In March, schools were given two days to prepare for a lockdown in response to a virus of which – six weeks earlier – nobody had heard.
The subsequent three months saw learning move from the classroom to the living room. Change did not end there, however, and at the end of lockdown in August, students went back to school buildings with entirely different routines, interaction, resources, and movement.
Who knows when we will return to ‘normal’? What we can be sure of, however, is the speed and complexity of the world’s evolvement. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected and accept that we can in no way predict what the future holds.
While International School Aberdeen (ISA) prides itself on preparing students for this rapidly evolving, globalised world, this year has certainly tested its ability to thrive in such an unpredictable environment.
And the school has excelled. This was evident in their September inspection from two international agencies – the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the Middle States Association (MSA), based in Europe and North America, respectively. Among many accolades, ISA was praised for its: “High standard of online teaching during lockdown” and commended for its “academic rigour… evident in lesson visits, despite the challenges currently posed by the coronavirus pandemic.”
All change, even that which improves a situation, can be challenging. Throughout the day we manage a complex series of actions by routinising them. Change requires an increased usage of our conscious mind and thoughts, which can be psychologically tiring. Not to mention running the risk of failure, which is emotionally taxing. Just think how exhausting driving your car would be, for example, if you were to constantly think about each step needed to start and manoeuvre the vehicle. But ISA believes encountering new things is worth the effort and the risk.
One parent described the school as: “A community filled with kindness and respect.”
A sentiment echoed in the bureaucratic language of inspectors, who wrote: “Well-being is particularly noteworthy: the school really does fulfil its vision of providing ‘exceptional care for every child’”.
ISA’s four Information Technology staff have been crucial this year in establishing its one-to-one Chromebook programme and online communication platform for remote classes.
Even more fundamental to the school’s resilience and ability not only to face change, but to thrive in the midst of uncertainty, however, has been its two full time counsellors, four learning support teachers, school nurse and health and safety officer. All of these staff work arduously for the school of 500 students, ensuring each child has the help and support they need.
At ISA, care is supported by specialists, it is not outsourced to them. Through careful recruitment and small class sizes, it is a place in which, according to parents, children “look forward to each day in school” and are “so happy and nurtured.”
One said simply: “Thank you for making learning so much fun.”
This summer, ISA continued its 100% pass rate in the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma – a pre-university qualification highly regarded by universities in the UK and around the world. Yet again its students scored 10% above world averages in an already elite qualification.
As well as gaining triumphant results, however, ISA students learn that while success may be the end-product, trying – and sometimes failing – is a natural part of the process of learning, and gives us the resilience to adapt to new circumstances.
ISA students are willing to step up, and exercise “leadership and voice” through student councils, the Honour Society, service projects, the Ambassadors Programme and the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, as well as in their own interactions with teachers and peers in the classroom.
A sense of agency is vital in responding to uncertain times; some may be born with this attribute, but all can develop it. ISA’s inspectors discussed the sense of ownership that ISA students have over their learning. They also noted how the curriculum offers challenge and allows for personalisation, choice, and agency in an environment where students can communicate with staff when they feel their work is too difficult or too easy.
Obedient students wait for orders; ISA cultivates leaders, the makers of change.
In the last eight months, ISA has gone from learning online to learning in bubbles; it has introduced a one-to-one Chromebook programme and expanded its digital resources; it has adapted its teaching methods to meet with new demands and has changed how after school activities are offered while moving community events online.
And, through it all, it has maintained a vibrant international identity of both expatriates and locals within a ‘palpable sense of belonging and community’.
The school, staff and students are ready – now more than ever – to face the challenges of an uncertain world in 2021.
ISA will always end with excellence, because it begins with care