We are still here – Education beating Covid-19

April 10th 

There was an odd moment looking at all the amazing activity this week on our school social media when I realised that our “new normal” is now our “normal”. The incredible teaching and learning that is in every lesson, every day in this crisis, now for over a month, is just remarkable. It is the best time of the day as Director, to look at what the school is doing.

“We all have an unsuspecting reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test”.

Isabel Allende

I cannot get over the phenomenal innovation in music teaching online that Mrs. Nina continues to develop and astound us with. I have so many schools and colleagues looking to see how our model of education on the DLP has evolved. We had our first live online Founders’ Lecture on Thursday and heard an inspiring story from a young Moldovan, Cristina Lupusor, now working for Google Inc, describing the way her education success and hard work had allowed her to fulfil her ambitions as a school child in Moldova. A huge thanks to Mrs. Tatiana for arranging this lecture. It has been a phenomenal inaugural programme of lectures over the academic year in the name of our Founders to develop unique holistic and intellectual learning for our students. Well done 3/4E and Mrs. Larisa for a wonderful primary school assembly as well. 

Student Council response to our DLP
Student Council reactions

Our Science dept had a really impressive celebration of Science Week, and the experiments the students demonstrated from Sure Start and Grade 1 all the way up to Grade 9, takes your breath away at how this flipped learning has developed so many independent and confident learners. My thanks to Mr. Vasile, Mrs. Monica, Mrs. Elena, Mrs. Larisa and everyone else for a rich and intellectually curious Science week. And yes, we have all read that Isaac Newton’s best work was when he was in quarantine in the late 1600s. I have included here a link to an interview the former hostage, Terry Waite, gave to the BBC this week about what he learnt and reflected on as a hostage for several years in Beirut in the 1980s in that awful civil war in Lebanon. 

All of us are reflecting increasingly on what our lives mean, the people we are with, our families and our daily routines. I made my assembly to Gymnasium this week deliberately on the theme of what makes us happy. At the very least, when this is all over, none of our students will be able to say that they were “bored”. In “Man’s search for meaning”, Viktor Frankl wrote;

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Google Classroom learning in action

Our students continue to choose and show their remarkable resilience and my thanks to Mrs Elize and all teachers from primary for organising the lovely posters telling all our students how much we miss them. We also need to be reminded, as we were this week, of the incredible work key workers are doing right now across Moldova and the World in treating people, making sure the lockdown is in force and our shops are open for food. They are the ones who are daily putting themselves at risk for us to get out of this as soon as possible. We joined the UNDP, WHO and UN in showing our appreciation as a school community on World Health Day on the 7th April thanking these ordinary people who are now doing extraordinary things to keep us all safe. 

It is not very often I find myself quoting my own monarch, but this week, HM, Queen Elizabeth, an individual of 94 years and a reign of now 68 years, who has seen a remarkable near century of global changes in the 20th and 21st century, spoke for us all as Global Citizens in our interdependent and interconnected global society:

We will succeed and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again and we will meet again.

HM Queen Elizabeth II Broadcast 5th April 2020

Take care, be safe and stay home, Rob Ford

April 17th

There was almost a note of disbelief in our weekly staff meetings on Wednesday as we let the fact sink in this was Week 6 on the DLP. Only five more learning weeks after this to the end of the academic year. Although every one of us wants this to end, despite the inexorable toll this is taking on children, families, schools, businesses and societies the longer we endure the lockdown, we also know that what we are doing now means we will get back to “normal” again soon. I am not sure, however if I want to completely return to everything that we took for granted before this crisis forced all of us to re-examine our lives, our priorities and our inner selves. I have been fascinated to see the images of the World without economic activity for weeks and sometimes months, particularly in the context of SDGs and Climate Change action. There are valuable lessons here we need to learn about our approaches to economic growth, how we use resources and whether we could and should go back to the lifestyles we enjoyed before the crisis. We have seen families use this time to put technology away in the evening, because we have been using it so much during the day, and we are talking to one another more, or reading more or actually taking the time to think about life a little bit more. 

I keep reading articles saying education too will never be the same again after this crisis. On one level, I completely agree and there was a wonderful moment this week when the Minister of Education in Moldova, Mr Sarov, in a very positive and hopeful press statement stated that the country had spent the last month preparing the country’s teachers to deliver education by distance learning means and announced the work of Heritage International School as being a key player in training thousands of teachers, sharing our online safety policy and DLP to enable this new technology. The support of brilliant NGOs like UNICEF in donating funds to make sure the digital capabilities are there in schools that don’t have similar resources to Heritage, demonstrates the power of solidarity in our national education community. 

