Taking a Sabbatical

Why did I take a sabbatical?
Well, the Covid pandemic has been a challenge for educators everywhere and I was no exception. I was teaching online full-time for a year and a half in Indonesia, the second half of the second year teaching a hybrid model for students who still did not feel safe going back to the school campus. It was a steep learning curve and I do see the positives; I learned a lot about optimising the use of learning management platforms, creating virtual lessons, designing educational websites for asynchronous students, and working with a diverse group of people. However, I also saw the negatives, particularly when I was pursuing new roles – I think that international teaching has changed in the past few years, it is now downwardly mobile where packages are cut left, right and centre, with more and more countries wanting to tax all benefits. If a teacher did not get onto a leadership track very quickly, they find themselves having to take less and less each time they talk to a different school. Personally, I think everyone should be paid what they are worth, regardless of which country they end up working in. Schools trying to justify low salaries (some less than the minimum wage in Canada!) by telling teachers that the low cost of living and cheap travel make up for it, are exploitative at the very least. 
As a POC and holder of a passport that is not from a “native-English speaking” country, I also found my job applications last year (as an independent) either ignored completely or was told I was not a good “fit” (once by a so-called internationally-minded school in Singapore that AIELOC has identified as harmful to BIPOC teachers). My 17 years of math and science teaching experience in all levels of the IB, and leadership experience, most of which at top international schools in Asia, notwithstanding. I would add that I was hired at these top schools as a partner to my white, Canadian husband. I had faced micro-aggressions almost my whole teaching career, being expected to always be nice and polite, not have a strong opinion about anything and keep my ideas to myself…these take its toll on a person. I have had “conversations” with at least two male, white supervisors who wanted to talk to me about my tone of voice and “negativity” when I expressed myself in meetings, even though other colleagues who have said or done the same thing did not get a meeting. So, I guess my second reason is that I was just disillusioned with international teaching and needed a break to think about what else I can do with all the education I have had. 
For persons such as myself, there was an expectation of presenting and endorsing toxic positivity always. 
What do I learn during my sabbatical?
One thing I am still trying to learn halfway through my sabbatical is to be ok with not doing anything. Having worked pretty much since I graduated from university, having time to just be is not a natural state. But I think it’s needed for everyone. I am grateful I am able to do this and I understand that it’s not something that everyone can just do. Not doing anything and just being, is such a relief. I am also pursuing other interests such as data analytics courses, website design, yoga, swimming and lots of walking/jogging in parks. I am learning to appreciate sidewalks, easy access to fresh produce, and taking the time to reflect on my experiences in the past and what I want to do in the future. I learned that I need to slow down and not stress too much about things beyond my control. I am learning that I am not JUST a teacher, that I can do many other things. 
Advice I would give to anyone thinking about taking a sabbatical.
Do it! If you can, of course. I didn’t really plan this but was fortunate enough to have some savings and no children. So in hindsight, I would say, you need to plan for this, think about where you want to be and what you want to do during this sabbatical and put aside some money each month for it. Have a timeline and work towards it. Take online courses that you think might help you earn some money during your sabbatical while you are still working, it’s always good to have a backup plan. If you have a partner, maybe consider taking turns taking time off. If you want to do this together, then make sure you have lots of savings and no other debt! Finally, remind yourself that everyone needs a break and it’s not healthy to keep your nose to the grind your whole life. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, so why not enjoy the time we have on this planet as best as we can. 

Statement of Support for Sudan & Congo

We, as global citizens, and the AIELOC community stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan and the Congo, especially the vulnerable young children, who have been gravely affected by the devastating conflicts happening in both countries. The conflicts have brought unimaginable suffering, displacement, and instability, leaving a profound impact on the lives of countless individuals across both nations. We recognize the urgency of addressing the dire humanitarian crises and the critical need for immediate assistance to alleviate the plight of those most affected.

Our thoughts are with the children of Sudan and the Congo, who are enduring the brunt of these crises, robbed of their childhoods and basic rights to safety, education, and a promising future. The trauma and hardships they are facing are a stark reminder of the urgent need for a concerted effort to ensure their protection, well-being, and access to essential services.

We call upon the international community to join hands in providing vital humanitarian aid, including food, shelter, medical care, and psychological support to the affected population, particularly the young children who are the most vulnerable and in need of special attention. It is imperative that we prioritize their safety and well-being, shielding them from further harm and offering them a chance to rebuild their lives in an environment of peace and stability.

We also extend our support to the schools in Sudan and the Congo that have been adversely affected by the ongoing conflicts and upheavals in their regions. These schools play a vital role in promoting educational excellence, fostering cultural exchange, and nurturing a global perspective. We urge the Sudanese and Congolese armed forces to cease-fire and prioritize the future generations of their respective countries. We also urge all other stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations, and international bodies, to prioritize the protection and restoration of education in Sudan and the Congo. Investment in the rehabilitation of these schools will help in securing the future generations of both nations.

