Educator Journey Series: Adam Ross

Each month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education.  This week’s Student Journey post is written by Adam Ross. Adam works as Chinese Curriculum and Technology Specialist at the Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. In addition to his curriculum work, he co-leads CAIS’s 7th grade Beijing Academy, and works to integrate CAIS’s middle school Chinese curriculum with 7th and 8th grade international programs via Project Based Language Learning. Vicki Weeks and Adam were colleagues for many years at Lakeside School in Seattle, and worked together to develop Lakeside’s Global Service Learning China program in its first four years.

NW Yunnan Map

NW Yunnan Map (Source)

Once again, I was in northwest Yunnan. The bus from Lijiang shot out of the darkness of the tunnel and suddenly sunlight suffused our bus once again. Though this tunnel through the mountain had just been completed in the past two years and the highway we were on was entirely new to me, I knew instinctively to look over to the right side of the road. And there it was – Lashi Lake, with Nanyao village perched above on the mountainside. After 12 years, I felt like I had come home.

CAIS students with kindergarten students

CAIS students with kindergarten students

These were pretty much my thoughts in the moment this past April, when I had arrived in Yunnan with about 30 eighth grade students in tow. Our arrival marked nearly 12 years since I came to this northwest corner of Yunnan with my first group of upper school Lakeside School students in the inaugural year of our GSL (Global Service Learning) trip…and nearly 30 years since the first time I came here as a junior in college. Looking back, it’s amazing to see the changes in China over the years. This area truly felt like the end of the earth in the late 80s, and there were probably no more more than a dozen or more foreigners traveling in the area around Lijiang at the time, myself included. Coming back in 2005 to Lijiang was to see a city transformed – much of Lijiang had been destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1996, and the old town rebuilt, for better or for worse, as a tourist town. However, Lakeside took the road less traveled in developing our program, and while we stayed in Lijiang for a couple days, we opted to have our students spend the majority of our time there in the small Naxi village of Nanyao on the other side of the mountains at Lashi Lake to the west of town. Even back in the mid 2000s, it took quite a bit of time to get across along unpaved roads of the mountain pass to reach the village. Our stay living with local Naxi families was to experience a very different rural world than any of us had kNeblett before – no TVs, only a few electric lights and the occasional refrigerator in some homes, wood-fired stoves, animals in the courtyard just outside the building doors…and, of course, none of the conveniences of home.

What I loved about our first years developing the Lakeside China GSL program in Yunnan was how organic it was. We had a partner organization set up homestays for us, and they also arranged for us to teach English to a small number of younger students in the local school as a service learning project. Our Lakeside high school students, of course, were not trained English teachers, but they worked hard to make lessons that engaged elementary school students in songs, games and activities where they were actually using English. To our amazement that first year, each day more and more students showed up to our classes, so that while we started with only about a dozen students, we ended up with more than 50 after a week of teaching, along with a number of local teachers from other villages who also came to see what these American students were doing in Nanyao school.

With Naxi Women

With Naxi Women

We also befriended one of the local elders, a woman whom we called Li Nainai – “Grandma Li” in Mandarin. Li Nainai was barely over four feet in height, and my recollection was that she was in her 80s at the time. Also, to our benefit, she was one of the few members of the older generation who actually spoke Chinese, and she was outgoing and extroverted, welcoming our students into her home for snacks and tea. Toward the end of our visit, she organized an afternoon of Naxi dancing with the local women, who dressed in their finest Naxi outfits and engaged our group with food, singing and dancing. I still treasure this picture. Here I am – with Li Nainai just above my shoulder – sharing a postcard book of scenes of Seattle to her and the local women who surely were learning for the first time about my home in the U.S.

Fast forward twelve years later, and I am back in northwestern Yunnan with students. This time, however, I am traveling with middle school students from where I work now, Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. Our school is a pre-K – 8th grade dual immersion school, and our kids have been studying Chinese since they were little. By the time they reach 8th grade, they already have had a wide variety of experiences in China and Taiwan, having done a homestay exchange with students in Taipei, Taiwan in the 5th grade, and a three-week intensive study program, also with homestays, in Beijing in the 7th grade. Our 8th grade program is a mix of adventure, culture and service, partnering students in rural Tibetan minority homestays outside the city of Shangri-La.

Songzanlin arrival

Songzanlin arrival

I find it amazing that the field of global education has grown so much in the past 15 years that not only is it the norm for high school students to engage in service learning and language study abroad, but experiences for middle school students and even elementary students continue to grow. In our 8th grade Yunnan trip, CAIS’s international and experiential learning coordinator Emma Loizeaux has arranged a terrific mix of hikes, cultural and environmental learning, and service learning activities for our two-week trip. Our daily schedules are pretty packed, and included a daylong hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge, visits to the Songzanlin Buddhist monastery in the outskirts of Shangri-La, making pottery with masters from a local village, planting potatoes in our local village, and working with Kindergarten students over two visits to their school.

