Saturday, February 09, 2013

Having Principals

I first met Principal Seamus Marriott and his wife Theresa in Wisconsin at a Walloon Institute and later traveled to work at his school in Shanghai, then in Cairo, and most recently in Balikpapan. Not only did he invite us to great locations, he helped us plan side trips, introduced into other schools, fantastic teachers and enthusiastic kids, and even took us for a spinning time at a Scottish Ball.  While we have had a great time working for him in each location, the visit to Pasir Ridge was special indeed. 

Twenty years of visiting schools has taught me a lot of things, but one fact gets reinforced every visit: Principals set the tone of the school.  The good ones are out of their offices more than in, poking heads in classrooms, attending assemblies and after school basketball games.  They know the names of the kids, the parents, and who likely had breakfast that morning.  The faculty comes to these principals voluntarily; they know the names of their teachers' dogs, spouses, and if their parents are failing. Part counselor, part boss, always setting a standard for professionalism.  I have to say, when I was just a parent, I had no idea how the important the role of a principal is.  Some manage staffs of dozens of people making sure that standards for learning are met right along with cleaning the white boards when needed.  But over the years I have learned.  It takes about 10 minutes for a consultant to discern if they are walking into a healthy or an unhealthy school, and undoubtedly, the diagnosis can be traced right to the principal’s office.  In a world of great diversity when it comes to principals, Seamus is a gem.

Turns out that not only should Seamus be giving principal lessons, he is a poet!  Seamus wrote us a poem for our final assembly.  Not just a poem, an ODE. 

Ode to Our Visiting Poets
By Seamus Marriott

Poets pick their words for clarity and prose
Crafting a bouquet for the reader’s nose
They paint a picture and tell a tale
They can make us happy or can make us wail
Words are their tools like an artist’s brush on the page
Embossed in the ink or even digital in this new age
Our learning this week has been rewarding and fun
And we are sad that our time together is done
Thank you for enriching our words and encouraging our PIPES
We will remember you fondly and proudly wear our new poetry stripes
You have truly developed our poetry lens
Best wishes from PRIS and all your new poetry friends.

Thank you my friend.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

International School of Rumbai, Sumatra: Not just Monkeying Around.


Ever look out at the sliders, swingers and tag players on a lively playground and think, what a bunch of monkeys?

At the International School of Rumbai, playground monkeys are not just metaphorical.  The school’s campus, carved from the jungle by an oil company (now Chevron) 50 some years ago has become a sanctuary for wildlife – short and long-tailed macaques,  gibbons, monitor lizards – as the jungle around the compound has been clear cut to make room for palm tree plantations. 

Although the macaques beat us to school in the morning, they went back to their forest to nap while the students of Rumbai made poetry about dim sum, recess, conflicts, people, places and experiences in and out of the classroom.  I don’t want to say that ONLY at an international school might a first grader write a refrain poem about dim sum, because there may in fact be a Chinese dumpling enthusiast in Houston or Salt Lake City.  I’m just saying I haven’t met one yet. This is what makes working in international schools a constant surprise.

We wrote about what was real and closed our eyes to search our imaginations for ways to stretch our observations.

The classes are small and the school itself has only 65 students.  They come together every morning for a meeting and a few quick exercise moves lead by a rotation of students.  Teachers, imagine this: you teach for 10 or so students for the morning, walk home for an hour lunch and then come back for the afternoon?  People who teach at small schools such as this have made a quality of life decision to destress.

The middle schoolers gave us a percentage poem to help us remember them and then a second poem, explaining what our bus trip to visit their sister school in Duri. 

Thank you to all the teachers and students in Rumbai for a grand and memorable visit.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Pasir Ridge International School

Coming around again to something brand new is traveling to a foreign port and being met by familiar faces.  Didn’t we meet before in Seoul?  Didn’t we have dinner in Kota Kinabalu? I remember you from Cairo!

Michael and I have been on the international circuit long enough that we are more certain to be greeted by folks we’ve met before than not.  Still this trip was extra special as this is the third time we have had the privilege of working for Principal Seamus Marriott and his dynamic teaching wife Theresa.  First meeting in Wisconsin, traveling to work at their school in Shanghai, followed by Cairo American College and now Balikpapan, Indonesia. 

Pasir Ridge is a small school by any measure except quality, where they are overflowing, stacked to the ceiling tiles and busting out the windows. 

But, by far the best part of the week was Friday afternoon assembly -- they came with poems about happiness, anger and frustration, from the points of view of slaves, sun bears and the Empire State Building. They spoke with the kind of confidence that comes from feeling safe, to parents, teachers and their classmates.  Every voice blending into a harmonious chorus celebrating individuality. Thank you Pasir Ridge, Balikpapan.