Interview: Teaching Trauma-Informed Practices with Bethlehem Area School District

At Pear Deck, a source of inspiration is seeing what innovative classroom teachers and school leaders are sharing on social media. This tweet from Bethlehem Area SD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jack Silva caught our collective eyes a few months ago:

Dr. Silva and Supervisor of Professional Learning and Technology Integration Mark James agreed to sit down with Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel to discuss their efforts with building a learner- centered district environment and more.

Let’s start with some background. What led you both to choosing education as a career?

MJ “If I was to go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self I was a teacher, I wouldn’t have believed it. I received my Bachelor’s in Business from Miami University, and worked in the industrial railroad industry as an Account Executive before going to Culinary School. After a stint in food service I became Director of Catering for a school, and was asked to create a training program for undergraduate students.”

Creating the training program planted a seed, which grew into a Masters degree in Education with secondary certification in Math. As a passionate devotee of math and math instruction, James focused on changing, improving, and innovating his math instruction. After 17 years of classroom instruction, at the request of Dr. Silva, he applied for and was promoted to an administrative position focusing on staff development and instructional technology. Mark has been a Pear Deck user for so long that he was even in the original beta test group for Pear Deck back in 2014!

Dr. Silva — “Aside from working a drive-in movie theatre in my teen years, [education] is the only industry I’ve ever worked. I got a teaching job right out of college teaching Middle and High School Social Studies, and since then have tried everything from teacher to Department Chair, Principal, and Director of Secondary Educator. After 33 years in education, you start to lose track.”

With a “first and lasting interest” in educational programs, Dr. Silva jumped on a 2010 opportunity to come to his hometown of Bethlehem where he has been serving as Assistant Superintendent for Education and Chief Academic Officer.

Let’s discuss the tweet that led us to this conversation. Where were you that day?

Dr. S — “The tweet that I made happened after walking through a school who have been taking lead in Trauma-Informed work in the district. I saw that image on a few different doors and wasn’t sure what it was at first. Our first T/I implementation baseline was giving students a paper with pencil and having them mark [a self assessment] on the upper righthand corner with a scale to clue us in. The principal, faced with limitations of paper collection, advocated for a tool to allow for ease of access to the same information. Taking it just a few steps further with Pear Deck, the teachers are able to collect actionable data to allow for informed adjustments in the moment. This is a great example of independent application of formative assessment that shows independent thinking, which happens when they deeply understand a tool.”

Which leads us to your the implementation of Trauma-Informed Practices. How are you seeing the practices implemented, and what is the path forward?

Dr. S — “What we realize as we look ahead to our work with understanding trauma is there are different approaches that work with various school sites. We’ve got Pear Deck in schools with principals who saw the potential to take the Classroom Climate add-on to check in with their students. Some schools use a color system for self assessment of emotional readiness to learn that day. Another middle school is trying a different approach, and took the idea of mood check and decided what we wanted to know deeper insights. They use a two slide Student-Paced deck every morning for students to respond with how they’re feeling. The first is the four faces slide, and the second slide is a text response to ‘tell me more.’ The teachers drove that process, and we’re interested to see how it develops over time.”

MJ — “Understanding what type and how prevalent trauma is for our students. We want to create a clear path to becoming successful learners, and if you’ve got students walking into a classroom experiencing trauma, they can’t engage with their lessons.”

Have you met any resistance along your path of implementation of new practices or tools?

MJ — “Teaching is such a complex profession, and can unfortunately be lonely. Unless you have the good fortune of having a co-teacher, being the only adult in a room can be a lonely endeavor.

It can become isolating, and when you learn to live in that way, that is at the heart of resistance to change. This is not just in education, everyone is resistant to change in some way. When you start saying ‘everyone must or will’ — that’s when resistance comes in. We overcome that by leading by example, by checking in that we’ve provided adequate support, training, and time.”

Dr. S — “Principals are our secret sauce — they model and reinforce through supervision. We’ve come together in a universe where you walk the talk with the tools you’re using and competencies you’re developing.”

What does success look like for your work to come?

MJ — “Adjusting the trajectory of classroom conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing Pear Deck used in a way that becomes really high-level formative assessment in real time. I have a goal of having a mindshift for our teachers to have their students leading for more of a two way socialized learning environment.”

Dr. S — “In the short term, teachers applying and using tools in a unique way, to solve problems in school. Ultimately when our Principals see teachers happy with the tools at their disposal, and when teachers see students command technology to better their learning, then we’ve successfully connected all the dots.”

Our most sincere thanks to Dr. Silva and Mark James for taking time to share the incredible work they’re doing within their district!

This week’s blog post was written by Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel.

