You never appreciate what you have, until it is gone. Never has this cliché been more significant than in the last year and half. In lockdown, so much of what we took for granted was suddenly taken away, says the International School Aberdeen.
However, it also means that we can consider our post-pandemic future with a far clearer sense of what is important. In education, this means recognising that before achievement comes care. Children do not learn effectively unless we first attend to their physical and emotional wellbeing; they need to connect, they need a sense of belonging.
At International School Aberdeen (ISA), student wellbeing sits at the heart of everything they do and everything they stand for. The school knows that healthy communities and positive learning environments are always built on the quality of human relationships.
It is what the school describes in its mission statement as ‘a safe and caring learning environment’. Not just physical safety, but increasingly, in this time of uncertainty, emotional security too.
ISA recognises that physical and emotional wellbeing cannot be taken for granted. A good example is the physical education (PE) programme at the school. Yes, it has the usual competitive sports – football, volleyball, basketball and badminton. But how about beginning the school year with ultimate frisbee?
James Cooper, one of ISA’s PE teachers, explains: “Most kids haven’t played ultimate frisbee before, but it is a skill they can take away from school and enjoy with family and friends. There is a flexibility at ISA, and it is part of a wider programme that encourages certain values, coming together as a community, participation, effort and consistency.”
At ISA every child learns to swim, every child takes part in rock climbing. They are not ranked against others, but rather put in competition with themselves. They face fears – like heights. They challenge themselves to get stronger and improve their own performance. They build trust with peers and discover how to support each other. They learn to take pride in their own progression, and not set too much store in their passing rank against others.
Sport is also an opportunity to connect with the wider world at ISA: the ISA volleyball team competes in Scotland, but also in a Norwegian tournament while the football and basketball teams play tournaments in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and London. This provides unique opportunities not just to compete internationally but also to stay with host families, make friends and learn about other cultures around the world.
ISA believes in ‘every child, every opportunity’. Participation in sport – the pride in personal progress, the connections it brings and the relationships it deepens are not just for the few or the particularly talented. Sport is for everyone. Nevertheless, some children do excel – the ISA’s afterschool varsity teams and its connections with community sport allows them to enjoy the thrill of personal excellence.
The first year of secondary school begins at ISA with frisbee; but how does the year end? With circus skills of course! Students learn Chinese yoyo, Japanese diablo, U.S. cup stacking, juggling, and uni-cycling.
Led by head of PE Mark DeGraw, who has 25 years-experience teaching circus skills under his belt, Mark believes that: “If you teach traditional sports, you usually see the same child that is good at one sport is good at all sports, and the same kids are disengaged – but teach them the unicycle and suddenly it’s not about winning or losing but progressing.”
Circus skills have become a central component of the ISA PE curriculum and are designed to get students active, develop new skills and boost confidence. It is the perfect balance set against team sports and it focuses on individuality and helps develop possible skills and hobbies that could last a lifetime
Even more fundamental to ISA’s resilience and ability to face change is their Student Wellbeing Team. This includes two full-time counsellors – a Social and Emotional Counsellor and a College Counsellor, four learning support teachers, school nurse and health and safety officer, who work together with Head of School Nicholas Little, the Assistant Principal and the Head of Early Years, to support the emotional security and wellbeing of a community of 500 students.
Nurturing a sense of community and belonging is fundamental to ISA’s approach to child-centred learning. A sense of wellbeing begins with a feeling of having some control, feeling respected and feeling listened to.
We should never take for granted the thrill of participation in sport, the value of personal improvement or the joy of connecting and of belonging. Most importantly, the importance of acceptance.
International School Aberdeen has never forgotten that the foundation of excellence is care and this combined with all of the above add up to a distinctive culture of physical and emotional wellbeing.
To find out more about what ISA can do for your child, visit the website here: www.isa.aberdeen.sch.uk