Students: Welcome to the 2019-2020 School Year

August, 2019

Dear high school student,

Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities to rest and relax, to connect with family and friends, and to continue learning in ways that the summer uniquely provides us.

I write to you on the theme of courage. One definition of the noun is “the ability to do something that frightens one.” Other is “strength in the face of pain or grief”. The origin of the word can be traced to Middle English (heart), Old French (corage), and Latin (cor). (Apple Dictionary App)

If you are like me, you at times feel courageous, and at other times, feel far from this way. This means you are human (so don’t worry). The concept of courage goes far beyond simple definitions found in a dictionary. We must unpack the word, to where it becomes an idea, and to where it has practical applications.

Brené Brown, author and university professor, who has studied courage extensively, starts with the concept of vulnerability. She believes one cannot have courage without vulnerability. This is a profound statement, in fact! Vulnerability means jumping into the messiness of challenging situations with your whole self, and with an open heart and with curiosity. Not easy to do, for sure.

Brown also speaks to the importance of self-awareness and self-love: “… it is less about who people are, and more about how they behave and show up in difficult situations”. Feeling fear is normal, and responding to fear with patience, compassion, and also assertiveness can be empowering, serving as an antidote to fear.

In the spirit of Brené Brown’s message, I ask you to show the courage to be vulnerable, to take care of yourself, and most importantly, to bring YOU to ASD. This is true courage. We very much want the authentic you to be on display at ASD, even if it is not always pretty. Trumpet your voice on issues important to you. Don’t apologize for who you are. Make ASD part of your own personal mission of school achievement and personal growth. We believe in you.

I would like to share with you a document that you may not be all that familiar with, but will prove to have a big impact on your education: the Student Profile. A group of students, teachers and parents came together last spring to refresh this description of the skills and characteristics we believe will allow you to realize the school’s mission, and to thrive in the future world you will enter.

Revised Student Profile (2019).png

A big takeaway from this revision is that you’ll see descriptors in there such as resilient, and self-aware, and empathetic. Traditionally not a big part of high school education in the past, these skills and dispositions are now deemed critically important, as the world you will enter will require you to be a continuous learner, where your adaptability-quotient (AQ) will be much more important than your IQ. You will need to offer the workplace something uniquely human, as you work side-by-side with machines (which will do its part). Are you ready for this? Don’t fret. ASD has the courage to continue to change and evolve as a school, to make sure you are indeed ready for this environment.

On behalf of the entire faculty and staff at ASD, we continue to be inspired by your generation’s passion and commitment to sustainability and service. Yours is so much more responsible than our generation, and we thank you for that. Whether it is continuing the ban of single-use plastic bottles, sourcing from the organic garden, caretaking the beehive, or many other opportunities to “go green” and support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or whether it is the inspirational service you have provided in Dubai or beyond, keep taking informed action to improve our current and future realities. And engage with the JUMP! Foundation Center for Global Citizenship at ASD in its new location next to the cafeteria. So much potential for good!

This year, across all of ASD, we welcome nearly 400 new students to campus. Please join me in making their transition to a new school as smooth as possible. Do you remember what it was like when you first arrived to ASD? Be kind (your compassionate self). Be available (earbuds out, please). Help our new students figure out how things work, and how we are expected to carry ourselves (hint: core values). For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Finally, we welcome back to ASD your highly-capable administrators, faculty, and support staff. We also welcome a fantastic group of new teachers, including five counselors, who are part of a “counseling reboot” at the high school, aiming to provide all high school students high levels of academic, college, and personal counseling.

I continue to be available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself or say hello on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms. Gonsalves or drop me a note).

I look forward to meeting or seeing you again in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember… Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!

Dr. Richards
ASD Superintendent

Hacking Your Space – The “Unoffice”

According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force. This perhaps explains why a leader so often gets stuck behind his or her desk. This missive challenges you to develop strategies to get you out from behind your desk, and preferably out of the office altogether, through the creation of an unoffice.

