2020, Uncategorized

Notes from the Lighthouse

Mr. Rob : Lighthouse Keeper

March 13th 2020

This has been an extraordinary and unprecedented week in the life of our young school. I write this completely without hyperbole and after 25 years in education; half of these as a senior leader leading schools and working with schools and their communities around the World. The entire school community has responded with a calm, positive and constructive approach to ensure we have planned for all eventualities and our shared Crisis Management Plan has helped guide us through a very uncertain week in which changing events escalated rapidly. The most important consideration here has been the wellbeing and education of our children. They are always in the centre of any decision we make as a school. The one reality in all of the confusion of last week as this unfolded, is that doing nothing was not an option and waiting for a Ministry announcement or guidance or the hope it wouldn’t happen was at odds with the old advice that the good leaders can always see around corners. We are an outward facing, innovative, 21st century, World Class international school in Moldova and this week, that vision and mission was completely visible in the way we took our advice and guidance from the professionalism of our parents, our Founders, QUBO, the global networks of the schools we work with and our own judgement calls based on our experiences.

I want to thank Dr. Igor Pokanevych, head of the WHO in Moldova, and Simon Springett, permanent representative for the UN in Moldova, for their support of me and the school, and their invaluable advice especially as they have been rather busy this week. HE Ambassador Mikuts and HE Ambassador Dacho have also been working and advising the school and I cannot thank these parents and all parents enough for their support as members of our cohesive school community. All colleagues have worked tirelessly to develop the Distance Learning Plan and to make it a reality, but Mrs Lynda Smith has led from the front with her drive and passion to make sure this was in place. We are now making that plan a reality for our school as we meet the demands of the testing challenge to continue to deliver high learning in a strong educational model despite the circumstances. There is still a long way to go yet as this has the potential to last way past the 23rd March but in the words of NASA, failure is not an option. I am really proud of our school and what we are achieving here at Heritage. This is our “New Normal” and we are ready.

March 20th 2020

I had a colleague in the UK call me this week to ask how we were all coping in Moldova and to find out how we were facing these challenges not only a wider level as a society but as a school community. I happened to be sitting in school working late and the school was empty and he jokingly likened it to a lighthouse keeper on some remote island in a stormy sea keeping the flame alight. Well, the thought has stuck with me as I have reflected on the escalating sequence of events that now encroaches on most parts of the globe with communities scared, governments unsure and everybody needing reassurance that although these times are difficult right now, together we can support one another, find answers and solutions and get us all through to better times when it is over. It doesn’t help being in a silent school, when the corridors should be full of the lovely sounds of our students, your children, playing, laughing and receiving their education in our school. We know we are in our “new normal” for the foreseeable future and our distance learning plan has allowed the entire school to stay open based on the principle of the school day, routines, structure and daily, meaningful and interactive lessons that progress learning and knowledge. The near Herculean work of my extraordinary colleagues that it is a privilege to work alongside and lead, has left me very humbled and very proud. They are remarkable and they are dedicated to making sure that in this uncertain time, there will be the certainty that our children will continue to learn, follow their curriculum and be educated in the mission, ethos and philosophy of our school.

My own children embracing home learning in the UK

We have shown and led the way with this model of educational hope to the extent that the Minister of Education and the State Secretary called for an emergency meeting last Saturday in our school to see what we were doing. They requested our support so that all children in our country of Moldova can continue school in some form. We are helping and showing the World how it can be done and the good to come out of all of this is a focus on the real things of life: the meaningful things of life, something I write as a husband and a father whose own three children and wife are 3000kms away on the other side of Europe right now with no sign of when travel will be allowed again. We are all in this together, anxious and unsure but we can find answers and a way as a community. It is is also our ethos to develop and model our social responsibility as a school and we are now lending our experience and expertise to the ministry for Moldova. The Founders set this school up so it’s education would be outward facing, innovative, global and create future leaders who will take up that baton and face the challenges of the future ahead. This week I saw it when I dropped into so many online classrooms to say hello to students and talk to my colleagues and students, see amazing learning, thank them and tell them how proud I was of the way they have all responded. They are going to need our love and support in the weeks ahead as the new restrictions make themselves felt, but we will continue to make sure we are a cohesive, positive community. You, the parents of this community, who support and believe in our school are remarkable. Your messages of support are shared with the staff and it is so welcome to know that what we are doing is appreciated. Please though, still tell us when we get it wrong. As it is for our students and learning, if we fail, we learn and we change it.

Returning to the lighthouse keeper analogy, it does feel as if we have to keep the lamp of hope for our young people burning brightly to shine into the darkness right now, perhaps even more so, but it is not a lonely island or a lonely school. I am joined by every student, teacher, support staff member, parent, Founder, carer, grandparents and everyone who is proud to be a part of our remarkable young school face these challenges successfully. Our School is OPEN. We are Heritage.

