive immediate feedback on the long-term effects of your lesson, one of the greatest rewards now that I have been teaching for several years is when students I stay in contact with tell me about how fun or memorable a lesson was many years ago.

Two creative and memorable lessons I always loved to teach were poetry videos and literature trials. For the poetry videos, the students learned about the elements of poetry, video production, and the writing process. At the end of the lesson we enjoyed popcorn, snacks and our work.

The literature trials were one of the most talked about reading assignments I’ve ever seen. The trials required the students to act as lawyers and characters from the book, putting them on trial. Napoleon from Animal Farm was on trial for abuse of power. George from Of Mice and Men was on trial for Lenny’s murder. It was always interesting to see how students from different years and groups took a similar prompt and really made it their own by exploring and acting out their own interpretations of these characters. The project was a lot of work for the kids. They created costumes, scripts, arguments and so much more. And many years later, they still talked about it.

Have fun in the classroom.

For teachers, there is a lot of pressure to “finish the curriculum” and have a certain amount of assessments. High-stakes testing and pushy administrators only exacerbate this pressure sometimes. As teachers, we pack hour-long classes in with the stuff the kids “have to do” or “have to learn.” What we often forget to do is to stop and have fun in this process.

It is so important to have fun with your students. Although “fun” can manifest itself in many forms – such as a game or creating a video, the common denominator here is that there is a positive and playful yet meaningful relationship between the teacher and students. These fun activities are a great way to further build community, trust, and engagement with your students.

One of the many outings we did with the adventure club. This club was started with the help of a parent. We went hiking, biking, surfing, and performed volunteer work.

Interact with students outside the classroom.

A student’s experience in school is so much more than just what happens in the classroom. Whether it is field trips, sports teams, university visits, community service projects, or musical concerts, a great opportunity to build relationships with students happens outside of the classroom. For me, this always came in the form of coaching or photographing an event. When the students saw me on the soccer field and not in front of the class, they liked me more because it made me more human and relatable. It helped them understand that the rules of the classroom were there to help them move to a desired goal, just like on the soccer field. Seeing students outside the classroom allowed me to see the talents that I had no idea they possessed. While taking photographs for the school plays, I saw students sing, act, and lead. My students had talents that I had no idea they possessed. After learning more about their talents I had something to talk with them about. I had a new way to create meaningful connections to the curriculum.

An old 8th grade student from Rio de Janeiro is now studying at the University of Texas where I currently work as the Coordinator of Distance Learning. Here we are at one of my favorite Mexican Restaurants with in Austin with my daughter.

Do the projects that you have your students do.

If you are teaching kids about poetry and having the students write a poem and turn it into a video, make one yourself! This is a hard one for teachers, because teachers might have apprehension that their work is not perfect or beyond criticism – but that’s exactly the point! When the students see that you are going through the process with them, they will respect you more. And in the process of doing the project with the students, you will have more empathy and understanding of their perspective.