[Guest blog] We Need To Talk More About Periods. Period.

Guest blog by Anna Zyla (original source: WomenEd Thailand)

I used to teach at a school that had 55 minute blocks. My prep periods were bundled together in the morning leaving me with an afternoon of four back-to-back classes. Any woman around 13-55 can likely spot the potential issue here. Forget about peeing. When was I supposed to change my tampon? I taught seventh grade so while many of the students knew about periods I definitely didn’t want them knowing anything about mine! The thought alone was horrifying. So I did what any healthy, sane, (menstruating) woman would do. I schemed up ways to sneak my tampon out of my purse, through the bustling classroom, down the packed hall and into the bathroom. I was so careful you would think I was carrying around a loaded gun rather than a tiny, plastic applicator for my vagina.

I found that life was easier during winter because I could tuck said object up my sweater sleeve or into the sides of my boots.  Other times I slid it into the waistband of my pants or skirt and consequently learned how to walk like a penguin. I eventually got savvy enough to pre-plan. I would go to the bathroom before school and tuck a few tampons into the corner of that metallic “sanitation” box to use throughout the day. Now I could walk confidently down the hall without the threat of a tampon falling out of my skirt. Lift up my arm and wave wildly at students; nothing was bouncing out of these sleeves! This, really, was a brilliant plan … until it wasn’t. One day I went to retrieve my sneaky tampon and realized it was gone. Someone had stolen it.

I spent the next 3.6 hours in pure agony and anxiety that blood was leaking through my pants in front of my students and yet, there I stood teaching every lesson (differentiation included!) I choose to be miserable rather than grabbing my purse, yanking out a tampon, waving it in the air and saying, “ I’ll be right back, alright?”

I was a coward. But I wasn’t alone.

The next day I placed a basket overflowing with tampons and pads into the girl’s bathroom and announced it to all my classes. In order to be less weird about it, I began to research period culture. I soon became incredibly invested and passionate about the importance of destigmatizing periods in our schools, society and culture. (And I immediately invested in the menstrual cup which has a 12 hour turnover time and helps the environment!) 

I now work at an international school in Thailand, but the taboo around periods still exists here — maybe even more severely — making my fight for its normalization that much more prevalent.

A few months ago one of my colleagues asked if I would co-teach a science lesson on menstruation with him. “I’m not going to pretend I know how to use a pad or what cramps feel like,” he said. So together we created and taught an interactive lesson delivering it to both the male and female students together. We dyed some water red and allowed them to “practice” using pads, tampons and menstrual cups. Together, we reiterated the idea that having your period means you’re healthy; you wouldn’t be embarrassed by the fact you worked out or ate an apple. Together, we talked about the different sanitary choices, where to purchase them and how to use them properly. Together, we answered questions and fostered conversations around periods. Not only was it a successful lesson, but I left feeling that we did something really monumental. First, we mutually decided not to separate the girls and boys while teaching this subject. Doing this can set the precedent that periods are something shameful or embarrassing. If we cannot openly talk to all the students about this topic then they’re likely to mirror that behavior outside of the classroom — which is, of course, exactly what we’re working to avoid.

Next, we chose to teach the lesson together — as a male and female — to model how open and casual we could discuss the topic together without any awkwardness. Throughout the lesson we noticed that whenever the boys had questions (and they had a lot!) some of the girls would even step up and answer for us. This created a beautiful, educational and collaborative environment. There was no immature giggling or strange silences. There was a palpable respect within the room among everyone there.

While I was truly fortunate to have done this with such a progressive and open-minded teacher, I know this isn’t the case everywhere. In the fight to destigmatize periods, it is vital that men become our allies. My male colleague keeps tampons and pads on a shelf in his room and tells his students to stop by if they ever need one. This isn’t unusual — many teachers do this — but it is a bit unusual coming from a male teacher. However, he sets a really high standard: offering support to girls regarding their periods should come from all teachers regardless of gender or age. We desperately need to change the narrative in our schools so that every teacher is talking normally and openly about menstruation just as we would about other issues. If we don’t it will always remain a societal taboo. Which, of course, is almost comical considering half of the female population bleeds every month.