What will never change in education for me however. are the Socratic traditions, going back 2500 years which continue to underpin the best schools and the best education systems. The interactions and relationships of a group of students and a teacher as they learn and grow, becoming more confident with the knowledge they acquire and their questioning in order to make it meaningful for them is a special thing; it is the development of wisdom. Pedagogy exists in so many ways but this Socratic tradition, for me, is always at the heart of good teaching and learning. We all know for certain in this crisis that the DLP has been a Herculean solution in the most awful modern global pandemic public health crisis since the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, but none of us can wait to return to our school, our classrooms and to seeing one another again. And we will.

Next week we have “Spring Activities Week” to allow students to have more independent learning and a change in their routines as we respond to all our community about what we need to do to get everyone intact to the 31st May. I will leave you with the words of children’s author Michael Morpurgo as I think about the incredible teachers at Heritage International School who have shown the country and beyond our borders, what a committed professional learning community dedicated to children can achieve even in the worst of times. I am proud to serve as theirs and your director.

It’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom.

Take care, stay safe and stay at home, Rob Ford

April 24th

Dear Heritage International School Students,

I last wrote to you directly on March 13th, just as we were getting used to our DLP, our “new normal” and our key mind-set that our school is open, only the campus is closed. I read a report in the Harvard School of Education this week from UNICEF’s latest figures that shows 90% of students around the globe, 1.6 billion children, have their schools closed and are in lockdown situations in their countries. This is extraordinary by any standards.

On the 19th April I was asked to be the opening speaker at an online global education conference with educators, academics and policy makers from India and across Asia. They wanted to hear about the Heritage model and what we had contributed to our national education community in the development of real and applicable solutions to communities around Moldova, many who do not have our similar digital capabilities and experience.

Two of the most positive developments to come from this crisis have been our solidarity and our collaboration. As global citizens, collaborating with our world education community is as natural as the partnerships we have with our local and national communities. It is a core part of our school’s ethos and culture as an international school. I shared these messages in the conference as I heard stories of hope, resilience, leadership, innovation and community from all parts of the world. I came across a quote recently, from Senator William Fulbright, of the prestigious US scholarship fame, amongst many achievements, that I had used in London last year at a conference before I came to join Heritage and the words seem to have even more meaning in the world we live in now and the world we want to live in after this crisis:

The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy; the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately.

All of us will see the world differently after this experience: The way we live, the way we learn, the way we discuss, the way we solve problems, the way we look after our planet and the way we look after one another. Our empathy and our humanity have come to the fore in these very difficult times and as young people, you have shown all of us your resilience, your adaptability, your collaboration, your creativity, your leadership, your compassion and your care. You have shown the energy and youth needed to get us through this and I am very grateful to you for continuing to learn, to be challenged, to support at home and to support your teachers and support staff all working hard together to ensure we have routines, meaningful learning, daily interactions in the physical isolation and we have strengthened our community with so many beautiful and innovative ideas.

When we come back on Monday 27th April, we have five more learning weeks to get to the end of this extraordinary academic year. It is a year we will never forget and one where we forged our cohesion and mission as a school community. I need you to find the resilience to get to the finish line, together with your school and home, to complete this journey. In the final week of the academic year we are going to celebrate our school year and our international communities with lots of fun activities. We can go into the summer looking ahead hopefully to seeing restrictions eased. We are planning our Summer School, the new Lyceum, the schedules for September, the school calendar; all the things we need to do as we end one academic year, ready to take a well-deserved break but ensuring we have planned for the next one. 

As my old mentor in the US, Bill Bixby, told me a long time ago, good leaders see around corners and the best ones are both historians and futurologists. He also told me to drink less tea with milk. I did ignore that piece of advice and my first end of lockdown treat will be tea and cake from a local café. I think all of us now have found the patterns that make us learn effectively on the DLP: balancing screen time, routines at home and when we are online learning. We need to keep what has worked for us and what we have been able to manage in ourselves in terms of being an effective student and balancing our school/home lives in a lockdown, None of us can wait to see one another in school, where we are going to have a wonderful celebration as the amazing school community we are.

I arrived to take my post as director a year ago in May. I left an incredible school community on the Welsh/English borders, in JK Rowling’s old school of Wyedean. The Forest of Dean is a beautiful part of the world and I can see why she was inspired at school to be a writer as a student. The Forest of Dean has produced a number of writers including Dennis Potter, who my old teacher, Les Jones, was a contemporary of at Oxford University.  Potter called the Forest of Dean a heart-shaped place, and my old blog there took this title.  He also said this about those Forest communities:

A strange and beautiful place, with a people as warm as anywhere else, but they seemed warmer to me.

I have known many warm and incredible school communities over the years in my career, but it is a privilege to be a part of our school community right now. I have nothing but pride for what you as students, our school families, our teachers and support staff are all enduring now to get to the other side of this crisis and we can all be back together again. And we will.

Stay safe, stay hopeful, stay home and take care. As the old Irish Celtic prayer says:

May the wind be always at your back and the sun on your face. May the road rise to meet you and ‘til we see each other again may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Warmest wishes,

Mr Rob

May 1st

As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer

William Shakespeare

In three words I can sum up everything I know about life. It goes on

Robert Frost

I have seen this Frost quote a number of times this past week. Most people know the lines from his famous poem “The Road not taken” and the lines “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference”.