We call upon the global community to redouble its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and support to schools within Sudan and the Congo, ensuring that they have the necessary resources, infrastructure, and funding to continue their critical mission. Together, we can rebuild these educational institutions, restore a sense of normalcy for the students and educators, and pave the way for peace and prosperity in both nations.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan and the Congo, emphasizing the need for a sustainable and inclusive peace process that prioritizes the welfare and rights of every individual, regardless of age, ethnicity, or social background. We urge all parties involved to engage in constructive dialogue and work towards a lasting resolution that ensures the protection of civilians within both nations.

Together, let us reaffirm our commitment to supporting the resilience and strength of the people of Sudan and the Congo, especially the young children, as they strive to overcome the challenges imposed by the conflict. Our collective efforts can make a significant difference in restoring hope, dignity, and a sense of normalcy to their lives, enabling them to envision a future of peace, stability, and prosperity for themselves and their respective nations.

Love Letter – AIELOC

Thank you to Dr. Liza Talusan whose REENTRY: A Love Letter from the National Association of Independent Schools and the People of Color Conference was the influence behind this letter to participants who attended the AIELOC Conference 2024.

Dear Colleagues,

We hope this letter finds you well and is filled with inspiration from our first ever in-person AIELOC Conference at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. It was an honor to have such a diverse and passionate group of educators come together to engage in meaningful conversations and share insights on fostering learning environments that are diverse, equitable, inclusive, welcoming, and affirming for all our students. In three short days, we laughed together, cried together, emoted together, consoled each other, and most importantly, we learned and listened to each other. 

Your active participation and thoughtful contributions made this conference a success, and we are truly grateful for your commitment to help us advance the work of AIELOC. 

As we transition back to our respective countries and international schools, we must shift our focus back to our students and begin the process of upholding the commitments we’ve made to them during our time together.  We know that you’ve acquired a plethora of knowledge and resources from the amazing workshops you attended and, understandably so, you’re still processing this information along with all of the emotions you experienced throughout the conference.

To help simplify things for you, we invite you to embrace the following mantra:  “Start Small, Dream Big”.  As we individually reflect on what that radical dream looks like for each of us, here are three guiding questions that you should consider:

  • What is one small thing that I can do immediately to work towards that radical dream?
  • How can I include my students in the process of radical dreaming? What active roles can they play?
  • How will I prioritize my self care as I’m doing this important work? What boundaries will I put in place to protect myself from harm?     

To continue the momentum and translate the valuable insights gained at the conference into actionable steps within your respective schools, here are a few recommended next steps from the article, “Embracing Uncomfortability In Support of Marginalized Students” that you can take right now:  

  • Interrogation of Personal Biases: We are all prejudiced and biased by human nature, so we need to conduct a personal audit of our feelings and behaviors around the issues of race, class, language, gender, sexual orientation, and other identity markers.
  • Agency Building: Educate yourself on the diverse perspectives of a specific issue so that you can develop your own informed perspective on the matter.  That can be reading books, listening to podcasts, learning from verified subject matter experts, etc.
  • Community Building: Surround yourself with a community of like-minded individuals who are just as determined to disrupt, learn, unlearn, relearn, and grow as you are.
  • Critical Humility: Decenter yourself and create space for your historically marginalized students.  That means recognizing your power and positionality to know that you can’t fully speak about oppressive acts against historically marginalized people without having the lived experience. Educate yourself to understand.
  • Mistakes are Inevitable, So Give Yourself Grace: Understand that mistakes will happen along the way.  That’s expected when you’re truly engaging in deep (un)learning and relearning.  Perfectionism has no place here.  Understand that call-ins are not condemnations but rather opportunities for growth.
  • Critical Empathy: Decenter yourself and take a step back to understand and educate yourself on the emotional impact that acts of oppression and discrimination have on historically marginalized people.  

Remember that fostering a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is an ongoing process that requires dedication and collective effort. Your commitment to these principles is instrumental in creating positive and lasting change in our international schools.

Once again, thank you for your participation in the conference. We look forward to witnessing the transformative impact of your efforts in your respective schools and communities.

See you in Accra!

Warm regards,


What are you afraid of?

I am tired. I am tired of violence in the news. I am tired of defending my existence, of having the
same conversations over and over about “pronouns this and pronouns that.” We are getting
gunned down and all you do is flash your rainbow “ally” badge and have yet another
conversation about including pronouns in your email signature, all while misgendering me in the

When it comes to real talk of change; of teaching children about identity that’s inclusive of
gender diversity and sexuality, your body tenses. “Our community is not ready for this yet.
Maybe next year.” You are the gatekeeper who decides at what capacity we exist, and that is
wrong. Hints of us exist on your website. We are in your equity statement. We are hidden in
language like, “diversity” and “belonging”. In strategic plans and anti-bullying policies. Yet, we
are invisible everywhere else where it matters like classrooms and curriculum. Your equity
statements and social justice committees are selective of who they include. Cherry picking who
is included is the antithesis of this work. You tout the analogy of “mirrors, windows, and sliding
glass doors”, yet all you want to see is yourself.
What are you afraid of?

