An Authentic Response to Take Action

(this is draft 2 and to be published)

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

An Authentic Response to Take Action

I was six years old when I first heard how when one points a finger in blame, three fingers inexorably point back. A sort of stepping one foot forward but three back. This is no way is to rebuff the urgency needed in addressing problems and positively effecting minds, hearts, and hands.  The birthing of more fair systems and societies.  But, in doing so, we cannot resort to being six years old.  Instead it behooves us to follow the wisdom of Cathering Pulsifer, “focus on fixing the problem, never focus on the blame. Problems are only resolved when solutions are sought.”


The month of June was a wellspring of anger.  In the first week alone, hundreds of thousands of protestors chanted, “No Justice, No Peace,” on three continents.  The boiling point surpassed, no more tolerance of or for “the system.”  Institutions steeped in societal problems and rooted in inequity. By the middle of the month, the protests only gained momentum, giving no sign of yielding. 


On a more molecular level and within the scope of international education, on June 8 an article titled,“Black Lives Should Have Always Mattered: An Open Letter to Search Associates,” caused reverberation.  The sort felt all along one’s spine when fingernails drag across slate.  Ironically, even the blackboard replaced by the white board!  The author, Safaa Abdelmagid, was compelled to respond after Search Associates published a letter saying, “we are passionate and determined to continue asking the right questions, joining in the conversations, and striving to be a part of the solution.”  Abdelmagid said she felt the words were neither genuine nor sincere.  Instead there appeared, “borrowed, designing and frankly, audacious…They seem to be an afterthought; the reactionary stance of a traditional, predominantly white male organization that is scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.”

Abdelmagid proceeded to portray Search Associates in the darkest of lights, punishing with blame,

“For thirty years you have helped white male administrators bounce around
the world exchanging headships, uninterrupted, some with heinous scandals
trailing behind. You stood by watching white privileged teachers getting hired
for being in the same fanbase of a football or hockey team as the head of the
school, or the familiarity of shared white cultures, hometowns and cities.
You have witnessed schools operate as mid-twentieth century colonial schools
in order to keep their local expatriate populations happy…”

Before closing Abdelmagid offers a ray of hope, though embittered by her experience.  She asks Search Associates to start being honest and to acknowledge their shortcomings.  In closing Abdelmagid implores, “Ask for feedback and answers from those who know, those who have been crippled by your lack of responsiveness towards them. Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.”

Serendipitously, or not, the international school where I am employed issued a similar statement. The motivation for the titled statement, “The Responsibility of an International School,” feels entirely authentic. In the first quarter of the 2019-20 academic year, I remember being a part of a professional development session where the head of school himself spoke from the heart about how we as an institution needed to better understand the experiences of others but also to ensure far greater diversity of our faculty.  With the feel of a manifesto, it reads, “We are committed to adding our voice and to confronting racism, wherever it exists, through education and advocacy.” A clear focus upon solutions.


However, within days if not hours, there was backlash.  This time by former students. 


Having taught social studies for over two decades, I am passionate about empowering students to be active and engaged participants and to commit to the ideals of democracy.  Their pointed response a beautiful outpouring of passion.  An honest plea to begin a conversation about how the school might “dismantle systems of oppression that feed into continued racial inequality.” A barrage of questions, 17 to be exact, were issued. For example, the second question challenged, “What steps can the school take to move beyond its Eurocentric social and curriculum focus in order to encourage a more diversified understanding of society that does not stem, explicitly or implicitly, from white superiority?”  White superiority?  Eurocentric social and curriculum focus?  If anything, the school is challenged by maintain balance in demographics as a result of privileged host nationals.  As for the curriculum, parents pay a high price for the International Baccalaureate so students, akin to the authors of the letter, are prepared for next steps in the U.K. or the U.S.  Furthermore, how does Chinua Achebe’s, “Things Fall Apart” Eurocentric?  If anything, it is diametrically opposite, as students examine the effects of European colonialism from an entirely different perspective. Or, how about “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s masterpiece which earned a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988? I would genuinely be interested in how themes of pain and the psychological effects of slavery, might fall under the claim of such literature being Eurocentric. Nonetheless, student voices are rightly being listened to and we all, as individuals and as an institution, can and need to be better.


While much of the world appears to be unifying in the spirit of creating a more just world, I look on in wonder as countries begin to open their borders to certain nations but not others.  Where I live, the provincial borders slowly lifted but cautiously international borders remain closed.  Yet, there is talk about countries entering into bilateral “travel bubble” agreements on tourism. The local economy severely depressed as a result of lost tourism revenues.  Moreover, amidst the pandemic it is  paramount xenophobia is not allowed to sneak in.  Instead, a surplus of compassion is what the world needs now.  