Start with something simple yet effective: get rid of your desk altogether. We’ve seen many teachers eschew their classroom desk for a stool and an easel—apply the same technique to your space. Consider replacing your clunky desk with a standing desk. (A recent study equates sitting for long periods of time with smoking cigarettes.) A trip to IKEA[1] and some quick assembly will produce an economical and functional standing workstation.

As some visitors will want to sit, add some comfy chairs to your space. This creates a more intimate setting, putting guests at ease for what often are tricky or sensitive conversations. Put your favorite books on the coffee table that divides the arrangement.

The rest of your unoffice can be tailored to your whims and fancies, much of which can serve as conversation starters. I’ve got my loose tea collection on display, as well as a framed “Map that changed the world”. I’ve got a clock with the phrase “Now” pasted on its face (a mindfulness hack). Other hacks include the Noguchi Yukio filing system, which organizes your paper files by frequency of use rather than by alphabet or subject. And while you’re at it, get rid of your desktop phone, computer, and printer; instead, visit the area printer, and take your laptop to the library and interact with students. Go mobile. Literally.

Good luck!

Unoffice.jpg

[1] Lack TV Bench + Idasen Table Top + 4 Olav Adjustable Table Legs

Homework: Much Ado About Nothing?

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Homework-free ASD? Who would say such a thing? In all seriousness, the reaction from students, faculty, and parents has been interesting to watch. I have always believed that homework gets too much credit for academic success, and at the same time, too much blame for what is wrong with schooling. The debate on homework goes back more than a century, and the quantity of homework has waxed and waned.

The voices of anti-homework advocates (I count myself as one) have grown louder in recent years as we learn more about the brain, how students learn, and the skills and dispositions they will need to thrive in today’s marketplace. In my opinion, viewing the homework debate as binary—homework or no-homework—is a mistake. There is surely learning best suited for the school setting, and learning best suited for the home environment.

“But homework worked for us!” goes a common retort from parents or teachers when the convention of homework is challenged. Did it really? If you think back on activities or assignments that were memorable, would they include completing worksheets, practicing long problem sets, reading textbooks, and responding to questions?  Perhaps endeavors such as reading novels, writing stories, creating art, or practicing music were more memorable. I would argue that the former has no place in today’s educational context, and the latter shouldn’t be labeled as “homework”.

Let us not forget that schooling as we know it was set up in 1892 by the “Committee of Ten” to sort students into university- or vocational-bound silos, and high schools in particular remain remarkably unchanged since that time. Because the current  generation of students is the most compliant on record, the excessive time spent on low-quality homework is leading this generation to also become the most maladjusted group of our age. (To learn more about what the homework research says, and specific suggestions for teachers, see this white paper by Stanford University’s “Challenge Success” consortium.)

I often turn to New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman to synthesize my thoughts on our world today. His latest book, Thank You For Being Late, does a fantastic job at explaining to a lay person like me the monumental acceleration that’s taken place since 2007 due to advancements in technology. In the past, there were high-wage, high-skilled jobs; there were middle-wage, middle-skilled jobs; and there were high-wage, middle-skilled jobs. It’s the last one (high-wage, middle-skilled) that has disappeared in the marketplace. “Average is officially over”, writes Friedman. This helps explain the current pressure on the North American middle class.

Adaptability through self-motivated, on-demand learning (aka “re-skilling”) is widely deemed by futurists as the top attribute this current generation needs, even more so than social and emotional competencies (though those are very important), and much more so than most of the content knowledge we convey in traditional schooling (what Harvard’s Project Zero guru David Perkins calls “niche-learning”).

More from the book (p. 205):

Thriving in today’s workplace is all about what LinkedIn’s co-founder Reid Hoffman calls investing in “the start-up of you.” No politician in America will tell you this, but every boss will: You can’t just show up. You need a plan to succeed….

Today, argues Zach Sims, the founder of Codecademy, “you have to know more, you have to update what you know more often, and you have to do more creative things with it” than just routine tasks. “That recursive loop really defines work and learning today. And that is why self-motivation is now so much more important”….