No Little Women

To celebrate International Women’s Day and the upcoming release of our annual donor magazine, The Marguerite, here’s a sneak peek of one of the articles readers can look forward to…

The Marguerite is St John’s annual benefactor magazine which reviews some of the donor-supported highlights of the previous academic year. In 2018 the UK celebrated many historic milestones worthy of our attention. In light of the recent Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, 100 years of suffrage and 35 years since undergraduate women were admitted to St John’s couldn’t have fallen at a more pertinent socio-political moment.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave (some) women the right to a parliamentary vote. Here, we check in with six bursary recipients who are using this freedom to examine women’s issues in different ways — not only to contribute to College life, but also take this perspective of change with them as they head into the wider global community and sow seeds for future generations, as their forebears did in kind.

Evvia Gonzalez (2016), Natural Sciences Biological

At the end of my first year at St John’s, I wanted to try a bit of rugby. Most of my male friends played with the College team and it looked pretty fun. John’s was part of a joint women’s college team at the time (feeding from Magdalene, Trinity and Jesus). Around five Jesus girls would show up to training and I struggled to convince anyone else from John’s to join me. I felt that it was important to improve women’s participation given how large a presence the Redboys have in College.

With huge support from the men’s captain, Sam Fitzsimmons (2015), I managed to recruit around 15 women from John’s to our weekly training. Over the next two terms, we went from a group of complete beginners to easily the biggest college team, with three members getting involved in the Varsity squad. We bonded over injuries and miserable playing conditions and developed a deep camaraderie. Sport and physical exercise are a huge boon to those who participate, not only providing mental relief from the stresses of such a rigorous academic environment, but often providing non-pharmacological treatment of chronic pain, a hugely undervalued route. All of this was done with support from College and our donors, who encouraged the team and supplied us with official kit and training equipment.

Sport is only one aspect of the gender divide. As a scientist, I hope to continue fighting for improved equality in science leadership and policy, keeping women in science all the way up to tenure. My time at Cambridge and funding from St John’s have already enabled me to meet inspirational scientific leaders such as Professor Elizabeth Blackburn at the Lindau Nobel Laureate, not to mention testing out numerous lab environments through summer placements supported by the College.

I will forever be grateful for the incredible environment that John’s has provided, where I can pursue a huge variety of interests both in and out of my degree, without having to worry about my financial circumstances.

Jennifer Thorpe (2014), Geography

Witnessing the cumulative achievements of 35 years of female undergraduates, my friends and I celebrated. Reflecting upon the great work made by women in Cambridge, I felt inspired to join St John’s Feminist Society.

The bursary funding I received enabled me to pursue my passion, providing the financial freedom to work for a think tank, where I led a project on gender inequality for leprosy patients in India. In tandem, I also worked in a Cambridge research group focusing on refugee resettlement in the UK.

Travel funding meant that I was also able to visit a refugee camp in Greece, where I managed a mother and children’s centre for trauma victims. From this experience, I secured an intern position at the World Health Organization working on injury prevention in low-income countries.

Upon completion of my Master’s in Global Health, I hope to utilise my passion for women’s health to improve child and maternal health for vulnerable populations in the UK. The bursary support has been integral to facilitating my prior achievements and will have a long-lasting impact in developing my future career within the field of female self-determination.

Anna Balint (2017), Philosophy

My inaugural year at John’s was a tug-of-war between my drive to get lost in academic engagements and my body’s inability to keep up with the tempo dictated by Cambridge. The plan had been to have surgery to address my endometriosis the summer before starting university. However, my appointment was cancelled by the NHS and I was placed back on the waiting list. I was battling chronic pelvic pain and nausea on bad days and extreme fatigue and emotional swings on ‘good’ ones. It meant missing lectures, countless extensions and, as a result, questioning my own academic ability. I went from my professors confidently advising me I would glide into a First to hoping for a 2:2 thanks to the amount of time I was missing. Naturally, this took a toll on my mental health.

I was extremely lucky that my John’s Director of Studies and Tutor were extraordinarily understanding from the start, which had not always been my experience. GPs themselves were dismissive for years before somebody took me seriously. The average woman waits eight years to be diagnosed with endometriosis and there is no cure, even though one in ten women live with the condition worldwide.

Becoming part of a community at university is so important and the people I met helped me feel more connected when I was going through flare-ups. The way John’s handled the situation made me feel supported and vindicated in my choice to come here.

In contrast to the serious health issues in my private life, I tried to use comedy as an outlet when I could. The female comedians of our University in the ‘Stockings’ comedy group made the scene feel accessible for someone like me with no drama experience. When the opportunity came up to audition for a Fringe show about challenging stereotypes in media and showcasing female talent in comedy, I couldn’t resist!

