Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Still Point in a Shifting World

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Still Point in a Shifting World

Article excerpt

International school students can feel far from home, so turn them into global citizens

Most schools have years to nurture a child, but at international schools like mine the time is much more restricted. Inevitably, this has to change your approach and priorities.

I am deputy headteacher of primary at the British School of Beijing in Shunyi, China, which has students of 60 nationalities - all children of expats, with the English, German, Finnish and Korean contingents being particularly strong. Most parents are posted to Beijing as diplomats on two- to four-year contracts.

Hence, teachers see only snapshots of a child's school career. This risks students' education becoming unsettled: they must adapt not only to different countries but also to the varied personalities and priorities of their school leaders and teachers.

The key to achieving the right balance is to help children become global citizens. They can then move around the world with confidence, aware of their own cultural identity and that of their peers. International schools are eclectic and diverse communities, but often become even more integral to the fabric of a family's routine and social life than schools back home.

So, how can school leaders deal with the particular challenges of an international school? Five key themes stand out.

1 Embrace local resources

Teaching a curriculum developed on a different continent can be challenging. To engage students, school leaders must be flexible and create opportunities for experiential learning. For example, one of our parents runs a chocolate factory in the nearby city of Tianjin, so we spend a day making chocolate there - a dream trip for the children. You can also adapt the curriculum to fit your location: in history lessons for our nine- and 10-year-olds, we focus on the empires of China.

2 Make your school a family hub

It's not only students who get homesick and lonely. In fact, children often adapt better to new surroundings than their parents, who may miss their families or have fewer opportunities to meet new people. So hold English classes and coffee mornings for parents and encourage them to get involved. By immersing themselves in the life of the school, parents will start to see that community as a home from home.

3 Celebrate individuality and identity

School leaders should be sensitive to the cultural traditions of each nationality in the school. This winter, our students will attend a German Christmas market in the school grounds. We also celebrate Diwali with candles and firework displays. These traditions really mean something to our communities, so there's a deep sense of pride and emotion on these occasions. …

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