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In it together

By Nick Yates, ISB Communications

We’re all in this together. That’s a motto International School of Beijing (ISB) teachers have been living by during the pandemic as they’ve been busy consulting with staff in other schools around the world to strengthen online learning. In sharing experiences with the global learning community, much insight has been brought back to benefit ISB students.

Covid-19 has launched schools on an adventure in offering education remotely, and the learning curve has been as steep for teachers as it has been for students. Since this began, ISB has consistently sought feedback on its online learning program from students and families and used it to refine what it has been offering. Online learning has never before taken place on this scale and for such a sustained period. In this unprecedented situation, faculty have been putting a lot of effort into getting online learning right, acknowledging that there’s always room for improvement.

ISB teachers have jumped at opportunities to learn along with colleagues in schools from Asia to the U.S. to Europe. Together, in Zoom calls and conferences, they’ve discussed best practice and brainstormed how to get better.

‘These times tell what your community is about’

ISB’s Director of Learning, Stacy Stephens, took part in a webinar organized by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The NEASC is a body that accredits schools around the world, including ISB.

“It was a chance for us to share what we have learned along the way and how we are doing as this moves longer term for us,” said Ms. Stephens. “We talked a lot about the need to focus on student and family well-being. I said that these times really tell what your community is about. We as a community are rallying to support students, parents, and teachers.”

ISB began offering online learning as China’s isolation measures took effect in February. Teachers at Beijing’s first and biggest international school quickly started building up their know-how and establishing systems to offer plenty of innovative lessons and challenging and joyful learning despite campus being off limits.

Gradually, over the following months, other nations followed China in closing schools to limit the spread of the virus. From country to country, more and more teachers needed to start online learning, often with fewer resources than those available at ISB. It’s perhaps no surprise that ISB teachers, with their relative wealth of experience, have become a go-to for their colleagues in other schools.

‘Pivoting and adapting’

ISB teachers Bec Taylor, Erin Fazekas, and Lauren Van Rooyen were interviewed by an Australian education consultant for a video and blog post advising on online learning.

“Why wouldn’t you want to help other teachers through this crazy time? We all love children, we all want what is best for them. Plus, if we could make it easier for someone else, then that is both a privilege and a responsibility,” said Ms. Taylor.

Ms. Taylor, who said that there has been a lot of “pivoting and adapting” at ISB in response to feedback, made the suggestion that schools take time to ramp up online learning, giving small amounts of work to start with.

ISB educational technology coordinator Clint Hamada co-hosts a podcast on the power of coaching in education. During campus closure, his shows have featured teachers from around the world talking about how their schools have responded, the challenges they’ve faced, the successes they’ve experienced, and how their thinking is evolving over time. Mr. Hamada has also interviewed school leaders on what leadership looks like in this period and how they are helping to guide their organizations during this time of rapid change.

‘In this together’

In music, the Elementary School team joined a panel in a Zoom meeting sponsored by the Association of Music in International Schools (AMIS). ISB’s Skye Sanford said she and colleagues talked about their program, some pitfalls to be aware of, and answered questions.

Ms. Sanford also wrote an article for a music education publication in New Zealand and is in a support group with music educator friends in Hanoi, Bangkok, Beirut, Amsterdam, and Minnesota. They’ve talked about what kinds of lessons are working well and what’s not working. “I think we all have to be in this together,” she said in summary of these efforts.

This article in industry magazine Educational Leadership also features an account from Gina Ballesteros of how she and other English as an additional language (EAL) teachers in ISB’s Elementary School have been collaborating to support EAL learning in these difficult circumstances.

There have been many more examples of ISB collaborating with the global learning community, including Head of School Patrick Hurworth on school leadership, the High School’s Jeff Redman connecting with fellow theater teachers, and Middle School drama and dance teacher Hannah Northcott creating content like for specialists in her field.

Efforts to deal with Covid 19 have commonly been described as a war. If that’s true, it’s a global one, and education is surely one of the most important battlefields in this war. From virologists to teachers, we know that togetherness is the way to win it.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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