2020, notes from the lighthouse

We made it and we are still here thanks to our whole school community; Hope, speranţă, надежда

8th May

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.  

Hegel

“Congratulations, dear Robert!!! It is a really very very important activity the job your school is doing for our young generation, Thank you very much for such investment in our generation of new citizens, citizens of the future of the Moldova state. This is a very important model of education of our society. Thank you for encouraging parents of your people to accept your model of education, for recruiting the team you built, and for your great experience and decision to do your important job, here in Moldova. I am so proud that I discovered your school activity. Good luck, dear Robert. With high appreciation, Veronica Lupu, Chairwoman of the AWCS, Moldova”

Anyone involved in education and working with children or young people, knows that no two days are the same.  The incredible highs and lows that come from ensuring we guide, nurture, challenge and educate our precious next generation is always something we never get used to, nor should be in many respects.  I was asked to complete an assignment once as a school student, and it always struck me then how important it was to allow wisdom to emerge once a full picture had come into view and in education, as in life, often reflection comes long after the event and the Hegel quote I began this piece with, epitomises this sentiment. As a student and a teacher, to use the American writer’s Faulkner’s words, the past, often, isn’t even the past.  We have asked students to make sure they are writing down or recording somehow, their thoughts, feelings and reflections, as they live through undoubtedly, one of the most tumultuous periods of their young lives. I have been really impressed with the very thoughtful pieces from the Student Council on Instagram and I shared them with many colleagues here and around the World to see what our students are feeling.  Their resilience and sense of perspective is humbling.  We are so proud of them and the ways in which they have coped.  It is also important in order to make sense of our lives and to see them in context, especially in such times.  The owl of Minerva flying in the dark made me think of the times we have our “3am thoughts” and this weekend, as families went outside for the first time in weeks here in Moldova, as well as in countries such as Spain and Italy, where restrictions were also eased slightly, all of us began to look ahead to a new chapter of this crisis as it continues to twist and turn.  As a school leadership team, as with any leadership, our job is to try to see around the corners, and, as the World looked to Vietnam, Hong Kong and Denmark partially going back to school, we have planned for all eventualities getting to the end of May and these last four weeks of our extraordinary academic year in the young life of our school. As the old joke goes, how do you make God laugh, tell him you have a plan. 

Well, at the risk of Divine humour, we do have a plan and it is to continue our daily education, care and educate our young people for these remaining weeks and to continue to plan for the next academic year.  In our weekly staff meetings Mrs Lynda highlighted the importance of hope and looking forward with optimism as we interact and teach our students every day. The hope also comes from celebrating life and events when we can and this week, as an Etwinning school with innumerable Etwinning projects benefiting our students. On the 9th of May we joined with our European neighbours to acknowledge the remarkable vision of people like Robert Schumann, Jean Monnet and Paul Henri Spaak, who created an idea of hope and unity from the horrors and destruction of World War II in order to ensure the continent of Europe worked and collaborated together in peace and trust to build a more prosperous and hopeful World for all Europeans.  On the 15th May we will celebrate the day of the Family. We know our families come in all shapes, guises and disguises, but they are central to us in our love and support as individuals.  We honour and recognise as a school the strength and relationships we have with our families as we work together as one school community.  Looking forward to the Summer, as with my colleagues at home, teaching daily from their living rooms and kitchens, doubling their workloads and juggling their own families, I am also definitely looking forward to finding a way home for the Summer break to see my family after these months.

It has been my privilege to have received all kinds of messages of support in recognition of the work the school community has done over the last couple of months, in the most challenging of circumstances, to ensure that meaningful, daily, challenging and interactive learning continues, that school life continues and that our students continue to develop and progress as they would if we were physically on the campus.  The School is and remains OPEN. The words from one of our recent Founders’ Lecture speakers, the incredible Human Rights lawyer, Veronica Lupu, really humbled me, because knowing her remarkable, harrowing and inspirational work, her words mean a great deal. They speak to our values and mission as a school as intended by the Founders for Heritage and Moldova over three years ago. The wisdom of that decision and plan is now becoming more clear and as Veronica remarked, what we are all doing here for the younger generation in their education, social responsibility, values, intellectual development and in the role models we provide, is our society’s hope for the 2020s and beyond. We don’t need a wise old owl to remind us of this purpose.  Our remarkable team of teachers and support staff live it daily for our children.

