2019

They think it’s Moldova, it is now…new beginnings and new blog

“That one is never ready for the next step in life’s journey, we learn what we need to know from the road itself”

Anon

Hi Rob, …wanted to quickly let you know while I’m out here I’ve been seconded for a few weeks by the FCO to the UK mission to the UN in New York. Heading into the UN each day, witnessing the General Assembly sessions, and walking past all the flags outside reminds me of all the work we did on multilateralism and international relations at the IB and outside of the school. None of that has left me, and continues to be the guiding influence in my career choices, mindful of the continued need to make a case for internationalism…I feel very proud to consider myself a citoyen du monde, and a large part of this is thanks to the experiences we were given in the IB…”

Email: May 2019. from a former student, now civil servant and diplomat for the UK government.

It was the view of the river Wye flowing past the Norman ruins of Chepstow Castle last Thursday in the evening sun as I sat down to a meal with my now former leadership team, that finally seemed to flick the reality switch of what it would mean to be leaving Wyedean School after being principal for four years. I drove over the old Severn Bridge on Friday morning for my last day in Wyedean, Stone Roses playing, noticing even more acutely the breath-taking views of the Forest of Dean and the first hills of Wales in the dawn sunshine as the Severn widens to flow into the sea. My last day in Wyedean was one of the loveliest and most emotional moments of my career. I am not averse to a tear or two, happy and sad moments of life, but on Friday morning, leaving this wonderful school community and all the good we had achieved together for our young people and in education hit me full on. I quoted the line above to all the students in the final assembly because it is a line given to me by my mentor, Les Jones, and it rests above my head now in my cabin where I am typing this new blog. “We are never ready for the next step and I don’t think we should feel we have to be either”. The journey is often the most important part of any learning experience and, as often as I have quoted this at students throughout my career, I found myself properly absorbing the words as I stood in front of my colleagues, friends and dear students on Friday morning, trying to sum up what Wyedean has meant to me. Les often asks “did we know we were happy at the time?” which is a question I have found myself thinking about a lot as I drive back and forth over the Severn between Bristol and the Forest of Dean. It really did only fully hit me, thanking colleagues and saying goodbye to the brilliant school community of Wyedean, how important and enjoyable leading that remarkable school had been to me.

I have been asked many times over the last few months “Why Moldova?” Actually, more often “Where is Moldova?”. I think it is fair to say that there are a few thousand Welsh/English families in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley right now, who definitely now know where Moldova is in relation to Europe, along with a number of friends and family in Shropshire and Bristol. My wife has even looked at the potential road trip of 1600 miles, 31 hours to get there from our home in Bristol. Now that is a road trip! One I would like to undertake at some point, but, for purposes of expediency, tomorrow afternoon it is an Air Moldova flight that will carry me from London Stansted to Chisinau so I can meet the wonderful school community of Heritage International School as their new director.

Why Moldova? Although four years at Wyedean School as principal seemed shorter in comparison to my predecessors, who averaged around ten years, the demands and work we have achieved in this time makes it feel a lot longer: ten years of challenge and progress at least in that time, with all the challenges in education in the UK right now. The prospect of further uncertainty for the UK now seems more or less guaranteed with Theresa May’s resignation announced tearfully in front of 10 Downing Street. I was ok about her departure being on the same day as my own, as long as no one was expecting me to dance out Abba style.

I know leadership, particularly in the public sector where funding cuts and constant goalpost changing has been the norm, gets tougher all the time, but the reservoirs of optimism we are supposed to draw upon as leaders of school communities, have meant, in recent times, that the bucket has needed an ever longer rope and more of a scrape along the bottom than ever before. I felt at the start of the academic year in September, after a glorious family holiday in France, that this would, likely, be the year that I would allow myself to be open to the possibility of the next challenge. This thinking was also based on the fact that the now established team in place at Wyedean could more than lead the school, particularly with the strength & calibre of the school’s senior and middle leaders. I looked at them all on Thursday as we had dinner together in the restaurant and, again, as they came outside to wave me off, it did feel a bit the finale of a wedding, except I was leaving my bride behind for a new marriage. When I saw the team that had worked with me for so long and with such dedication, the emotion and pride of a job well done were my only thoughts. I will dearly miss working with such a student-centred team of brilliant and dedicated people. I have achieved what I set out to achieve at Wyedean and it took four years. But still the question, why Moldova?

I have been working with some of the most remarkable and significant educators in education in Eastern Europe for a long time through my role as global educator and British Council Ambassador. Even my very last hour in school was a skype session with the great students of the inspirational global educator, Leonora Gucati in Kosovo. It is a fascinating part of the World and a part of the European continent with which we should be collaborating more extensively from Western Europe. I watched the European Elections results last night with my wife and it is remarkable to see not only turnout up across Europe, but a maturity and wisdom in voters from Romania to Spain in responding to the new, modern politics that has managed to take countries like the USA and UK by surprise over the last few years: Seemingly the European electorate has learnt from our experiences and is using our lesson wisely.

