The Year Comes to a Close

It is important and appropriate to take this final newsletter opportunity to share my thanks and appreciation for a wonderful year, my first in Warsaw.  While my arrival was a bit of a whirlwind, I can now count myself as comfortable and settled in my new home.  I have a wonderful team of professionals at this school, administrative, faculty and staff, who make my job easy, each and every day!  We have a wonderful cadre of supportive parents that embrace and enhance the experiences of our children every day.  My warmest regards to all of you for a job well done this year!

Please take the time to watch our LiveStream of the closing ceremony if you were not able to attend!  The link is provided below:

https://livestream.com/accounts/15498644/events/7433986/videos/158559008/player?width=640&height=360&enableInfo=true&defaultDrawer=&autoPlay=false&mute=false

To  all of our families who are returning next year, I wish you a wonderful summer of rest, relaxation and fulfilling adventure!

To our families who are departing, we wish you the same, but also a smooth transition to your next new home, whether it be back to your home country or another place that further expands your horizon.  Always remember – once a Warrior, always a Warrior!

Looking forward to continuing the work that we all love and embrace.  Next year is shaping up to keep us engaged on this path of accomplishment.  I look forward to our continued partnership in this regard!

Mr. Z

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Coming to a Close

This week, as we head into the final week of the school year, I’m repeating a section from last week to make sure that you review this information in preparation for next year.  Please take a moment to look at it in depth.  Looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible next week at our closing ceremony.  If you are unable to attend, you’ll be able to watch via livestream at the following link:

https://www.aswarsaw.org/livestream/ceremonies

From last week’s newsletter:

Schedule and Tweaks for Next Year

After significant work on the part of the leadership team, we are moving forward to now implement and inform the community of our work on scheduling for next year.  This primarily applies to Upper School at both the middle and high level, but also have positive implications for Elementary scheduling.  One core component of these changes is better alignment with the IB philosophy that we are currently implementing, and particularly the alignment between the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP).

But, this has been a broad based effort and we also intend to capitalize on this opportunity to improve other overall aspects of our daily schedule that in many ways have been carried forward year-on-year with little consideration for the inconveniences nor the opportunities that might exist.  With much research and with increasing competition for time and space, we have undertaken some key decisions that we are implementing next year:

  1. We are making slight changes to our start and end of school times.  Starting next year, the school hours will be aligned and affirmed with school beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the end of school at 3:30 p.m.  Based on a number of scheduling requirements, this is a modest change that solves many problems.
  2. The more significant change, introduced at a recent PTO meeting, is the change to the Wednesday schedule for next year.  The need for teacher work time continues and the small carve out that we have secured for a number of years is critical for ongoing curricular, planning, and accreditation work.  But, the administrative team and teachers have been considering all year the implications of the current structure, particularly in regards to after school programs and the availability of teachers to support and muster the important and growing array of activities and athletics.  After research involving review of other international schools, both in the region and around the world, we have decided to move to a late start rather than early dismissal on Wednesdays.  This means that the Wednesday school day for 2017-2018 will change to a 9:30 a.m. start and a 3:30 p.m. dismissal.
  3. There will be a slight difference to the above schedule for our DP students in grades 11 and 12 that will have them starting at slightly adjusted times from the above.  This difference is small and should be easily managed, providing them with necessary alignment and offering them the additional minutes needed to their upper level studies.  More on this in August.

We will be working during the summer to prepare for a smooth transition to this model, including necessary morning supervision in our cafeteria and additional options for student support in the morning before school, while teachers are engaged in their work with colleagues.  We’ll be correcting our website and literature to align with this as well and will send reminders in August as families prepare for their return to a new school year.

Thanks in advance for your insight and partnership in adjusting to these changes.

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Looking Ahead – 2017-2018

Welcome to the next iteration of the new ASW newsletter.  As announced last week, we are in pilot mode, so please keep your comments coming back to the Communications Department as we continue to improve our publication.

