Lessons learned 2020: School accomplishments and virtual visits
Carole Denny School Support & Evaluation Officer

 

By Carole Denny, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation, CIS

 

 

There’s so much to reflect upon as we mark the end of the last extraordinary year. Let's take a moment to acknowledge the many lessons we’ve learned and the obstacles we’ve overcome. We begin by looking at all we have accomplished together with the CIS community of schools, educators and peer-evaluators as we moved our school evaluation process to the virtual world, ensuring school improvement did not pause in 2020.

 

It takes a village …

As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There are many heroes who led the way during this highly challenging year to ensure the continuity of education in our global village:

School leaders and human resource staff have demonstrated incredible initiative and sheer determination as they guided and supported international staff as they navigated campus closures, openings and travel bans to continue living, working and supporting student learning and well-being through whatever model of education was possible at any given time.

School governing bodies have shown considerable compassion and foundational integrity as they made mission-driven decisions and found additional and customised ways to support their families in economic need during the crisis.

Creative counsellors, teachers, and school leaders found significant and innovative ways to support their colleagues’ well-being in tough times when their mental health is at considerably greater risk—everyone has given their all (and more) to support their students and their families.

Students in lockdown have demonstrated feisty fortitude, resilience, and adaptability as they have recalibrated their approaches to life and learning. Some have preferred their new-found independence and ability to manage their own time while still achieving their goals and setting themselves new horizons.

Teachershave shown unstinting commitment and loyal dedication. Some are still having to work remotely through the night and have had to turn their worlds upside down—sometimes literally in terms of time zones—to teach their students in real-time and support their well-being from afar.

Facilities, operations and auxiliary staff have demonstrated an unwavering work ethic and an overwhelming sense of devotion to duty in managing the successful re-opening of schools amidst ever-changing local and governmental regulations to ensure the health safety and well-being of entire school communities.

Many parents have been making time to participate in the virtual school evaluation process, joining online meetings to share their invaluable perspectives and help their child’s school move forward.

And, our CIS Global Team has been there to partner and support our school members along the way, carefully maintaining the personalised contact that we pride ourselves upon.

 

Lessons learned from virtual school visits

School visits by teams of peer evaluators are an essential part of becoming a member of CIS, achieving CIS International Accreditation, and in a school’s ongoing improvement. A continuation of this work in 2020 was never in doubt, and we swiftly and nimbly moved to a virtual model of evaluation.

 

As part of this new virtual model, we discovered that engaging educators as our evaluators’ ‘eyes and ears on the ground’ (or “avatars” as one accreditation coordinator described the role) led to genuine exchanges and a better understanding of student experiences. During live streams, they facilitated conversations in real-time between students and evaluators. They provided far greater insight into the learning than any reliance on static cameras showing a lesson.

Asking school staff to produce narrated videos of their school premises has led to deeper evaluation of the premises and facilities as well as a more in-depth focus on health, safety, security, child protection, and safeguarding with far greater detail than during most on-site group tours at the start of an on-campus accreditation visit. It has also allowed specialised support staff to take responsibility for the narration and to demonstrate pride in the areas for which they are responsible--raising their professional profile and leading to a deeper appreciation of their ongoing essential contributions to the school community.

Conducting group meetings online with school representatives (e.g. students, staff, parents) participating via individual devices has often led to a fairer sharing of the discussion time and an enhanced appreciation of the opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives.

Conducting the self-study workshop online at the end of a preparatory evaluation visit has led to the development of enhanced learning resources that can be utilised beyond the workshop itself and offer schools more customised support.

Using virtual break-out rooms has given the facilitators improved access to engage with individuals and small groups during the workshop to understand better how to help the school move forward.

 

Inspiring moments that have helped us along the way

Despite the challenges that our schools and our team have worked so hard to overcome, some inspiring moments have served as wonderful reminders of the strength and commitment of our global community.

It’s been remarkable to see the ongoing energy and enthusiasm for professional and institutional development by way of the large numbers of educators continuing to commit to online training to become evaluators and team leaders. It doesn’t stop there; once they complete online training, they then take on the challenges of a new adventure in supporting and evaluating schools remotely.

We’ve seen all-round commitment to the ongoing and fast-paced learning of all educators and leaders who are ensuring that what they accomplished so effectively pre-Covid can also be achievable in the virtual world. They continue to apply their new learning and develop ever-improving strategies and approaches as we continue to adapt to the latest new normal.

Many school leaders see the benefits of continuing with their accreditation activities as a means to support their communities and maintain hope via the momentum of school improvement with an eye on the bigger picture beyond the immediate crises at hand.

Looking ahead to 2021, there will be plenty more to learn, accomplish, and celebrate together as our pathways of improvement continue. We look forward to our continued partnerships with schools across 123 countries, and all we will discover along the way!