Nobody was fully prepared to deal with the lockdowns international schools have been experiencing.
Some international schools experienced teaching from home, doing remote learning. And though many international schools are back to in-person learning at the moment (with or without masks), others are still in the throws of remote teaching!
It has been hard on all stakeholders, and it continues to be hard on the international school community. Most of us are subjected to the rules and regulations of our host country, which can be comforting and also stressful. And international schools must make plans to follow these (sometimes ever-changing) rules.
We all want to do our part to get this pandemic over and done with. But the reality is that it has been very stressful constantly making changes to how we teach. And even if an international school teacher is getting into the groove with their current setup, there is always a sense that a new change is coming soon.
Adding to the stress and anxiety, the truth is that some international school teachers haven’t been back to their home in over two years because they have not been allowed to leave their host country!
How then have international schools made these decisions to teach during the COVID 19 pandemic? How have they made their decisions to teach in a safe way, and how were those decisions perceived and experienced by the staff?
Luckily, ISC was designed to help international school teachers find the information they are looking for. We have a comment topic called, “How did this school handle the COVID-19 situation?” and here are 11 comments that have been submitted in this section:
“The school went above and beyond on the covid-19 situation in helping families, setting up robust online learning. Some teachers took advantage of this, so things have tightened up a bit. Online learning has greatly been minimised due to extreme government caution but everyone is still masked and subjected to frequent test requests / inspections etc. Travel is severely hampered and is totally unpredictable…” – Western Academy of Beijing (76 total comments)
“The school did a great job following the government’s guidelines…” – International School Saigon Pearl (103 total comments)
“Terribly. They furloughed most of the teacher assistants and cafeteria workers. They fired someone very last minute, claiming low enrollment when she had already signed a contract for the following year…” – Ruamrudee International School (Ratchapruek) (45 total comments)
“Not well. When 40%+ of the faculty was trapped outside china (along with much of the families) the school furloughed/fired a huge chunk of them even though all of us who weren’t furloughed/fired eventually got back in. The school then hired replacements for the classrooms. It was clear that the people that were fired were people the administrators wanted to get rid of (i.e. tougher personalities). It felt like the school used COVID, instead of normal improvement plan processes, to part ways with people. This left many individuals stuck in countries that weren’t their home with no job and no income – it was devastating to many. Most of us wish they would have kept everyone on at reduced pay for 1 year (supposedly we had the money to do so) with knowing that they would need to make reductions the following year. It would have been compassionate to give everyone time to figure out what they needed to do…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong) (197 total comments)
Thailand (Chiang Mai)
“COVID has had a huge impact on the school, its managers, teachers, parents and students. Parents and teachers have been critical of some of the things the school has done but generally, everyone accepts these are intolerably difficult and unique times and that management does not have a crystal ball and is generally reacting well to the latest whims of government policy…” – Lanna International School (LIST) (55 total comments)
“In March of 2020, the school followed government guidelines and transitioned to remote learning mostly synchronously. This was initially meant to last for a few weeks, but in the end, we never returned to school. Our spring break was shortened so that we could end the year early, and this was generally appreciated. With a rigorous testing/masking/distancing regimen in place (and a general ban on parents entering the building), we were able to return to in-person classes for the entirety of the 2020/21 school year. There were always a handful of students who attended in a hybrid mode, and small categories of students were occasionally excluded and moved to virtual mode for short periods of time depending on testing results. Graduation was held in drive-in mode on campus for the classes of 2020 and 2021, which was an excellent concession. The protocols continue to be followed this year (though hybrid students are generally not accommodated for except in extraordinary circumstances) and things feel as close to “normal” as one could hope for…” – American School of Warsaw (167 total comments)
“Brilliantly. Paid for flights and quarantine costs for all employees stuck outside of China. Will do the same for the next summer break as well…” – Shekou International School (109 total comments)
“We were very lucky to have only 1 month of online/remote learning in which the Head of Tech Integration was able to set up the online program for teachers, students, and parents…” – Hope International Academy Okinawav (76 total comments)