Moldova is one of the most fascinating places I have visited and the more I have worked with colleagues and schools there and organisations like META, the more I have felt the purpose of this work as a global educator and school leader. I have had a great affinity with Moldova from the beginning, as it finds its way as a post-Soviet society placed between Europe and Russia. For much of its history, this beautiful, fertile land, with its warm people, has sat at the crossroads of the Slavic, Ottoman and Latin World. Finding a cultural, political and economic balance and working with its rather larger neighbours has occupied Moldovan leaders for a long time.

When I first started working with the new Heritage International School a couple of years ago after its inauguration, I reflected upon the remarkable students of remarkable inspirational educators: I knew this vision and model of education, inspired by the school founders was something I wanted to be involved with. The opportunity this year to be the new director, when offered by the founders of HIS has been one of those moments in life where courage is needed to take this very different step and change trajectories. It is exciting and a privilege to be the next director and to work with an incredible school community of both international and local students, teachers, parents and school leaders. The international education model of HIS has the chance to establish a beacon of educational excellence and innovation in global learning that will have import and impact far beyond Moldova. It is a privilege to be able to work with the HIS community, building on the work of the first director and the initial establishment of the school. HIS needs to continue to develop as a new educational organisation but to retain its focus on two key things; 1) A positive school culture and 2) Developing an outward facing school in everything it does, in particular with its commitment to global learning. The “international” part of the name means the curriculum, ethos, approach and every day culture are anchored in HIS being a World Class school and that the students & staff of Heritage are exposed to and are part of a globalised society as global citizens. Local identities, languages, history, culture & aspirations all are the key influencers in the way these global citizens will develop & become the next generation of leaders, contributing fully & positively to their civic societies.

This core ethos was evident on Friday, as students from HIS made clear their thoughts on Climate Change Action and the importance of SDGs underpinning our approaches in schools and our societies. I know how important it is to ensure our young people develop intelligent & thoughtful approaches to ensuring their own & others’ physical and mental wellbeing and that as parents and educators we strive for balance, and to promote self care and good mental health. Being a global educator has taught me many things from classrooms around the World, not least that developing emotional resilience & encouraging wellbeing practices for good mental health is a universal priority for our young people. We have a duty to continue redoubling our efforts, resources and commitment to ensure our children can face the future with confidence and optimism.

In the last days, I have received an astonishing number of cards, emails and messages from a range of people: current & former students, colleagues and friends, members of the local community. All wishing me and my family well as we prepare for this move. In many ways, leaving a role seems to have this as a bonus: hearing from people you haven’t spoken to for a while and experiencing that lovely joy of connecting again. I had one such correspondence from a former student, who I have taken the liberty of quoting, at the start of this blog. I was blown away to see who this always intelligent & thoughtful individual with a great sense of humour had now become as a civil servant and diplomat. His exposure to and immersion in global education formally through his IB and informally through an international education culture, has led him to this path where he is doing so much public good with his skills, talents and strong sense of global and civic responsibility. It doesn’t get much prouder a moment than this for an old teacher. This blast from the past illustrates, as did the great Spanish students who visited Wyedean MFL last week, taking afternoon tea in a garden at Tintern on a sunny day, the absolute transformative power of global learning – its ability to develop and prepare better leaders for the 2020s and beyond in our young people. This is my mission in Chisinau: to continue the global education vision of the HIS founders for the school and beyond through a culture of global learning and international education pervading everything we do. Together, our young people will become “citoyens du monde” in their own right.

One of my family’s favourite musicians is the late, great John Denver. Though I know, in the words of our favourite car tune, “Country Roads” – the roads will eventually take me home again, for now “my bags are packed and I am ready to go”. Leaving on a jet plane to Moldova will be tough and it really is a step into the unknown on one level, even for this experienced global educator, but I am excited at the prospect of living and working in the remarkable country of Moldova; working with incredible people at HIS and ensuring we are delivering an innovative, global education curriculum model for the young people of this unique part of the World. I am looking forward to seeing the positive impact we are going to have as a school team: as a community of students, staff & parents continuing to develop innovative and unique 21st Century World Class learning.

Though I am already missing my last blog from Wyedean, “This Heart Shaped Land”, this new blog series from Moldova and Eastern Europe will hopefully continue to show the importance of education, as well as sharing my experiences of life and work in Moldova and my role in leading HIS as Director. For a daily insight into our work at Heritage International School please follow our newly inaugurated twitter account @HIS_Moldova.

Onwards and eastwards.

Rob Ford

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