Latest Head of School Posts
In mainland China, where I lived from 1999 to 2010, school children enjoy a month long lunar New Year holiday. Because I worked in a school during those years, I always traveled during that time. I lived in Beijing, which was home to millions of rural migrant laborers, and each year when the New Year rolled around, the migrants headed out of town—they were going home to spend the holidays with their families in small villages all over the country. I usually headed to either Yunnan or Guizhou, both mountainous provinces in the southwest, where I too would spend time in villages that bustled with the excitement of sons and daughters returned home for the holidays. In the villages, envious residents listened to the urban tales of their returned neighbors who had left their homes to work on construction sites, in restaurants, and in factories in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Dongguan, earning the equivalent of $100, $150, even $200 a month—an unimaginable amount for farmers in the mountainous villages of southwest China.
I knew that in the big cities of China these migrant laborers were members of an underclass, looked down upon by their urban countrymen who drove Toyotas, Volkswagens, or even Audis and lived in three bedroom, heated apartments. It is estimated that some 150 million rural Chinese have left their villages and moved to cities in search of work—the biggest mass movement of human beings in history. These people have fueled China’s double digit economic growth rates for the last 30-plus years. And every year, as the lunar New Year approaches, millions and millions of them cram into trains and buses, leave their city jobs behind and journey back home—the only chance they will have all year long to see their family members and friends. I imagine that these days the now digitally savvy rural transplants buy their bus and rail tickets via WeChat or Catriona apps on their smart phones. Every year the villages have more TVs, more... » read more
If you spend any time in vinyl shops or have a fondness for classic progressive rock from the 70s, then the picture to the right should look comfortingly familiar; it’s the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. But the purpose of this message is not to talk about classic progressive rock music (though I’m happy to do that with anyone who’s interested when I’m off the clock). Rather, this iconic picture of light being refracted through a prism is an image that I have continuously recalled as I speak with parents and faculty about their aspirations and fears as we develop our next strategic vision for CAIS.
Imagine that the single beam of light in the image is your child. The triangular prism through which the light passes represents immersion education. And the spectrum of colors in the refracted light on the right side of the diagram are the many and various outcomes of an education in which children are asked to “embrace Chinese.” What specifically do the colors in the refracted light represent? For context, I’d like to share an excerpt from our school’s philosophy statement on diversity, equity and inclusion:
心怀中华 Embrace Chinese
Immersion in a new language and culture requires humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, and a true appreciation of difference…. The attitudes and aptitudes that are cultivated through Chinese immersion at CAIS extend far beyond language and prepare students to engage respectfully with a diverse world.... » read more
I woke up this morning to an email from a CAIS parent that said, “the diversity, equity, and inclusion roundtable event was great. I’m excited to tell my friends to come next time!” I was thinking the same two things—the event was terrific and I am looking forward to sharing such a great experience with even more people at the next DEI roundtable event (mark your calendars now for March 12).
It felt energizing and reassuring to be in a room full of people working together on building our muscle to have conversations about bias and race with each other and especially with our children. Rather than a lecture format, the roundtable provided multiple opportunities for parents and faculty to engage with one another in small groups around the evening’s theme of identifying and talking about our own hidden biases. Facilitators Britta Pells, Mary Antón, and Kim Kaz shared a TED Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on The Danger of a Single Story so attendees could have a shared starting point for reflection.
I can only speak for myself, but I relished the opportunity to exchange personal stories with my fellow community members, and have constructive and honest conversations about stuff that really matters. I love how interactive and personal the evening was, and I am excited and grateful (befitting the season) that in this year of strategy making we have multiple sources of inspiration around important DEI issues.
Last night’s event came on the heels of CAIS’s acceptance into the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools” (RIDES)... » read more
Setting Our Sights Even Higher
I’ve previously described the founding of CAIS—and the audacious belief and dedication required to create the nation’s first dual language Chinese English immersion school—as a successful moonshot. Throughout our history, we have kept that drive to aim ever higher. Nearly five years ago, we launched a strategic vision that has reaped many rewards for students, families, and employees. Now, during the 2018-19 academic year, it’s time to reflect on our journey, renew our vision, and set new priorities for the future. The space exploration metaphor still holds; given the relationship between time and space, planning for five years out with the current pace of innovation is akin to plotting our course beyond the moon and on to Mars.In fact, we are using this exact theme to put together a small working group of CAIS faculty, trustees, parents, and alumni who will help guide the process. We’ve asked faculty nominators:
“Imagine you’ve been asked to recreate the very best attributes of CAIS on planet Mars, but you only have seats on the space ship for a few people. Who would you send? They are the people who are likely to be exemplars of the organization’s core values and purpose, have the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest levels of competence.”