We also have a rich opportunity as educators to weave the idea of menstruation into our lessons far beyond science and health classes. As I mentioned earlier, the more we can talk about this topic, the better, as is the case with many topics our society deems “uncomfortable.” It isn’t a surprise that there is a massive socioeconomic divide when it comes to accessing sanitation products. Personally, I think this would make for an excellent research topic. Rather than debating the very overused and dull, “should students have school uniforms?” might we have students debate the “luxury” tax put on sanitation products just a few years ago? In history, english or sociology teachers might discuss the social and religious taboos that women have gone through in the past. In Thailand, there are still signs posted outside temples warning women not to enter if they are menstruating … and this is in 2021! It is a relevant, rich and engaging topic that should absolutely be welcomed into all of our lessons.

It is essential that we normalize the conversation around periods so our girls can feel more comfortable in an already uncomfortable, strange time in their lives and boys can be given an opportunity to become supportive and educated allies. You really cannot go wrong by trying to unify the human race — especially in our world today.

Anna Zyla has worked as an English teacher in Costa Rica, the United States and Thailand. She is incredibly passionate about education and is always looking for new ways to incorporate modern practices into her classroom. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English as well as the Wisconsin State Reading Association.

Please check out WomenEd Thailand on Facebook (search WomenEd Thailand to join the group) and/or follow them on Twitter at @WomenEdTh

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 5 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I have the privilege to speak with Kathleen Naglee, Head of School and CEO at the International School of Helsinki. We discuss a range of relevant issues, including the importance of having and showing vulnerability and empathy as a leader to staff, students and especially families, Kathleen’s mission to ensure that international school recruitment organisations do more to protect and support LGBTQ+ staff, and ISH’s world pioneering work on VR and the role of VR in the future of education. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 4 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege to speak with Kyra Kellawan, Head of Education Partnerships at Xperienceships. We explore what the future of work could be and how international schools can best prepare students for this, we discover what Kyra has learnt from the fascinating discussions that she had had with the innovators, creators, and trailblazers working in education that she has spoken to as a part of her PilotEd podcast, and we discuss the gendering of career choices and how schools can help create positive change in this area. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

[Guest blog] A love letter… to my students

Guest blog by Laura Davies

Yesterday you graduated. I sat in a hall and watched you walk to the stage. You made your way there with some trepidation. Certainly a great deal of excitement. But most importantly, a whole lot of confidence.

My god I’m proud of you. What you’ve been through to get to this stage. I’m not just talking about getting through the last two years of your education during a global pandemic (although that admittedly is impressive). I’m talking about the individual battles each of you has fought. The self-doubt you’ve wrestled with. The personal difficulties each of you have faced. None of you have reached this stage of your lives unscathed.

I’m sorry for that. Like an overprotective parent, I wish I could wrap you up, and keep you safe. But I know that I can’t. 

Earlier this week, a former student of mine suddenly and tragically passed away. Like you, he had his whole life ahead of him. I vividly remember his cheeky smile, his energy, the way he lit up a room. How much his parents and friends loved him. His death has devastated me. And so, watching you reach this rite of passage so soon afterwards has been somewhat bittersweet. I am filled with happiness for you, whilst simultaneously grieving a senseless and inexplicable loss. It has also reminded me once again, that we cannot take any of this for granted. No one knows what the future holds. We can only hope for the best, whilst appreciating the here and now. 

The relationship between teacher and student cannot be easily defined. We talk of care. Of respect. Of building trust and rapport. But rarely about love.

But how can these things – relationships, trust, care – exist without love?

My job has been to teach you, yes. But it has been so much more than that. I have heard you talk about your hopes and dreams, and imagined them with you. I have felt deeply your sadness and disappointment at every setback. I have lain awake wondering how best to help you. I have been angry on your behalf. Argued for you. Protected you when I could. 

Is that not love? 