It’s impossible to exaggerate the difference the Bambrough Bursary made. I was able to see a therapist, whom I would never have had access to otherwise, given the extreme NHS waiting lists, and I’ve regained an appetite for life. I am now able to focus on what matters to me: my studies. At one point during the year I was forced to spend a significant amount of money (at least to someone like me) at the pharmacy. If I hadn’t had a bursary to lean on, my budget would have meant that I couldn’t have paid for food that week. The Bambrough Bursary money managed to close that gap and meant I didn’t need to worry about my finances on top of everything else.

I have been empowered by other women with my condition who are achieving highly in the world, such as Hillary Clinton. I aspire to become one of these women, helping to legislate for change and to push for cures and adequate support. I have great confidence that everything I’m gaining by being at John’s and Cambridge will go a long way in enabling me to do just that, and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity.

Stephanie Tye (2015), Natural Sciences Biological

During my final year at St John’s studying Natural Sciences, I undertook a research project investigating human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, the second most common cancer for women and, in the majority of cases, completely preventable. In the UK the HPV vaccine is currently available to girls aged 12–18. However, when this was introduced in 2008, the vaccine was only provided to girls in year 8. Those over the age of 13 were missed and remain vulnerable today.

Screening programmes allow for early detection and treatment, yet 90% of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries, with mortality highest in regions where women’s health and rights are 
least prioritised and there is little access. to healthcare. My research investigated how HPV is able to maintain a long-term infection, which is vital as its incurability is a key component to the disease’s progression.

Alongside my studies I took up Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art focused on self-defence. This was an empowering experience and one that has become even more relevant with the increasing awareness of sexual assault and harassment driven by movements such as #MeToo.

The support from donors has given me the freedom to dedicate more time to my research and let off steam physically out of hours. I have become more confident in the lab and feel encouraged to continue in scientific research. I am now undertaking a Master’s degree investigating BRCA1, a gene frequently mutated in hereditary breast cancer. I feel honoured to be able to make a contribution towards understanding cervical and breast cancer, and to make a positive impact on the health of women worldwide.

Tiffany Charnley (2015), English

In my final-year dissertation I chose to address the concept of sexual consent in Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ and the disparity in the perceived culpability of different genders.

I was surprised to discover that the majority of modern critics lauded women for acts of sexual aggression, interpreting them as bold feminist statements against a patriarchal society, while condemning their male counterparts for similar crimes.

Through my research, I established that this imbalance was likely due to the early modern reverence of chastity, disregard for personal consent and the belief that women were ultimately powerless in all gender conflicts. I posited that by contrarily using women as the main sexual aggressors in these plays, Shakespeare was able to nullify concerns of purity from sexual assault, and thereby focus on and emphasise the necessity of mutual sexual consent.

Going forward, I hope that critics will address the culpability of all genders in sexual assault and treat men and women equally in all areas of literary analysis. When sexual assault is used as a means of 
glorifying the power of women, this diminishes feminist literary criticism to a war on the male, rather than a desire for equality.

My time at St John’s has helped me to engage with women’s issues at a deeper level, affording me the opportunity to commit a large amount of time to forming and articulating ideas about the perception of women in literature.

The huge amount of support that John’s gave me, paired with the kind contributions of my donors, allowed me the freedom to pursue interests I was truly fascinated by without financial burden. For this, I will always be grateful.

Danielle Bradford (2016), Human, Social and Political Sciences

I first began to grasp the extent of harassment and misconduct in fieldwork settings, simply from day-to-day conversations with those involved in fieldwork-based research.

This was before the #MeToo movement really took off in late 2017 and, once it did, 
stories from fieldwork-based researchers appeared en masse on social media.

I carried out a pilot study in my dissertation the summer preceding this and found that 23% of respondents from the University’s Archaeology and Anthropology departments had experienced sexualised incidences, and 11% had been assaulted in the field. There wasn’t adequate support available, so we started to create it ourselves and set up a support group for students taking part in fieldwork, funded by CUSU and the Graduate Union.

Fieldwork can present huge dangers to many researchers, and we are losing talented academics because of this. While there has been a focus on Access for women and minority groups in academia, there’s been little on retention of these groups, which are being threatened by misconduct. A huge number of harassed individuals ended up changing research locations, field sites, institutions or even the discipline altogether. Outreach initiatives mean nothing if women and minority groups are entering an unsafe and hostile environment.

Carrying out my research also opens up a conversation. It is integral that this is spoken about if we want people to feel comfortable reporting cases. By giving academic space to this type of research, we can form evidence-based training and safety guidelines. Much current instruction is based on presumptions because those creating the programmes have often not experienced the very things they are aiming to protect us from, and because it has been such a taboo topic for so long.

St John’s has been extremely supportive throughout my research. Without financial aid I would never have been able to carry out the summer pilot study, or present at the Association of Social Anthropologists Conference in Oxford.

