Update on readership

In an effort to set a model for transparency, we are posting some of our readership statistics.

Below are daily statistics from April 18 through 13:00 pm May 17 (Kuwait time). The current date is highlighted in orange. The taller, light blue bars indicate total page views while the darker shorter blue bars indicate individual viewers.screen-shot-2018-05-17-at-17-58-00.png

Since the blog opened we have had:

  • 10,035 page views
  • 1,453 different devices view. Keep in mind that one person may have multiple devices – work computer, phone, home computer.

You’ll notice that after the new-ness of the site wore off, readership dropped. This was followed by a spike in traffic on May 8 – this was the day after the spontaneous firing of a grade 3 teacher. We also received our first page comment on this date. Below is a graph of comments:

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 18.01.46.png

Comments have been slowly gaining steam. We know some people are afraid to comment because of the possibility of exposing their identity, so we want to be clear about what information we can and cannot see about your comments. We can see your IP address, which allows us to know what country you are in. Most of our readers are in Kuwait, so this is generally not meaningful information. We do use this ability to see comments from the same submitter, and have noted this when some users try to spam or troll with multiple comments. The only way we could identify your more specifically than this is if you leave a comment while logged into a WordPress account that is assigned to your real name (so maybe don’t do that unless you want people to know who you are).

We hope that more of you will begin to leave constructive comments and survey responses – we read and reflect on all of the feedback you leave – whether it is about ASK or about our website.


 

This post addresses the following parts of our mission statement and beliefs:

  • A partnership among families, teachers, and students is essential for successful learning.
  • Institutional transparency promotes positive engagement and fosters trust between the school and its stakeholders.

 

Teacher Turnover

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We are currently counting the number of teachers at the American School of Kuwait that are not returning next year. While we have focused mainly on teachers that were fired or non-renewed by the school, there are also a large number of teachers that are choosing not to return next year, with some teachers making that decision very recently. We hope to, by June, report the retention rate for the whole school, as well as individual retention rates for each level.

The article below was taken from this website.

“Susan just quit.”

The news is delivered to me swiftly and immediately a hot ball of stress forms in my stomach. This is going to be a pain to deal with. We have to replace her and we can’t just replace her with anyone, we have to replace her with someone who meets our expectations for education and professional experience and who meets all of the state’s requirements as well.

I’m going to have to carve out time to conduct interviews, background checks, and a new employee orientation. The children in the classroom will be emotionally disrupted by the teacher turnover and an extra burden of stress will be placed on the existing staff in the classroom. There will likely be a parent or two upset with the transition and they will need some meetings, phone calls, or emails to help keep them calm.

There’s no two ways about it: teacher turnover is time consuming, expensive, and stressful.

Yet it persists as one of the biggest problems for the schools I work with, especially those schools who specialize in early childhood. Turnover is rampant at the early childhood level and it is a persistent issue for many schools, both public and private, at all levels.


I have spent enough time working with leaders from many different schools to see some patterns in employee turnover. This Money Magazine article discusses the results of a LinkedIn survey of 10,000 employees on why they quit highlights much of what I share in this post.

Here are the top reasons I see that employees turnover and what you can do about it.

They Don’t Trust School Leadership

This is probably the biggest reason I see people leave their positions at schools. It is really hard to show up every day and work for someone you see as dishonest, unprofessional, lazy, or selfish. These four words were chosen carefully as they are the words teachers most frequently use to describe their nightmare boss (teachers love telling me about their terrible bosses for some reason).

If you are seeing a lot of turnover in your school, the first thing you need to do is look at yourself and your behaviors and practices as a leader. What are you doing that might be causing your teachers to perceive you as dishonest, unprofessional, lazy, or selfish.

Your staff may see you as dishonest if:

  • You announce decisions without providing context or building consensus.
  • You have friendships with certain teachers but not others.
  • You advise them to use white lies as a communication strategy with parents or colleagues.
  • You have a tendency to share some of the truth but leave out uncomfortable parts.
  • They hear you saying things that aren’t true.
  • You hide behind email instead of having direct conversations.