For a reason unbeknown to me, we like to restrict this idea of ‘love’. We understand romantic love. Familial love. The love between a parent and child. We are comfortable with that. But over the last few years, I have spent more time with you than my own family. I have seen you almost everyday, at your best and worst, and everything in between. I have celebrated every success you have enjoyed, no matter how big or small. 

Is that not love? 

Let me be clear then. Your teachers love you. We see you. We know you are not perfect, and never expected you to be (even though we might pretend sometimes). More than once you’ve messed up, let us down, broken our trust, or fallen short. But usually you’ve made up for it. Apologised. Owned your mistakes. Forgiven us for ours. Grown and matured.

And what a privilege to witness that growth. I have been more invested in your journey than you will ever know, cheering you on at the sidelines – sometimes loudly, so that you’ll know, other times quietly, willing you on under my breath and in my thoughts. 

And now it’s time to let you go. 

I am excited for you. I am scared for you. I want you to have only good things, experiences and success. I want you to meet people who will truly appreciate you and what you have to offer. I don’t want you to experience pain, betrayal or grief. Although I know that you will. To live is to experience pain. But there will also be moments of great joy, wonder and happiness.

I hope you know more joy than pain. 

I hope that whatever life throws at you, you can cope with it. I believe that you will. 

We might stay in touch. I hope we do, even if it’s just hearing in passing what you’re up to. Or this might be it. You may go off into the world, and never look back. That’s ok too.

Whatever you do, know that it won’t change how I feel about you. It won’t stop me thinking of you often, and wondering how you are. It won’t stop me feeling proud of your achievements and successes, and willing you to overcome the failures, heartbreaks and setbacks you will inevitably experience.

Whatever happens, remember that there is someone who has absolute faith in your ability to push forward. Who will always think of you with love, and hope, no matter what you do or where life takes you. 

Your teacher.

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 3 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege to speak with Kristin Daniel, Ed.D, President and Co-Founder of the Circulus Institute. We explored how the pandemic has impacted upon international teachers’ wellbeing in unique ways, what resilience is and what it’s not, and how Kristin’s background in Special Education has informed her work which now centres on teaching Social-Emotional Learning skills to educators. I certainly found there to be a lot of things that I related to in Kristin’s words and work and I’m sure educators listening will too. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 2 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege to speak with Nick Dunn, Director of Activities and Community Operations at UWC East campus in Singapore. We explore how Nick’s background and career as an elite gymnast and coach, and also his experience in independent and international education for the past 25 years has shaped his philosophy and values when it comes to education. We also explore the work that Nick and UWCSEA are doing to create 21st Century learners, and we discuss the morality of private and international education and how we as educators and schools can encourage accountability, responsibility and connections with our local communities. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

Launch of the WISEducation Podcast!

I’m really excited to present the WISEducation podcast and episode 1 which is an audio version of ‘Wellbeing in international schools: Are we missing the bigger picture?’

The aim of this podcast is to discuss and explore topical issues facing international school education and episodes will include audio articles taken from the WISEducation blog and also conversations with guests who are paving the way and are having challenging, constructive and needed discussions in international school education!

Looking forward to having and sharing some important discussions about (and with) the international school community!

Series 2, Ep 2 – Rhiannon Phillips Bianco, Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education and Y6 Class Teacher at the Southlands British International School in Rome WISEducation Podcast

In this episode I had the absolute pleasure to speak with Rhiannon Phillips Bianco, Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education and Y6 Class Teacher at the Southlands British International School in Rome. Rhiannon shares her experiences and lessons that she has learned in her previous and current Wellbeing Leader roles. We discuss the work that has influenced Rhiannon's approach to supporting wellbeing in schools, we learn how Rhiannon has adapted her wellbeing work with primary students to now working with students across the whole school, and we talk about the small things that we can do create a culture of support, safety, and wellbeing amongst staff. Rhiannon has a wealth of knowledge and experience combined with a true passion for supporting wellbeing, and it was a real honour to speak with her. I hope you enjoy the episode! You can also check out previous issues of the Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine at: https://www.schoolmanagementplus.com/category/publications/wellbeing-international-schools-magazine/
  1. Series 2, Ep 2 – Rhiannon Phillips Bianco, Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education and Y6 Class Teacher at the Southlands British International School in Rome
  2. Series 2, Ep 1 – Students Together AgaiNst Discrimination (STAND), International School of Helsinki
  3. Ep 10 – Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director of Higher Education Services, Council of International Schools
  4. Ep 9 – Tricia Friedman, Creative Content Director with Shifting Schools and creator of the Be A Better Ally podcast
  5. Ep 8 – Daniel Wickner, founder of Identity-Centered Learning and Elementary Teacher at Hong Kong International School