After graduation I hope to continue my work on gendered and sexual violence. When something that you passionately believe in overlaps with something you feel the world really needs right now (and we’ve seen that it does with #MeToo) you can’t ignore it.

To see more articles from The Marguerite when it’s released, or take a look back at previous issues, you can find them online here. Should you have any questions about the upcoming issue, please email

Service to School Servant Leadership Series: Tad Hickman

The Service to School Servant Leadership Series highlights the contributions, selfless service, ideas, and personalities behind the Service to School team.

What is your Service to School position and describe what you do in your position?

Tad looking dapper at Dress Blues.

Chief Technology Officer(CTO): Advise the organization on technology solutions to further Service To School’s goals.

What is your favorite book and why?

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The theme of challenging the assumptions of the majority has always resonated with me. Not always conforming to the status quo is a trait that I feel is necessary to have lifelong impact.

What is your favorite movie and why?

Fight Club: I can’t talk about it… But seriously, the movie bombed the box office when it was created, but is often considered highly relevant in today’s globalized culture. The idea of a small group of impassioned people influencing a global phenomenon is powerful.

Tad might become an international vagabond

What do you want to do 2–4 years from now? Long range?

Option A: International Vegabond. Option B: Continue to pursue my passion of connecting people via my role at Facebook. Long term, I intend to start a company of my own.

What are you working on at Service to School?

Mostly the website and a few small automations for repetitive work as operations teams identify opportunities. I would love to implement a more robust CRM/automation solution for end to end support of Service to School programs.

What school transition advice do you have for veterans?

Find a company that fits your passions and work style rather than a company based on perceived competitiveness/prestige. You will likely be happier in the long run if you understand your personal motivations for pursuing a particular role/company.

What general advice do you have for veterans?

Tad Hickman, Service to School CTO &Facebook Group Manager

Build on your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses. Attempt to navigate toward environments that align to your strengths because you will always be more effective when you align to strengths. However, don’t mistake a “focus on strengths” for a reason to ignore competencies core to long term success.

Worst advice you ever received?

Some element of “Don’t rock the boat.” Don’t try to invent a new way of doing things, go the old traditional route, etc. That mindset may be an solid technique in some organizations, but I have found it to be a highly ineffective way of approaching life in general.

What is your most memorable military experience?

Meeting with the locals and bonding in Iraq.

Parting thoughts?

Relax, enjoy yourself, try something new.

Preparing kids to change the world

Tabernacle students participated in the district-wide ‘Peace Signs Project’ on Feb. 28.

“Be kinder than is necessary.”

Third-grade teachers Stacie Delaney and Michael Dunlea used this quote from the book titled “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio to motivate their students for a lifetime of compassion.

Delaney and Dunlea implement various kindness initiatives into their classroom — most recently introducing a district-wide “Peace Signs Project.” This project was inspired by Melissa Collins and her second-grade students in Memphis, Tenn., after partnering with the National Civil Rights Museum to organize the first-ever student silent demonstration march to take place on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday.

Collins connected with the Tabernacle School District through an online platform called Empatico that joins classrooms around the country and the world through video conferences.

Delaney and Dunlea taught their class about the civil rights movement and how they too are capable of changing the world in a peaceful way. They said middle school students discussed peace in connection to First Amendment rights and activists such as Gandhi, Malala and others who have brought about positive change.

As a part of this project, students throughout the district made signs about world peace, with expressions such as “kindness counts,” “we can change the world” and “I have a dream for peace and kindness.”

On Feb. 28, Tabernacle Elementary School marched across New Road to Olson Middle School to join as a district to partake in a peace walk throughout the school.

“We’re one district and we’re a small district, yet we’re still separated and it was just about bringing the people together,” Dunlea said. “One of the big things we’ve been embracing over the past four or five years is really tapping into student voices and allowing them to represent themselves and find themselves. When they were able to choose what their sign said it was a way of their voice being able to be demonstrated.”

Similarly, Delaney felt that closing the gap of separation caused by New Road allowed for a chance of unity for a good cause.

“Going across the street and just being together and letting them all be a part of the same thing — it wasn’t a separation of schools, it let them be all joined together and stand for peace and kindness, it was really great,” Delaney said.

They both feel that being able to express their voices in a positive way empowers students and is something they will take with them throughout their lives.

“We often talk about how they’re going to grow up and change the world but we really think they can change the world starting right now,” Dunlea said.

Delaney and Dunlea demonstrate the value of kindness in their classroom on a regular basis, whether it be through learning about the civil rights movement, learning about the United Nations sustainable development goals or connecting with other classrooms globally to embrace different cultures, accents, religions, skin tones and more.

They feel that by modeling the importance of kindness, they are teaching the students that it is something to be highly valued.