“In today’s knowledge-human economy it will be human capital–talent, skills, tacit know-how, empathy, and creativity,” (Byron Auguste) added. “These are massive, undervalued human assets to unlock”–and our educational institutions and labor markets need to adapt to that. (p. 207)

We are hearing more and more from ASD’s graduates that these sentiments are true—that their lived experience in the workforce has required constant re-skilling in order to remain competitive.

So where does homework fit into this equation? To me, it makes the case for eradicating bad homework much more urgent. “Bad” is perhaps too strong a word, and it is not meant to be a criticism of you, our amazing teachers. On the contrary, I have been impressed by the good work the three divisions have done on this issue. We’ve made excellent progress, but there is a final push necessary to get us to where we need to be.

Let’s rebrand homework as home learning. We, the educators, drive the learning at school (as we should). Should we not, then, given what we know about today’s context, allow students to drive their learning at home? It’s a prime opportunity to promote “voice and choice”, an ASD initiative fundamental to our improvement agenda.

In the recent crowdsourcing endeavor with middle and high school students through allourideas.org, over 28,000 votes were collected in just a few days. Students voted on a variety of home learning choices (as either favorable or unfavorable), and they could submit their own ideas. Here is a list of responses that received more favorable than unfavorable ratings, in order of strength:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Spending time with my friends and my family
  • Following a passion which is outside the scope of the school curriculum
  • Being physically active, such as playing sports
  • Getting work experience in an area I am interested in
  • Enjoying a hobby of my own
  • A balance of school and freedom
  • Having time to explore my own interests and learn about the world
  • Learning and practicing skills
  • Practicing problems that I choose myself based on what I’m struggling with
  • Practicing important skills for class and personal enjoyment
  • Having free time to do whatever I want
  • Getting involved in school activities and different community service groups
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Visiting museums, art galleries, fashion shows, theatre performances, etc.
  • Doing service learning in the community
  • Building something with my hands
  • Having optional work to do if I want extra support in a class
  • Teaching back what I learned that day to another student or person to solidify my knowledge
  • Learning something new, when I become interested in it, until I move onto the next thing I am interested in
  • Doing art: drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.
  • College transition program (how to live alone, etc.)
  • Play (unstructured)
  • Having a discussion with someone at home about what I learned in class
  • Enjoy the city I live in
  • Revising something that I got feedback on in class that day
  • Doing some independent research
  • Practicing without having to be told what to do

Out of the mouths of babes! There is nothing in there that I would brand as “bad homework”. Instead, this is the home learning that aligns with future-readiness.  

It is the first and last items that particularly caught my attention. Sleep speaks to the fact that our current generation of students (and teachers) are exhausted on a regular basis. (As I write this on a Saturday afternoon, my daughter is fast-asleep.)

“Practicing without having to be told what to do” can be reworded as “Directing my learning without having to be told what to do.”  Here’s the crux of the argument: let’s give our students the space, guidance, and encouragement to direct their learning—to not only prepare for the next lesson, but to prepare them for life. Let’s take the homework-bull by the horns and release our control over it so we can focus our time and energy on more impactful facets of the learning experience, i.e. the curriculum, instruction, and assessments. We need only to look to our colleagues in the elementary school, who have already rebranded homework as home learning, and have achieved homework-free environments. Let’s finish the K-12 vertical alignment.

What’s next? Shift will not happen overnight, though you can take the sentiment in this blog as permission to continue revising your approach to homework—to not feel pressure from our parents to give homework that you know is not good home learning. In October, I will convene a task force to envision what Home Learning (a homework-free ASD) could look like, and suggest some sensible strategies and actions to put into place. Speak to your Principal if you are interested in this opportunity, to seek clarification on how far you can go with your homework disruptions, or simply to share your experience with this issue.

In stewardship,

Dr. Paul Richards
ASD Superintendent

Opening Letter to Students – HS Version

Dear ASD High School student,

Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities for rest, renewal, reading and other learning experiences. If you are like a typical young person of your generation, I’m sure you also consumed hours upon hours of digital content, but I’ll get to this later.