“Really really badly although the CEO is convinced otherwise. During the last lockdown, staff was close to breaking point (and still are). Laurent and his minions decided the stick approach was best so forced staff to work from campus and remove lunches, remove the ability for staff to buy their own, and remove coffee. Then they decided that it was a good time to do appraisals, observations and hand out personal criticisms. You honestly couldn’t make this shXX up. Every single one of his remaining decent staff members is now looking elsewhere. He has fundamentally damaged the core of the school-his staff and does not appear to see this as a problem. In 18 months this school has gone from ‘has potential ‘ to ‘RUN’…” – Berda Claude International School (39 total comments)
“The school has an online learning plan when it is necessary to implement. Macau has been a very safe place to live and work during COVID but with that safety comes very limited movement. Getting into Macau is very difficult and when you are here it is basically impossible to leave. This has made life very hard for expats…” – The School of the Nations (Macao) (28 total comments)
“China, and especially Suzhou, is lucky to have been open most of the time during COVD-19! SSIS was forced to have a delayed start to the school year this year by the local government due to COVID-19 which has affected the calendar a bit by shortening staff vacations…” – Suzhou Singapore International School (147 total comments)continue reading
International school teachers around the world are all going through challenging times at their schools. The range of experiences goes from complete lockdowns with the government mandating remote learning for all schools to basically doing “normal” in-school teaching with only a few precautions being taken.
Regardless of what your international school is doing, COVID 19 is and has been taking its toll on all stakeholders: teachers, parents, students, etc.
We asked some ISC members about their experience related to their well-being at the moment living in these days of COVID 19 and lockdowns.
We also asked them…
1. What is the current state of COVID 19 in your city and country?
2. How is that current state affecting your school and teaching?
3. Because of this state, how is your well-being and the well-being of the students and staff at your school?
4. What is your international school doing to help and be supportive to all stakeholders during this time?
The American School of London (London, United Kingdom)
The numbers are currently rising and we are currently in a one-month lockdown (although you wouldn’t know it by the number of people you see).
I have appreciated the school’s steps to keep us all safe – strict bubbles, SD, increased cleaning & mask-wearing from K-12. We have had a few cases, with the majority in the upper years, but in general, they have been mostly linked to outside contact. The school has an excellent track & trace system & I feel very confident in their protocols. Admin has been very gracious & understanding that stress levels are higher and have changed PD days into holidays. I feel ASL cares a lot about my well-being.
That being said, enrollment has dropped and there is some obvious financial strain. There is a lot of mistrust in the UK government as their policies have been very inconsistent and people are fed up. Local schools do not require masks and people are not really adhering to social distancing. Cafes, restaurants, etc. are only open for take-out. The economic fallout will be huge and apparently take 3 years to recover.
The school has a solid continuous learning plan for teachers/students who have to isolate and it has been offered to families for 2 weeks post-winter break.
Copenhagen International School (Copenhagen International School)
In Denmark, the numbers right now are at the highest they’ve been since the pandemic began, but they are staying steady at the moment and the deaths per day are low (compared to other EU countries).
Right now my school is doing in-person teaching, and we are doing “Normal +” which means we are basically doing our normal teaching, but with all the added precautions (like middle and high school teachers and students wearing masks all day, teaching teams staying in their “bubbles” throughout the day, etc.). It seems unlikely that we would go to full remote teaching or an emergency learning setup again, but we’ll see.
Because it is normal teaching pretty much, many teachers are just getting on with their teaching without too much worry, but we do have teachers that are worried and concerned. We’ve had a handful of teachers and students that have tested positive and for the most part, my school has taken the correct actions and precautions.
My school has a work environment group that looks out for the wellbeing of the staff, and they have been regularly meeting with admin to discuss the current situation and what more can we do to make sure our school is following the guidelines set out by the Danish government and how best to support teachers during these crazy times. There is some extra added pressure for classroom teachers to make sure they are doing all these extra precautions (cleaning desks, washing hands, etc.) while also doing their normal planning and lessons. It is a lot and can be overwhelming!