There are many things that I’m sharing with you in Zimplicity this week that is linked from this newsletter as well as through my many subscribers, so please follow the link below to get an update on many fronts including Strategic Planning, the Project Nest, changes coming next year, and our new End-of-Year Closing Assembly.

But, the key message is our thanks to PTO and all of the people involved in a wonderfully successful Summer Send Off!!  Since PTO activities are coming to a close for this year with the Boot Sale on the weekend, let’s take this time to applaud their work throughout the year in building community and involvement through the many wonderful events and activities.  For those returning, as you consider next year, please consider how you might contribute in your own way when we all return in August.  PTO is built on a culture of contribution and participation.  Think about your talents and, if you haven’t been able to contribute this year, think about how you might get involved next year.  For those who have participated throughout this year in our many opportunities, our gratitude for your partnership!!  Thank you, PTO, for all that you do!!

End-of-Year Assembly

This year we are adding a new tradition and plan to end the school year with some wonderful acclimations that celebrates our diversity and community.  We’ll gather in the Annex Gymnasium as a whole school for our final minutes together before summer break. Please plan to join us if you can, but know that there will be limited seating and possibly standing room only.  Doors open for parents at 10:20 a.m. and we begin at 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21st.  Students will be dismissed from their classrooms at 11:30 a.m.

Strategic Work – The Project Nest

After two full days of working with the material in the Project Nest, we have brought the first round of drafting to a close with the contributions of the Design Team over the last two days.  You will notice now that the Project Nest has been emptied and a holding note has been placed there to explain our process and next steps.  Never fear, all the material that was shared in the Nest has been captured and is part of our ongoing work to compile and clarify direction for the school.

The Project Nest lives on.  The next round of storytelling will begin soon in earnest and will carry us into next year as our work on the final core values develops in the coming days.  The Design Team capably handed the draft work to the leadership team o Tuesday through retelling stories from our work over the last several weeks.  The work continues with the draft statements in collaboration with our consultant and we will work diligently until our presentation to the board on June 19th.  We will then launch these core values with staff on the day after school finishes and a broader launch in the first days of the new school year.  My thinks to the members of the Design Team for their diligence and stay tuned for the final product in due course.

Schedule and Tweaks for Next Year – Planning Ahead

After significant work on the part of the leadership team, we are moving forward to now implement and inform the community of our work on scheduling for next year.  This primarily applies to Upper School at both the middle and high level, but also have positive implications for Elementary scheduling.  One core component of these changes is better alignment with the IB philosophy that we are currently implementing, and particularly the alignment between the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP).

But, this has been a broad based effort and we also intend to capitalize on this opportunity to improve other overall aspects of our daily schedule that in many ways have been carried forward year-on-year with little thought for the inconveniences nor opportunities that might exist.  With much research and with increasing conflict over time and space, we have undertaken some key decisions that we are implementing next year:

  1. We are making slight changes to our start and end of school times.  Starting next year, the school hours will be aligned and affirmed with school beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the end of school at 3:30 p.m.  Based on a number of scheduling requirements, this is a modest change that solves many problems.
  2. The more significant change, introduced at a recent PTO meeting, is the change to the Wednesday schedule for next year.  The need for teacher work time continues and the small carve out that we have secured for a number of years is critical for ongoing curricular, planning, and accreditation work.  But, the administrative team and teachers have been considering all year the implications of the current structure, particularly in regards to after school programs and the availability of teachers to support and muster the important and growing array of activities and athletics.  After research involving review of other international schools, both in the region and around the world, we have decided to move to a late start rather than early dismissal on Wednesdays.  This means that the Wednesday school day for 2017-2018 will change to a 9:30 a.m. start and a 3:30 p.m. dismissal.
  3. There will be a slight difference to the above schedule for our DP students in grades 11 and 12 that will have them starting at slightly adjusted times from the above.  This difference is small and should be easily managed, providing them with necessary alignment and offering them the additional minutes needed to their upper level studies.  More on this in August.

