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
Utilizing the database of the 1018 international schools currently listed on International School Community, we found 10 international schools that were founded in 1988 (excepts about their founding are taken from the schools’ websites):
Koc International School (Istanbul, Turkey)
“Founded in 1988 by the Vehbi Koç Foundation, the Koç School has quickly become one of Turkey’s most selective and competitive university preparatory schools. It attracts an outstanding academic staff of Turkish and foreign teachers, and students who score at the highest levels of entrance examinations. Koç School seeks to be a leader and a pioneer in Turkish education and to set standards for other schools to follow.”
Bordeaux International School (Bordeaux, France)
“Bordeaux International School, also known as BIS, is a private (fee-paying) international school for ages 3–18 located in Bordeaux, France, established in 1988 by the non-profit making Association Linguistique et Culturelle Internationale. Students are from both France and other countries. The medium of instruction is English and French in the primary streams and mainly English in the secondary school. The school moved to new premises in rue Judaïque in August 2005.”
British School Bern (Berne, Switzerland)
“The British School of Bern is an English-speaking, International day school established in 1988. It is for pupils of all nationalities from the ages of three to twelve years. It is an independent, nonprofit day school located in Gumlingen, a suburb of Bern. The school provides a modern British curriculum. The teaching allows each child to develop to his/her particular need through both same-age and cross-age groupings.”
International School of Budapest (Budapest, Hungary)
International School of Johor (Johor, Malaysia)
United Nations International School (Vietnam) (Hanoi, Vietnam)
“The United Nations International School of Hanoi is an international school in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1988 with the support of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam (UNDP) with the aim of providing an education to the children of UN staff and others. It now caters to the children of diplomats, aid workers, businessman, and other expatriates living and working in Hanoi. Classes range from pre-school to high school, and the IB Diploma is available to students in grade 11 and 12.”
Rome International School (Rome, Italy)
“RIS opened its doors to its first elementary school students in September 1988. We offer an international education to children aged 2 to 18. The Middle School opened in September 2001 and the High School in 2007. The school is located in a fully equipped campus comprised of classrooms, ample sports facilities, science labs, music rooms, libraries and computer labs, next to several acres of a public park, Villa Ada.The location is well connected by public transport.”
Khalifa School (Safat, Kuwait)
“Khalifa School, founded in 1988, is recognized as the first private educational institution for special needs students in Kuwait. Motivated by her grandson, Khalifa, Mrs. Lulwa Khalifa Alghanim established Khalifa School with the vision of providing equal opportunities for special needs students. The school combines the latest teaching methods and state of the art technology to provide appropriate educational opportunities for the students. The school is located in the capital area of Kuwait and is accessible from all locations of the country.”
German-American International School (Menlo Park, California, United States)
“The concept of a German-American School in the Bay Area in order to promote the German language and culture started in May 1980, with an ad-hoc committee under the leadership of Dr. Liedkte, Professor of German at the San Francisco State University. He was assisted by a group of dedicated parents and Mr. Rothmann, the German consul at that time and the Swiss consul, Mr. Frey. The result of many years of dedicated work, the German American School (GAS) was created by a small group of parents wanting to provide a good bilingual education for their children.”
Adana Gundogdu College (Adana, Turkey)
“Adana Gündogdu College was founded in 1988 by Mr. Yunus Gündogdu. It started with 88 students and now there are approximate 2000 students. Our school is located in Adana, which is located in southern Turkey. Adana is the city in the south of Turkey and has a university and several colleges. We have many attractions, a lake and not far from the center is the ocean. Our school includes a kindergarten, an elementary school and one comprehensive school.”
Check out the rest of the more than 1018 international schools listed on International School Community here.continue reading
An article by the International Primary Curriculum
David Lowder is a Headteacher who is leading change. As Head of An Phu, the largest Primary Campus at the British International School Vietnam, David led the very first international school in Vietnam to introduce the International Primary Curriculum. With it, he adopted a creative and internationally-minded approach to learning relevant for all children within the school; both the locals and the expatriates who were not just from Britain but from all corners of the world. Not only did this establish a new curriculum choice for parents in Ho Chi Minh City, but it put the IPC on the map for other international schools within the FOBISSEA group (Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia and Asia) looking for an up-to-date and more engaging curriculum for their primary age children.
Since moving to St. John’s International School in Bangkok, David has led the field again; becoming the first school in Bangkok to adopt the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and, as Chair of TISAC (the Thailand International Schools Association Committee) in Bangkok, he looks set to drive a curriculum rethink here too.
“It all started because we needed a change,” David says, explaining why he originally introduced the IPC at the British International School Vietnam. “The curriculum had become quite stagnant. Not only that but it was too anglicised. The children were learning about the great fire of London and WWII from a European perspective. For our many non-British children living and learning in Vietnam, this was totally irrelevant. But also there was no consistency of curriculum development and no strong teaching and learning philosophy within the school. We had become too passive in our teaching; there was a lot of wasted time, missed learning opportunities and very little creativity.”
David says that, once introduced to it, he immediately saw the value of the IPC. “I listened to Theresa Forbes (the then Director of the IPC) speak about it at a conference and was inspired. So, fully supported by his Deputy, Ben Dixon who played a key role in its introduction, and with advice from Theresa and the team at IPC, David launched the IPC at BISV and saw immediate success. “It brings a more exciting, active element to children’s learning. The IPC is totally relevant for today’s children. It’s helping us to take a more global approach to learning. A good part of our IPC learning is linked to where we are living now, as well as looking at our learning from the perspective of other countries too.”