KIS International School (Bangkok, Thailand)
CoVid in Thailand has been very well handled. We locked down in March and the schools stayed closed until August. The borders are still closed to most outsiders. Although this is killing tourism, it is not allowing the spread of the disease. Most of our kids held up well even with the IB debacle and most graduates managed to get a place at university although most are still studying here online. At school, it is masks all around both in and out of classrooms which is a tad annoying in the heat, but most things seem to be running well. Both my wife’s school [in Thailand] and mine have been trying to help the local communities with food drives, etc.
Hope International Academy Okinawa (Okinawa, Japan)
Here in Okinawa (Japan), we are facing the beginning of the third wave of COVID-19, which is expected to bring a higher number of cases than the first two waves that we experienced last July and August. As of November 29th, we are currently on Stage 3 on Japan’s scale of the pandemic’s severity, just one level below the highest warning level of widespread infection level.
We have been fortunate thus far and have had no COVID-19 cases among our school community. We still can have “normal” days at school, so our teaching duties and practices haven’t changed. On school grounds, teachers, school staff, students, and parents wear masks at all possible times. Also, we wash hands regularly, take water breaks, and open all windows in the buildings during the day. Besides these preventive measures, we have canceled all the major school events for the next month, including Sports Day, Ice-Skating field trip, and the Parent-Teaching Conference will be a virtual event.
After experiencing one month of remote learning last April, it seems everyone in our school community is aware of how lucky we are to go to school, meet each other, and support each other in different ways. The level of collaboration and communication among teachers and staff has significantly improved. For instance, creating online groups has helped us share ideas, concerns, and, most importantly, get a sense of belonging. We are in these difficult times together.
For the last four months, we have updated our communication tools (website, blogs, Google sites) to provide more efficient and transparent communication with parents, teachers, and school staff. For instance, renewing Seesaw for School licenses to increase student and family engagement, purchasing Amazon Echo smart speaker devices for all classes to improve communication among teachers and school staff. In other words, our school has invested in updating tech tools to enhance the level of communication among stakeholders.
If you work at an international school and would like to share what it is like at your international school in a future ISC blog article, please consider joining the International School Community Advisor’s Facebook Group.continue reading
The vast number of international schools around the world are still closed and doing some kind of remote learning. It has truly been a challenge for these schools to adapt and adjust to this new way of teaching.
The pressure has been on the school’s administration to organize a clear plan that will follow the local government’s rules and guidelines. These administrators strive to clearly communicate to all stakeholders given the very short amount of reaction time to put the new ways of working in place.
When using ISC’s unique Comment Search feature (Premium Membership is needed), we found a number of comments that had the keyword Covid in them. Here are 10 comments that show some implications of Covid-19 on these international schools:
“School communication has always been a struggle for the school, particularly for the foreign hires who generally hear things last. During the distance learning program due to Covid-19, this had huge repercussions in the trust of the school. Ultimately however the school eventually came to good decisions that people were happy with….”
“The school is currently going through the accreditation for NEASC and IB/PYP. This process may be delayed due to Covid-19…”
“DISK is working on accreditation with WASC, They were to do the initial visit before the end of this year, then Covid-19 messed it up. We expect them in September. Due to Covid-19, we extended the closure of campus to May 11. Learning is still taking place online…”
“Because of Covid 19, our school has been doing remote teaching for many weeks now. But after only 4 weeks, the Danish government has ordered that kids aged 0-10 should go to school (MS and HS still have remote learning, probably until the end of the year). The Early Years and Primary School sections are now teaching in person again on campus, but we have so many new rules and guidelines that we must follow. We are calling it “emergency learning”. One rule is that there can only be 10 kids per classroom because we need to have kids sit two meters apart and to limit the number of adults the students interact with. That in turn requires more teachers to teach a grade level, so the drama, art, music, etc teachers are now all classroom teachers teaching. It is very full on!”