Rob Ford, Director. 

15th May

The World is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

WB Yeats

After the rain, Chisinau is looking very green.  It also feels and looks like the month of May should look and feel. Life has begun to return to the streets of the city and apart from the masks on the faces of people, it feels we are a stage further along in this crisis. There is, understandably, a caution, as everyone is ensuring the gains we have made as a society in the lockdown, are not lost. It was very hard to read the emotional messages from students, colleagues and parents who had gone outside to get some late Spring fresh air for the very first time following the easing of restrictions and we wait to see today, (15th May) what the next stage of the return to normality looks like as the Emergency is lifted by the government.  We know for Moldovan schools, the return is not until September, as we see out the final two weeks of this academic year, but even then we anticipate and plan for possible safe physical distancing in school and a safe school environment when we return to study.  We are holding our first ever virtual Open House on the 16th May, and the normality of planning for education and the next academic year continues. The desire to return to work, school, normal life and routines for all of us is palpable around the globe.  It is understandable, at the same time: none of us want to experience again what we have had since March in Europe. Einstein said “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach” and for all of us it has meant that individually, we have had to make sure we have done our small part as a member of society.  This has often been difficult for some and when people talk about not returning to “normal” completely, often they infer that some of the poor behaviours, inward looking, selfishness, lack of caring, lack of social responsibility, pettiness etc are the things we should move away from. As the Irish writer Yeats said, we will see the better things in the World if we just allow our senses to become sharper. 

My assembly this week to Gymnasium centred on the topic of social responsibility Two of the inspirational stories to come from this crisis around the World are the responses to key workers with people cheering them loudly (see the Banksy image in this IHH) and the story of Captain Tom in the UK.  Captain Tom, aged 100 demonstrates the importance of all members of our society, no matter what their age, as well as epitomising the fortitude, duty and resilience we all celebrated last weekend when we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the remarkable global generation who defeated a despicable evil in WWII.  Captain Tom’s, raising tens of millions of pounds for the UK’s health service, is a remarkable example to us all and shows the good that exists in this World to inspire our young people to find the solutions to the problems such as climate change, still waiting for us when we get back to normal. Two wonderful assemblies from our Primary School have also inspired us all about the creativity and fortitude of our own students.  Mrs. Valentina and 3A showed us the importance of our continent on Europe Day: the strength and support we have from our European neighbours in peaceful cooperation.  Mrs. Natalia and 1B showed us this week the strengths, shapes and importance of our families as we celebrate Family Day.  My weekly teaching and learning briefing jumped back 2500 years to Ancient Greece: nothing about digital learning this week, but Socratic Questioning in learning. One of my other hopes is that we have less “false equivalence” or “false binary” choices when we approach debates, where “Karen from Facebook” seems to be the “go to” expert for too many people. It is a disturbing feature of 21st century life when our students are drawn away from true knowledge and learning, relying on anecdote as they seek veritas. I can only point to the small example of the brilliant WHO and UN advice and help given us as a school, to make sure we have had an effective, informed school strategy in this crisis. 

Next week, our school will represent Moldova & join with another proud, ancient nation on the other side of Europe; Wales, as we celebrate #Heddwych2020/#Peace2020. Our students are preparing their messages and voices of hope, peace and goodwill across the World to all global citizens and young people everywhere as we take part in Urdd’s peace message from Wales linking countries in a positive affirmation for the 2020s.  This is an act of hope Urdd has been holding for nearly 100 years. The World is full of magical things and our education mission now, and even more so after this crisis, is to ensure we continue to sharpen the senses of our young people for a better World to pass on to them.  That continues to be our Heritage Hope. 

Rob Ford, Director

22nd May

Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

Hans Christian Anderson

 The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Dear Teachers,

We hope you are keeping well and trying to remain positive and motivated during these unusual times. With all the children of the world out of school, including here in Moldova, your distance learning programs are vital for not only their academic health but also more importantly their emotional health. We thank you, dear Educators, for your huge undertaking during the most difficult of times. You are part of the front line heroes that the world genuflects daily. Our Ambassador, HE Paul McGarry, was very impressed with you when he met you all in February and would like to catch up and see how you and the students are getting on and to see what you are all doing during the lock-down.