Planting potatoes

Planting potatoes

 Our curriculum has developed such that we are now incorporating Project Based Learning in a lot of our international programming. In a nod to Brandon Stratton’s Humans of New York website, our 7th grade students interview people on the street and in their homestay families in their three week Beijing study trip –  they create reports of these “Humans of Beijing” to share online. Similarly, we are working to have our 8th grade students this year produce children’s stories in Mandarin so that the Tibetan Kindergarten students we work with will have Chinese readers – these younger students too are second-language learners of Chinese. I often feel incredibly envious of our students at CAIS to be able to experience so much of China and interact with these communities abroad while they are so young – I also envy them for their foreign language skills, as many CAIS graduates reach pre-advanced or fully advanced levels of proficiency in Mandarin.

While I am envious, I also feel incredibly lucky. Lucky to be able to keep returning to this incredibly beautiful part of China in Yunnan, and lucky to live vicariously through the eyes of my students as they experience the welcoming and friendly people here, the gorgeous mountain scenery, as well as an increasingly fleeting taste of a remoteness of a part of the world that is quickly being connected to the rest of the world – and hence forever changed – in China’s ongoing quest for modernization.

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Educator Journey Series: Ross Wehner

urlEach month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Ross Wehner. Ross is founder of World Leadership School and TabLab, both of which partner with K-12 schools to transform learning and create next-generation leaders.

Rather than talk about my background as an educator, I want to highlight a movement every educator should learn about and (hopefully) support: the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), a fast-growing coalition of private schools that is prototyping a new college transcript based on mastery of skills, rather than mere content knowledge. I believe this movement will, over the next decade, create a powerful alternative to ABCD grades and help upend the tyrannical college admissions process.

Our Students option 2The college admissions process has long stymied innovation across the entire K-12 spectrum and created an unhealthy and stressful learning environment for students. College admissions officers need something quick and easy – like ABCD grades and SAT scores – in order to sift through hundreds of thousands of application. But grades, and SAT scores, measure only a thin band of what students and schools can do – and they stress out our kids in the process.

Vicki Weeks and I looked at the college admissions process five years ago when we helped start Global Circles, a coalition of global education organizations. After studying the problem for a year, I had to say the serenity prayer for my own health and sanity (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”). I realized that shifting the direction of all the colleges and universities in the United States, not to mention the College Board, would require a certain type of leader and movement.

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

I heard that leader, Scott Looney, speak for the first time a few weeks ago and the movement is the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Looney is Head of Hawken School in Cleveland and he is the tenacious leader of the MTC movement, which now numbers 93 member schools — up from 66 just a mere two weeks ago! MTC’s goal was to reach 100 schools in the 2017-18 school year, but they will obviously exceed that goal. MTC is working only with independent schools but they eventually want to create a transcript used by the 37,000 high school in the United States – public, private, charter and parochial.

He and Doris Korda, Hawken’s Associate Head, have been touring the nation raising support for their idea. I heard them at the OESIS Conference in Los Angeles two weeks ago, at NAIS last week in Baltimore, and then talked with Scott this morning. World Leadership School is joining this consortium and will volunteer our time and expertise in whatever way we can to advance this important movement.

The new online transcript meets the litmus test of allowing an admissions officer to get a decent understanding of a student’s performance in two minutes or less. Under the Mastery Transcript students gain micro-credits (not grades) for a series of skills such as analytic and creative thinking, leadership and teamwork, global perspective, etc. It will allow college admission officers to see a more complete picture of a student’s strengths  — and without using any grades or numbers (the current idea, likely to change, is a sort of multi-colored spider web with featured credits listed at the side — see below ). Admissions officers can even click down into every skill the student has to see the standard, and then click down further to see the individual items of student work (videos, art work, writing) supporting that standard.Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 2.41.24 PM

This transcript will be hosted in a yet-to-be-built technology platform that Looney estimates could cost between $4-$8 million. Some of this money will come from member dues, but most from private fundraising and grants. The Consortium is currently pursuing a $2 million grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation. Fingers crossed.

It’s an ambitious idea but I have a clear sense that this coalition will pull it off. It’s time. Our students are stressed out; teachers have inflated grades almost to the point where the grades are meaningless; schools are held back from innovating; and even college admissions officers admit the whole system is broken.