Your staff may see you as unprofessional if:

  • You go out drinking with them regularly or worse, go out drinking with a select few of them regularly.
  • You gossip or share confidential information with people who don’t need to know it.
  • You don’t follow school policies and protocols to the letter with consistency.
  • You allow problems to slowly build until you or the issue explodes.
  • You raise your voice or shame people.
  • You dress in a way that does not align with expectations for a school leader.

Your staff may see you as lazy if:

  • You don’t expect and require everyone to work toward the school’s mission while also complying with all state, federal, and organizational expectations.
  • You don’t regularly observe them throughout the school year.
  • You don’t regularly meet with them and offer them personalized support and guidance.
  • You come in late, take long lunches, leave early often, and/or take frequent vacations.
  • You start projects or implement policies but don’t follow through on them.
  • You don’t lend an extra hand during challenging situations.
  • You don’t help out the classrooms regularly.

Your staff may see you as selfish if:

  • You don’t frequently offer your gratitude to people for the work they do.
  • You don’t publicly acknowledge staff for their years of service or celebrate their major life milestones like birthdays, marriage, children, and graduations.
  • You do most of the talking in staff meetings.
  • You throw them under the bus in front of parents or one another.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying you are any of these things. I’m just showing you that maybe this is a starting point for evaluating your leadership behaviors to see if you might make some changes that help the staff to see your dedication to the school and build more trust in you.


They Don’t See Hope for a Future at the School

People don’t become teachers because they want to rule the world. They become teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of children while building a secure and rewarding career for themselves. They want hope for the future.

Often, when a teacher first enters the profession they are shocked by how grueling the work can be even though they have tiny magic moments with the children throughout the day. I know I don’t have to tell you this, but teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are an infant teacher or a high school teacher, it’s SUPER tough!

Teachers can work through all of these challenges, as long as they see a hope for a future at the school. Here are some ideas for how savvy school leaders build a culture of hope and investment amongst the teachers.

  • Pay a living wage to every staff member. Let me be blunt: $10 per hour isn’t a living wage anywhere in the US. Where I live, $12 doesn’t even cut it anymore. If you pay people poverty wages, there will be turnover because they will always be willing to jump ship for more security elsewhere. If it is all you can afford to pay, get used to the turnover.
  • Offer a cohort of helpful benefits. I know, paying a living wage makes the expense of benefits even harder to imagine. I bet, though, that offering some benefits is likely less expensive than the cost of turnover in your school each year. A subsidy to help them buy health insurance bears a cost but offers a lot of support. You can also offer some benefits, such as retirement or supplemental insurance, without a cost to you. They can just be available to your teachers if they choose to partake.
  • Give them time off. Public schools have time off built into their schedules. Private schools have more flexibility in how their annual calendar is built and, unfortunately, that often becomes an opening to keep the school open 362 days per year. If you don’t give teachers paid vacation on top of taking off winter break, spring break, and federal holidays you will have persistent turnover because people will burn out. If you want your teachers to be their very best you have to give them time off and space away from the classroom.
  • Create leadership opportunities for them. Every person at your school has the ability to contribute to the greater vision and culture. Start looking for ways to bring your teachers into the fold and build them up as leaders in your school community. Celebrate the ways they make your school a better place. Give them hope for the future.
  • Facilitate strong peer relationships. People like going to work every day when they consider their fellow colleagues to also be friends. Actively work to promote partnership and camaraderie amongst your staff. It isn’t your role to be BFFs with your teachers, but helping them form strong bonds with one another is good practice. Everyone wins when folks have genuine love for one another.

Survey #2 – Responses

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The poll’s official closing date is past, but we will leave it open for a few more days and continue to add responses. As of the official close of the poll, here is the data that we collected:

  • 13 responses
  • 7 responses from individuals currently affiliated with the school
  • 6 responses from individuals affiliated with the school in the past
  • 3 responses from parents
    • 2 are currently affiliated with ASK
    • 1 was previously affiliated with ASK
  • 10 responses from teachers
    • 5 are currently affiliated with ASK
    • 5 were previously affiliated with ASK

You can read their comments below. We are working on a new survey for next week and will post it as soon as it is ready.

Tell us a few things that you most like about ASK.

