How 2020 shows the value of strong school communities

School communities could have fallen apart this year – but trust has held them together, writes Jaap Marsman

Jaap Marsman

Coronavirus: This crisis has shown the strength in our international school community, says Jaap Marsman

In Dutch naval history, the anchor has long been the symbol of hope. And as symbol of stability, the anchor’s purpose is clear: to keep us from drifting off.

But what about the metaphorical concept of anchors? How are we ensuring that, as international educators, we are anchored to our environment and ourselves during a time of global uncertainty?

And if we are doing what seems right, how can we really know if it’s working – for ourselves and for those around us?

Coronavirus: Finding anchors for school communities

By being as firmly rooted to other people and routines, we can ensure that we are in the best possible position to contribute to our communities and to our ourselves.

After all, we know that if our students are not securely anchored, their learning will suffer. Which brings with it another range of wellbeing concerns and can easily feed into a vicious circle.

The same is true of all of us. We all need stability to thrive, to be our best for ourselves and those around us. So how can we do that?

Taking action

Firstly we must always focus on the people closest to us, our family and our close circle of friends. These people fulfil a crucial role in our life as part of our anchoring.

Many of us are facing the hardships of being far removed from our loved ones, with no opportunity to travel any time soon. This can be tough but we must ensure we continue to make time for those virtual connections we have got used to this year.

Is it the same as giving a hug? No, of course not. But as we all experienced over the past few months, some connection is definitely better than no connection.

In the workplace, too, whether working from home or socially distanced at school, make time when meeting colleagues to discuss their wellbeing and how they are feeling.

A collective “checking in” moment can be incredibly powerful and just by acknowledging how bizarre the current situation is, it can be a relief for many.

Pen to paper

We also need to anchor with ourselves. A good way to do this is through journaling.

As you may imagine, there are many great apps out there these days that offer guided journaling exercises, and the self-help section of any bookstore usually has a range of books filled with journaling prompts.

But really all you need is an empty page in front of you (digital or paper) and 15 minutes to just pen down whatever’s on your mind.

This type of journaling, commonly known as "stream of consciousness", can be an incredibly liberating experience when you don’t overthink it, but just write it down. Until you don’t have anything to write any more.

You can then choose to file that piece of paper away or come back to it the next day and continue the process.

Some people find it beneficial to write their thoughts in a small diary and add illustrations or stick in random bits and pieces from their day. Go wild, do what suits you, but don’t lose the core purpose of your journal in the process – to empty your mind as much as you can.

Learning to trust

I can only imagine the body of research that will be collected over the next few years as the impact of Covid-19 will be explored in great detail.

But, for now, we don’t have enough hard evidence to say if an online “video quiz night“ provides the same rich, deep connections that a room-based one does.

Therein lies the challenge that we face as international schools: we have to act now and do the best we possibly can. And see what dots can be connected when we look back at this time and reflect on where we ended up.

As such, we have to learn to trust.

The chance to reflect

A famous Steve Jobs quote from his Stanford Commencement address in 2005 springs to mind: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

In his address, Jobs highlighted that when you’re in the middle of something and making choices, it doesn’t always make sense.

It’s only afterwards, when we reflect on the choices we’ve made and see where we are, that it will all make sense. Until then, you need to believe that they will, somehow, connect.

After all, this is what the sailor does when dropping anchor. Where the anchor lands is unseen but there is a trust that it will keep the ship steady, secure and safe.

Jaap Marsman is deputy head of school at Kellett School in Hong Kong

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