“Spira, Spera” (Breathe, Hope) Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

We walked upto and past the beautiful Notre Dame a couple of times before we finally decided to beat the lines to get inside the cathedral.

Our plan worked perfectly, except as we found out when we got to the front of the line, we were in the line to climb up to the top of Notre Dame, and not the one, to go inside. But, we had waited too long, and dammit, we were going to see Notre Dame, even if was from the top. I am not a very fit person, but with a steady slow step even I managed it, and I am so glad I did. After a dizzying number of stairs, we were greeted by a spectacular view of Paris and got to hang out with some of the coolest gargoyles. Certainly one of my favorite memories of Paris from that trip. The inside of the cathedral was breathtaking – a symbol for peace and acceptance beyond religion or spirituality.

There are so few things today that hold the world together. Monuments and Cathedrals are living works of art and stand as mute witnesses to the worst and the very best in us, in humanity. Seeing Notre Dame fall tonight is a terrifying reminder that nothing, no matter how strong or beautiful, lasts forever.

As I type this, the French authorities have just released a statement saying that the the fire at Notre Dame cannot be contained and the cathedral will burn on, till it burns out. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of Notre Dame in person but I am saddened as we watch history, art and beauty go up in flames tonight.

Today is a reminder to not wait to travel the world. If you can, get out there; meet people, experience other cultures, reflect on history and the beautiful parts of our shared humanity before it is too late.

“Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of the ages” ~ Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of 🇫🇷 #NotreDame

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Because 2041 Beckons…

The Global Countdown – http://2041.com/

Visiting the Antarctic is a dream that many nurture but only a privileged few are able to fulfill. If you go as a tourist the cost usually means you have to wait until much later on in life. So imagine how great it would be to go as a student and not just visit Antarctica but to actually be part of a global movement dedicated to preserving this final pristine frontier from the very real dangers that threaten it each day.

935873_153856004815049_1158433249_n9 lucky students from GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai are planning a trip to the Antarctic making that distant dream a very present reality. They will be accompanied by Sir Robert Swan; environmental leader and the first person ever to have walked to the North and South poles.

Needless to say, this will be a life-altering experience for them. It will expose these 9 students to all kinds of environmental and social issues and give them a much broader perspective of the planet on which they live. In my mind, going to Antarctica is kind of like going to another planet and once you’ve done that you can’t help but be affected by it – for life, can you?

I’m so proud of the students of my school, every single one of them. While 9 students get to actually experience the wonders of this white wilderness, I’m amazed by the dedication of all the other pupils who are so keen to make this the most historical undertaking Modern has ever had.

In today’s day and age, raising environmentally passionate future generations has got to be at the center of every educational institution’s philosophy. As teachers, there are only a limited number of things we can do or say to press home important facts about preserving and protecting our planet. But unless children are exposed to the harsh realities of the real world, progress and action will continue to be scant.

As Modern’s 9 buccaneers prepare to set out on their once in a lifetime expedition and be part of the Leadership on the Edge conference in Argentina, we hope that you will support them by spreading the word about their endeavors. You can follow the progress of Modern’s Buccaneers on their facebook page ‘Modern on Antarctica’ or follow @beckyblitz97 and @sydneydxb on twitter for more updates.

Watch this space for more information.

Gulf News – Guest of The Month – Post 1

After some years of blogging I am extremely excited to be the ‘Guest of the Month’ for Gulf News’ education supplement. Over the next four weeks my columns will share my personal experiences and advice on educational technology and educational blogging in the hopes that it will inspire some greenhorn bloggers out there to give it a shot too.

In case you’re not in the UAE or don’t have access to the newspapers, here is the link to the first post that was published today.

http://gulfnews.com/life-style/education/how-to-be-an-education-blogger-1.1205855

 

 

Autism is not a tragedy, ignorance is…

Last afternoon, over 3000 plus people from Dubai and the neighboring Emirates stepped out in an overwhelming show of support for people with autism and different needs. Zabeel Park, the venue for the walk and the fun fair that followed later in the evening, was overflowing with people enthusiastically waiting to show their support. Over the last few years, ‘Walk Now For Autism’ and other such campaigns have met with a thunderous response from the residents of the Emirates.