This past week, as the Richards family worked on getting over our jetlag, we watched “Ready Player One”. Steven Spielberg is a brilliant director, and it’s not easy to take a great book and do it justice on the screen (yes, Ready Player One started as a book by author and self-professed “full-time geek”, Ernest Cline). The dystopian world, less than thirty years into the future, is quite depressing, yet Spielberg and Cline give us a lot to think about: escape from reality through VR, real versus online relationships, and the influence of mega-corporations on us. Now, I know most people will just focus on the love-interest-driven plot, the awesome special effects, and who wins in the end. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but did you notice at the very end that Wade, now in control of the Oasis, turned it off on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. That made me smile, and also made me want to use this example to begin my annual letter to all students.

90:9:1

What is this ratio? You may have seen this before. It’s popular in technology circles, usually cited when describing people’s behavior using social media. However, to illustrate my point, I’ll use the ratio in the following way:

90 – the % of people who consume digital content

9 – the % of people who create digital content

1 – the % of people who curate digital content

Consuming digital content has its place both in school and in leisure. We all appreciate binge-watching Netflix on occasion, or checking Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter. The problem lies when this consumption becomes a distraction to forming real relationships, or it gets in the way of responsibilities such as completing your homework. In addition, if you were honest, you would likely admit that your consumption of digital media leaves you either wanting for more (like a sugar fix) or feeling strangely empty, after the ephemeral thrill is gone.

Creating digital content transitions away from passive consumption and in to actively building of something new. Creating takes thought and pays it forward (hopefully, through a positive impact). This might involve making a How-To video for YouTube, or joining an online forum that contributes ideas or codes algorithms to solve complex problems. You will likely find this type of contribution highly rewarding, and the impact may even last years and years.

Curating digital content is the highest order skill set, which allows one to create communities of learning and discovery (and even entertainment). You are organizing a digital platform that brings people together for a common purpose, whether it’s educating the world on an issue important to you, or simply networking with people who share common values and interests, but are geographically all over the world. Think Khan Academy, or Pinterest.

Which skills are employable (i.e. will allow you to make a living, independently, doing something you love)? Certainly not digital consumption. If that were the case, everyone in the world would be independently wealthy! Unless you are one of the very few YouTubers who can make videos that entertain the masses, you likely won’t make a living through digital creation (though these people seem to eventually crash and burn and get banned from the platform). A more realistic approach to this activity would be to treat it like a hobby. It is the curating of digital content that provides great value (and success) in the 21st Century. This is a skill that AI cannot compete with humans. And it’s something you can do from any location that has a decent wifi signal (like the Maldives!).

I challenge each and every one of you to reflect on where your own behaviors fall in this 90:9:1 ratio. The key here is to find the right balance to ensure your consumption or “escapes” do not dominate your wakeful hours. Why? Because there are so many amazing things to discover if you just unplug for a while. And then you can take these discoveries back to the digital realm and make the world a better place.

“If we teach today’s students like we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” (John Dewey)

John Dewey is a legend in the field of education, preaching over a century ago the importance of “hands-on” learning through confronting real-world problems. He believed that education is social and that students should be empowered to own their learning. He would surely be gutted to see that many classrooms have not progressed much since his day, still relying on memorizing facts and listening to lectures. I shared this quote with your teachers when we met on Saturday, because at ASD we aspire to offer you the most relevant learning experience we can. Our school mission pledges to prepare you to adapt and contribute to a rapidly changing world. Rapidly changing indeed this world is! We see opportunity in this dynamic reality, and are ready to meet the challenge.

The school has launched a three-year strategic plan that will disrupt aspects of traditional learning at ASD. It aims to make you “future ready”. The theme central to this initiative is personalized learning. This means we want to tailor your education to your interests and needs, because your future is unique to you. We will make available additional opportunities, content, and courses in future-ready fields such as technology, innovation, business, entrepreneurship, global issues, and the performing arts. We will create additional service learning experiences, particularly in Dubai. We will ensure every student has access to these opportunities, and shatter any glass ceilings that exist for highly capable students. This is our pledge to you. And we won’t make you wait! You will start to see some of this right away, this year, and then there will be much, much more to come.