  • American curriculum
  • Overall behavior of the student body -Ability of teachers to move forward in their careers
  • Personally, I like most of my students. The expat kids are amazing and are a wonderful influence on my Kuwaiti students.
  • The community of teachers. Some students are lovely.
  • Some teachers are nice and care about students.
  • The best thing about Kuwait and ASK were the relationships I developed. The colleagues, students, and families I met and connected with have resulted in relationships that have been sustained.
  • The CCT teams can be an incredibly effective way to foster professional competency, particularly when novice and veteran teachers are coupled. Additionally, the school (at which I teach) gives a great deal of freedom when it comes to curriculum development, which makes me feel respected as a professional. I also think the housing is nice.
  • I enjoyed the community of teachers, and I got along with a majority of them. The teachers at ASK share a unique bond. Although Becky would say ‘We’re all in this together’, it’s really just the teachers that are in it together working for students and trying to improve upon ASK as a whole. I enjoyed the flexibility to create and try new things in my classroom. Opportunities for leadership positions and career shifts are frequent. With a high turnover, young teachers can get a lot of experience.
  • I love the community between the majority of the teachers. I learned a lot from the professionals I worked with there. I had some amazing students who were driven, curious, and fun. I liked the attempts to structure the curriculum and the CPT time built into the schedule to allow for planning and alignment between teams. The school I am currently at does not have CPT and I think it would provide a consistency between the different classes which can issues with assessments.
  • The only thing ASK had to offer was the community of the teachers. I believe that the community was the only thing helping to hold it together for some teachers. I also believe that because the school has such a divisive atmosphere, it caused the community to grow closer in opposition to the school.
  • There are many great things about ASK. The community is the best part of ASK. Most of our colleagues are truly wonderful people. The community my first year was much more interactive and involved and it’s something school admin should ensure for the future. There are really wonderful students and parents amongst a few really difficult ones.
  • 1. The relationship that my child had with his teacher. 2. My child loved the large selection of books in the library.
  • Good community of teachers. Freedom in the classroom (at least for electives).

Tell us a few things that you think ASK most needs to improve:

  • Sport facilities, play areas and reduce class sizes in elementary
  • It’s always easier to focus on the things we view as negative. With that in mind, ASK has some things that would make it a better place to work, attend, and be a parent: -Communication: whether between administrators/teachers, teachers/parents, or teachers/students, some people do this well while others fail often. Finding more reliable methods and a means to hold ALL parties accountable is important. -Accountability: there is a lack of transparency and accountability at all levels at ASK. Decisions are often made with little notice or explanation and there is fear associated with questioning those decisions. Inconsistency in how students and staff are treated is everywhere. Making the decision-making process more transparent, understandable, and equitable would be a step forward. -Profit: there is a growing sense that the money made by the school is not reinvested back into the school efficiently. Buildings crumble (literally) while new palm trees are purchased, Starboards are put in most classrooms without training teachers while teachers lack professional development funds or salary increases, and while tuition goes up the average years of experience and years at ASK of the faculty goes down, among other perceived poor uses of funds. While it is a for-profit institution, a more evident reinvestment in the people and facilities of the school instead of just the outward appearance is the surest way to make ASK A better place.
  • I need new equipment in my room. The fact that my things are so old is rough, especially foe the kids. If also love it if my admin could come and observe. It only takes a few minutes out of their busy schedule, and it’s good for them to see what their students are learning in class.
  • The poor facilities that do not reflect the high tuition and low teacher pay. Where does the money go? Must enforce stricter rules on students with bad behavior. Students have too much power. Ownership shows no interest in teacher satisfaction or quality of education. Only run as a business without heart or passion.
  • The infrastructure including gym, pool, play areas, exterior and food options. Plays and musical performances should provide costumes for students and not make parents run around to shops. I would pay if the school ordered the items.
  • ASK is a school in crisis but it lacks the leadership capacity to recognize this reality, let alone accept and address it. It is a shame that a school with such a rich tradition lacks the stewardship it’s history would expect it to have. A school that was once the leader in American education in Kuwait under the guidance of Wael Abdul Ghafoor’s father has opted to rest on its laurels and live off of the past. Wael has made his own wealth his priority and this trumps everything else connected with the school. Wael has allowed Becky Ness to rise to the position of Superintendent through attrition, accepted her dated and backwards approach to education, embraced her selfish indifference towards teachers, and leveraged her deference to him knowing she lacks the courage to stand up and advocate for others. Becky’s integrity was purchased by making her husband, Craig, the highest paid teacher on campus, giving her business class transport, an apartment by the sea, a car, and a healthy monthly salary. She earns a fraction of what her competitors make in the region and this lack of perspective and awareness is what makes her so invaluable to him. She is the opposite of what a school leader should be. She is not a visionary committed to improving teacher practice – she is a manager of the status quo. Becky manages the administrative dysfunction at the school through inaction. Becky has surrounded herself by a leadership team who have all been rewarded for their loyal and longevity at the school with administrative positions. The only person this hasn’t worked out for is Scott Dennison who was once anointed and publicly announced as her replacement but lost that designation as Becky wasn’t finished riding the gravy train. He now sits, literally, behind the school – a marginalized administrator and a victim of her selfishness. In order for ASK to improve, Wael needs to recognize that there is a problem, commit to restoring ASK’s reputation through financial investment, and begin to take action by removing Becky Ness from her role as Superintendent.
  • ASK would benefit from greater follow-through and consistency with policy. If we say a student needs to achieve a certain GPA or must maintain a certain level of decorum in terms of behavior, should that that child fails to do so, s/he should be exited from the school. In such a case, we clearly are not serving the child, and more often than not that child hinders the learning of others. (NB: this might point to larger systemic problems in Kuwaiti society a la wasta or Ministry decrees) I also wish we had more support (read: funding) for professional development. A bump in salary would also be greatly appreciated.
  • ASK Reviews Note: This comment had 3 parts. We tried to replicate the formatting below:
    • 1) I felt like I could be fired at any moment for any reason.
    • 2) ASK does not respond to constructive criticism, and will not take the time nor make the effort to implement change. Spending of any kind on capital improvements or long term investment continues to be an obstacle to change. The administration seems to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘It is what it is.’ ASK needs to take some of the suggestions on this website and strongly consider them, including investing in teachers, resources and facilities.
    • 3) Administration change from the top down needs to happen. Becky’s replacement will continue to find this website ‘full of lies.’ Everything that’s on here is fact, albeit fact with a few tongue-in-cheek comments. The school’s reputation is what the future superintendent wants to maintain. But what is that future reputation? Certainly it’s not that of other international schools, and you’re going to face fierce competition from AUSK.
  • ASK Reviews Note: This comment had 3 parts. We tried to replicate the formatting below:
    • 1. Staff morale – the administration needs to take meaningful steps to ensure that teachers feel valued and appreciated.
    • 2. Consistent follow through and consequences for repetitive behavior issues for both staff and students.
    • 3. Quality of life and safety – Mahboula is a terrible place to live. The apartments themselves are decent, but the area is extremely unsafe.
    • 4. Serious professional development allowance – the current allowance doesn’t even come close to paying for the registration for a conference or workshop let alone the flights or hotels required seeing as there is nothing available in Kuwait for PD.
  • ASK needs to improve the transparency of the school. Almost everything is hidden behind closed doors and kept with the all powerful superintendent as she sits upon her throne and dictates policies that are made on a whim.
  • Transparency is definitely an issue. Knowing the reasons behind decisions being made would be beneficial to both teachers and students. In the high school specifically, some students are running the show. They face no real consequences. Perhaps there are reasons unbeknownst to us as to why they are able to call the shots, regardless teachers are scared. They feel unsupported. They are blamed for issues immediately instead of being asked questions about their well-being or circumstances surround the issue. They’re losing a lot of great teachers this year and it’s unfortunate because ASK has so much potential.
  • ASK Reviews Note: This comment had 3 parts. We tried to replicate the formatting below:
    • 1. They need to do a better job of incorporating technology in the classrooms.
    • 2. They need to limit the amount of students allowed in each class in the elementary school. The class sizes were very large.
    • 3. They need to tear down the whole school and start over again, everything is terribly old or just plain worn out. Preferably the owner should build a new school in a less congested area. For a school that has been around for over 50 years, one would expect better facilities.
    • 4. Keep up the good work on the site and hopefully things will get better for the students, parents, and teachers still affiliated with ASK. If you are a school superintendent or school owner operating a private school in Kuwait, you should be paying attention to this site. Getting exposed like this is what happens when you’re not paying attention to your business.
  • Standards for students (holding them accountable). Caring about education more than profit. Caring about teachers more than profit. Teacher pay is poor. Infrastructure is terrible.

