Tag Archives: transitions

We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part II}

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

This is the second of a two-part post on easing the transition of an international move with children, and is adapted from an excerpt I wrote for the book Teaching Overseas, by Kent Blakeney.

It can be tempting to put off telling children about a move, as it will undoubtedly induce some level of stress. Still, there are healthier ways to support our little ones than by keeping them in the dark. As a professional international school counselor, I’ve worked with countless families to facilitate their successful transition to a new home. It can absolutely be done well! These tips will enhance your experience of a big move:

  • Maintain routine – While some of the thrill of moving is in the newness, remember that children thrive on routine. Keep certain limits the same, such as bedtimes and mealtime expectations, in order to provide your child with a sense of security. There will need to be flexibility at times, of course, but keep the basic structure of their day as consistent as possible.
  • Set an example – Your child will notice your lead when it comes to embracing something different from what you’re used to. Involve your family in the process of showing curiosity and exploring this new place (even from afar, through photos and discussions about how it will be there). Openly model resilience and a positive attitude when faced with challenge or disappointment about the transition.
  • Build connections – Support your child in getting to know the new community. Consider taking a trip to visit the campus and town during a vacation break before the move date. Reach out to the school counselor before you arrive – most international schools will have a system for integrating new students. Find out if anybody in your housing compound or neighborhood-to-be has children around the same age, and strike up an email or Facebook dialogue with them. Even one personal relationship can go a long way in helping your child to feel more at ease about the new place.
  • Listen – Children will have their own feelings about your plan to move. Listen empathically and, though you may not agree, honor your child’s experience and encourage them to share it with you. Create a safe space for them to express and work through their feelings. Validate that big changes can induce big emotions.
  • Play – Children (yes, even high school students) need to play! Uprooting can be difficult, and wrapping-up is invariably busy. Make it a priority to carve out play time together as a family. Documenting ‘lasts’ at the old locale, and creating fun memories to cherish when you look back, is an essential component to making the international move experience one that you and your child can weather – even embrace -together.

What tips do you recommend for international families transitioning to a new home?

We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part I}

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

With the flurry of recruiting season beginning to diminish, many international teachers are now standing, new contract in hand, preparing to pack up and start a new chapter someplace else in a few short months Aside from the logistics of moving, there is also the emotional management of bidding farewell. These good-byes are particularly complicated when we are not only professional educators, but also parents. This is the first of a two-part post about easing the transition of a big move for your child.

Be careful of how you break the news

Parents know that big changes can create anxiety, and we all have the best intentions to shield our children from discomfort. A family I once supported as a school counsellor decided to move their child to a different school nearby. They knew this might be upsetting so, to try to make the transition fun and quick, the idea was to surprise the child with cupcakes on their last day at our school and, at the impromptu good-bye party, break the news that they would be attending someplace else the following day. I managed to talk the parents out of that plan, but have seen various (less extreme) versions of attempting to conceal from children that they’re in for a major shift in scenery. Put your child’s needs at the forefront, and think carefully and sensitively about how to tell them that you’re moving.

Tell them now

Maybe not right this very second, but tell them soon. Here’s why:

  • They already know. Maybe they don’t know the details, but kids are so dialled in to their parents, it’s hard to keep major family secrets for long. My guess is that they already know something’s up, and could be worrying about it anyway.
  • They will find out soon. If you haven’t told them yet, they are going to learn about it in short time. International communities (sometimes called bubbles or fish bowls, for good reason) are close-knit, and exciting news gets around quickly. You want to be the one to share this information at the time and place of your choice, not have your child accidentally find out at a play date or in the hallways of school.
  • They need to prepare. Children will benefit from having time to process the idea of a move, as well as to wrap up at the current locale, and get excited for your new place. Basically, they want to know for the same reasons you’d want to know: they need to get ready.
  • It will cause less anxiety in the long run. Moving is hard. It can be positive and exciting too, but it’s always hard. There’s no getting around this, and cutting your child out of the conversation won’t make the shift any less difficult. Accept that there will be some aches associated with the process; don’t put it off like a trip to the dentist.

Full disclosure and special circumstances

We are actually moving ourselves. After seven incredible years in Hong Kong, we’ll be starting a new adventure in The Hague this summer. I’m feeling a bit hypocritical as I write this because we haven’t told our babe yet. He’s two, though, and June is a very abstract concept for him. We’ll make sure to give him plenty of notice as we near the departure date.