COVID-19 forced us all to hit the pause button. As we begin to push “play,” might our humanity surface, as leaders are poised to make difficult decisions but based in virtue and solidarity. Seldom do the headlines portray China in such a positive light, however a colleague living and working in China shared how the government graciously continued to extend visas under what was called the Chinese Humanitarian Visa.  A 24-hour hotline, in English, also was available to answer any questions. This, but one example of solidarity.


Might 2020 be the nascence of more leadership from the heart.  Passion hangs heavy in the air, as people imagine a tomorrow they long to live in.  Changes bent on solutions, not blame, as  millions get down on bended knee in silent protest.  As if to say, “United we stand,” or unabashedly “kneel.”  Yet, beyond renunciation or humble reverence, a groundswell of people is rising up, set on creating a fairer world for all. 

Pandemic Confirms Consideration of Three Ps (people, possibilities, promise)

“The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” – Lee lacocca


Teaching is as much about being of service, as it is about making a positive change.  The pandemic of 2019 and hopefully not beyond 2020, as it will surely go down in history books, continues to generate opportunities to reflect and surely to wonder as information shifts and unanswerable questions multiple.  Some people early on were tired by cliched yammering of “silver lining this and silver lining that.” All of our lives were turned upside down, some more than others.  Undeniably, misanthrope or not, the corona virus did incubate possibility.  All systems are being reconsidered, from health care and justice to food supply chains and education.  Behind every system is people.  Which heralds a consideration of what I like to call The Three Ps~people, possibilities, and promise.



Even the hermit would be stretched to tell a story about the pandemic.  How Italians serenaded each other from their balconies.  Or, the applauding of health workers putting their lives on the line.  Regardless, the thread throughout would likely be the humans as protagonist and the virus?  Predictably, corona the antagonist.  That is, all but possibly the stories abounding of how the natural world was provided a sort of break, while humans were locked down.  The key word being “down,” and not “up.”  And because humans were not locked “up,” plastic consumption continually rose.  More shopping was done on-line and restaurants catered to home delivery.  But it goes beyond this.  Think about the countless millions of surgical masks and gloves.  Or grimly, the body bags.  In a rush, not entirely unlike the space race, governments competed for respirators.  Similarly, some of these same governments rushed to stockpile supplies before their citizens.  In early May, Amazon had to put the clamp on, removing hundreds of thousands of listings where sellers jacked up prices on health related items, all either containing or contained in plastic.  People. People. People!

Then, there are people like prime minister Ardern of New Zealand.  A leader who did exactly that, effectively led!  A poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton found that 84 percent of Kiwis approved of the government’s response to the pandemic.  Why?  Ardern led with compassion, clearly communicating throughout as she helped navigate the course of the country.  This example of a person, segues nicely into possibility.  I just finished listening to a book called, “The Art of Possibility” by a husband and wife duo, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.   Possibility?  What do you think of when you hear this word?



For me, I cannot help but think antagonistically. About what might some may deem impossible but a hero’s journey arises. Stories of men and women where odds were tremendously stacked against a person but how an individual overcomes, earning a sort of legendary status.  Chief amongst these is Ernest Shackleton and how his iconic leadership led all twenty-seven members of the Endurance to safety after being trapped on the icy south pole for nearly two years. At one point Shackleton was quoted, “…even the remotest possibility had to be considered and exploited to the fullest.” His leadership showcased how Shackleton lived and breathed, but also thought artfully.  Anything was possible.  The authors of, “The Art of Possibility” consider a latent potency of being present.  Shackleton undoubtably operated in the present, doing everything in his power to live in the moment so as to safeguard a tomorrow.  To maintain morale but also some semblance of normalcy, the crew was expected to continue daily tasks.  Routines included playing games after dinner and holidays were even celebrated!  It is difficult to imagine what it might mean to live in the present when your home, a boat, is crushed by ice and it appears you are forever trapped.  Yet, Shackleton and his men did. Their belief in the possible, kindred to the eternal flame of the forgotten soldier.  Being present with the way things are is incongruous with acceptance.  You may not accept the conditions, yet zero tolerance can be provided for resistance to take root. Battling only fills in the space necessary for discovering what is possible.  The non-battle a sort of meditation with transformative power. The wind in the sail merely a question, “What CAN I do?”

Did we not ask ourselves this very question during lockdown? People responded, sometimes surprising themselves even.  Seemingly millions of people found their feet during this time, walking turning into a favorite pastime.  Others turned to baking. Many found solace in binge watching YouTube videos and Netflix.  Time became a relative concept as suddenly there seemed more of it.  And we looked for what we could do when we what we considered “normal” was no longer.  A final assignment I invited 7th grade students to what was called, “Quaranthings, an idea I borrowed from a teacher named Heather Clark.  The challenge was to gather up all the things that acted as supports throughout quarantine.  Then, create an artistic display along with your portrait.  Again this was about what was possible.  For me, some of the experience was about reading, guitar playing, and just being with our cats.