I guess as the awareness grows, the interest and intrinsic motivation to support people and embrace their different needs has seen tremendous growth too. I must confess that prior to the walk I didn’t know too much about autism but as I sat down and did some reading this afternoon my eyes were opened to some startling as well as some heartwarming facts. This is what I found… (In a nutshell of course)

  • Autism is an incurable disorder.
  • Children with autism have a wide range of enhanced academic skills; therefore, academic support must be individualized to meet their needs.
  • Autistic children are oversensitive to noise and pain.
  • The number of cases of Autism reported over the years has seen a significant rise. 1 out of 115 children are affected by this disorder.
  • Early intervention can lead to academic success and personal and social growth.
  • Very often, children with autism engage in repetitive activities and body movements, such as rocking, pacing, or repetitive hand movements.
  • With the right guidance and support it is possible for parents, teachers and relatives to cope better with children and their needs. Most importantly autistic people should not be stigmatized for their condition. People with autism who have been treated correctly (medically and socially of course) have been seen to make significant contributions to society over periods of time.

Walk Now For Autism Is a powerful tool to raise awareness and build a community that is supportive of each other and the needs that exist within our society. It’s a chance for people with autism, families dealing with the trials of raising an autistic child and friends and relatives as well, to go out in their community with no judgment and no fear of being stigmatized. They can bond and make friends, and just proudly display their show of strength and support for the ones around them.

One of the most overwhelming moments for me last evening was when a group of my students serenaded Mustafa a local boy for his Birthday. They sang for him, cheered him on loudly and even gave him ‘birthday bumps’ like they would to any of their other friends. All the while Mustafa’s face radiated with a glow that was so endearing. I’m sure his spirit soared in those brief and fleeting moments.

All around us, there were magical moments like that unfolding. People embracing, singing, hooting, cheering, walking hand in hand and creating little memories that will last a lifetime.

I hope that over time, people learn to see autism with new eyes and that they don’t jump to label these kids’ with complex medical terminology. Each child with Autism has such a unique personality, their own dreams, goals and personal aspirations. That’s why the awareness is so important and is such an important responsibility for the rest of us. Only when people are aware can they help make those special dreams come true.

The Curious Case Of The Disappearing Bloggers

 Another of my favourite bloggers has just suddenly vanished. That’s the second missing blogger in a just one week! The previous one wrote one last blog before she disappeared, about a friend in a complicated situation. It seems the friend found out and was furious.

I’m still quite new to blogging as I have been doing it for only three months. I don’t know if it is typical for people get fed up after a couple of years and with a click of a mouse erase any evidence that their thoughts had been put out on a public forum. Or maybe these shutdowns are related to other fears… or maybe they simply got bored along the way.

I have read a few bits and pieces where bloggers have described the various phases they go through while blogging. You start off keen, then you settle down a bit, and then maybe you get bored and your posts become infrequent. Then when something exciting happens in your life (probably because your spending less time in front of a computer screen) you blog about it some more.

I think people should take life a little less seriously. While there are people who use their blogs for very important work, others like me should take to blogging for the joy of the experience. It does not matter what people think or how they respond. It’s about you choosing to express yourself in a way that makes you happy. Write for fun.

For me, this is one way of recharging my batteries. Instead of watching TV or lounging around with nothing to do, I can experiment with a short story or write about the kind of day I’ve had or write a review for a book I’ve read. Whether people read it or not hardly matters. They may even choose to differ with my points of view- but that’s OK!!