“Students in EC-Grade 5 are using Seesaw as the primary platform for learning while students in 6-12 are using Google Classroom. This has been very helpful in transitioning to online learning due to the Covid-19 situation…”
“Pretty much all PD cancelled when Covid 19 hit. Even those that could have been rescheduled…”
“Covid-19 has put teaching online. Added costs of increased electricity use and wifi upgrades (if required) must be born by teacher. One school in the vicinity has provided a bonus to its faculty for this increase in costs…”
“New principal is hardly at school and doesn’t know teachers. In every critical situation (earthquake, Covid-19 closure) director was the first one to leave the country and ‘manage from distance’…”
“As of March, 2020, KICS has switched to online learning/teaching as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a bumpy transition, especially as it happened right at the start of the spring break, which is why some teachers and families are out of Sudan…”
“Salaries for primary and secondary teachers have been cut to 80% during the Covid-19 shutdown even though teachers are expected to teach their full course load. IB PYP candidacy was abandoned…”
ISC would like to hear from you! Log on to ISC today and submit a comment about the consequences of Covid-19 on your international school. You can submit your comment in the School Information section under the comment topic “Recent things that the school has taken on (i.e. new curriculum, specific professional development, etc.).”continue reading
Life as an international teacher requires you to be incredibly flexible as you move between countries, cultures, and schools. But nothing has required as much of a willingness to adapt and evolve my practice as being locked in my apartment and having to reinvent my approach to the classroom. Switching it up for my 10th grade Language Acquisition class was one hurdle, figuring out how to co-teach 7th grade Humanities required even more of a leap.
I am in my first year of working in Bangkok after several years in China. Like the rest of the world, I watched this pandemic unfold there with a heavy heart, fear for my former students and anxiety that it was coming soon to Thailand. But then it came, and step-by-step we readied for the change and in the end, it was a swift and easy transition to delivering my classes online and reaching students no matter where they are.
Our administrators warned us weeks in advance that this could happen and had a meeting to show us how to use Zoom. Our librarian made sure many digital resources are available on our library page. But at the end of the day, it was down to each individual teacher to remap their techniques and plans the day the call came to close.
First and foremost, we as educators have to change with the world around us and educate our students to operate in the world that is to come in the years ahead and not just the one we live in today. This challenge is forcing all of us to adapt our practices and approaches to teaching to reach across digital divides and keep learning alive. To be honest, I probably would have never drug all of my lessons into the modern age or ever opened Zoom or a Padlet if this hadn’t happened. No matter what, I am grateful for that. Silver linings!
Take a deep breath and remember that no matter what, you are still the amazing teacher you were before your school closed. You will continue to be that teacher and your stress and worry for how you will keep teaching today is proof that you are dedicated and committed to reaching your students.
Your students are not only adapting to your new class and ways of digital teaching. They are also adapting to every other teacher they have and their new systems. Treat the first week like the first week of any school year. Teach expectations, set boundaries, get to know your kids in this new way, find a new balance and a new norm.
The biggest surprise to me was how little work my students were able to accomplish in the same amount of time. Even if I kept them in Zoom with me to complete something, they fumbled and struggled to get the task done. We take it for granted that they are digital wizards because they live on their devices all day. They don’t have any more experience at this than we do, and they need time.
Stick with what matters
Look at your unit and decide what the most important things are for your students to master in this unit and keep your focus on those critical components. Add in the rest if you have time, but lock a laser focus on the heart of the topics and achieve those goals first.
Do not let yourself fall into the trap of confusing down time and work time. Just because you moved your work to your home, doesn’t mean it should dominate your life. You and your students need you at peak mental and emotional health right now. Take breaks, walk away, and don’t let this overtake every part of your life. You are living in this crisis too. You have mental, emotional, and physical needs too. See to them first so you have something left to give to your students when you hit week 3, 6, or 10 of school closures. Locked in your home? Have a Zoom game night or dinner with friends. Take walks. Have a life. You need it to sustain you.