During the height of the pandemic I thought back on an important lesson I remembered learning in my early 20s.  It was my second year of university and transferred to Oregon.  The autumn was delightful but by early November, winter set in.  “Wasn’t this the West coast?”  I remember wondering.  The cold and wet unanticipated.  Well, at least not to the degree that it rained every day. In Corvallis, Oregon it is not unheard of to receive upwards of 15 inches of rain in a single month. Moreover, the chill was enough to set into even my youthful bones.  What did I do?  Changed course, going from my fraternity to class and back.  The fraternity is another story, one where “What can I do” didn’t bode well with the “brotherhood.”  Shuttering myself in, and waxing friction of being an underclassman or “pledge” in an “animal” house with 75 other dudes, it’s easy to see where I may have been a wee bit unhappy, or even depressed.  However, that next winter life drastically shifted when I made the unconscious decision to not let the weather dictate what I would or would not do.  I cut up a plastic 2-liter bottle, fitted my bike with DIY fenders.  I also invested in a Gore-Tex jacket.  I’d bike in the rain, stand in the rushing rivers and fish in the rain, walk joyously to class in the rain.  Embracing all that was possible because I was willing to live life.  A valuable lesson for anyone at any age!



This takes us to the final “p,” promise.  No doubt the world needs a lot more of this.  As an educator it is the education field I feel most comfortable discussing, relative to it being replete awash with promise.  Like the acrid clouds suspended in an airport smoking room, promise hangs in balance.  Though so much is uncertain, one factor we do know, is that we will not return to how things were in November of 2019.  Nor would it be sensical to desire this, as education systems are rife with inequity, and ineffectiveness.  The pandemic thrust us into a chaos that allows for the surfacing of long overdue opportunities for change.  Commissioned to co-exist with COVID-19, 20 and possibly 21, educators can anticipate change.  Some shifts simple modifications, others more revolutionary.  With this likely will come a mélange of emotion.  Teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike may grapple with change as promise or punishment.  With exhilaration or trepidation.

In the international school where I teach two overarching principles guide any adjustments and are clear from the beginning:

  • The health and safety of students, staff and our community are paramount, and
  • The educational and social emotional needs of students are best provided in a face to face environment on campus.

Who could argue with either?  These two principles push beyond the base physiological needs, a term Abraham Maslow utilized in his infamous Hierarchy of Needs.  Yet, how we support students in fulfilling their unique potential, their self-actualization needs, must continually come into focus we navigate new and fecund frontiers of teaching and learning.

Of course, there will be changes some may be leery or even displeased about.  Teachers having to adhere to a 1-2 meter physical distance requirement when interacting with adults and students, sounds dystopian or in the least, not personal.  Or the expectation to wear a mask at all times. An added challenge to connect with students, possibly understand their words and even facial expressions. But be as it might, people will adapts to these changes.  Of weightier importance is how schools exactly plan to roll-out the scenario they select to open schools with in the Fall.

Blended learning models are really the only option.  Just what this means though needs to be made clear to all constituencies. An approach combining components of an online education with more traditional place-based classroom methods.  Yet, how exactly this looks depends upon the design.  The form following the function, results in smaller class sizes.  Something teachers are likely to celebrate.  Schedules change too.  A shortened school day?  Also, it is reasonable to consider teaching may become more thematic and possibly project based.  Conceivably, teacher and student autonomy might increase but also empower as paths intentionally are paved for personalized learning.  Further, as already witnessed, a departure from high stakes testing will only gain steam.  Paraphrasing Zander and Zander in the “Art of Possibility,” abundance rather than scarcity is to be the context.  It is about what we now CAN do that before maybe we could not.  Education is being infused by promise.  The hope that administrators and teachers motivate, rather than manage. That learning builds on curiosity and is infused with joy.  Undeniably, the days and months ahead are teeming with promise.

Empowering Students to Own Their Experience

Thankfully few questions strike with such indelibility but two recent ones by a seventh grader landed hard.  Foreign at first, I was patient and let the seeds germinate, even though possibly sown with jagged teenage hormonal dissent.

“What’s the minimum?’ she asked with disgust.


“You haven’t answered my question in chat!” (during Zoom class meeting)

“Oh, sorry. I was busy explaining what we are doing.”


On more than one occasion a student (actually, probably 5 different students over the course of virtually learning), either asked aloud or put in the chat,  “Can I go to the bathroom?”  I’m unsure if ever a question could wreak more of compliance.  This certainly is something I endeavor to move away from.

Important to revisit purpose of learning (not to get a grade) and also timeliness in taking advantage of 2nd learning opportunities.  Not to be overly focused on grades but to pay close attention.  I received this e-mail two weeks into summer:

“Hello mr.piercy I got two beginning approaching and I want to improve my grade so can you explain to me what kind of things I need to improve on?”