May 2018

The Decisions We Make

Decisions! They come at us every minute of the day and we mostly manage them with ease because they’re straight forward. They’re decisions about the routines of our lives that have become standard and effortless. But every now and then we’re faced with decisions that are hard and have the potential to be fundamentally life changing. Places to live, jobs go for, colleges to attend, courses to take, people to trust and make a life with: decisions that test us and define us. And I suggest that there are two fundamentally different ways to go about making them: the external approach or the internal approach.
The external approach is easiest, because it gives up control of the process to someone else, and you go along with it. You rationalize that others know more than you about the decision you’re taking, and as long as you’re clear about what you definitely don’t want for yourself, it’s best to let someone else choose from among the options you can live with. This approach does have its merits, because it’s often people you love or who only have your best interests at heart that make the decisions for you. It’s a less stressful way to achieve what is hopefully a positive outcome.
The internal approach is harder. It’s you recognizing that you’re your own best advocate and that you’re the one who will be living out the consequences of the decision. It’s a willingness to take a good hard look at a situation and evaluate it on its own merits. It means trusting yourself to get the best information and advice (that’s right, you don’t have to go it alone with this approach…you just need to be the one who decides). And if your decision will impact others, it means knowing how far you’re willing to go to satisfy someone else’s needs whilst not completely abandoning your own.
If you choose the second approach, then a constant challenge will be to sift through the misinformation in what is sometimes termed a ‘post truth’ world, in order to find the clearest route to the truth and to the best decision you can take. And misinformation is everywhere. I myself have had to dispel the rumor that the school is thinking of dropping the IB program: a rumor that is so far from reality that I pray people in the community are not making critical decisions premised on it. And I have heard that nearly all of our Seniors last year failed the Diploma, a rumor which leaves me mystified, given that our public statistics demonstrate the opposite. Misinformation such as this makes the world a tough place to navigate but there are some ways through it. So, here’s a little parting advice from someone who has recently had to make a life-changing decision.
First, focus on what matters. That is, what really matters. I recently had to make a career decision that was no easy one, but it was made easier for me when I meditated on the fact that my first priority has always been my family.
Second, take your ego out of it, if you can. This is hard. Ego drives us, gives us self-esteem and fuels our ambitions. But it also gets in the way of level-headed choices that will help you in the long run. Make allowance for how you’ll be judged, but don’t let that steer you away from an honest self-assessment and life improvement. Don’t let it get in the way of your own happiness.
As my own decision to leave St Mary’s is about to reach fruition, it is, admittedly, with some trepidation that I try to peer into the future. After all, I am not retiring, yet I have no employment lined up. I’ve just done my best to take my own advice, and that fills me with a sense of excitement, because it means that the possibilities that await me are ones of my own creation.
I wish everyone in this wonderful community nothing but the best in navigating a course defined by a spirit of courage whilst making decisions in this amazing adventure of life.

January 2018

Why Seniors Need to Finish Strong

Last summer, one of our recently graduated Seniors got a scare: the place he received at a great university in the USA was about to be rescinded. The reason? His final IB scores were lower than predicted, yet his in school GPA had not decreased significantly. His college wrote to us, pointing out that his IB predicted scores had been taken into account in awarding him a place, and wanted to know why he hadn’t done so well on his exams. They were likely wondering whether he had slacked off. Did he think that it was ok to disregard his IB scores, since he was already given a college acceptance? Or did he perhaps think it was ok to ignore his IB exams if he maintained his in-school GPA? Didn’t he care about the education he was receiving through the IB exam process? Were there any extenuating circumstances? In the end, after quite a bit of correspondence from us and from the student, the college relented and accepted the student. But it was close. And it was a lesson to all of us.

When students apply to colleges, of course they present their best profile. And they want colleges to believe that this is who they really are. So, when a student presents himself as studious and dependable, or a hard-worker, or as someone who has turned himself around, colleges are naturally disappointed if they later learn that the profile is inaccurate. They want to know that their in-bound students are one thing above all else: exactly who they said they were when they first submitted an application. That is, students who can be depended upon to try their best till the end.

But having a place honored at university isn’t the only reason to maintain a focus on academics, including IB exams, until the end. Graduation marks the close of an important chapter in the career of the student, one which should be finished with pride and dignity, and in the knowledge that he got the most out of everything that a high school education can offer. In the end, it’s about being the best you can be, and finding the joy in that!

Good Advice from Kent University- June 2017

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”

“It seems that we are being pulled more and more towards the written form of communication as a means of spreading our message. Whether it’s through social media or live documents such Googledocs and Googlesheets, we’re letting people know what we think on a daily basis through the written word. Yet, the way we communicate is completely central the outcome of our daily interactions, and can dramatically affect our life’s trajectory.”
The careers site at Kent University, UK ( from which the above quote is taken focuses on speaking and listening, these being crucial to all aspects of life in college and, later, in the workplace. Their focus is on careers, but much of their advice is applicable to all of us. How to have a good conversation, how to listen and how to empathize are not just techniques for getting on in life…they are part of what make us fundamentally human. So, I would like to add a few observations of my own on the subject of communication.