Remember you are not alone. There are countless teachers in the same situation you are in and we are all just figuring it out. Join a group where you can find resources and advice from other teachers like Educator Temporary School Closure Community. Don’t just Zoom with your students, have meetings with your co-workers to see what they are doing. Don’t feel as if you are the only one struggling. We are all adapting and coming together like never before.
In the end we will all come out of this as better teachers with countless hours of self-study professional development from all the new systems we are adapting to. So find your fellow teachers and learn from them, teach them, and stand strong. Show your students what it really looks like to embrace a life-long love of learning and take them on the journey with you.continue reading
As we head into our fifth week of Virtual School in Vietnam, I think back to the day it was announced that students would not be returning to campus due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. This was late on a Sunday evening, but the next day, teachers came to campus as usual. By the end of that Monday, our middle school had our Virtual School platform up and running. The credit for such a successful start goes to the organization and communication of our principal, as well as the willingness of our unified staff to tackle the challenge together. We were fortunate to have positive support and clear direction from Day 1.
There are quite a few structures and strategies that have helped us be successful. The uniformity across our middle school at Saigon South International School has helped create stability and positive experiences for our students and staff. For those of you just getting started, I’d like to share some of the approaches that have worked well for us:
–For those of you who have not started Virtual School, make sure students take home their notebooks/books every day. You likely won’t know in advance if your school will close. Likewise, as a teacher, take your needed items home each day. We’re allowed on campus to work, but in some countries, no one is allowed on campus.
–Determine if there can be a pick-up location for students or parents to get materials, books, or other items they may need from the classroom. For our school, this is outside of our security and health checkpoints, not in our secure campus grounds.
–Realize that you can’t keep to the same lesson pace as you would in the classroom. It’s okay to have lessons that extend over two classes. It’s okay to change pacing to fit your students’ digital capabilities and digital access. It’s okay to have check-in days to make sure students are ready to move on to the next teaching point. As professionals, we are always modifying for our students’ needs and if pacing has to adjust, we have to tell ourselves that it’s okay!
–Give estimated times for completing each part of a lesson. Having these as guidelines will help students with understanding expectations and help them with time management. It also helps teachers plan better. We don’t really know how long it will take kids in their home environment – and we can’t see how long it is taking them. This allows us to figure out what adjustments need to be made.
–Definitely keep it simple. Estimate that students can do about 1/2 of what they can do in class for the time given. Some students may need more time, or 1-1 instruction through video conferencing.
–Give clear, simple, numbered directions for each assignment. Remember that not all of our students speak English as a first language, and even for those that do, simple, short directions are best. For example:
1. Open this slideshow.
2. Find the document called: “5. Narrative Ideas” in your Google Drive.
3. As you read the slides, complete the matching sections in your document.
4. When you are finished, submit your document through PowerSchool Learning. 5. Due Date: 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10th.
–Keep your format for delivery the same for each lesson. For my own Virtual Classroom lessons, I have slideshows for each lesson which are uploaded to PowerSchool Learning, our school’s online learning platform. I’ve found that keeping my slideshow presentation for each lesson and creating a matching document in their Google Drive is easiest for my students. The slideshow often includes a video of me teaching as one of the slides.
–Start a numbering system in their Google Drives. I suggest your first virtual assignment being called: 1. (And whatever it’s name is). You’ll thank yourself later when you’re going through 10+ documents for 100+ kids!
—-Have all class lesson directions delivered in the same format for all subjects. Unify the layouts of pages where students will find information for each class. This was managed by our IT director and administration. On our first day, every teacher immediately created a “Virtual School” page that every student would land on when they went to any PowerSchool Learning class. This page has identical layouts for all subjects, making it easier for students to find what they need.
–Consistent timing across a division is important. At our middle school, all teachers post their lessons at the same time each day. This time is between 7:30-8:00 a.m. All assignments are due at the same time as well (9:00 p.m. to allow students to help younger siblings at home during the day.) This allows for students, whether in or out of country, to access information at the same time each day, as well as only having one time to remember for submission deadlines.