Kind Regards,

Suzanne; Dr. Suzanne O’Connell, Honorary Consulate of Ireland to Moldova

One of the 3am thoughts that goes around my mind, is a point made by a commentator at the start of this crisis about the very concept of a globalised society being fragile as a result of this unprecedented pandemic and what we have all endured and experienced across the World for 2020 so far. Borders being closed, schools closed, factories, shops, restaurants, transport stopped, the emergence of new daily words and phrases we didn’t use a few months ago such as “lock-down”, “physical distancing” and “pandemic”. The fascinating, at times scary debate surrounding the optimum point at which to reopen our societies, connect again with neighbours and the World, are still questions without real answers as scientists grapple for a vaccine our new, strange form of normal with so many questions left unanswered for the future. The few first months of this new decade have challenged us, frightened us and forced us all into a paradigm mind shift about the World and the certainties we once held to see us through the new decade of the 2020s.  There are many purposes to education and for me, one of the central purposes of education is the certainty and hope it gives us in uncertain times, especially for our young people. Our core role as teachers is to help them make sense of their world through the values passed onto us by our teachers, families and communities. I read a quote by the 19th century American philosopher, William James, this week that said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”. As I reflected upon this penultimate week of this extraordinary academic year in the late May sunshine, two things struck me: one, our globalised society is certainly not fragmented; and two, the paradigm mind shift and certainties are more closely linked than I first thought.

On Saturday, in a groundbreaking first for Heritage, for Moldova and definitely for me, we held our first ever virtual Open House, complete with 360° tour, video and live talk with a Q&A for new families. My would be BBC accent was polished as well as it can be from the Marches of Shropshire and Wales.  It was truly extraordinary, with over 2500 watching at the end, so I am reassured the audience wasn’t just my family and friends.  It was another great example of how we have continued to find answers and solutions in the face of Covid19 and echoed the success of the incredible distance learning plan we have been operating on since mid-March without missing a day of real learning, interaction and meaningful education for every child in our community.  It has been a model of education and a solution that inspired our country as we supported the development of the national education community. My heartfelt thanks to Tatiana Arnautu and her team, and the wonderful QUBO, for making virtual Open House possible and for providing such a platform for so many new families wanting to join us in September to be a part of the Heritage story and our innovative international school.  Real hope for the future! 

Hope also came this week from Europe & the Celtic World on the other side of Europe from the beautiful lands of Ireland and Wales.  On Monday, our young people shared the messages of peace and goodwill around the World, with the young people of Wales, as they shared their hope that they will make the World a better place for their generation and the generations to come.  On Wednesday, it was a real joy to work with the Irish Embassy again and the message from Dr O’Connell here to the education community of Moldova, recognising the remarkable work of teachers throughout this crisis, delivering daily lessons, from their own homes, using their own electricity, resources and often with their own families around them, is fully appreciated and expressed in her words.  It is something we can all be proud of and this inspirational story of our school and Moldova was shared with colleagues around the World this week when our head of international education, Tatiana Popa, represented Moldova on the panel and as a speaker, at a major online British Council global education conference. Mrs Popa spoke about our educational model to hundreds of teachers and school leaders from around the World.  This is how we succeed in adversity and Tatiana spoke for our entire school community and our country, giving a message of hope and fortitude exploring the ways we find our solutions to this crisis. 

With the celebration of our International week next week, our Founders’ Day on the 27th March and our final international day to mark the end of the academic year with celebration, we show our pride in who we are and where we are in an interconnected globalised society that still needs answers to big issues like climate change, inequality and social justice. We know our World will be changed after Covid19 but it can be in a positive, hopeful, reflective and meaningful way as we all find understanding from this time and choose the lessons we take forward into our ongoing globalised new decade and century.