The resulting Vision Advisory Team will be announced shortly and will work in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, Administrative Council, and me to shepherd the Strategic Visioning Process... » read more
Today, tradition has it, is Confucius’s birthday—his 2,568th. It is also Teachers Day in Taiwan. This is because Confucius was, after all, a teacher. He devoted his life to roaming about teaching anyone who would follow him.
Every year on September 28, in honor of teachers, I write something about Confucius. Often I write about the timelessness and relevance of his ideas to us ordinary, contemporary folks trying to make our way earnestly and virtuously in the world. I think about this a lot, particularly these days. So today, with your indulgence, on Teachers Day, I want to adopt the position of the teacher and share some of my recent thoughts about Confucius. Full disclosure: this piece is not about the Chinese American International School, it’s about Chinese and American culture.
First, a little background on Confucius in particular and Chinese philosophy in general. Classical Chinese philosophy—Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism—developed in violent and chaotic times over two millennia ago. At that time, what we now know as China was a collection of independent kingdoms that were constantly at war with one another, the strong swallowing the weak. Rulers worried about how to govern their populations and keep their kingdoms strong in order to avoid being swallowed by aggressive neighboring kingdoms. Not surprisingly, Chinese philosophy from this time reads like political science. Confucius roamed the kingdoms with his disciples in tow, trying to gain the ear of a ruler who would employ his ideas of good governance. In his day their were many such wandering philosophers, the so-called “hundred schools of thought” or zhū zǐ baǐ jiā 诸子百家.... » read more
About this time two years ago, a task force of 21 dedicated CAIS teachers, administrators, parents and trustees came together at our 888 Campus on a Saturday morning. The purpose of this gathering was to begin work on creating a philosophy statement that would guide our school’s work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The group met monthly for a year, reporting out periodically to the community as well as inviting input and feedback on our work. A decision the task force made early in the process was that in order for the work of DEI to be meaningful and relevant, it had to be rooted in the school’s mission. As former lower school assistant director Anna Donnelly put it quite eloquently, “in order for our mission to be true, our DEI statement has to be true.” So we braided together our mission—Embrace Chinese, become your best self, create your place in the world 心怀中华，精益求精，立足世界—and our DEI philosophy, which was completed and introduced to the CAIS community in June of 2017.
There is a paragraph in the DEI philosophy statement that draws out the explicit connection between immersion and diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Immersion in a new language and culture requires humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, and a true appreciation of difference…. The attitudes and aptitudes that are cultivated through Chinese immersion extend far beyond language and prepare students to engage respectfully with a diverse world.
I have a solid faith in the power of language and cultural immersion to cultivate deeply rooted attitudes and behaviors about how to be in the world (and not just in San Francisco or the US), viewing and treating others as us. Sometimes I... » read more
Dear CAIS Community,
Many thanks for a successful start to the 2018-19 school year at CAIS! In these exciting early days, the focus necessarily skews toward the nuts and bolts of transitioning back into school. Your kids need to become comfortable with the swirl of teachers, classmates, and routines. You need to navigate drop off and pick up in Hayes Valley traffic (perhaps adding a second campus to your daily mix), determine how to best communicate with your children’s teachers, and master the new morning and evening moods and routines at home. I am confident that before long you will feel the new year’s logistics are old hat. If something remains confusing, though, please always feel free to ask the faculty and staff.
Of course school is not all nuts and bolts. There are the hopes and dreams we all have for our children’s education. Each time they cross the thresholds into the Waller, Oak, or 888 campuses, we envision the communities of which they are a part; the things they will know, understand, and be able to do; the attitudes they are developing; and the people they will become. The daily details are all in service of those greater aspirations that we envision for our kids and, in turn, for the world that they will inhabit and one day shape.