Note – these responses include current and past teachers as well as current parents. More detailed information will be provided after the poll closes.


 

This post addresses the following parts of our mission statement and beliefs:

  • Critique decisions and actions made by school leadership while providing constructive ideas for how to remedy these issues.
  • Educate the ASK community about current events at the school.
  • Solicit feedback from the ASK community via frequent surveys and providing a transparent accounting of the input received.
  • Encourage members of the ASK community to become more active in pushing the school to enact positive change in order to create and inspire a positive school environment for all members of the community.
  • A partnership among families, teachers, and students is essential for successful learning.
  • The diversity of our reader community is one of our greatest assets.
  • Institutional transparency promotes positive engagement and fosters trust between the school and its stakeholders.

Survey #2

Hi readers,

This weeks survey is open to anybody – parents, teachers, students – past or present. Parent responses are particularly valuable – if you are a parent at the American School of Kuwait – please share this survey with other parents so we can reach as many people as possible. We will translate results written in Arabic or other languages.

Click here to take the survey – it is only four questions.

.انقر هنا لاتخاذ الاستطلاع. يمكننا ترجمة الردود المكتوبة باللغة العربية.

We will make the deadline Thursday at 7 PM Kuwait time, and try to release the results over the weekend. We are extending the deadline on this survey, so keep submitting responses and we will keep adding them to the response page. Expect a new survey around Sunday or Monday of next week.

1st Teacher Survey – Results

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This post is a report of the results from our site’s first (of hopefully many) teacher surveys. The discussion amongst the writers at ASK Reviews felt, overwhelmingly, that it is important for a school to survey their faculty (on an annual basis, at minimum). This practice has fallen out of favor at ASK in the last few years, with several people even proposing surveys in order to gauge stakeholder satisfaction only to be denied permission to do so.

Several Middle States accreditation standards emphasize the importance of seeking and obtaining authentic feedback from all community stakeholders. Because we see that the school administration will not fulfill their accreditation standards, we are stepping in. We will be running a series of polls over the next few weeks. Results will be summarized as quickly as possible and made available publicly on this website.

We would like to grant explicit permission to faculty and administration of ASK to use results of our surveys in any accreditation-related documents at the school.

The Results

The Security Question

The security question was: “Using today’s date as a reference, how many falcons have landed?”  55% of respondents answered correctly. 34% of respondents answered in a way that leads us to believe they are faculty members of ASK who are slightly confused about how this security question works. (Professional notice – read your emergency handbooks – they are important to child safety. Don’t get it wrong like Becky.) The remaining responses gave us little information on whether the writer was an actual faculty member. Some respondents were excluded from the data below due to their response to this question.

Please feel free to contact us with suggestions for future security questions. We thoroughly enjoyed some of the responses here.

The Results

Respondents were almost evenly distributed amongst elementary, middle, and high school faculty. Overall, over half of respondents have had 0 visits from their principal this year, and close to a third of respondents have had only 1 visit. Around 10% of respondents have had two visits. None reported more than two visits.

Results regarding assistant principals were similar: About 2/3 of respondents have had zero visits and 1/3 of respondents have had 1 visit. None reported more than 1 visit from any combination of assistant principals.

All respondents reported that the school Superintendent has visited their classroom 0 times this year.

For a general breakdown by school, we can say that it seems Elementary Assistant Principals visit more frequently than any other level. Faculty in the middle and high school have similar experiences; reporting either 0 or 1 visits from any administrators whatsoever.

Some Analysis

The writers here at ASK Reviews had a lengthy discussion as results came in (most took place before the very last response came in, but we were all able to see the vast majority of responses before talking) – and we all came to an overwhelming consensus: Over the past 5-6 years at ASK, the number of observations have declined. Members of ASK Reviews from all three levels (elementary, middle, and high) agree that prior administrators did a better job of visiting classrooms and also of providing meaningful feedback and opportunity for discussion after visits.