[Guest blog] 5 Reasons Why the ‘Catch-up’ Narrative is Harmful to Children’s Mental Health

Guest blog by Ava Shabnum Hasan & The Mentally Well Schools Team

There is no doubt that the last year has had a huge impact on the education of our children and young people. Lockdowns with extended periods of learning remotely, and the many challenges of adjusting to that, have had a significant effect on the lives of children and adolescents.

Now with the return to school, especially in those countries where vaccination programmes are progressing, there is a need to address all of the impacts of extended remote education, and to set clear priorities across children and young people’s learning, social, and psychological needs. One of the most frequently heard narratives recently in the U.K. and in some other countries is the idea of academic ‘catch-up’.

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has stated in 2021…

“There is a whole range of different proposals that we are looking at, whether it is a five-term year, whether it is lengthening the school day.”

The British Psychological Society wrote in February 2021 that the…

“Unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning during the pandemic places unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people.”

Why does the British Psychological Society say this?

5 reasons why the concept of ‘catch-up’ is likely to harm children and young people’s mental health and life outcomes

1. Pressure to ‘catch-up’ negates the needs of many children and young people who have been impacted psychologically by events of the last year: from bereavement because of COVID, through suffering from food poverty because of parents having lost their jobs, to the impacts of parental stress from caregivers who are struggling themselves due to the unprecedented economic and psychological effects of the pandemic.

Evidence for this includes:
1 in 6 children aged 5 to 16 now have a probable mental disorder. 

This is an increase from 1 in 9 children in 2017 [NHS data].

There was a doubling of urgent referrals for children with eating disorders in England in 2020, and urgent referrals for starting treatment in the community reached an all-time high.

We also already know that…

75% of mental illness develops by age 18. [MHFA]

In order to safeguard our children and adolescents’ mental health and life outcomes, we need to recognise that the pandemic constitutes a traumatic life event for a significant proportion of children and young people, who are in need of nurture, compassion and support to help them recover with minimal long-term impact – not pressure to perform and catch up.

2. The idea of ‘lost learning’ overlooks the reality that learning is a lifelong process. As Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology says…

“…the notion that children need to catch up or are ‘behind’ at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have ‘one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone.”

3. Many children have adjusted to remote learning during lockdowns and have made good academic progress, perhaps just as much as they would have done if being educated in school. To focus on ‘lost learning’ or a potentially ‘lost generation’ undermines the achievements of many children and young people, and their parents/carers and educators, through the challenging events of the last year.

It also overlooks the potential that emotional learning about how to weather life’s unexpected storms is just as important as academic learning, if not more important.

“Emotional learning about how to weather life’s unexpected storms is just as important as academic learning, if not more important.”

4. Focusing on test results, assessment scores and exam grades overlooks the skills which children and young people will need to successfully navigate the immense ecological, technological and societal challenges which humanity faces, and which our children and young people will be tasked with trying to resolve.

  • Global Warming continues to advance at a very concerning rate despite an initial drop due to the events of 2020.
  • The pandemic has catalysed the use of AI-based algorithms by employers, and in coming years more and more jobs will be replaced by AI, making the job market for the next generation unrecognisable.
  • We also know that excessive social media use likely has a negative impact on the mental health of children and young people, with the intentionally addictive nature of such technologies now having been exposed.

To excel in the modern world against the unique and unprecedented challenges being faced by upcoming generations, suggests a need for schools to focus less on academic learning, and more on the types of skills that are most likely to equip children and young people in navigating a rapidly evolving and precarious world.