If anything, we are the ones who should be afraid. We have been under attack for centuries;
between policing how we look…how we act…who we love…
Today, this still exists on both an individual level and at a larger scale. Anti-trans legislation
continues to pass all over the world, and there are countries that refuse to allow us to exist. And
yet, we persist. We still go out. We teach. We party. We express our radical love through our art
and our chosen families. We thrive and celebrate joy in spite of the hate that you perpetuate.
We are not afraid, but you are.

You are afraid of children's books. You are afraid of graphic novels. You’re afraid of using
pronouns, of drag shows, of freedom of expression. You are afraid of the endless possibilities
that we represent, of the love we represent. Everyday we suffer as victims of violence. And I yet
I am not allowed to read a book with a transgender child as its protagonist. How dare I correct
you when you misgender me. How dare I defend myself against the onslaught of your passive
aggression. How dare I exist.

Queer children exist in every single classroom, yet they rarely see themselves reflected in the
books and curriculum taught to them. Suicidality is several times higher in Queer youth than cis
heterosexual youth, and that is because of your inaction. Your inaction is violence. We are dying
while you are sitting in your office telling us which books we can and cannot read, which topics
we can and cannot talk about. Power hoarding and gatekeeping are rooted in white supremacy.
What are you afraid of?

Your fear is violence. It is because we cannot read our books or tell our stories or exist in
classrooms that these shootings occur. You spread your fear, and so others are afraid. They act
on this fear with violence. Others are not given the opportunity to explore the infinite ways of
being in this world. Their ignorance, the ignorance that you perpetuate, makes them fearful of
the unknown. It’s the reason why so many young people die of suicide. It’s the reason why our
spaces and our communities are under assault.

We are both the same, you know. We have both experienced gendered trauma in our lives. I
would wager that we both grew up being forced onto gendered norms which we did not consent
to. We were ascribed a role we did not choose. Many of us grow older and continue this path.
There is no shame in that. But why silence others who travel a different path? Is our difference
so harmful to you? Free yourself of this burden of fear and join us in our love and liberation.

On the topic of judging schools and organizations based on DEIJ and providing awards

DEIJ Awards

On the topic of judging schools and organizations based on DEIJ and providing awards. To be
clear, we agree with developing and sharing good practice around a range of learning-focused
categories, one of which focuses on DEIJ.

We would like to understand the context of awards? How they come into existence? How are
panels organized? We would like to figure out why you think this work should be awarded.

For full transparency, we really struggle with folks trying to make justice & liberation work
competitive or even about recognition. We have observed that some of the systems outside of
us seem to create competition and ‘fights for recognition’ that, frankly, none of us are really
asking for.

The idea of “winning” seems to run counter to what DEIJ work is about and also implies a finish
line when there is ALWAYS learning / work to be done. It also fails to recognize those who may
not meet the standards of dominant culture/institutions that truly aren’t invested in this work.
These institutions shouldn’t and don’t get to give a stamp of approval to work they truly aren’t
invested in. And if they truly were invested in it, they wouldn’t even think to give trophies out.

DEIJ work is a work of solidarity, community, and deep learning. Competition or
competitiveness are hallmarks of white supremacy, and almost always replicate oppressive
systems we aim to dismantle because they can be individualistic, binary, either you win or lose,
you get it or not. Award-giving like this opens the possibilities for school leaders to tick the box
without doing deep work. We have seen DEIJ becoming commodified, used as a marketing tool,
because of our rush to dole or perceive the need to dole out congratulatory cookies for doing
the work.

A few hand-selected lines from Michelle Mijung Kim, author of The Wake Up comes to mind
around ISC's ideas: “If the good we are seeking in this world is advancing social justice and
equity for all oppressed people, then we must measure our goodness by the outcomes desired
and impacts felt by those to whom justice and equity have not yet been granted. And only they
get to decide when something – our efforts, our impact, our apology, our outcomes – is good

Kim added, “Too many still approach social justice work like community service, as if we’re
doing a favor for marginalized identities, as if we’re spending our time and resources to be
selfless and as if we are deserving of grace, because “at least we are trying”. This attitude is
problematic as it centers us as martyrs while mischaracterizing the necessary work of
addressing centuries of systemic oppression as charity work.”

Considering our thought processes, what do you think schools who are actually doing this
important work would feel to receive this award? What does it say about a school who is
honored to receive such an award?

In addition to the white centering, competition, commodification; and who gets the authority
to confer approval of what constitutes equity and justice, and other reasons – all these make us
say no, not for us.

To be clear, we agree with “developing and sharing good practice around a range of learning-
focused categories, one of which focuses on DEIJ.”  We believe that the categories should have
principles and practices of DEIJ and anti-racism undergirding all of these categories; and for
schools and institutions to ensure they are continuously and cyclically taking actions,
monitoring progress towards equity and justice. Receiving affirmation and recognition is
valuable but it would be much more meaningful and authentic if it came from within the
community and students. In fact, the only people judging DEIJ work in schools should be the
students from a school. How would anyone else know how the school is doing with serving the
very folks they are meant to serve?

Thank your time and for considering these matters. We hope you will take this email as
intended – with humility and as an opportunity for collaborative growth. We look forward to
your reply.

The AIELOC Community