March 27th 2020

I read from a colleague this week that teaching was fundamentally about connecting. As we come to the end of two weeks now on our Distance Learning Plan, we are refining the learning and everyone is adjusting to our “new normal”. We are discovering as a community how we adjust to the restrictions placed on us by the lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid19 so that we can continue to connect, learn and remain a cohesive school community.

It has been a week of numbers and statistics. I read this week numbers that made me realise the national and global community we belong to; for example, the 15000 Moldovan teachers who have now seen the webinar on distance learning and have been trained by our colleague Tatiana Popa, for the Ministry of Education. By this I mean real, interactive distance learning, and not just an inert platform on which to post tasks. We have also trained over 300 schools in Europe and the USA on our distance learning plan. This gives real, meaningful hope as we connect as an educational community and make real solutions, by educators and school leaders for learning to continue, avoiding the false panaceas that are inevitably cropping up.

Rainbows of hope

The word “Hope” has been used a lot this week around the World in school communities as parents and schools work together to ensure our children are given hope that this will not last forever and we can make the situation work through our resilience and fortitude. It is also making us realise our place in the World and the importance we attach to the things that make up our lives. I don’t mind sharing this but as those wonderful “rainbows of hope” from the Sure Starters and the Primary school began arriving by email to share with schools around the World doing the same, I did have a moment of a few tears. They were however, tears of joy, at the strength, values and character of our Heritage students.

I took the theme of “Home” this week for my Gymnasium assembly to illustrate that a fundamental concept, such as where we live, is much more than just bricks and mortar. With the new restrictions announced on the 25th March, leaving all public places out of use, we also need the value of patience in our confined homes to get through the lockdown. UNESCO statistics released this week shows that nearly 80% of students around the World are not in school now because of Covid19, that is 138 countries and 1.37billion children and their families. I read the powerful words of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden and will share them here to illustrate how all citizens around the globe are adjusting to ensure we can end this sooner and get back to our lives. Lives that, perhaps, will have changed for the better after these times as we are all sharing & connecting more meaningfully. Keep one another safe, stay home & positive and keep learning; 

“Everything you will all give up for the next few weeks, all of the lost contact with others, all of the isolation and difficult time entertaining children; it will literally save lives” Jacinda Arden, New Zealand

April 3rd 2020

I had a lovely supportive email this week from a parent, all of these messages of hope for what we are all doing are so important, that said “…can we have a quieter week next week and just let the kids get on with learning?”. Well, that is my eternal prayer right now as we continue to navigate our school community to the 31st May and successfully complete our academic year. I took a great deal of heart from the wonderful guest slot I had with Sure Starter and Miss Liuba this week, just to see how well the students are learning and are remaining positive through this awful time.

The student councils’ discussion about hope earlier this week was one of the best critical thinking classes I have experienced for a long time. We have remarkable young people in our community who have responded so well to what has challenged all of us so- called wiser and older heads. The future really is going to be in good hands with these young people here in Moldova and around the World. Their discussion on the concept of hope was much better than any of the Oxford/Cambridge University interview classes I used to prepare and can remember. We all know that this crisis will change all of us and the things we take for granted we will think differently about again. Our very concept of freedom and free will to take a walk outside, see our friends and family and share life will recalibrate us for the better. Let’s hope the Gaia impact on our planet as economic activity has ceased will also focus the minds of those that lead can change our World for the better.

My assembly to Gymnasium this week was on books that inspired me and I am close to completing Jane Eyre now. I finally feel I can look my old mentor and teacher, Les Jones, in the eye and say I have read it. We are all finding new skills and interests and it is amazing how many students have taken to knitting and said how therapeutic it is. I just love the creativity I see daily and I will make special mention of Mrs Maria and her French class for the wonderful celebrations for Francophone Day that they participated in on the 20th March.

Finally, I read a very interesting article from Stanford University this week about the ways societies and communities have maintained cohesion in history. I want to share and paraphrase Professor Robert Putnam of Harvard; “First you need glue to bind a community together, but you also need a lubricant to sort out friction”. We have shown in these weeks that the cohesive glue of educating our children is the strongest bond we have keeping our community united. Our hope, support, routines, learning & messages are what are keep us together to get through these tough times. 

If you are interested in reading or hearing my most recent publications and interviews on both continuity in education during the current international health crisis as well as other international educational issues, please click on the links below.

Take care, stay safe, stay home.

Rob Ford

rainbows of hope

Monday March 16th

TVR Moldova national evening news interview about the school’s distance learning plan/

Tuesday March 25th

Article in Independent Schools Magazine looking at wellbeing centre in schools – The Oak Centre at Heritage featured: “Greener PasturesPages 51-54 

Friday March 28th

Interview with Valentina Ursu and Radio Free Europe: Covid19 & education – “Doing nothing is not an option” 

My star turn singing John Denver’s “Country Roads” to the Russian class of Sure Starter 😉

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