These are skills such as: problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, initiative, emotional intelligence, and psychological resilience.

5. Talk of the need to ‘catch up’ and of longer school days and shorter school holidays is a further ‘kick in the teeth’ for a teaching profession that is stretched and stressed, often to breaking point. Surveys in 2021 have shown that:

  • Only 44% of international school teachers said they felt their school was supporting their wellbeing through the COVID-19 pandemic [ISC Research]
  • 35% of teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said that they would “definitely” not be working in education by 2026
  • 66% of teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said the status of the profession has got worse and blamed government for failing to listen to or value teachers [NEU survey]

The ‘catch-up’ narrative piles even more pressure on educators at a crucial time. Measures such as longer school days and shorter holidays will only serve to drive yet more experienced educators out of the profession – at a time when many of our children and young people desperately need them to support their emotional recovery.


The pandemic has undoubtedly affected education, and in some cases will have disrupted academic progress. However, to focus on academic ‘catch-up’ in the way that governments in the U.K. and some other countries are doing, and to overlook the traumatic emotional impacts of the pandemic in a bid to get back to ‘business as usual’ will fail to address the broader issues at stake for real recovery to happen.

Pressure to ‘catch-up’ is likely to manifest as even higher levels of mental illness among children and young people, inhibiting their life outcomes into adulthood. Many school leaders are well aware of this situation, and now face a choice between acquiescing to the notion of academic ‘catch-up’ or instead resisting this pressure from government.

In the words of my colleague, Darryl Christie, a psychotherapist in adolescent mental health: “If children and adolescents can learn how to manage their mental health, the rest is easy.”

Ava Shabnum Hasan is the Founder of Mentally Well Schools. An LSE graduate, and former SENDCo and Senior Leader, she worked in schools in the U.K. and internationally from 2001 to 2019, including Harrow International School Bangkok. As a former SENDCo with expertise in mental health, she now works with a leading Psychotherapist specialising in adolescent and adult mental health. They offer free resources, evidence-informed programmes and CPD to improve children’s mental health and staff wellbeing.

Find out more at: http://www.mentallywellschools.co.uk

Issue 4 of the WISEducation Magazine is out NOW!

Hi everyone,

I’m really excited to share the fourth issue of the WISEducation Magazine!

WISEducation Magazine Issue 4

Issue 4 contains a range of articles from 13 different contributors based across the world. Inside you’ll find articles covering topics including navigating trans identity in school, improving wellbeing through positive school culture, safeguarding in an international school and much, much more!

This issue also marks us nearing the one-year anniversary of the WISEducation Magazine and Blog! With 10,000 website views as of this week, WISEducationblog.com now contains articles from over 50 contributors, and over 60 blog articles on a range of topics relating to international schooling, including; gender and middle leadership, culture and mental health, and LGBT+ identity. 

Please feel free to share this link with any friends, colleagues or professional networks that you feel may be interested in reading this Magazine.

My aim is to continue to grow this community and share good practice with others, so please also feel free to invite people to check out wiseducationblog.com or @_WISEducation on Twitter.

The fifth issue will be out in August. If you or anyone you know may be interested in contributing an article for this issue then please do get in touch, as I’d love for you to be a part of it!

Thank you for your support!


Teachers, wellbeing and the ‘Laziness Lie’

‘If you do more, you are more’.

That’s right, isn’t it? 

This week I really enjoyed reading ‘Laziness Does Not Exist’ by Dr Devon Price, which explores this idea in depth. In the book Price dispels the myth of what they term the ‘Laziness Lie’; the idea that success requires nothing more than willpower, that pushing ourselves as hard as we can makes us superior to others, and that ‘productive’ people hold more value than those who aren’t productive.

According to Price, the ‘Laziness Lie’ has three main tenets:

  1. Your worth is your productivity
  2. You cannot trust your own feelings and limits
  3. There is always more that you could be doing

As Price explains, even if you don’t agree with these tenets, you’ve probably absorbed these messages on some level and they’ve very likely impacted on how you view yourself and others. 

Working hard is rewarded. Setting limits and saying ‘no’ is seen as a source of shame.