–We’ve encouraged our students to stay on a school schedule, and to check in with their classroom teacher at the beginning of each class block. We know how important it can be to have routines in an abnormal situation, for both physical and emotional well-being. The feedback we have received is that having a routine as close to regular school as possible is helping our students to view this experience as Virtual School, rather than, “having a lot of homework.”
–Students are asked to check in for the first 20 minutes of each block via Google Meet. I go over the new lesson, answer questions, and clarify directions. More often than not, students
are desiring interaction. They love to see their classmates online, and even though it isn’t the same, seeing their faces virtually always makes my day better as well! After the first 20 minutes, anyone can stay and work via video conference with me.
–The structures we have in place for feedback have been incredibly helpful. Our administrator sends weekly surveys to students and we use these to monitor who we can reach out to on a regular basis. We track responses week-by-week to see change over time, to determine how our students are feeling about their learning, and to see where we can improve. We know that our students have academic needs and socio-emotional needs, and our feedback systems focus on both. If your school has an advisory system, I’d encourage you to capitalize on advisory teachers’ relationships with students as you ask students for feedback.
–Our administration also has systems in place for monitoring which students need help, tracking missing assignments, and setting up “case managers” for students who need extra support. These have worked very well. From using the analytics of PowerSchool Learning, to keeping track of contact with every student in Google Sheets, we can see the history of personal outreach to each student in our middle school.
–All of our teachers and staff reach out to individual students each day by video chats or phone calls, but we are also case managers for students who are struggling. We reach out to these students more frequently. For the three students I help, I talk with them 3-5 times a week. We set up plans for learning together, and I cheer them on as they finish assignments. I also encourage them to join their class chats with other teachers. The more contact we have with our students, the better it is for all of us!
–We’ve kept up what makes middle school fun for our students, too. House Leagues are still happening, our latest trivia being, “Which Teacher Sang That Song?” A weekly video on Mondays is sent out for House Leagues, with jokes, wigs, funny hats, and point results all included.
–Videos are loved by our students! We are sending weekly fun videos on Fridays to the students from our entire MS staff. So far we’ve had TikTok challenges, “SSIS Without You,” and a video montage that included Marz, the science classroom lizard. Our principal is the positive force behind these videos, and they are a huge hit.
–Our librarian has set up a system for daily library book check-outs. She has even wrapped up books as “blind dates” for students to enjoy, and there were a plethora of pink and red-wrapped books on Valentine’s Day! Students could pick them up in a delivery area outside of school grounds from 9-3, and they are disinfected upon return. Our Book Bingo reading challenge continues as well.
–In my own classroom, we are going to have a “Battle of the Memes” next week with student-generated memes connected to their analysis of Greek literature. I also have a joke ready for my class each day when they log on for our Virtual Class. When students finish all of their assignments, I’ve been known to dance on our video chats.
–Wellness for our staff is highly encouraged and supported. People care for each other at SSIS. We invite each other to go off campus and eat lunch. We get each other out of the classroom to take walks outside. Our P.E. department organizes daily activities to get us moving. Our Sunshine Committee provides healthy snacks and smoothie vouchers at a nearby cafe. We meet at the coffee pot, and we take breaks as needed. We listen, cheer each other on, and understand that this is tough and that we are there for each other.
–As a staff, we recognize that some days are great and we’re super productive, and other days it’s hard to even open up another student folder to give feedback. These are the times when we reach out to the teacher next door for perspective (and perhaps some chocolate). Lots of grace for others and for ourselves is encouraged.
Finally, I have to say that the support and clear direction from my administrators has been fantastic. Our middle school leadership team is strong and unified. They are a critical connection between administration and teachers, as we are not allowed to have large-group gatherings. I am very fortunate to have such a positive and supportive school in an uncertain time.
While we all eagerly await for the day our students can return (I have promised to throw paper confetti and dance, much to the delight of my students), we know that the structures we have in place are working, and we are modifying all the time to improve them. While we may only see our students through a screen for the unforeseen future, I’d like to think that our relationships with them are even stronger, as we face this unique situation together. I wish the same for you and your students as well.continue reading