Just the other day I was reminded of the importance of not becoming too set in my ways. As human beings it can be easy to become set in our ways. I have been using the same brand/type of razor blade for maybe 30 years and I have become programmed to buy the same refills each time. Well, the other day at the store they were out of my brand and I nearly panicked. Instead of running around to different stores I took the plunge, bought a new razor with refills and decided that I would give them a try. The price was actually the same as my “tried and true”model. The next day, Voilá, I had the best shave ever. The new blades smoothly cut my 5 day stubble. I don’t know why I waited to long to make a change.
Just a simple reminder that it’s important to stay in touch with progress and new technologies.
Here in Dar es Salaam, actually let me be more specific. Here in Masaki I have found a favorite trail to run on that is along the cliff lined coastline. It’s a beautiful stretch that reminds me how lucky I am to live in this amazing community on the coast of Tanzania. The trail is a bit tricky to maneuver with coral rock, cacti and the edge of the cliff. I find myself looking down and really focusing on where to land next. The coral rock doesn’t give when I land like a normal dirt trail might. On this stretch of my run my pace slows dramatically. I’m worried about falling, twisting an ankle, getting stuck by a spine or falling off the edge.
I find that I miss out on the view of the ocean and every so often I have to stop to look out to the horizon. There are Dhow fishing boats floating alongside large cargo ships and the water is bright green or blue.
The other day I realized that this is a metaphor for my most recent transition into a new job. In August, I started a new job as the Secondary Principal at the International School of Tanganyika. The move was a return to international schools after a brief two year stint in the United States. After 14 years of working in international schools I thought that my transition would be relatively easy. What I realized is that I have to really pay attention to the details rather than focusing on where we’re going in the future.The rocky path represents my efforts getting to know peoples’ names, reading the handbook, asking questions about how things work and the cultural norms. There is so much to learn in a new environment and I’m also a bit nervous about making mistakes especially since I haven’t been around long enough to build up the emotional bank account. I feel like early mistakes may lead to issues that are difficult to overcome. Just like a mistake on the trail.
The ocean and horizon represents looking to the future and seeing the big picture. The path is enjoyable, but it would just be any old path without the ocean view. The possibilities that are out there are immense, especially considering that what’s on the surface and below the waterline. By looking out on the horizon we can envision what the school will be like in the future, instead of the current situation. There is also the opportunity to take time to scan the horizon and consider what is possible. Maybe we decide to renovate the trail to better fit our vision.
I am hoping that the more time that I spend running that trail, the more comfortable I’ll become glancing out to the ocean. Hopefully I will develop muscle memory and my feet will just naturally adjust to the rock variations. I’ll also know at which points along the trail that I’ll have to watch out for the cacti and cliffs. The rest of the time I can comfortably run and enjoy the view of the Indian Ocean. Maybe then, I’ll feel like the transition is over and there will be a healthy mix of the day to day and planning for the future.
When you come to visit I’ll take you out on the trail to see for yourself.
It’s no secret that I am always looking for examples of innovation. Since moving to Tanzania I have been frustrated about having to use cash with most of my transactions. It’s even more difficult here in TZ because $1 USD = 2,230 TZH. I leave the bank with stacks of 10,000 TZH bills. I had heard a buzz about M-Pesa but had no idea how it worked. My first instinct was to search the App store for M-Pesa. I later realized that if this service was an App, it would not have succeeded. That’s because tens of millions of cellphone users in Africa use basic cellphones.
I just returned from a small local store where there was a line for people to either deposit or withdraw cash through M-Pesa. I just deposited money into my wife’s cellphone number so that she can pay her hotel bill in Karatu, TZ. According to my wife, Karatu is in the middle of nowhere near the Ngorongoro Crater.
M-Pesa was launched by mobile operators Safaricom and Vodaphone in 2007. Neither company is in the banking industry but this innovative has become the world’s leading money service. The system simply transfers money from one phone to another. If the statistics above aren’t convincing that this innovation has had a huge impact and changed the way that users do business, take a look at this study by Professor Tanveet Suri from MIT.
The developers created software that could be used by existing cellphone technology to transform the economies of countries throughout the developing world.
My former boss, Brett Jacobsen always said that we don’t connect the dots until afterwards. When we are planning for the future we can’t know exactly what the final product will look like. We can’t predict the future. It is hard to believe that just over two years ago I stepped into the role of the Head of Upper School at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. As a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” it was a match made in heaven. For years I had been chasing the dream of transforming education for our students and Mount Vernon was just what I was searching for. Each and every day I had the opportunity to work with a talented team of educators to push boundaries to constructively answer these three questions. How might we …
- make school more reflective of real life.
- empower all learners to be seekers and explorers.
- inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake.
I had the pleasure of continuing work where students could explore their passions with iProjects, developing interdisciplinary courses, watching students partner with outside organizations to develop ideas and create was inspiring, creating meaningful project based learning was fun, using design thinking to develop creative solutions made sense, and where studying assessment for the future was beyond the trees.
The work was challenging and rewarding.
So, no one would have predicted that by July 2017 I would be on safari for new teacher orientation in Mikumi National Park. I never would have predicted that path back in 2015.
I never would have guessed that my family and I would move to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I would be the Secondary Principal at the International School of Tanganyika. IST is another amazing school but very different than MVPS. We strive to “challenge, inspire and support all students to fulfill their potential and improve the world.” At IST our curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate Primary, Middle Years and Diploma Programs. There are 60 different nationalities represented in the student body and the faculty hails from 20 different countries. Like MVPS, I anticipate that the work will be challenging and rewarding.
After spending 14 years working at three different international schools outside the United States it feels like we’ve found our niche. While our time in Atlanta was an adventure, our life here in Dar will be an uber-adventure. Now that the transition is over I’m ready to share my learning again.
On a note related to this article and what the Chicago Cubs did with their clubhouse.
On 4 July, along with thousands of others, we enjoyed the beach in Dennis, MA. One of the first things that I noticed was that the groups of people were setup in circles. It didn’t matter that some of the members of the group had their backs to the water. Now I have been to beaches all over the world and this is the first time that I remember this type of culture. Typically groups set up facing the water. Now I’m not talking about a few groups – I’m talking about nearly every group setting up that way. I could definitely tell that the circle was much more conducive to conversations among all members of the group. Why is it that me and my friends did not realize this before? Maybe the same reason why most clubhouses are rectangular.