We feel that observation is important. Feedback and discussion after observation is even more important. We urge administrators at ASK to schedule regular and frequent observation times so that all faculty are visited multiple times each year. Even with positive observations, feedback is important, even if it is only informal. Teachers in their 1st, 4th, or 7th (there aren’t any teaching faculty in their 10th or higher year) should receive a formal observation per ASK policy (although there are reports this doesn’t always happen) – but all teachers should receive feedback every year, even if only informally.

The Comments

The survey allowed for an open response question at the end. Below are those responses. Any edits have been noted.

  • We have “walk throughs” that last a minute, and so I did not count that as observations. I asked for a formal observation this year and I was told only first and 4th year teachers are allowed to get formal observations. This is my third year and I have not had a formal observation since my first year.
  • I HATE THIS SCHOOL! I WISH THEY WOULD FIRE ME! (This comment came from a submission for which we cannot guarantee the authenticity. If the writer of this comment can contact us and show that they are faculty, we will update this article)
  • There have also been 0 safe haven drills this year – which have to be required by either NESA, MSA, or the embassy – only 1 stay-in-place drill, and 2 fire drills. Safety. Hazard. Again, a poor day for air quality when there are visible gaps to the outside between doors and frames. Still no virtual day. Been working on that one for 3+ years. Haven’t had any invitations to SOAP committee meetings all year. Are they even still happening? Aren’t we required to report results for accreditation?
  • Nancy sucks. Maybe that is a little too direct to be fair. Change that to “unsupportive of school activities.”
  • I have too much work and no time to answer.
  • My 2 back to back observations were a result of “student complaint”…if not for that, there would’ve not been an observation. There was no feedback or debriefing meeting after the “observation”
  • I’ve had walk throughs with feedback 3 times this year. Unrelated to feedback, which is a huge problem here [comment about past experience deleted due to identifiable information], it would be nice to see some of the good things about Kuwait and ASK on this page as well. Things are absolutely tough now, especially with the firing of [elementary teacher that was fired this week – name redacted]. That’s just fucked up.
  • The apartments really aren’t as awful as your post makes them out to be. They’re spacious and furnished! The last time I had a two bedroom apartment from a school, I was forced to share with another teacher. Life is really what you make of it. I really love my life here in Kuwait, and in lots of ways ASK has made it better. I’d like to be one of the teachers that has a positive impact on change at this school. I’ve been in Kuwait [time removed because of identifiable information – suffice it so say they’ve been in Kuwait for a while]. I don’t plan to leave.

Comment Response

After discussion, some of the writers at ASK Reviews would like to issue responses to parts of some of the comments. Below is a list of different members’ thoughts:

  • Observations that last a minute are not observations – stepping in for such a short time is an obvious method to check a box on a check list and has no meaningful value, whatsoever. Be better.
  • Are SOAP Committee meetings still happening? Contact us to tell us more. We currently have evidence that both data and minutes of multiple SOAP committees were forged, after-the-fact, in order to make it look like meetings took place and data was gathered, even when these events did not occur. However, we do not have enough to write a full post or corroborate all of our information.
  • Drills are important. If all the requisite drills haven’t happened, you should bring this up with administration. If administration doesn’t adequately address the topic, it would be appropriate to file a formal notice with Middle States.
  • We all have a lot of work – thank you so much for everything you do and also finding the time to respond to this survey. You are all heroes.
  • Student complaints are the en-vogue way to be fired this year, apparently.
  • The last comments instigated a large discussion amongst members of ASK Reviews, so below are some of the opinions from different people:
    • There are positive aspects of Kuwait, we will try to do a better job of reporting them.
    • We feel like most of the articles have been edited and proofread and re-edited so that they are balanced and show multiple sides – but we will try to do better in the future.
    • We thought the particular post about the housing did mention the spaciousness of the apartments and the community in a positive way – we are going to revisit our earlier discussions about thiw article. If we decide more should be said, we will either amend the article or post a new one (those two options are still being debated).
    • We hope everybody who reads this blog has a positive impact at ASK. The purpose of this blog is to encourage and motivate ASK to improve. We are writing this blog because the school serves children. Children deserve our help. Children deserve the best efforts of adults. We want ASK to be better because the children at the school deserve it.

We intend to post a new survey on Sunday next week. Responses will be due by Wednesday. We will post more details soon.