Being open and forthright is better than avoidance
Communication is two-way. That’s the expectation in a normal, healthy environment where people care about each other. And we chart our days according to what we get at the receiving end: Why did they say that? What do they need? How shall I respond? How will they take my response? This is one of life’s fundamental dynamics. How we handle it matters. And while it’s sometimes hard to know what to say, being open is better than avoiding a tricky communication. Openness conducted in a kind and sensitive way wins respect, while avoidance causes hurt, frustration and, often, anger.
Inclusion is better than exclusion
It’s often tempting to form a comfortable social group, and stay within in it, sometimes even going so far as to prevent others from participating. It gives you a sense of belonging, even if it cuts out other people, and even if you know that being a part of a tight clique can bring on its own problems. But when it comes to communicating, there’s never a good reason to exclude those who’ll affected by your silence. There are people around you who have earned the legitimacy to hear from you by the proximity of their relationship to you or, in the workplace, by the nature of their roles with respect to yours. Depriving someone of important information, excluding them from a decision that they should have been a part of, or making sure that they don’t hear about a particular plan that could affect them until it’s too late, are all bound to make them resent you in the end. And that is never good. As you move forward in your career, remember this, and you’ll be valued for your honesty and straight forward way of dealing with people.
Being genuine is better that playing an act
It seems that life is all about adopting a persona these days that can sell you to others outside your immediate social circle. Facebook is now geared towards prospective employers, so that they can ‘casually’ see who you ‘really’ are; resumes are stuffed full of exaggerated accomplishments; and the way we conduct ourselves in a society where the price for ‘incorrect conduct’ is getting higher and higher all the time makes us more removed from who we really are. There is some practical necessity in some of this, of course. But, when taken too far, you may end up being perceived as someone who is essentially putting on an act. People like to interact with humans, not professional cardboard cut-outs, and if you want to make a positive impact, keep in mind that people remember real people. Empathy trumps the coolness of distance, and sincerity trumps deception- in the end, always. In short, genuine kindness and compassion matter.

March 2017

No-one could be blamed for describing the last year as a turbulent one in global terms. The integrity of European Union is being redefined as the UK prepares to exit; refugees have streamed into Europe, fleeing turmoil and conflict; nationalist movements have established themselves at the forefront of international politics; and a message of uncertainty is conveyed with every news flash. This is the world that our graduates are venturing into. And the changes they will encounter run deeper than the politics of the day. According to Oxford University, 47% of jobs will disappear in developed nations in the next 25 years. That’s a dramatic statistic. It means that as the class of 2017 prepares to enter college with the hope of finding gainful employment three or four years down the road, they will have to deal with the realization that many of the careers on offer to them will be obsolete two decades later. That’s the toll of innovation. As mechanization and technological advancement power forward, traditional pursuits lose their footing: doctors will lose ground to computerized data analysis and diagnosis; lawyers will find their work codified into comprehensible and accessible software algorithms; school teachers will lose out to online education; and financial analysts will give way to programs capable of advanced market analysis.
So, what is to be done? Well, it’s not all gloom. First, let’s consider the simple fact that the place we live, this planet, is not going anywhere, and will continue to offer its amazing gifts to seekers of knowledge everywhere. Sure, the world is changing. Rapidly. But people are driving that change, and it’s up to each of us to decide what part we want to play in it. It’s true that not everyone is blessed with boundless opportunity, but what opportunity there is always derives from knowledge. And if harnessed onto a genuine desire to better this world, then anything can happen. So here is a little advice to our IB cohorts.
1) People are important. Not just your friends, but everyone that forms a part of your web of experience. Reach out to them, show them your best, and be inclusive. At the end of your life, you’ll realize that nothing else ever mattered as much.
2) Be ready to think on your feet. That means finding a place for every new nugget of knowledge, and considering how it relates to every other. And it means taking heart in challenge, rather than shrinking from it.
3) Persevere. The IB teaches nothing if not perseverance. See this as a good thing, part of a life-long learning process, rather than grim drudgery. For a time will soon come when you can apply that effort and endurance towards realizing a dream.

November 2016

The IB Core

There is a saying going around in the IB world: “If the core is sound, the program is sound.” This means that it is important to maintain the strength and efficacy of the Diploma core subjects: Extended Essay, TOK and CAS. To that end, we, as an IB faculty, are in the process of re-examining our methodologies with an aim not only to strengthen the core, but to keep up with, and adapt to, the changing IB curricula. The IB faculty thus received an in-service on the Extended Essay on November 9, and others are planned for TOK (TOK across the curriculum) and an Extended Essay follow-up. Hopefully, this will result in a more effective educational experience for our IB Diploma students.

IB Course Selection Begin Early for Sophomores!

The process of selecting IB courses started for 10th Graders this year on November 22, with the IB Information Night for parents and students. The particularly early start relative to other years is advantageous to us in a number of ways.

  • Scheduling can happen much earlier, and so potential problems can be worked out
  • Students can be counseled more effectively towards sensible decisions
  • Teachers and students can be laying the groundwork for next year with accurate course and scheduling data
  • Staffing needs are more fully understood at an earlier time

Although the students will have selected their IB Course Plans by December 6, changes will still be possible, as long as they go through the proper process. Next year, we hope to institutionalize this earlier schedule as a regular fixture, so that the process runs even more smoothly.

A New IB Course

Since November 2015, when the idea of an IB Psychology course was first introduced, there has been discussion, research and, ultimately, progress: IB Psychology is now an offering at SMIS at the Standard Level. This means that students now have four options to choose from among the social sciences: Economics, History, Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS) and Psychology.

Questions or concerns about the IB Program at SMIS? Please contact the IB Coordinator at