Mark Broom. Principal of Brookes Saint Petersburg
There are many changes in life that we get to choose. However, there are some changes that we have no control over. Change in life is inevitable. However, how we respond to change in the transition is not inevitable. Change and transition are inexplicably linked but they are two completely different things. Change is an event and transition is a process that we enter into to respond to the change. Change happens to us while transition is how we respond to that change. Although the change may be unchosen, the transition must be intentional. The way that we can take charge of change, such as the pandemic that we have gone through, is by being intentional in the transitional experience.
After living for eight years in Moscow with my family, my wife and three children, we are experiencing a big change in our lives as we recently moved to a new city in the Russian Federation, Saint Petersburg. Having known about this move since March 2020, we began to prepare ourselves for this transition mentally, physically and emotionally. This was very difficult to do during the lockdown period as we had no opportunity to pre-visit the city that we would call home for the foreseeable future. The transitional process was one that I could not just simply ignore. The transition needed to have its own space in my life for me to truly value what I was going to step into with my family and in my new role as Principal of Brookes Saint Petersburg. One thing that I began to realise is that the process of transition is not a hallway or an adjoining space. It is a room in its own right and needs to be treated as such. Transition requires our own careful attention. We must not see transition as a space between spaces such as a foyer, a hallway or a lobby. The hallway is a transitional space, not a space where we spend time; it’s transitionary, momentary, to be walked through, not to be lived in. If we don’t see transition as its own space that requires its own attention, has its own behaviour, ambience, atmosphere, expectations, furnishings and so on, we already are not seeing the value of transition. I realised that for my move to be successful, I needed to engage fully in this transitional process. Equally and at a similar time, a change was being experienced across the world where one could not sit back and allow it to pass without no impact on their lives.
To face the change that the pandemic brought to education, Brookes Moscow and Saint Petersburg put in place intentional strategies and expectations to ensure that the transitional process into distance learning and distance working was as successful as possible.
At the heart of Brookes Education Group are the three pillars: creativity, connectivity and character. All three are fully embedded in the ethos of Brookes schools, including the newly implemented Distance Learning plan over the course of the pandemic.
With a different approach to teaching and learning required, creativity was at the forefront of developing a Distance Learning plan that catered for the needs of our students at home. It was important to take into consideration student wellbeing with the number of synchronous (real time) learning opportunities that occurred daily via Google Meet alongside how much asynchronous learning occurred with teacher pre-recorded materials and follow-up tasks. With Brookes Russia’s all-inclusive tuition fees, students from the age of five, fortunately, had a school device to use at home; either an iPad or a MacBook. With the older students following their normal school timetable, an amended timetable was put in place for our younger students where students were placed into small ability groups where online lessons were provided four times a day, twenty minutes per lesson, by the homeroom teacher. A follow-up task was provided to the students following the lesson that linked directly to the lesson where students upload their work to ManageBac, the online educational system used at Brookes, which was then marked by the teacher and feedback provided. Specialist teachers conducted lessons in a similar manner with students having live online music, drama, French, Chinese, Russian and Physical Education lessons in small groups for twenty minutes per lesson. Recognising that students at home were not getting enough physical exercise, on top of their allocated lessons, the Physical Education team provided an additional live fifteen minutes of High Impact Training (HIT) sessions at the same time daily for students to partake in. For learning to be as successful as possible with our students at home, our academic staff engaged our students in creative activities. For example, a Year 1 maths lesson about mass required students to search through their kitchen cupboards for food items, read their mass on the jar/packet and put them in order from lightest to heaviest. For our Early Years students, phonics lessons used household items to support the understanding of letters and sounds. How Brookes have been creative during this season is further evident in our second and third pillars below.
First and foremost, connecting with our students and families was essential during this time. Therefore, an essential agreement was established that set the expectations of student behaviour and etiquette whilst online during lessons. High student attendance (over 90%) of online lessons, especially with our older students, enabled learning to effectively continue. Our reward systems in the Lower School and Early Years were still in place and celebrated in our weekly live online assemblies where over 75% of students attended weekly to celebrate as a learning community. Liaising with parents during this time was critical in establishing the effectiveness of Distance Learning across the school. The results from a parent survey enabled us to build upon our good practices as well as address some of the concerns raised, which mostly impacted on the very youngest students where a more balanced approach to synchronous and asynchronous learning needed to occur.
As Distance Learning continued, it began to be more difficult to motivate students in their learning. Therefore, several initiatives across the school were introduced to inspire our students. Specialist departments in the school began to set competitions and challenges in their subject area. The Performing Arts team set a music challenge for families to record themselves singing their favourite song together. Alongside leading joint online Sports Days, the Physical Education team initiated ‘The Global Gryphon Games’ for all Brookes schools worldwide to partake in; a fun and motivating online sports event.
Over the course of Distance Learning, Brookes and Hyatt Regency Moscow Petrovsky Park collaborated in a joint venture to inspire students to be creative in their kitchens at home and think more about healthy living in Brookes & Hyatt Cooking Competition. Following a rigorous judging process, the final stage of the competition was held in the Heritage restaurant in the 5 star hotel where the finalists and their parents enjoyed a unique experience of creating their dishes in the professional kitchens for the judges to review. The winning dishes were then placed on the Promenade Lounge menu for all guests to enjoy!
Making connections during a difficult time enabled students to still have quality learning experiences.
Some may argue that this pillar is the most important of them all. Building character in our students to be self-confident lifelong learners connected and inspired to help others is the vision of Brookes Education Group. This vision goes hand in hand with the philosophy of the International Baccalaureate; to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. The holistic educational experience that Brookes provides came into its own during Distance Learning where a focus on student wellbeing alongside developing communication, self-management, thinking, research and social skills. Alongside daily online group lessons, academic staff were available online throughout each day for students to drop into online support rooms if needed or at request. This enabled staff to identify students who may have been struggling personally with the lockdown situation, so intervention could occur with a personal one-to-one approach. If there has been anything that this lockdown experience has taught us, it is that children need each other; to play with, to learn from and to share life together. Social skills can only be taught by being physically together. School is a place where this happens. Brookes Russia is looking forward to reopening its doors to students on 31st August 2020.
Will education ever be the same again?
At Brookes, we took charge of change by seeing the opportunity and something that we needed to transition through by providing the best possible continued education for our students. Transition is the season between seasons. What the next season will bring for us all will certainly be different from what it was before. Will education ever be the same again? No, it won’t, but one thing for sure is that Brookes Education Group’s three pillars stand stronger than ever during this time in continuing to embrace creativity, develop connections and build character; encouraging our students to engage in a changing world and effect meaningful and positive change to help others.
Be the change, Be Brookes!
Mr. Mark Broom
Principal of Brookes Saint Petersburg