By: Bill Turner
Can you move your body quickly and easily, even after a couple of months in lockdown?! Is your pandemic-fatigued brain still thinking quickly and clearly? Do you understand the importance of making changes the moment they are needed? You must be agile! Interesting synonyms for ‘agile’ include everything from supple to nimble to frisky: I won’t ask if you are any of these!
I asked a group of Middle East-based school leaders and teachers, with whom I work, how they have had to exercise their ‘agility muscle’ in order to be successful during the pandemic. What is interesting is that, outside the obvious area of developing one’s hard skills in manipulating new IT media, a broad area of common ground is ‘communication and relationships’.
“Prioritise relationships” Graeme Scott (Head of School, Fairgreen IS, Dubai)
“Leadership is all about relationships, but in these uncertain times, the personal touch is more important than ever. As leaders, we need to break from our normal routine and focus less on the management of things, and more on the leadership of people. So far, morale is really positive, but we can never let our guard down. There will be short-term compromises when we need to make for the long-term health of our school communities.”
“Be ready for a swift change of plan” Simon Herbert (Principal of GEMS International School – Al Khail)
“One can plan, plan and plan again, for all manner of scenarios, in the end, a swift volte face might be the order of the day, based on growing COVID rates, local pressures or changing directives. Schools are notorious for being slow moving oil tankers, changing direction extremely cautiously and gradually. However, the best schools have now learned to react, to respond and adapt to the ever-changing environment extremely quickly. This has to be managed with care, or the emotional fallout will damage wellbeing, one’s own and that of staff.”
“Be creative” Monique Flickinger, Superintendent of the American Community School, Abu Dhabi says:
“Being nimble during the COVID crisis requires educators to be creative and find new ways to deliver a quality educational experience. As a superintendent, I now connect with parents in online meetings much more frequently and I no longer think twice about creating a short video to share with staff, parents or students. I’ve been able to pop into live online classes digitally and have enjoyed getting to meet students in that environment.”
“Be in the moment” Dr. Zak Palsha, Director at Al Bayan International School in Kuwait
“I don’t think the pandemic has forced us to lead differently, but I do think it has shed a light on how we lead and highlighted different aspects of our leadership style to ensure that our school culture and community are being taken care of. This year at Al-Bayan International School we have really focused on being flexible, inspirational and being in the moment. As we navigate with staff members, families and students via zoom those three words have resonated with our leadership team and have trickled down to how we approach our faculty, and in turn how they approach students and the larger community.”
What about the views of the region’s teachers?
“Get physical” Chris Holmes (Safa British School, Dubai):
“Lockdown and quarantine restrictions have reinvigorated the importance of ‘Physical’ in Physical Education to help reduce stress, increase concentration levels and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We ensured students across the whole school had access to a morning wake up, shake up, daily physical challenge as well as their timetabled Physical Education lessons. Our daily physical challenge followed the cycle of Skilful Sunday, Movement Monday, Teamwork Tuesday, Workout Wednesday and Throwback Thursday. Even with a return to school, this is something we have continued to apply by sharing the wealth of resources we accumulated during the lockdown period via our PE website.”
“I enabled quieter students to shine when distance learning” Tanisha Hickman (GEMS World Academy Dubai)
“Seeking comfort in being alone but on-screen to share their learning, my quieter students thrived and enjoyed the direct teaching that came with the new online learning platform. It was a chance for them to be creative in producing their work and sharing it online with their classmates.”
“I had to show agility in writing plans for hybrid lessons” Rike Cliff (American Academy for Girls, Dubai)
“Some 8th graders built electric circuits in the lab, and the ones at home did the same with a virtual lab (a Gizmo). For Forensics I have one student who used photography to send pictures of a suspect’s hair under the microscope via Whatsapp to her classmates.”
“Be ready for another lockdown” Bertha Silot (Dwight School Dubai)
“I had to create plans in case of another lockdown – being ready to continue to be effective in my teaching even if without access to my classroom.”
“It’s about good relationships” Rukhsana Saleem (Rashid School for Boys, Dubai)
“Leaders have drawn upon their relationships with their staff. When staff have felt valued and trusted, it’s been much easier for the whole team to accept the constant last minute changes, and everyone has pulled together to help each other with their respective responsibilities.”
“I set myself clear deadlines and goals” Estelle de Vendegies (Al Bayan Bilingual School Kuwait)
“Without the structure of a traditional school day and deadlines, teachers/leaders have had to become more reliant on their own ability to set timelines/goals/and agendas in order to keep a clear head.”
“It is really important not to be afraid of making mistakes and trying new things” Kate Riddle (Universal American School Dubai)
“We have had to show more agility in adapting to new technologies. There is a lot of trial and error in finding what works best for students. Therefore, it is really important to not be afraid of making mistakes and trying new things. Constant reflection and listening to feedback from parents and children, is crucial in finding technologies that aid learning and communication, rather than hinder it!”
International educators tend to be positive and optimistic people, with plenty of drive to develop themselves personally and professionally. The pandemic has challenged their resilience and exercised their resourcefulness, and it is fascinating to see the amazingly varied ways in which they have responded. It is good to be able to honour their voices in this article. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is to see which of these innovations and behaviours will find themselves embedded post-pandemic, allowing us to be able to say, that in some ways it has actually made things better.