“There’s a misconception that school prepares kids for future work which would be five days a week, but this kind of lesson prepares kids for seven days a week. We’re really empowering them with what they’re going to need in order to be successful in life,” Dunlea said. “These skills make all the difference in the world. You can know so much, but if you don’t interact with others with kindness, you’re not going to ever become successful.”

Delaney followed by saying, “By teaching them how to be empathetic, allowing them to show empathy and kindness and teaching them social emotional skills in the classroom, I hope they make the world a better place. I hope they make it a kinder, more gentle place.”

Connection with your French Environment

When I created my first French association, I finally felt like I connected to the people that I had been living with for the last fifteen years.

Picture by Candyfair —

You could spend years living and working in France and never really understand where you are. Sure, you will know what’s happening in your particular French workplace; you’ll talk with your French colleagues about the rugby; your knowledge of the French administration and idiosyncrasies is probably going to be as good as most of the people born here; you will also no doubt have some French friends that you might have round regularly for drinks (l’apéro) or even dinner. You might even find yourself on the PTA of the local school. Does this mean that you really know the place well? I’d say probably not.

In the past, I think I had rather arrogantly expressed an opinion on most things in this country from the politics to the behaviour in the belief that I had the place sussed– however, deep down, I felt that I was missing something fundamental. I didn’t really understand what was going on in the community where I lived.

That changed one day when I saw a TED talk about starting coding clubs for kids. I decided that as I worked in the IT industry, this was clearly my calling. Fired by an inexplicable enthusiasm, I started asking around to find out who could help me: I needed volunteers to help teach for free, some willing victims to learn, a place to do it, some computers and probably some money.

This seemed like a daunting prospect. To begin with I reached out to some of the local service clubs — often French towns have a Rotary Club or a Lions Club which seeks to give assistance and often money to worthy local causes. Before I knew it, I had organised weekly meetings with people from these organisations who helped me find contacts in schools, local officials and crucially people who knew IT professionals who lived locally. I found myself addressing a local youth group, (whose existence I would have never have even be aware of), who gave me more contacts and even offered to volunteer.

I also discovered an international organisation based in Ireland, known as Coder Dojo which aims to create a global network of these clubs. They offered advice over the phone, help with advertising and also put me in contact with other French people who were trying to do the same thing as me.

I had decided that I wanted to start by creating a club in a nearby town which had more challenges than the town I lived in which was relatively affluent. I got to understand the challenges of the state schools and develop a respect for the head teachers who were happy to talk to me. I got used to giving my presentation and developing my spiel. Within a couple of months, I decided to run a pilot workshop. It was agreed to do it in a local school on a Saturday morning at the end of the Summer. I had no idea how many children would turn up and it was utterly terrifying. In the end, I had twenty kids who attended and it lasted two hours. Everyone enjoyed themselves and I had a real sense that I had actually achieved something.

From there, things went quickly. After the Summer break, I ran another workshop. I had gathered a small group of volunteers to help me and by the end of the year, we had officially created a French non-profit organisation. After that we published a calendar of dates and started distributing those to the local schools. We also received our first significant donation which covered some upfront expenses and we launched a website and Facebook page to hold information of all of our events.

The first of our regular workshops took place in a school holiday and only one child turned up. However, the subsequent workshops had ten, fifteen, twenty and soon thirty children.

A year later, we decided to set-up a second club and we also decided to tackle the problem of only really attracting boys. I persuaded a female engineer I had met in Paris to come up for the weekend and give an all-girls computer workshop. This in itself became a regular event.

In parallel, we managed to send kids off to international coding competitions organised by the Coder Dojo Foundation; to participate the kids must create a project beforehand (build an app, a game or some robotics) and present it on the day in front of judges. Getting them out of France changes the dynamic as it pushes them out of their town and into an international environment with kids from other countries where, all of a sudden, they have to describe their project in English. Working with the event’s organisers allowed us to apply for travel grants to help pay for the transport, another area where I really felt that I could add value.

The club is now is in its fourth year and we have helped many children learn to code, see that they are capable of doing it as a career, having a good time and getting them to travel outside of the country and out of their comfort zone.

But it is not just the kids who have got out of their comfort zone.

I have been extraordinarily lucky to meet many dedicated and interesting people who have helped and pushed me reach this goal. Along the way, I have been surprised to find people who have shared my ideas and have given their time to help me. From a local youth group who helped me find volunteers, to teachers who tried to encourage students to attend, through to active professionals and retired people who gave their time to help run the workshops. All of them wanted to do what they could to help their local community and give direction to their young people.

In that respect, I feel that I have gained a much deeper understanding of the people around me and I can see that people are often far more generous than we give them credit for. Finally, I think that I have been able to contribute to French society beyond just paying my taxes — hopefully making me a little bit more French.

For learning or money?