What can you do to advance these efforts? Simple. Join your teachers in co-creating your school experience, for today and for tomorrow. Find your voice. Give us your ideas. Speak up for what you feel is right and appropriate. Advocate. Demand. Own your education. It’s yours, after all, not ours!

Finally, we welcome to ASD this year a highly-capable Principal in Ms. Nadine Richards who will work with you on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. She will lead the high school faculty in its effort to improve. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself or say hello in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms. Gonsalves or drop me a note).

I look forward to meeting and seeing you in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember… Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!

Dr. Paul Richards

ASD Superintendent

Teaching ‘race’ in our schools is more important than ever

Originally published and updated from Intersections (American School of Bombay), 2014

International schools are ideal laboratories to explore the myriad differences within our humanity. Our populations are diverse, our mindsets are global, and we are able to educate our motivated youth away from their ethnic comfort zones. This is a recipe for growth. Skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking are getting appropriate attention as relevant for the 21st century. However, we cannot take full advantage of our privileged position if we cultivate these 21st century skills without also confronting the real-world context of applying these skills in an environment bursting with tension—stress caused by our difficulty in coming to terms with our racial and cultural differences. Unfortunately, most schools across the world are not delving deep enough into topics of race, culture, and active anti-racism. In avoiding the uncomfortable, or the difficult, we are doing our youth a disservice.

We have a moral imperative to prepare our youth for an interconnected world, where cultures intersperse (and sometimes collide) more easily than ever. Today’s young people think about race more often than we might believe. They turn to each other about what they see and think, and they would surely benefit from an adult interpretation of these issues. Through the media, they find numerous examples of injustice: racism in professional sports and media, advertisements and films reinforcing negative stereotypes, racial profiling and violence in law enforcement, and even xenophobic and racist behavior from the “leader” of the free world. They see public officials mistaking ethnic origins for national identities[1]. They see our communities getting more segregated. They see the wealth gap widening. Often treated as simply newsworthy items, each issue or incident is a teachable moment, an opportunity to expose and come to grips with underlying issues of race, culture, and human rights.

How we understand, appreciate, and act on the differences inherent in humanity continues to be of paramount importance to society—as evidenced by blurring racial lines, a flat world[2], and entrenched institutional bias—and it has become more difficult to do so because it is not politically correct to be completely honest about one’s own racial views. In fact, there are countless examples of people (well-meaning or not) losing their jobs or reputations when mishandling a racial issue[3]. As a result of this hypersensitive climate, a frank discussion on race has been forced out of the public sphere. Racism, once “in your face”, now operates under the surface, re-emerging at inopportune times. When an incident does occur, racism is quickly denounced, and perpetrators condemned. But this knee-jerk response rarely moves society closer to peace and harmony. Racism has been exposed, but not addressed. No learning has taken place. So, where better to unpack race issues than in the relative safety of the school setting?

Teaching young people about race must begin with an important distinction: one can do race without being a racist. Markus and Moya[4] (2010) remind us that “We do race and ethnicity—all of us, every day.” To be more blunt, they offer, “Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in his or her life is either dishonest or clueless.” Doing race is defined by Markus and Moya[5] as:

a [negative] doing—a dynamic set of historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices that (1) sorts people into ethnic groups according to perceived characteristics, (2) associates differential value, power, and privilege with these characteristics, and (3) emerges when groups are perceived as a threat to each other’s worldview or way of life, which then justifies the denigration and exploitation of a group(s)…

Whether one is doing race depends on what is noted, how it is noted, why it is noted, and what one does with the information gathered as a result of that noting.

Although “doing race” is a nascent concept, most schools do include units or lessons on racism across the grade levels. With the focus on the worst of behaviors, students (and adults) find it easy to take an exalted viewpoint on the topic by simply proclaiming their abhorrence to racism (and who doesn’t feel this way?). However, if pressed on issues of our own privilege, our subconscious biases[6], or whether we believe that race is biological, tension, defensiveness, and unease enter the mix. It is these topics that beg the teacher’s attention, and where in lie opportunities for student learning and growth.