Back in January of 2014, CAIS unveiled a strategic vision that focused on our aspirations for our children. The culmination of an inclusive, months-long process, the strategic vision has guided decision making for close to five years. In 2014, as with now, we... » read more
I’ve frequently said that I came to CAIS for the program, and I’ve stayed because of the community. What makes any community special is the relationships, and strong relationships are, I believe, based on understanding each other’s stories. In that spirit, and on this week’s special occasion, I want to share my own personal story about the lunar new year. In fact, it is a privilege to share it with you, and I’d love you to share your story with me. Here goes….
Just a few days ago, February 9, was the 30-year anniversary of my first move to China. Not long before that, I had quit my job as a public high school history teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had spent the previous summer in China, and when I returned to Wisconsin in the fall, I couldn’t think about anything except for China. I needed to return. So, operating through snail mail, I secured a job teaching English at a second tier engineering university in Shenyang, an industrial city of (at the time) four to five million people and the capital of Liaoning Province in northeast China. I quit my job and off I went. Liaoning was my home for the next two years.
The reason I left on February 9, was that I had received an invitation (again by snail mail) to spend the lunar new year’s eve with the family of a student I had met that previous summer. The lunar new year fell on February 17 that year, so I figured if I left the US on February 9, I’d be over jet lag in time to enjoy new year’s eve on the 16th. Not many foreigners had the opportunity to spend the lunar new year with a Chinese family in China in those days; I was over-the-moon excited. ... » read more
I am an early riser, and, on the morning of September 18, looking from the City toward the East Bay, the spectacular astronomical phenomenon known as the star and crescent* was visible from my dining room window. Tonight if you look at the moon, it will be full. It’s the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, a day which in Chinese communities all over the world, people will celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节 zhōng qíu jié). In the west we sometimes call this the Moon Festival.
When I looked at the star and crescent just a little over two weeks ago I thought about my friends and family around the Bay, who were perhaps at that same moment, gazing east and feeling the same sense of awe and excitement as I was. Likewise, tonight people will look at the full moon and think of their loved ones who may be in far away places but can still stare at the same moon. It’s a perfect circle, a symbol of unity and togetherness.
The Mid Autumn Festival is a harvest celebration, like Thanksgiving in North America, Sukkot in Israel, Incwala in Swaziland, Chuseok in Korea, or Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam. So people all over the world take this time of year to express gratitude for their good fortune. For us in San Francisco, we are pretty distant from harvesting crops, but we shouldn’t forget just how much we have to be thankful for.
All over the world, whether harvesting rice or corn or beans, people have felt the need to develop their own rituals for showing gratitude. Likewise, star and crescent or full moon, we all experience a feeling of awe and connection when we look at the moon.... » read more
Today, September 28, 2017, is Confucius’s 2,568th birthday according to tradition. Since Confucius was a teacher, Teachers’ Day is also celebrated on September 28 in Taiwan. Chinese American International School has historically honored the occasion with a message from the head of school to commemorate Confucius’s birthday/Teachers’ Day; this year I do so in a manner inspired by both events. Most of Confucius’s teachings, according to tradition, were oral. They weren’t recorded until well after his death in a thin volume called the Lún yǔ 《论语》, often translated as The Analects of Confucius. Confucius’s teaching style was apparently a little like Q&A. Mostly A, actually; a student would ask him something, and then he’d answer. So, in the spirit of Confucius, and of Q&A, ie, teaching, I have a question, and it is my sincere hope that this question seeds a rich, learning conversation in our community. If this happens, then I will have succeeded at honoring both Confucius on his birthday and teachers on our day. If my question doesn’t lead to any meaningful conversation, well then that will be an interesting data point, too.
Before I pose the question, however, I want to provide a little context. A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a CAIS parent. We were talking about the access and affordability of private school in the Bay Area and the accompanying angst that this parent felt about raising her children in a community where family vacations to Tahoe, Hawaii, and Europe were commonplace. This parent was positively disposed to considering allocating school resources toward achieving greater socioeconomic diversity within our school community. At the same time, she suspected, there were many families in our school community—Chinese families, she said—for whom these considerations were less important than Chinese language and culture, rigorous academics, high test... » read more