It happened. I was hoping it would never come to this, but it did. It seemed innocent enough. Our student council cabinet was starting class and doing their usual round of “Today was a good day because…” It was the last student, a great kid, someone I would never expect this from. But she said it.

“Today was a good day because I found out that if I pass my AP test, I get paid a hundred dollars.”


Please do not send our school district on a path that emphasizes tests over learning, that uses carrots and sticks, that teaches test-taking skills over life skills. Please, don’t do it!

But it’s not her fault. I see the reasons why students take AP classes, but most of them are because they want to look better for college and not because they love learning. And that’s what scares me.

It’s not even our district’s fault. North Dakota has a huge amount of money to give away thanks to ExxonMobil’s $13 million donation because, as stated in the linked article, “The success of North Dakota’s industries depends on the quality, ingenuity and diversity of its workforce.” But what type of workers will we get through creating more great test takers?

At the North Dakota Governor’s Summit for Innovative Education this past June, we heard three speakers who encouraged the possibilities of what education in North Dakota could look like. The first presenter, Ted Dintersmith, implored us to see North Dakota as the next Finland, a magical place where creativity, collaboration, and just being a child are celebrated.

Because of it’s size, North Dakota could be in a position to build skills rather than take tests, to learn rather than be assessed.

The final speaker of the day, however, was from AP. He talked about getting more kids to take AP, having money from ExxonMobil available to pay them, and finally imagined North Dakota as the next… wait for it… Alabama.


I’ll be honest, I know nothing about the education system in Alabama. But after hearing this session, it sounds like there is a lot of AP and teaching to a test.

This says nothing about the downfalls of AP, and how Dartmouth, for example, is no longer giving credit to students for their AP scores because they find that the students are not prepared for the next course. And a majority of other top colleges are restricting AP credit as well. We know how tests work: study, take the test, forget most of the information.

At it’s best an AP class is a challenging dive deep into a curriculum and our most rigorous curriculum. At it’s worst our advanced classes are teaching strategies to “game the test in a way that gets kids to pass it” as one student told me.

Let’s pause here to add the fact that now our AP teachers are going to be paid for each student who passes the AP test as well. Incentivizing the test score rather than the learning or performance in the class can only lead to overlooking the potential of the AP curriculum for a majority of our teachers in favor of focusing on a test. Teachers are hired because they are professionals who will do what is best for kids. This monetary reward is saying that if teachers just had a little more motivation, they would work a little harder for their students. Maybe this is true in some unfortunate cases, but what happens when this money disappears in a few years?

The student from above went on to say that “many AP classes are completely focused on passing the test. Even the textbook, is made specifically on how you can pass the AP test. It’s not even about the history or whatever the class is. It’s really frustrating that that’s what they’re deciding to focus on and not on student learning.”

And we don’t think this is going to just get worse now that we’re paying teachers and students to pass?

Out of curiosity I searched for Alabama’s education rankings. According to US News and World Report’s best state rankings, Alabama is 47th. The good news is that they are number one in the growth for AP scores. So I guess it depends on what your goal is.

But this is not a place to come and bash Alabama. Saving $47 million in college tuition is a big deal. This is the system we are working in. We have to make choices in what we value. Getting kids to challenge themselves is not a bad thing; however, handing out monetary rewards for high test scores can’t be the best we can come up with for student motivation.

If the point of school is to be good at school, then we’re missing the point entirely. If good test takers and compliant students are what we want, imagine what we are going to get.

Here are two students’ comments overheard this school year:

Student A: My parents and I were just talking about how I need to start getting ready for the AP test.

Student B: I was just talking to my mom, and we’re so excited about making this Culture Fair happen.

Student B is a student in my innovations class, a project-driven class where students find and solve problems. She and her group proposed and carried a culture fair for over 1,000 students featuring food, dancing, henna tattoos, Green Card Voices banners featuring local stories of New Americans, and more. Her group worked with members of the community to receive donations, sell t-shirts, and promote the event, and it all came together for an incredibly successful day. She found the problem of a cultural divide in our school, she proposed a solution, and she carried it out.

The skills these students built during this experience go far beyond correct answers. They marketed to an audience, fundraised, connected with community members and businesses, designed and created t-shirts, planned and replanned, spoke to audiences, met with administrators, managed a budget, talked to the press, and everything else that goes into an event like this. Those are great skills, but just imagine the lessons she learned about herself along the way.

There are all kinds of students who go the be-good-at-school route. Do well on tests, be complaint, don’t take any risks. But there is another way. Do something amazing. Be who you are and be awesome at it. Find a passion and live it. Now. And if you think you have one, and it doesn’t work out, at least you found out in high school!

If we continue down the path of focusing on tests and not skills, we will never change the culture that emphasizes knowledge over skills.

Imagine hearing a student say, “Today is a great day because I am living my passion.” A hundred bucks sounds great now, but the experiences and possibilities that are out there are worth much more than that.