Every family is different, and you know your child best. There may be a good reason to temporarily hold off on telling them about an upcoming move, such as one parent is on an extended trip, and you want to share the news together. Or, perhaps your child is facing a different, significant challenge at the moment, and you need to focus on that. However, consider what your reason is for delaying the conversation, and whether waiting will actually address the issue. Kids are resilient, and bringing them into the family discussion about your transition now (even if it’s difficult) could be better for them in the long run.

If you’re not quite sure how to prepare your child for an upcoming move, stay tuned… My next post will offer tips on how to ease this perennial transition so associated with international teaching life.

What tips do you have about sharing the news of a move with your child? 

Start the School Year : What is our ‘why’? 

Last week we spoke with students and parents new to our school, many of whom were new to Singapore.  We started with the why – our school’s Mission:
The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.

This may seem obvious,  but schools differ a lot in the ‘why’

For those who were understandably wondering about new classes, friends, uniform and timetables, this may have seemed a lofty, distant ideal. But with so many very good schools available in Singapore, this lofty goal remains our defining characteristic. Or more precisely – because lofty goals are easy to write – how we put this into practice remains our defining characteristic, and I hope why families have chosen us.

I am very pleased, however, that it is no longer a very special goal – at least, not if we take special to mean rare. Go back fifty years and this kind of thinking was marginal, outlier, considered naïve and well off the mainstream. Today the idea that we should not settle for less for our children is absolutely mainstream, almost banal. The notion that education should narrowly focus on academics, without recognizing that children deserve more and need a higher purpose, is clinging on here and there, but it’s on its way out. There are two reasons behind this; they may seem to be quite different, but ultimately, they are mutually supportive.

Our ‘why’, the reason we do what we do, has twin tracks but unlike a road, they both head in the same direction

Firstly, there’s the realization that academics are not enough even for the world of work. In truth they never really were, but the changing nature of work means we are increasingly focused on what skills students possess, and what they can actually do. In the past, these may have been very tightly linked to what students know – but in the disrupted, AI-influenced economy we face, knowledge alone will be far from enough.  To be ready for tomorrow, today’s students will have to be increasingly adept in human skills and qualities, and ready to use them in real-world contexts on difficult and complex human problems  It’s not just educators saying this, but governments, businesses, NGOs, the OECD and others.  So the contexts provided by our focus on the peoples, nations and cultures part of our Mission is exactly how to prepare students for an uncertain future; because these are the areas that are the pressing challenges we face and that will not be automated,

Secondly, it’s important to place schools in a much broader social context.  And that context may be startling. Because despite the horrific events going on around the world, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been, in many significant ways.  Extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.  Now let’s not be naïve here – tragedy, atrocity and grinding poverty are still real today. But the current trajectory is astonishingly positive, and where there is injustice, we are beginning to see outrage and social activism to address it – not consistently, but increasingly so. In the past where issues may have been ignored, we’re also seeing thought leaders take a lead.  That includes CEOs, and the US –  admittedly under extreme provocation from its administration – is leading the way here. CEOs have publicly come out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and most recently, against the extreme right. At the same time, we’re seeing many high profile billionaires – including two of the most famous in Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – pledge half their wealth to philanthropic causes.  So there is a broader social move towards widening moral circles; and schools both reflect this and importantly, prepare students to continue down this path.  That’s where the peace and a sustainable future part of our Mission comes in, and why we weave the Mission so carefully throughout our Learning Programme.

There is no tension between the pragmatic necessity to prepare students for their future, and the idealistic opportunity to make whatever small contribution we can to the historic trend.   We intend, this year and forever, to do both to the best of our capacities.

Transitions

“Light precedes every transition. Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door or the flash of an idea, it is always there, heralding a new beginning.” — Teresa Tsalaky

I have been thinking a lot about transitions lately. We recently hosted the incoming Head of School for a one-week transition visit. I am also preparing to transition to Switzerland and the exciting changes associated with working at a new school and living in a new country. Like other international schools, we are preparing to say goodbye to beloved teachers, students, and families as they transition to other parts of the world, while also looking ahead and confirming the details for new teacher and family orientations. It can sometimes feel that life in an international school setting is one of constant transition where change in the norm and not the exception. While this seemingly perpetual state of transition is inherently filled with challenges, the opportunities for growth and new experiences are significant when we are able to effectively manage our transitions.