I’m not sure about you, but I really enjoy ‘EduTwitter’. There are often great articles and ideas being shared, passionate discussions about best practice, and some great resources to be found. That being said, I have found that I do have to limit the amount of time I spend there. I often get overwhelmed with how much it appears that other people are doing. 

It exacerbates my insecurities, and confirms my (misguided) belief that other people are doing more, and therefore they must BE more than me. 

It always feels like you can never measure up.

The problem is that I get completely swept up in this idea of productivity being tied to worth, and even being judgemental myself of anyone who I perceive to not be working as hard – even if on an intellectual level, I absolutely don’t believe it. 

Life is much more complicated and messy than that.

But on some level I still buy into it.

In the past I admit there have been times when I have been obsessed with the idea of achievement and success. If I get a PhD, people will see me as ‘more’. If I attend lots of CPD courses then I’ll have ‘more’ knowledge. If I start and run lots of new projects then I’ll be ‘more’ of an asset to my school. Being ‘more’ is what I should be aiming for, because if you don’t strive for more then surely you must be… less?

An interesting theory that was raised in the book was the idea that we constantly strive to achieve more and stay on the ‘grind’, ignoring when we’re exhausted, because deep down we feel economically vulnerable. If we don’t keep impressing people and doing a good job then we put ourselves at risk. Risk of not having our contract renewed, risk of being overlooked for promotion, risk of not being able to find a job at another school – especially when we’re up against people that seem to have overwhelming evidence that they have done ‘more’ with their time.

For me, working internationally, I feel this economic vulnerability quite acutely in a couple of ways. Firstly, I am very aware that I will need a good reference so it is important for me and my work ethic to be noticed. I want to be seen as a ‘doer’, and as someone that will add value to where I work. Secondly, I am constantly worried about the future and not being able to find another job if and when I move on – or at least a job that I feel will both appreciate what I can bring and will support and encourage me to grow – you need to grab on to these positions with both hands if you find one! Thirdly, I worry about the reality of the short-term nature of international school contracts and only being secure for one or two years at a time. Whilst I appreciate that on one level this gives me flexibility and freedom, on another level I worry about my job becoming obsolete or the inevitability that one day, when my wife and I move on from our current school, we will find ourselves having to ‘start-over’ all over again – and that thought terrifies me!

If you add into the mix that for many international schools the pandemic has brought with it a year of financial uncertainty, the looming threat of pay freezes, pay cuts or even jobs being cut is firmly at the back of your mind when looking ahead to the future.

When talking about wellbeing, the threat of burnout never feels far away, especially when the world seems as uncertain as it has done most recently. How can I take time off to look after myself when I could be spending my time fighting to stay afloat, or at least building myself up so I am ready when the next storm arrives, as it always inevitably does. Our productivity is both tied to our sense of worth, but also the one thing we can control in a completely uncontrollable world. So, we try to keep ourselves safe by doing everything we can to feel indisposable. 

Burnout is not just an isolated problem at a particular job, it’s tied to the messages we are all constantly absorbing – that how hard we work is a reflection of who we are.

Whilst I truly believe that a greater focus on wellbeing is undoubtedly a positive step, cynically I worry that the emphasis on us as individuals to undertake ‘self-care’ is sometimes less a result of genuine concern, and more as a strategy to avoid burnout, so that you can ultimately continue to be productive.

For me, the biggest act of wellbeing that I can do for myself is to stop buying into the language around productivity and success, that celebrates the ‘grind’ above all else. Instead, I am trying to make time to be ‘unproductive’ (at least in a work sense). To do a hobby that has no inherent purpose other than it’s fun. To enjoy holidays not because you’ve ‘earned it’ but just because. To listen to your body when it’s tired because you know that it’s telling you that you need to slow down, and not to ‘push through it’, because there are no prizes for doing so. And, probably most importantly for teachers, when it comes to weekends and holidays, to have them! You don’t need to use your down-time to catch up on PD and all those opportunities that you missed to further your career during term time – you need a break! 

Doing more doesn’t mean that you are more – only you determine that.