Benefits of American Schooling!

Education is the basic right of every student. So, every parent has to take good care of the education of their child. Talking about the different schooling systems around the world, the American schooling is one of the best systems. People residing in and outside the US mostly prefer it anyhow because it is simply the best institution which could play a vital role in the early age development of their children.

American Schools in UAE:

These institutes are not only limited to the USA. Their branches are spread globally. In almost every country you would be able to find their branch. Even in the UAE, you would find a lot of its branches. There are also a lot of American primary schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and in all the other cities of UAE.

What are the Benefits?

There are lots of worthwhile benefits which your child could achieve by getting educated from these institutions. Let’s discuss some of those benefits.

The World Wide Recognition:

No one around the world would be unaware of the American Schooling System. It is highly popular and one of the institutions. Their education system and certificate is well recognized all around the world.

Training and Research:

They don’t only teach your children, but they also work on developing their training and research skills at the same time. This basically can help them a great deal in the future when they would get into higher education for professional studies to make their careers.

Technology Oriented:

All that is taught to your child from the very initial level is technology oriented. That basically helps your child learn even better. The reason is that tech oriented methods are always very effective and could make the learning process easy for the students.

Global Focus:

Their focus is on the whole world. So their complete education system is made by focusing on the global aspects. That’s why, the children who have come from such schooling system have a broader and better vision. Hence, it’s recommended to admit your children in American primary schools in Dubai, if you are residing in the Gulf.

What inequities do women face in the workplace?

Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor.

Lower pay. Being treated as less than competent. Small slights in office conversations.

On top of obvious forms of harassment, these are the inequities women face in the workplace, according to a new analysis released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

In a survey of 4,702 adults employed at least part-time, 42 percent of working women said they have faced one of eight types of discrimination on the job because of their gender. The biggest gap had to do with money:

  • Twenty-five percent of women said they’ve earned less than a man doing the same job, while just 5 percent of men said they’ve experienced that.
  • Twenty-three percent of women said they were treated as if they were not competent, compared with just 6 percent of men.

The survey was conducted this summer, before the Harvey Weinstein news broke and the #MeToo movement catapulted into the public conversation.

“What’s important about these findings is that while there’s been a lot of talk about sexual harassment at work, that is tied to a broader conversation Americans are having about equity in the workplace,” said Cary Funk, one of the report’s co-authors and the director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center. “And they remind us that discrimination at work can encompass a wide array of behaviors.”

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Level of education

One of the most notable findings in Pew’s report was that the biggest demographic differences among women in the discrimination they faced had to do with their level of education.

Women with postgraduate degrees were more likely to report having experienced gender discrimination at work. They were also far more likely than their peers with less education to say:

  • They earned less than a man.
  • They were treated as incompetent.
  • They got less support from senior leaders than a man.

Twenty-nine percent of women with postgraduate degrees said they experienced repeated, small slights at work, compared with just 12 percent of women with some college or less.

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One reason women with higher levels of education may face more discrimination could be that they often work in industries or at levels in an organization that have traditionally been male-dominated, such as law, medicine or in the executive ranks of companies, said Brande Stellings, who leads advisory services for Catalyst, a research and consulting organization focused on women in leadership.

Stellings, who had not seen Pew’s research, said that in general, “a woman leader is still often seen as an exception. When you have that kind of power imbalance and if you’re also challenging the norms and traditions, that can be more threatening and more of a lightning rod.”

There is also more competition for such jobs, which could lead women to be seen as more of a threat to their male peers, leading to more discrimination.

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Sexual harassment

In a separate question, Pew’s survey asked women how often they had been the target of sexual harassment at work. Three times as many women as men (22 percent vs. 7 percent) said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. That number is less than the ones reported in some other recent surveys, which may be the result of timing — the Pew survey was fielded in the summer, before the recent deluge of allegations — or the wording of the question.

An ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted in mid-October, for instance, found that 54 percent of women said they were the recipient of unwanted sexual advances, but just 30 percent said this had happened to them at work, closer to Pew’s figure. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist pollconducted in mid-November, meanwhile, found that 35 percent of women said they had experienced sexual harassment or abuse at work.

The Publicly Traded Person.

The way companies have stock which is traded on secondary markets post their Initial Public Offering, we discuss the framework for a publicly traded individual, followed by what implications such a system will have.

Why should I care to think about this?


  • It is an efficient way for individuals to raise capital for activities which will add value to them.
  • It helps mentors and mentees align incentives to achieve better outcomes.
  • Aligns incentives for investors to scout for individuals with potential and groom them.
  • Put information or hunches on individuals or opportunities to a good use.

For an Initial Public Offering, the Publicly Traded Person (PTP) issues a fixed amount of stock against themselves, which can be traded in a secondary market. This sets up an interesting prediction market around a person.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How does it differ from traditionally holding stock in a company?