A few innovative schools have been experimenting for years with alternative assessments. What’s different about the Consortium is that Looney is a hard-knuckled realist who is assembling a coalition of schools which wield real clout in the college marketplace. Independent schools may only educate 1% of students in the US, but they provide 9% of all Ivy League students and 25% of the full-paying students in private colleges in the US, according to the MTC.

Looney plans to wield the coalition’s influence to become what he calls a “credible partner” to universities — in other words, the MTC will come up with a strong working prototype and then work to gain endorsements from leading universities. Once the key colleges and universities are on board, Looney thinks it will be easier for parents and students to try the new transcript. He envisions that most MTC members will at first allow families to choose between either the traditional or new mastery transcript. So schools will have a mixture of students being evaluated in two basic ways – some receiving grades, others receiving micro-credits. The process of switching completely to a mastery transcript may take 15 years or more, and some schools may never feel they need to make the switch entirely.

The college admissions process stymies innovation at our schools and it has long created a toxic environment for our students. “What we measure, we do,” remarked management consultant Peter Drucker. ABCD grades represent only a thin slice of a student, and a tiny slice of all that a school can do. While we have grades, students and schools will be forced to perform within that tiny, unfair slice. There is a much larger world of learning out there that the Mastery Transcript Consortium will help unlock. Let’s get this done.

Founding and Member Schools

Founding and Member Schools

Educator Journey Series: Shayna Cooke

unnamed-1Welcome to our new Educator Journey Series! Each month, just like the Student Journeys Series, we will feature a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Shayna Cooke. Shayna currently lives in Richmond, VA, where she teaches Upper School Science at Collegiate School. 


The first time that I ever set foot outside of the US was in 1995, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I was asked by one of my professors to be a research assistant for the summer on Lake Baikal in Siberia/Russin. I was excited and nervous. I had never been anywhere of note without my parents at that point in my life and though I was ready for the independence, I was apprehensive about it as well. I would say that this was the trip that started the course of my life. I was bitten by the travel bug that summer in Siberia and never looked back. I traveled somewhere new, somewhere international, every year after that trip to Russia until I had touched down on every continent, except for Antartica. At first, I traveled alone. Coming home to make enough money to be able to head off again, and then I began teaching in Independent Schools that had a solid focus on global travel and found the beauty that is experiencing the world with a group of teenagers. Since I started teaching, I have had the pleasure of traveling to Costa Rica a few times, Australia twice, France, Namibia, India, Belize, and South Africa to name a few of my experiences with students. There is something magical about seeing the world through the eyes of a student, especially ones that, like me, have never ventured far from their parents or the borders of their own country. The awakening that happens within these young people is obvious and miraculous. These experiences help our students to really understand the plight of the world, to get a feel, first hand, of how the world looks, feels, and smells. These experiences give our students exposure and empathy, two pieces of the puzzle that will help to make them global stewards and responsible citizens. It is the pleasure of my life to be able to show my students the world and to help make a difference for them.
unnamedTeaching global competencies is an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations, are immeasurable. Global education develops the skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curricula with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.
 As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then: “how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?”
unnamed-1The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.
I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.
unnamed-3Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late identification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.
It is difficult to find actual usable information on the web about how to incorporate global education into our curriculum. I think these websites below do a good job of starting you on that journey, however, in most instances they fall flat on the “how to” aspect. I am working on another blog post that will give very specific ideas, examples, and strategies as to how to globalize your classroom. Stay tuned here!

Young Global Citizens

My friend Kristin Drake is a first grade teacher at McGilvra Elementary School. When she invited me to deliver a global lesson to her public school class of 24 students, I responded with great enthusiasm. I looked forward to being in an elementary classroom in a nearby neighborhood, becoming acquainted with some young learners, and sharing a bit of the world with them.


Around the world slideshow

As I entered the portable classroom behind the main school building, my first impression was of the best kind of chaos — a jumble of books and tables, lots of teaching materials, a corner for sitting together, and art all over the walls. I was heartened to see evidence of some of my childhood favorites: A large Charlotte’s Web made out of yarn with the word “Terrific” on it, Frog and Toad dolls dancing in a corner, and a stack of brilliantly decorated Rainbow Fish art projects. The students were expecting my arrival, greeted me warmly, and eagerly anticipated my actions, since I decided to surprise even my friend with the lesson.

World Map

Where in the world did it come from?