Take the popular concept of colorblindness. Today’s society beats this mantra until it is firmly in our subconscious. But colorblindness renders the world monochromatic, and makes the richness of humanity’s diversity invisible. What can be more disrespectful, or inhuman, than that outcome? In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action Bakke[7] case, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently[8].”

Once we adequately recognize the negative aspects of race, thus coming to grips with our differences, we can move past race, and embrace the positive nature of culture. Wade Davis, author and Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, proclaims, “Culture is humanity’s greatest legacy[9].” Culture defines us as humans, and it is what we hope to leave behind when we are gone. Culture is rooted in identity and belonging. When claimed, culture confirms a sense of belonging, pride, and motivation[10].

Empathy is a critical disposition to possess in today’s context. Developing cultural empathy can come from exploring the practice of arranged marriages, or the central importance of family hierarchy in certain cultures, or what it is like to have dark skin in a white environment[11]. There are countless examples that are appropriate for classroom use. The exploration should culminate in the student developing a strong sense of his or her own ethnic identity, and how this identity is interdependent with how other people and society view it. It is with this cultural toolkit that our youth will be ready to thrive in the global world.

Finally, knowledge and skills have limited value unless they are put to use. Returning to ethical grounds, our school-age generation must have a bias toward action on issues of race. Despite the increased visibility of ethnic minorities in powerful political and economic positions, institutional bias continues to exert a debilitating influence on those not in positions of privilege. Its invisible force fuels inertia on social justice progress. Markus and Moya[12] speak to all of us, “We cannot let ourselves off the hook. We have a responsibility to act.”

To make the most impact, schools can empower its students to become actively anti-racist. This mindset entails students to challenge prejudice and bigotry, to protest injustice, and to influence peers on various hot-button issues[13]. At the very least, today’s schools must produce an army of allies[14], ready to exert a positive influence in the world. These allies will be self-aware of “doing race”, will be fully informed citizens on divisive race-based issues such as affirmative action, and will avoid playing a complicit role in reinforcing bias and racism in society.

The time is ripe for international schools to seize the opportunity to shape young minds on issues of race. In confronting the important, albeit difficult topics, and by not playing it safe or politically correct, schools will impart a more meaningful school experience on its students, and allow them to leave the safety of the campus possessing the relevant tools and attitudes to make the world a better place.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/freshman-congressman-florida-mistook-senior-govt-appointees-indian-officials-261432

[2] Friedman, Thomas L. (2005) The World is Flat. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. New York.

[3] See http://bit.ly/1AlOMIk for results from a simple Google search of “loses job because of racial comments”

[4] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For a personal shock, take Harvard’s Implicit Attitude Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/)

[7] Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)

[8] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[9] Davis, W. (2009). The Wayfinders. Toronto: Anansi Press.

[10] Markus, H. & P. Moya (2010). Doing Race. New York: Norton.

[11] Staples, B. “Black Men and Public Space.” Harpers. December 1986. Electronic

[12] Ibid.

[13] “198 Methods of Nonviolent Resistance” offers many options for action, based on personal comfort level (Sharp, Gene (1973). The Politics of Nonviolent Resistance. Boston: Porter Sargent.)

[14] Ayvazian, Rev. A. “Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression”. Fellowship, January-February 1995. Electronic.

 

A Crisis of Relevance

January, 2018

The teacher crisis—a shortage of qualified and capable teachers—is real and serious, but it is not the biggest threat to international schools today. There exists a crisis of relevance. Schools have a moral imperative to prepare young people for their future, and not our past, yet we have done little to disturb the centuries-old schooling model.

In a competitive market like Dubai, there is no guarantee that families will continue to send their children to your school. In fact, there is no guarantee that Dubai families will continue sending their children to any brick and mortar schools. They can now piece together a suitable education for their children through online platforms, experiential learning opportunities, and targeted tutoring. When we ask for tens of thousands of dollars of tuition, education often becomes a value proposition. Schools like the American School of Dubai may be fighting not only to preserve its market share of mission-appropriate students, but it may be fighting for its very existence. Are we remotely aware of this crisis?

