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Reopening Schools Require Open Minds

POSTED: June 3, 2020Category: Articles, COVID-19BY: Barnabas Suva

To survive in an unprecedented, rapidly changing, COVID-19-affected world, international schools need Heads and Board Members who display an equally unprecedented level of agility and open-mindedness.

When it comes to technology, school leaders need to continuously up their game. This pandemic has brought home quite literally how important it is for school leadership to either fully understand or try to understand technology and give those who do a place on their senior leadership teams.

“Kids often use technology through a narrow lens,” says world-renowned Governance and Leadership coach, Chip Barder. “Are they open to learning more? Absolutely! Using technology, it’s up to leadership to figure out ways that engage and motivate the students. This can only happen through a deep understanding of the tools.”

Chip believes that in this ‘new normal’, teachers are working harder and schools are doing more compared to when students were physically attending classes.

“Schools are doing what they can to reduce costs; freezing tuition, freezing teacher salary increases, etc.,” says Chip. “But I can’t see how schools will survive by simply lowering fees. If anything, because of technology, costs are going up! My advice to the leadership of every international school is to embrace the new reality and do whatever possible to become the best distance learning school in the world!”

Chip says that this pandemic has presented schools with tremendous opportunities. “I’ve always prescribed that the parent is the first teacher. That doesn’t go away. In this new, uncertain reality it’s time for parents, working with teachers, to reclaim time with their kids.” Whatever it takes, the focus should always be on the learning. School leadership must understand that, although variations of blended learning work, it’s not just about technology. It is also about social/emotional matters.“Especially in high school, students learn better when they feel connected. Kids who are not connected disengage and there is no learning,” says Chip.

“The answer is not more technology. As we emerge from lockdown, it’s essential to create an environment where children are excited to come to school, to nurture friendships, take part in sports, to laugh and play. When you feel connected you have trust, and when you have trust, you’re willing to put yourself out there, to make mistakes. And that’s how you learn. Something that COVID-19 has taught us is that, when it comes to effective learning, the so-called ‘soft’ matters are as important as academics.

“Connection is not exclusive to students. Not much has changed in terms of what we know about best practice in governance; that it starts with focussing on just staying open, looking at the school like a business. Collaboration between schools, Boards speaking to Boards, is hugely important. We must not lose sight of the tried and tested.

“International School Heads and Board Members need to connect, share, and learn from each other. Remember, the focus should always be on the learning. In this ever-evolving, dynamic environment, we must continue to support each other and figure out what makes sense,” concludes Chip.

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