Rob Ford, Director

29th May

I read a quote this week that resonated completely with me, not just in this last part of the academic year, but for my entire first year at Heritage. It is now exactly one year since I arrived to take up the post as director.  It was on Twitter from a school leader, Mark Enser, in the UK and he said;

Schools are not physical buildings, they are communities. Those communities still exist whether people are in a building or working from home

I spoke these words online on Friday to the entire school community as we joined together as one in our hundreds: families, staff and Founders, to mark the extraordinary academic year and the unprecedented challenges we have faced to ensure meaningful, daily, engaging and interactive learning has taken place since Day 1 of this crisis and the start of school closures.  The mindset of our school being open has been central to our approach as we have devised our strategy and each school day not only with lessons, but the core of the whole school also operating.  This model of educational success has already been showcased by me and my colleagues as key speakers and used in online conferences in Moldova & around the World to show what we can do as a community when we are faced with such a paradigm mindshift. To those very few who have said “it’s not really learning”, it is an egregious insult to all our teachers working from their homes alongside their families, turning their kitchens and living rooms into classrooms, using their utilities and resources to deliver quality learning in lessons daily.  It is an insult to all our students who have shown the most remarkable resilience, independence and character to make this model work and to continue their learning and routines of school.  It is also an insult to all our families who have supported us so much in partnership daily, as we have found this inspirational solution for these past weeks as literally one of the few schools in Europe offering such a full model of education. It also flies in the face of the Heritage model being sought after by the Minister and Ministry in late March, giving the entire country and our national education community its solution, not to mention the many schools across Europe and globally who have followed our model of success.  Actions speak louder than words and on Friday we demonstrated the depth and quality of our education at Heritage. 


It was a strange feeling to close the academic year online on Friday in a very first for our school, holding a full programme to highlight the outstanding students and learning reflecting over the year.  We remembered with sorrow, as a school community, our student and friend Thomas, whom we lost in December.  HE, Ambassador Hogan of the USA, spoke to Mrs Larisa’s 3/4E class on Thursday online as we held our International Week to celebrate all our nationalities, cultures and diversity as an international school. He told us all how fortunate we were to be at Heritage, that we should be very proud of our school and he praised the model of education we have here.  I am using the word “proud” a lot at the moment and on an emotional last Friday, when the voices of the choir sang the opening lines of The Beatles “Here comes the Sun” everything good, powerful and positive about our school community was there to see & hear. It was there looking back over an incredibly rich year of being honoured by the British Council in October in London for our outstanding international education and also being awarded the prestigious European ETwinning School award; it was there reflecting at the depth and range of speakers and topics from the inaugural Founders’ Lectures; it was there reflecting on our commitment to social responsibility and sustainability; it was there in the way sports & the innovative creativity in our arts and music; it was there in the way we support the daily wellbeing of our students and staff with developed counselling and our new Oak Centre; it was there in the mature and wise student leadership and leaders we have; and it was there in the compelling, engaging and challenging learning & unique opportunities students receive every day through the outstanding dedicated teachers we have and strengthened by our professional and diligent support staff. All of this we celebrated and honoured on Friday as we reflected over the year and honoured our Founders for having the vision to establish the first truly international school in Moldova to prepare our young people for the challenge of the future in Moldova and the international community, as confident global citizens. 

The school came of age in its third year as we rang the school bell on Friday to signal the end of the academic year and the start of the summer. Heritage stands as an educational institution for so much good in Moldova and the international education World.  We are at the heart of so many national and international networks as an outward facing school.  Our school culture is about the challenge of learning, preparing future leaders with decent values to make the World a better place and to have balance in their lives.  As a director, reflecting on his own first year, you realise what a privilege it is to be working with such outstanding educators, teams, young people and families.  I am speaking as a guest speaker at a number of conferences this summer, including Eton College at the end of June, and I will be sharing the remarkable journey of our school and the promise of the next stage to come as we prepare for our 4th academic year.  For now, we all need our rest. We need to respect physical distancing, especially with the easing of the lockdown and we need to appreciate, as the crisis has taught us, the real things that matter, starting with our families, friends, neighbours and colleagues. We know even more now, how global, interconnected and interdependent we all are as a society. Moldova is a remarkable and special land and I am proud to live here and work with the community. It is my honour and privilege to serve.  I am looking forward to starting my second year as director in mid August,when school staff return to plan the physical return of students to school on September 1st.  I leave you with the Celtic-Irish prayer and wish all our community a wonderful summer. Thank you for your incredible support of me and the school.  

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sunshine warm upon your face and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Rob Ford Director.

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