  • Ownership of stock does not imply ownership of assets held by the PTP.
  • The PTP is not obliged to issue dividends against the stock.
  • No linkage / engagement with income share agreements in an explicit fashion.

What are the powers vested with the shareholder?

  • Shareholders get to contribute and vote on questions raised by the PTP.
  • The funds raised are locked away, and require a consensus from shareholders to be utilized.
  • The consensus is achieved based on majority rule / first-past-the-post.
  • The PTP has non-voting shares.
  • The PTP is not legally bound to follow the consensus.
  • The PTP can’t issue more stock, without a consensus from the shareholders.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So how does one uh, get returns on investing in people?

‘Value’ is a very abstract notion, which is generally tethered to wealth but it needn’t be so (wouldn’t you take a bet on Gandhi or Einstein?) — all of us have an intuition around what makes a person more valuable. Different people have different access to information. When it comes to assets such as shares, trades happen when people think they know something that the other party doesn’t — be it a guess, insider information or the ability to influence events in the present or the future.

Simply put, when you buy a share you are placing a bet that the price of the share will appreciate over time due to your actions or those of the PTP. Upon selling those shares, you will get back more than what you put in. You are rewarded for knowing something that others don’t or / and being helpful.

How do the incentive structures align?

  • Shareholders are compelled to invest their time & social capital in the PTP to help them drive up their value.
  • Individuals are motivated to scout for undervalued talent and get them listed.
  • PTPs have skin in the game : they would respect the views of the shareholders.
  • The stock price will act as a trailing indicator of the individual’s integrity, trustworthiness & ability to execute on advice.
  • A public metric would help bring clarity for outsiders seeking to engage with the PTP. This is a very precious signal.

An inbuilt feature of the model is that only the investors who wish to be actively involved with the PTP in terms of dedicating their time & opening up their networks would be incentivised to pick up a serious chunk of shares. Passive involvement wouldn’t be conducive to a rapid growth in value. Investors who fall in this category are better off with either holding minor shares and piggybacking to the lead investor or selling them off to an investor who wishes to be more hands-on.

Interesting Plays

  • Individuals can hand out issued stock in exchange for favours from other individuals.
  • Individuals can exchange stock in each other.
  • Individuals can form a syndicates : contributing their stocks to a common pot to pool risks.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


  • Can a person buyback their shares? Would it be relevant?
  • What happens when there’s a pump & dump at play? Can a person pump & dump themselves? How will it affect the person’s psychology?
  • Can an attempt to short be engineered, by causing harm to the PTP?

A common concern raised is that of how this can down the road of slavery. The fact that shares are not explicitly tokenising the PTP’s wealth, income or time it difficult to exploit the PTP.

Why Secondary Schools Need Career Teachers

I recently caught up with one of my secondary school teachers at an event. In between our conversation she said “the school hasn’t changed since you left”. I was shocked! Hasn’t changed?! Then I assumed she meant the standard hasn’t changed till we got deeper into the talk.

Its sad that more than 10 years later a secondary school remains the same — by any yardstick whatsoever. What ever happened to improvement, development, innovation, etc and all those big words we throw around as intelligent people?

How do we expect to produce great products using obsolete techniques? Instead of lamenting & deviating further, let me quickly tell you why we need career teachers now more than ever.

10 years ago, we had school counselors who would advise you on personal and school related issues. In retrospect, I wonder how they were able to give accurate advise when they almost never encounter you as a student, know nothing about your personality, likes & dislikes, etc. Frankly, their judgment was a guess work at best and flat out insignificant at worst. Good thing we rarely visited them for any career advice back then.

But for improvement, we need more than guess work. It’s no longer good enough. We need career teachers.

Career teachers are teachers who are trained to spot patterns in students and use that to guide them towards making smart career choices.

These teachers are researchers, psychologists, sociologists, etc. They follow trends, understand today and tomorrow in education. While subject teachers teach students, career teachers shape students.

I envision a class where students spend at least one hour a week with a teacher and just talk about everything & anything — that’s a career teacher.

A class where student A says she wants to be a musician and the teacher can show her & the class (via the internet) some musicians who left a footprint on earth such as Beethoven, Prince, Michael Jackson, Fela, etc — that’s a career teacher.

A teacher who spots a “talkative” student and tries to mold that student by grooming him, sharing learnings from Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Champion, etc — that’s a career teacher

A teacher whose student can tell him he wants to become an astronaut and the teacher won’t laugh him away, but instead fuel that goal — that’s a career teacher.

One who doesn’t judge student’s future by current grades and scores — a career teacher.

Students need guidance now more than ever (guidance not orders) to compete in the future.

But for this to happen, we need Career Teachers.