As well as making learning relevant for all students, the IPC introduces an active, collaborative and engaging approach to learning that David says made a big difference to the children in Vietnam: “No longer did we have children sitting at desks the whole time being spoon-fed knowledge. The children now learn through enquiring, investigating, collaborating together, as well as through creative approaches to learning such as painting, dancing, music, model-making and role-play; all hands-on, shared, problem-solving experiences that encourage them to lead their own learning and to think for themselves. The IPC is fun but with a clear purpose and direction. It’s making our children adaptable, resourceful and independent in their learning. Children are quite naturally inquisitive learners, and if they’re put in the right environment to do this, they become excited about their learning. Through the IPC, the real learner is allowed to flourish.”
During his three years learning with the IPC in Vietnam, David saw several other FOBISSEA schools follow suit. “As a result of our success with the IPC, we were able to show other schools within the group what a difference it was making to the school and to the children’s learning,” he says. “Our staff was great at speaking about the IPC to other FOBISSEA schools and were eager to talk about the impact it was making on the children. In fact, we were so convinced of the power of the IPC that we hosted a regional IPC conference to show other schools what we were doing.” Not only did David share the IPC with other school leaders, he also shared it with his parents. “During its introduction, we hosted a number of parent workshops and open days to show parents how their children would be learning. It was important for us to know the parents understood what this change was all about. As a result, we had the full support of the parents who could see that their children were getting a very exciting and rigorous curriculum programme.”
David says that as other schools in the FOBISSEA group adopted it, so the IPC “became an educational currency. Relocating expat families would move from one international school to another and they would start looking for a school using the IPC so that there was a common learning approach that meant the transition was much easier for their child,” he explains. David expects the same to happen for families moving to Bangkok and it’s not just because of the engaging and creative curriculum. “It’s the standards that the IPC is helping us to achieve too,” says David. “In Vietnam, we received great references from CIS accreditation on the high quality of learning witnessed throughout primary and CIS also paid a lot of attention to our international dimension which the IPC helped us to deliver.”
It is the global perspective within the IPC learning which, David says, has made a significant difference to both BIS Vietnam and is now also doing at St. John’s. “The IPC has helped to lead both schools out of a blind Britishness and in its place has introduced a more refreshing, exciting, far-reaching, up-to-date and international ethos.” Needless to say, knowing that the IPC meets the requirements of the English National Curriculum has still been a very important marketing tool for both schools. “We are still providing an English education but in a more internationally-minded way,” says David. “Our parents relate to Britain’s academic standards and see it as a pathway to a good education, leading to excellent university possibilities. It’s important for them to know that the IPC delivers all the learning of the English National Curriculum but with a relevant and up-to-date approach to the learning. For the children in Vietnam, the IPC enabled and actually encouraged us to explore the Vietnamese culture in a meaningful and learning-focused way, at the same time, helping to develop their understanding of their place in the world. And for the children here in St. John’s, the same is true for the Thai culture. It’s a significant part of the IPC and it’s a key priority for many parents, particularly of the local children here.”
So does David see himself as a pioneer? “Not at all,” he says. “All I’ve done is tried to make a change to a situation where both children and staff were restricted as far as the learning was concerned. I think it’s just about having confidence to make that change. Now what I see is so exciting. It’s taken the British International School Vietnam to another level and I believe it will do the same at St. John’s. There is a real buzz about the place. I just know that what we’re doing with the IPC is the right thing. You can see it in the children and in the teachers. It is a dramatic benefit to the whole school.”
International Primary Curriculum
Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad?
Check out the experiences of another teacher from the moment they signed the contract to what they are writing about after a few years working abroad.
Our 2nd blog that we would like to highlight is called “Backpacking Teacher.” What an interesting experience living in Saigon and working at a young school that is growing and expanding.
Entries we would like to highlight:
What do I expect from my new life in Saigon?
Before I head off for another overseas sojourn it’d be a nice idea to document what I’m expecting to find and what I’m looking forward to. That way, down the track, I can review my expectations against a future reality. Most of what I’m expecting is based upon what life was like when I lived in Indonesia.
The very poor and the very rich
A political system that exists largely in the background…
Worst thing that’s happened to you whilst traveling?
How about the time I worked in Indonesia managing a remote resort .. ah yes ..that one. I managed this remote resort on the island of Java. The country was in upheaval, students had recently been shot on the streets of Jakarta and my security manager came into see me. “Pak”, he says. “Bad news. The local people they not like the resort making money on their land. They coming tomorrow to burn it down”. “ok”, says I, attempting to be calm. “time to put our contingency plans into gear”. Thinking all along how absurd it was that I had contingency plans, for rioting villagers, ready to go…
Reflections on my new school
The physical environment is superb with well appointed classrooms, interactive whiteboards in each classroom, air-conditioning and a management team that is very supportive of the teaching staff. The school has real potential and for a school this young it has made massive strides in it’s quest to be a leading school in Saigon. This can be shown by the number of teachers and students who have moved to the school from other international schools in town. It’s an exciting place to be and makes for an environment that’s both challenging and a pleasure to teach in. I’m certainly happy with my choice and enjoy working here.
The previous blog address of this teacher can be found here. There are some great entries about the process a person goes through when searching for and getting a job at an international school.continue reading