School is out, and like most teachers, I am ready to tune out for a few weeks. However, before completely tuning out, I always like to take a little bit of time to reflect on what worked and what needs work. Saying goodbye to one school year to be able to (eventually) say hello again to next school year. And as I look back on this academic year and looking forward to diving into new adventures with my class next year, naturally one subject that lies close to my heart and begs for reflection is ‘transitions’.
Already around this time last year, I cannot deny a certain sense of pride at watching many of our ‘departing’ students running around with My Moving Booklets in their hand, asking many of the ‘staying’ students to sign them. Watching the same thing happening this year, and knowing it would be at another campus across town, made me feel like I was contributing a little to helping students manage their transitions.
I couldn’t stop smiling all day when a stranger contacted me via Facebook to tell me “You have been a ‘hero’ in our house the past few weeks since telling our daughter we are moving from her ‘beloved’ —- town of —- to —–! Your book plus the ‘Moving Booklet’ have helped us tremendously in dealing with this transition.” And to top off the school year, B at Home: Emma Moves Again won a Purple Dragonfly Award.
However, I know that so much more can be done. For the leavers and the stayers. And I am reminded of my lessons learned from the FIGT conferences.
During FIGT 2015, when Doug Ota, the closing keynote speaker, was introduced, the audience enthusiastically clapped to welcome him. He didn’t come on stage. He was nowhere to be seen and for a few seconds even the person introducing him looked slightly uncomfortable. Then all of a sudden we heard his voice.
That loaded word. In the hour that followed Doug helped us understand how goodbye is our ticket home. At the end of it, we found ourselves standing in a beautiful circle, many of us wiping away some tears. Because goodbye, and loss, and our stories of feeling naked is what connects us to each other.
During FIGT 2016, keynote speakers Chris O’Shaughnessy and Ruth Van Reken set the tone for another amazing conference, but we were also lucky to hear Doug speak to us once more. Especially if you are a international school parent or international school educator, I cannot recommend Doug Ota’s book enough: Safe Passage: how mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it.
He called this presentation a think tank and asked his audience to help him envision his dream. His dream to find a way to support international students, through and because of their grief and loss, to thrive in life and contribute to the world.
Doug reminded us that out of the 138 factors that influence learning, mobility is the number one factor that affects learning negatively (more on John Hattie’s meta-study can be found here). The most detrimental factor to our international students’ learning is mobility. One of the most important ingredients of what makes an international school is also the most damaging to the learning of the students in it.
So do we stop moving with our children? Do we stop exploring with our children? Do we stop exposing our children to what the world has to offer? No. Because, as Doug continues, it is not necessarily mobility that is damaging. It is unmanaged mobility that is damaging. It is unmanaged mobility that hurts learning, teaching and parenting.
And our children are growing up under our watch. We cannot shirk the responsibility of helping them manage these transitions. Our children will not speak up about them, because they will not necessarily realize how mobility affects them. It is only once they struggle as teenagers, young adults, and even adults with piled up, unresolved grief that the negative effects of mobility will become evident to them.
He continues to explain the attachment theory; how we need to feel secure and safe in order to explore, and how we need to strong relationships to thrive as happy individuals. It is human nature to look for connections and coherence. We were not designed to do things by ourselves solely and social exclusion has been proven to physically hurt. There are studies which acknowledge that “various kinds of socially painful experiences, from rejection to bereavement, seem to rely in part on neural regions that play a direct role in the experience of physical pain.” (see article here on Eisenberger’s findings). And as we feel hurt, the energy that could otherwise go into learning is spent on managing the pain.
Doug is looking at ways to build a network of schools that will collaborate on building a supportive platform to help students manage mobility positively. As our students move through international schools, he says, their experience should not be dependent on a hit or miss situation due to a few committed individuals. Not only a program that is internationally recognized through educational institutions, but one that will also be recognized by parents and students as a true safe haven. One where they can rest assured that they are heard, seen, and supported.
So upon reflection, I hope to see Doug Ota’s dream come to fruition. I also hope to continue to build onto my own goals, both as a teacher and as a mother of two children whose lives are already built on mobility. They are already saying goodbye more often than they perhaps would like or even choose to given the choice.
Will I keep encouraging them to explore themselves and the world? Without a doubt. I just really hope to give them the tools to help them move from one place to another without losing themselves.