It appeared to many people, as we returned back to the DLP on Monday after the Spring/Easter week, with only five weeks left until the end of the academic year, that life is very much continuing, especially as we are getting closer to completing two months as a school community learning this way under the lockdown. The “new normal” is now just the normal and the routines of the school day, the classroom, the way we hold a school week with regular assemblies, briefings, staff meetings, Monday greetings, Friday bulletins, has all made clear that life goes on.  Nevertheless we are still in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic health crisis with no vaccine in sight; no clear way for any government or society to follow a certain route other than everyone trying to make wise decisions and lead communities.  Some countries across Europe and Asia, are already starting to lift some restrictions on society and the experience of Denmark is worth a read.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden declared they were now coronavirus free but cautioned that it could still return. Again, another interesting case study for the whole World to look at, not least the model and example of leadership. In our own country, Prime Minister Chicu, announced the lifting of some restrictions on certain shops and the public could use outdoor spaces in a limited and safe way.  This is to be welcomed, but again, with a note of caution, as any temporary gains made in slowing down the spread will be lost if we try to go back to “normal” too soon. Examples in cities in China and Singapore illustrate this clearly.  

The mental health and wellbeing of our young people in particular, has been at the forefront of my mind as both a parent of three daughters and as an educator.  These small things we took so much for granted before March, are now so precious. I wrote to all students last Friday to let them know we are all in their corner as we get through the next few weeks to the end of the academic year. My assembly this week to Gymnasium also looked at the idea of us valuing our precious lives.  The “good” we all hope will come from this crisis and the potential for a rethink about what our relentless economic activity is doing to damage the planet and our finite resources. We shouldn’t forget the key workers, for whom the phrase “life goes on” might sound almost flippant: our health workers confront the reality of this crisis daily and our shopworkers do not have the luxury of “Stay Home” as they put themselves at risk ensuring we have food and water in our shops to keep us all going.

It is possible we may even see this return in the Autumn/Fall, even if we manage to see this subside over the summer. At least then, we would be more prepared for such a crisis. I return to the enormous pride I have for the Herculean work of our teachers, whose workload has doubled in order for them to teach in this way and yet they have continued daily now for nearly two months in their own homes, with their own families alongside, making sure we continue quality learning, routines, meaningful interactions and providing the certainty of education in these times. It is a privilege to be in the same team as these people. 

I was asked to be the first guest speaker at an interesting online global education conference last week with Indian and Asian school leaders, academics and policy makers. We discussed the way that this experience changes schools and what happens next as we plan the return to school and the next academic year with the threat of an outbreak again and a vaccine still a year away.  nb. Please don’t drink disinfectant!

This wasn’t quite as fun as reading to children across Moldova on Tuesday for a brilliant META literacy project that allowed me to sharpen my best Bristolian pirate accent from my adopted native city in the UK as I attempted to bring Long John Silver alive through the classic “Treasure Island”.

Back to the conference and you can catch my opening on the YouTube clip link here (16mins – 21mins). Apart from agreeing that we didn’t wait around for someone to tell us what to do in the crisis, knowing that as a community we had to continue school in a meaningful form for the foreseeable future, I also praised the national education community’s response here in Moldova and our contribution to this as a school. This is particularly meaningful when you contrast our response with countries like the UK and USA. I emphasised was that we wouldn’t necessarily see the dramatic flipped education system some have speculated about: if anything we have seen only how integrated and necessary our technology and digital capabilities need to be for learning and our society in the 2020s.  I believe however, that digital learning is only a means, in the same way as numeracy and literacy.  What we have all come to realise is that the robot armies of teachers for the future are still on the pages of Sci-Fi. The very physicality of our daily interactions, coming to a special place called a school for learning in a class full of friends, the real interactions with a teacher, the ability to run outside or eat together in the canteen (I really miss school soup) are what makes up our learning experience and gives us our positive sense of well-being. It is how we grow and develop into young adults. 

To return to Frost and taking the road less travelled.  In May it will have been a year since I joined Heritage International School and it certainly has been a year full of challenge, excitement, achievement and joy together as a school community. We continue to bring to reality the purpose of our school and its mission as we prepare our young people for the challenges of the future as confident and balanced global citizens.  I had a look again at the incredible richness of the Founders’ Lecture series as an example of the incredible experiences we are making a reality here. We are giving our remarkable young people the confidence, the security, the challenge, the examples and space to grow into the future leaders we so desperately need to solve the problems that will remain long after we have moved on from this crisis and we are able to look back on nostalgic lockdown memories. Life does go on and as a school we certainly will continue to define our education for the 2020s on a path less travelled.

Rob Ford, Director.

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