I chose the theme of caring for the earth, which turned out, unbeknownst to me, to be perfectly aligned with a lesson they had just completed concerning what gifts they wanted to give the earth. I began by gathering them in a circle and sharing with them a Thich Nhat Hanh poem I love: “Water flows over these hands; may we use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet.” They liked the poem, and they REALLY liked saying “Thich Nhat Hanh” over and over again! Their answers to a question about about all the different ways to travel amused me (“car, train, airplane, rocketship, scooter, submarine, feet”) and then I reminded them of two other ways: reading and using their imaginations. I showed them how I like to honor the places I’ve been through the jewelry, scarves, and other articles of clothing I wear, circling the places each object came from on a map as we talked. We continued our around the world tour through artifacts I brought from home to pass around, and then some photos from my travels, focusing on the children I met along the way. We discussed how you come to care about things you know about, and how travel expands what you know and therefore what you care about.

Student Artwork

One student’s artwork

The final part of the hour included them creating an art project where they drew some of the things they care about within an outline of the earth, and then traced their own hand, cut it out, and glued it over the earth to show them caring for those favorite things. We titled the work “The World is in Our Hands.” We ended our time together singing a new version of a song I learned as a child, changing the words from “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.” They had the chance to act out parts of the world we hold in our hands, from bunnies to mamas and papas to itty bitty babies. As the bell rang at the end of the hour, we said our thank yous and good-byes, and I could hear them singing the refrain as they filed out to lunch.

My takeaways from the experience:

  1. You are never too young to become a global citizen.
  2. Children are capable of meaningful reflection and profound discussion.
  3. An hour is LONG and needs to contain many different activities with six-year olds!
  4. There is a lot of love in a first grade classroom.

Singing together!

Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development

I just returned from attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, held this year where the temperatures were low and the snow drifts were high. This in stark contrast to the warm temperatures, lack of snow (even in the mountains) and early spring in Seattle.  Global climate destabilization indeed.
















Along with listening to inspiring speakers, attending edifying workshops, and networking with colleagues from all over the country and many parts of the world, I had the opportunity to share a new IMG_6789resource with the NAIS community. My colleague Willy Fluharty from Cape Henry Collegiate School and I introduced a book we co-edited over the past two years. Willy and I are both founding members of the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) and have been active in the organization since its inception in 2008. At that time, four schools (Cape Henry, Lakeside, Providence Day and Charlotte Country Day) met and then at the behest of NAIS, invited 15 other schools to join us. We embarked upon a mission of benchmarking, sharing, and collaboration that has served individual schools, and also helped define and develop global education in all independent schools.

With Willy

Over the years, we have collected data to benchmark what GEBG schools are doing in their programs, created a Wiki page to share information, become a 501c3 entity with a Board (on which Willy and I both serve), and organized an annual Global Educators Conference. A couple of years ago, we realized we had learned so much through collaboration that would be useful to others outside of GEBG. We gathered resources from 24 different global educators representing 12 schools and 12 outside organizations, and compiled it into a handbook that GEBG published as an iBook available for $20 on iTunes.

Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development


The first section of the book concerns itself with Why We Should Be Global, the philosophy behind the work including a compelling essay by Father Steve Sundborg, President of Seattle University who gave the keynote address at the first GEBG conference at Lakeside School. Next we created a chapter outlining a number of different ways to become global at all levels of K-12 education. Subsequent chapters deal with curriculum, collaboration, competencies, finances, and risk management. Finally, we included sample data charts from our annual survey and resources to help people develop their own programs.

Our hope is that people will examine the book as a whole, and then use it, like the title suggests, as a roadmap for global program development. Rather than a rigid “how to” manual, we want it to be a guide to help clarify program goals and identify appropriate paths to those goals. Some readers may spend more time investigating the big picture questions of philosophy and pedagogy; others will dive right into specific sections on risk management and curriculum; still others will use the data to support their own desired outcomes. The book highlights a few trends such as the rise of global diploma programs, the need for better risk management practices, and the push to integrate global experience and classroom practice. Because the field of global education is relatively new and constantly changing, we plan to provide periodic updates. We are currently preparing it for publication on PC-compatible platforms and Kindle as well.

IMG_6782A couple of talks I heard at the NAIS conference this year were particularly relevant to our experience editing the book. John Maeda talked about the importance of creativity, thinking outside of the box, and making bold choices without bowing to public opinion. We certainly dove into this project with no prior publishing knowledge, and we learned a great deal through trial and error.  Sarah Lewis, who wrote The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery described the difference between success (a single accomplishment) and mastery (consistent excellence) that comes only through continual examination of failure and subsequent adjustments. Willy and I encountered many obstacles, and while I make no claims about mastery, we did approach the process with curiosity and the belief that we could overcome any obstacle through persistent effort. It was a fascinating collaborative undertaking, and we hope it serves as a useful and enjoyable tool.