We will be working during the summer to prepare for a smooth transition to this model, including necessary morning supervision in our cafeteria and additional options for student support in the morning before school, while teachers are engaged in their work with colleagues.  We’ll be correcting our website and literature to align with this as well and will send reminders in August as families prepare for their return to a new school year.

And on a final note…

I want to take a moment and express our condolences to nationalities recently impacted by terror attacks in their home countries.  We have all watched in horror as these events have unfolded before us.  If you are like me, there is a growing sense of powerlessness in these now overly regular reports.  I fear we are increasingly becoming immune to these events as they become more frequent and, as we are bombarded with the political messages that often follow, fill our screens with acrimony and blame.

For me, it is important to discuss these events with our children, helping them to understand that everyone deals with tragedy in their own way.  It’s important that children feel free to express their thoughts openly and without judgement in safe family and school environments.  But, we should reinforce in our conversations the importance of preserving and protecting life, an amazing gift that cannot be squandered on the basis of political and ideological squabbles.  It should always be our hope that future generations can address the human condition with greater tolerance, kindness, and forgiveness.

To our friends who are experiencing grief, whether because of national connection or through the actual impact of tragedy on friends or family, know that the Warrior Community is always keeping you in our thoughts and offering our deepest and warmest condolences.

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Graduation Speech 2017

To all of our special guests, faculty, administration, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 24th commencement exercises for the class of 2017.

First, my sincere gratitude to Ambassador Jones for your words and your presence in our graduation ceremony today.  This is reflective of the role the U.S. Embassy plays as our key partner here in Poland. The American School of Warsaw highly values its powerful sense of community and your participation in our midst confirms once again the commitment we all make as a global village to the children we nurture and educate.

Mr. Sheehan, you opened our event eloquently, confirming our handshake yesterday that noted a job well done in preparing this class for their final moments.  You are proud of them and, in return, they honor your leadership, guidance, and friendship.

Katherine and Penelope, thank you for representing your classmates so eloquently.  You both captured the experience brilliantly, each in your own special way, and, in the process, served your friends exceptionally well.

Mr. James, my thanks for your message, one that is consistent with your mentoring in the classroom every day.  You have engaged our minds and hearts in this moment and I’m quite certain that the students on this stage will take strong memories with them of your inspiration and dedication.

We know as an international community that many here on this stage have had other schooling experiences before joining us in Warsaw. Also, some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned. It is part of being an international school that we embrace change and transition.  But, as has been my tradition in many schools over the years, I’d like to recognize some special warriors, nurtured from the beginning of their school experience entirely to graduation at ASW. As I call your names, please stand and remain standing so that we can recognize all of you as a group:

5​ Students have been here since Pre-Kindergarten:
Anna Buksowicz
Aylin Buyukbayrak
Murat Buyukbayrak
Michal Szczurek
Tanay Lalwani

6 have been here since Kindergarten:
Kenji Asakura
Ronnie Kerem
Zofia Motz
Mandana Vakil
Josephine Teresa Villamin
Stanislaw Zdziech

Please recognize these 11 students as our Warriors of longest standing.

I offer today some final words to bring punctuation to our gathering and in preparation for that final special moment when hands will clasp and folders are presented.  Everything that we have done builds to this moment — and the smiles and hugs that will follow.  I dare not delay much further that important crossing.

I speak to you today about something called “grit”.

When I look across this stage, I see it in eyes filled with determination.  While they might have you thinking that they are a bit bruised by exams and shattered by the emotional trauma of decisions, they are seated before you hungry.  Hungry for the next adventure.  Hungry for the next challenge. Hungry for all that life can bring to them.