We must disrupt the Victorian model of schooling by promoting flexible spaces, groupings and timetables, by putting homework in its proper place, and most importantly, by changing the role of the teacher from benevolent dictator and czar of content to coach and facilitator of learning. We must assess the hard-to-measure skills and knowledge, and not just the easily quantifiable stuff. Putting social and emotional learning on equal par with the “academics” will build school cultures of respect and compassionate action, and promote cultural competency for our youngest global citizens. When we will have the courage to be bold, break free from our cautiously progressive mindset, and do what we know is right and proper for our children?

Dr. Paul Richards
Superintendent, the American School of Dubai

The mission of the American School of Dubai is to challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world.

Why We Sleep (book summary)

why we sleep

There is a special kind of frustration that arises when something in life that seems so obvious is largely ignored by individuals, institutions, and society. Mathew Walker, Ph.D., and his book Why We Sleep offered both a cathartic and also exasperating read. The book fit in nicely with my recent reads of Rest (Pang), Slow (Honoré), and Dancing in the Rain (Murphy). What follows are a few of the countless salient points Dr. Walker has offered in this gem of a book.

  • Humans are not sleeping the way nature intended. Instead of the monophasic pattern (one long, single bout of sleep), we should be sleeping in a biphasic pattern (seven to eight hours in bed, followed by a thirty- to sixty-minute nap in the afternoon). (p. 68)
  • Studies have showed that mortality from heart disease increased 37-60+% when napping was eliminated in healthy (p. 70)
  • “Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?” (Yes, it’s sleep!) (p. 107)
  • Sleep before learning refreshes our ability to initially make new memories. Sleep after learning effectively clicks the “save” button on the newly acquired information. (p. 108)
  • Practice does not make perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection. (p. 126)
  • Microsleep (complete blindness to the outside world for a few seconds) makes drowsy driving more dangerous than drug and alcohol induced driving, combined. (p. 134)
  • Sleep deprivation dramatically works against the developmental phase of life when adolescents are most vulnerable to developing psychiatric disorders. (p. 152)
  • Teachers work against their intentions (to have students retain learnings) when they end-load exams in the final days of a semester, thus encouraging short sleeping or all-nighters. Instead, there should be no “final” exams at a marking period, but rather more frequent, formative assessments(p. 156)
  • Give key factors that have powerfully changed how much and how well we sleep: (1) constant electric light, (2) regularized temperature, (3) caffeine, (4) alcohol, and (5) alarm clocks. (p. 265)
  • Consider “nap pods” in the workplace, like Nike and Google.
  • Starting school before 8:15am for high schoolers is like waking adolescents up in the middle of the night. A century ago, schools in the US started at 9:00.
  • Consider offering incentives to employees for getting their 8 hours nightly, such as extra vacation or personal days.

To Sleep or Not (p. 340)

Within the space of a mere hundred years, human beings have abandoned their biologically mandated need for adequate sleep—one that evolution spent 3,400,000 years perfecting in service of life-support functions. As a result, the decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children.

This silent sleep loss epidemic is the greatest public health challenge we face in the twenty-first century in developed nations. If we wish to avoid the suffocating noose of sleep neglect, the premature death it inflicts, and the sickening health it invites, a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur.

I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality, dispensed through every conceivable biological pathway. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day, infused with the very deepest plentitude of being.

 

Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep (p. 341)

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day (no later than three hours before bedtime).
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. (It erodes your REM sleep.)
  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
  6. Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.
  7. Don’t take naps after 3pm.
  8. Relax before bed, such as reading or listening to music.
  9. Take a hot bath before bed (to drop your body temperature the necessary 2-3 degrees F).
  10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom (anything that might distract your sleep).
  11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Wake up with the sun or bright lights.
  12. Don’t lie in bed awake (get up if you can’t sleep).