Turning my thoughts in a different direction can flick a mental switch and get the creative juices flowing again. Besides, it can be so much! Anyhow, time to update my blog page, Gtg…

Under Pressure

Pressure is defined as urgency in one’s personal or professional dealings. Working under pressure is a concrete reality of our lives. Some people have to deal with high pressure situations every minute of their lives while others have to deal with it as and when project deadlines approach. At the cost of sounding quite ridiculous, I have found that I tend to work well under pressure. And though it is a little hard to admit, working in this fashion does seem to bring out the best in me. Have any of you ever felt that way? In fact, I know quite a few people who are able to perform sufficiently well in the event of work pressure.

I think my ability to function in stressful situations can be attributed to what I consider, three major personal strengths.

No matter how stressful the situation gets, I know for a fact that I will NOT lose my emotional balance. I find that I am mentally resilient and can remain motivated under high pressure and can keep at the tasks I have been assigned, without giving up. This quality prevents me from burning out and helps keep my mental flexibility in check. I find that my ability to adapt to situations and to different kinds of people makes me the calmest person around in a frantic situation and even in the face of a professional storm!

Next, I was taught long ago, by someone I consider my professional guru, that it is absolutely impossible to do everything under the sun – singlehandedly— instead I have learnt to delegate work. I do this not to find an easy way out of my own responsibilities but because I have realized that it is a worthwhile exercise and can help meet professional deadlines far more effectively. Besides, I have come to recognize that when you put your faith in people, they generally DON’T let you down. It even makes for a stronger and more cohesive team. Working to meet the “bit” deadline is far easier than struggling with the ‘whole’. Wouldn’t you agree?

Lastly, my ability to remain calm and collected is helpful in so many ways. While people around me are fuming and ranting and having nervous breakdowns, it helps me stay focused, think rationally and take correct decisions. It so much easier to take control of situations and respond to it appropriately when your own mind is at peace.

Over the last three years I have come to realize that the more you have to work under pressure, the better you get at it. This builds confidence and you will soon find that you can deal with anything that arises if your mind and heart are aligned and you are thinking clearly and calmly. Working under pressure can be such a rush! Nothing can compare to the satisfaction you can derive from a job well done or from targets met and goals achieved. So the next time you feel you’re beginning to crumble, do what I do.

Stop. Take a deep breath … and then whisper softly ‘I’m ready…bring it on!’

We’re All In This Together

 The blast at the Agra hospital yesterday was a rude reminder that life is so unpredictable and so uncertain. As a nation, we are all still reeling from five unsolved terrorist attacks in our recent past and it will be a while before Indians are able to feel completely safe and secure again.

Just a few days ago, the global community came together to celebrate the lives of those who died in the 9/11 attacks in New York. As I watched the tenth anniversary commemoration of the attack on CNN, I could not help but notice that there was also a palpable and unquestionable feeling of togetherness -both among the survivors who have shown amazing strength and spirit in the face of overwhelming loss and heartache, and among the rest of us all across the globe who have had to re-align our lives in this post 9/11 world – ever since we became so conscious of how our lives and the lives of those we love, could be so brutally taken from us, in seconds.

Pictures and videos showed the survivors huddled around the beautiful new monument hugging, comforting, and holding hands. Even Republicans stood next to Democrats and race, religion and all else faded into oblivion. There were no political agendas and no ulterior motives. It was the plain and simple coming together of countrymen in a show of complete solidarity and togetherness.

I think that the one good thing that came out of this dreadful event was an increased interest in nurturing friendships and relationships. People began to treasure their associations and remind their loved ones of how much they each meant. Globally, there was an unprecedented focus on the human bonds that keep us afloat and uphold us in crises. 

 As political leaders from far corners of the world showed their support, spoke words of encouragement and declared stronger than ever that the war against terror would continue, I could not help but find joy in the fact that the human spirit is so resilient, so strong and so powerful. What matters in the end is that, when it is necessary, when it matters most, the global community has always and will continue to come together to prove that our community spirit and resilience in the face of terror is and will continue to be strong and unbeatable – and that is something no cowardly terrorist can ever take from any of us.