And that is “grit.”  Grit is a relatively new term on the educational spectrum.  While it has always been there in the colloquial, the definition today goes like this:

Courage and resolve; strength of character

Angela Duckworth, a distinguished professor at the University of Pennsylvania, offered that there is a difference for those who have grit.  She has spent more than a decade researching grit, what it is, how it is learned, and how to measure it.

Grit is something special.  She writes and offers advice to those seeking grit:

“I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

But, I have a thought about how we get grit.  It requires telling a short story.

When I was a 6th grade teacher I had a student named Lori.  She was a troubled teenager with a step-mother and a broken relationship with her father.  She often snuck out of her home and without describing too much of this, she got into difficult situations and generally led a dangerous life.  I did what I could as a teacher for her in the classroom, providing a safe harbor and a listening ear.  I could see tremendous potential and always yearned for some stability in her life, but felt powerless to change her circumstances.

Fast forward 15 years.  I happened to be visiting back home and bumped into Lori at a grocery store in the local community.  I recognized her immediately and we smiled and exchanged greetings.  Nervously, she asked if we could sit down at the nearby Starbucks and have a coffee.  Over that coffee, she shared a story with me of many difficult times, following the pattern of her adolescence.  Many broken relationships, many difficult years struggling through community college and then college.  There were a couple of gap years taking care of her father through illness.  But, the happy ending were the most recent years.  She had finally married someone who nurtured her and they were raising two children together.  She had become a teacher, which caused my heart to jump.

But, not just any teacher, she was working as a special needs teacher in my old school district, helping homebound children with serious medical conditions.

But, the story is not done.  I was so happy for her and beamed with pride at her accomplishment.  But, she paused.  She pulled her wallet from her purse reached into a pocket for a folded piece of paper and as she unfolded it, I recognized it.  She handed it to me and it was the tattered comment page from her report card, given to her in 1987.  To the best of my recollection, I remember writing:

Lori – Never forget that you are something special.  Whatever challenges, whatever you seek to accomplish, know always that you are capable and worthy of all that life can bring.  Believe in yourself and always know that I believe in you.

She told me in that moment over coffee that she had carried that paper through many difficult situations.  In her mind that piece of paper made all the difference.

Class of 2017, because of this experience, I can say in all honesty that Grit is all about granularity.  It is the single moments of life, the grains of sand, that form the strength of our character.  It is the small moments, the tiny kindnesses, the pivotal experiences, the individual connections that we make as human beings that bind us and strengthen us.  Grains of sand when mixed with the water and stone of our spirit and strength form the cement that is character. You have to look back to look forward.  You have to bind your experiences together and find your path in the grittiest way possible – surmounting any challenge by being true to your calling – to your passion.

From what I observed at yesterday’s awards assembly, your teachers know you as engaged learners, empowered by your passion, caring of each other, and motivated to accomplish goals that reach far beyond our walls.  Faculty, counselors, and administrators seated before you are beaming with pride.  As this is our profession, a moment like this carries deep satisfaction and meaning for us.  We do not consider it the filling of a vessel, but more like the launching of a ship.  Because of their nurturing spirit, you are now prepared for your voyage and the challenges that lurk beyond the horizon.

You’re ready.  You have reached the time when others will take over guiding you until you are ready to guide others yourself.  Your take your grit with you.  Whether at university or in the career that follows, your world just got a whole lot bigger.

Last year was a special graduation for me owing to my son crossing a stage very similar to this one.  I now plan to include my message then as a closing thought for all future graduations.

This last part is for all the parents in the audience and I know it will resonate in your hearts as it did in mine.

To the children in the Class of 2017, when we say we love you, as we often do, it is not because it is a habit, or part of routine. Today it is because in this moment, and in all others leading to it, the following is true:

  • you inspire us
  • you complete us, and
  • you give our lives meaning

While we will feel lost without you, we’re proud of your launching, warmed by the anticipation of all that we know you are yet to become.

We love you so much!!

Go forth all of you, Class of 2017 — embrace your parents and then life!!

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