When a thoughtful colleague, David Chojnacki, heard that I would be transitioning to another school, he recommended I read William Bridges’ book, Transitions. I am grateful for this reference as Bridges’ book is a must read because, in some form or another, we are all going through a transition! The book’s main message is that all of life’s transitions embody a similar pattern and, by recognizing and accepting these patterns, the tough times associated with a transition will not only make sense but will be more bearable. To that end, it is important to differentiate between “change”, which is what happens to us, and “transition”, which is how we manage our feelings while we wade through these changes throughout our life journey.

Transition is an internal, emotional, and psychological process. In contrast, change is external, situational, and does not require those affected to transition. Transitions are longer processes that require those affected to gradually accept the new situations that result from the changes. Bridges’ frames all transitions in terms of a three-phase process involving an Ending, a Neutral Zone, and a New Beginning.

An Ending recognizes that a transition begins with letting go of the pre-change reality. In international schools, a significant number of teachers, students, and parents begin the process of letting go each semester as they prepare to move on to new endeavors. Depending on each individual, Endings are usually characterized by emotions such as denial, shock, anger, frustration, and stress. Emphatic listening and open communication for all involved are important strategies for getting through and supporting those who are experiencing an Ending. Recognizing that an Ending is about letting go is an important step towards what the author calls the Neutral Zone.

The Neutral Zone represents the bridge between the old and new in which we can still be attached to the past but also looking ahead to the future. The Neutral Zone is a place of uncertainty where people wonder about how they will adapt to the change they are currently experiencing. It is during this time that we can experience feelings of self-doubt, fear, anxiety, and skepticism. In contrast, the Neutral Zone can be a time of real growth and represent an incredibly rich time in our lives, as is beautifully illustrated through Danaan Parry’s trapeze metaphor.

The New Beginning phase is one where new understandings, values, attitudes, and identities are established. It is during this time that we emotionally and psychologically commit to the new reality that has been created through the change process. This commitment is usually accompanied by feelings of acceptance, importance, hope, and enthusiasm. This is also a good time to recognize and celebrate the third phase of the transition process.

William Bridges’ writings remind us to recognize that life’s transitions follow a similar pattern and to embrace our endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings. As we look ahead and begin to prepare for the end of another semester, I would like to wish everyone and all of our schools the very best as we embrace the positive changes and transitions that are such an integral part of international communities.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo Hernán Piñera: 
Niebla / Fog 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/6554394361/in/photostream/

Fitting In, Figuring It Out- New Families in Transition

It is that time of year when there are new faces at every turn. These faces contain looks, which run the gamut of excitement to trepidation. I’m referring to both the parents and students of new families transitioning to our schools. Some are overseas for the first time and overwhelmed by the differences living in this, a new country. For them oftentimes, school offers a reminder of what they came from. A comforting constant they can be reassured by and feel good about.  For others, the newness is the school. Either the move to a new system of education- ours being an American, college-preparatory system, or a school where their child’s native language isn’t the main language of instruction. For all new families, it is paramount we understand their worries and fears, while assisting them in moving through the inevitable stages of newness.

How best can we help though?

I believe the most effective solution is to make sure we listen to these families and children. Encourage them to tell us how they are doing, listen to their responses, then reassure, reassure, reassure. While this seems simple, it is actually the hardest for me to do at the start of the year, because of the shear pace of the first weeks of school.  We try though. This week alone, we’ve had a new parent coffee, a new family dinner, and the counselor has been visiting with students who are new to check in on how they are feeling.

One idea I’ve been tossing around on reflection of how we receive and support new families, is to have a team of parents, teachers, and students ready to just be listeners. What if a member of this team called every new family on day 2, day 10 and day 30 to check in? What if we had a table set up in outside the office where members of this team were stationed to answer questions? Any question. What if we developed questionnaires to give to new families to help hone the response from this team so we were able to meet their needs directly? I would much rather over respond than under respond.

From there, how might we help families as they move into the stage when the newness wears off and the worry sets in? Predictably this happens around the 3-4 month of school. By then, I find as an administrator I’m off and running and assume everything is fine for these new folks. (No news is good news.) However, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t reschedule our new family events: coffee morning, dinner, etc. to directly coincide with when we know the honeymoon feeling is fading.

Finally, I would like to have a system for reminding our teachers and families who have been here for years just what it is like to be new. Without that empathy, we can’t really provide the support necessary. We’ve all been through it, however, it is easy to forget what it means to uproot your family, bring them to a new country and school, and to settle into the routine of life.

Developing a transition plan is an excellent way to reach out to the new community, while tightening the bonds of the existing families and our teachers. After all, are on this adventure together.