Taking care of transitions during relocation

The latest webinar in the Great International Education and Schools' Fair takes a look at the vital importance of supporting children to settle and how the international education community is making this happen. Ruth Holmes reports.

Joining hosts, BBC World presenter Jayne Constantinis and Relocate and Relocate Global’s Managing Editor Fiona Murchie, to talk about why transition care matters in schools are the highly accomplished and expert panel of:

A lifelong journey through transition

For author Valérie Besanceney, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) growing up and attending international and Dutch local schools and now a transition consultant, it was her experiences as a child that brought her to the important transition support she and her colleagues are involved in and membership of the SPAN network.“My experience of no transition support is that it manifests later in life, but schools are starting to address this now,” says Valérie Besanceney.Growing up, relocations were both challenging and exciting for Valérie, who adapted very easily socially. All the settling in then was done with the best of intentions, but overlooked “the little things, which are really important,” says Valérie, like saying orienting children around school buildings and connecting socially – aspects of the critical “Hello” and “Goodbye” journey today in international schools.It was later in life at university when the emotional impact of Valérie’s moves came to the fore. “I had the biggest culture shock in the US. I really started questioning ‘who am I?’ and ‘where do I belong?’ I was in my early 20s and had a big identity crisis – I had no idea where to go and what to do, so I kept moving.“I didn’t realise how much I struggled with grief until I joined the network and realised how much work can be done to help children thrive through challenge,” says Valérie. “As I continued my work as a teacher, I created a booklet so children can describe their move. There’s lots of literature available for adults and not so much for children so I wrote Be At Home.”Written from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl going through relocation and also from the perspective of her teddy bear, who is the voice of reason, Be At Home validates what children might be feeling and gives them the space and the language to talk about their emotions. There is also a French language edition and accompanying My Moving Book, a valuable workbook for children. Available on Amazon

Why is transition care and support important?

A well-managed and supported international relocation can deliver a wealth of benefits for family members. Greater cultural awareness, more opportunity for learning second, third, fourth or more languages, resilience and the chance to meet people from backgrounds different to your own and develop a rich, global mindset are all regularly quoted as among the benefits.Yet to access these benefits requires both awareness of how children and young people respond and react to times of transitions, and the right support from their schools and families.Research, teachers’ experience and books like Dr Doug Ota’s Safe Passage: How mobility affects people & what international schools should do about it (available at Amazon) recognise the negative impact relocation can have on learning, and the feelings of grief and loss of identity that can continue throughout life if left unresolved.Thankfully, academics, experts like Dr Doug Ota, practitioners, authors and communities like SPAN are collaborating and sharing their knowledge and resources for the benefit of the current and next generation of third-culture kids (TCKs), their parents, teachers, schools and relocation expertise.

Building knowledge through networks

Educator and youth intercultural transition specialist Jane Barron came to realise that relocation can impact a child’s development when she was working in a school in South East Asia.“I was teaching in grade 4 class,” explained Jane Barron. “There were about four children who had blockages in learning. I knew it wasn’t cognitive or behavioural, but there was a pattern. I got alongside them and heard about their mobility experience. There was this affinity between them so I began asking my colleagues ‘is this is thing?’”This put Jane on a mission to find out how mobility affects learning, and into contact with groups like Families in Global Transition and SPAN. “International schools are by nature transient places, even though they increasingly have students from local communities,” says Jane. “They are a platform for families in global transitions. With that come goodbyes and hellos and change and grief and loss, which can really impact our emotions.“Emotions are like a shelf on which our cognitive glassware sits. Teachers’ ability to teach as well as students’ learning is impacted by transition. Transitions are a powerful opportunity to really engage with the process so it activates and engages learning so teachers can teach well, parents can parent well and children can learn well. We need these skills in all aspects of life, especially with Covid. International schools have responded and are a platform to equip their community with the trials of transitions.”Join us for the Transition-care in International Schools: Research Findings webinar

Find out more about Jane Barron and Ellen Mahoney’s new research in their webinar on 16 November at 4.00pm GMT

Embedding transition support in schools

Claudine Hakim and the International School of London (ISL) were among the first schools to recognise the importance of positive, well-supported transitions in schools for children on the move. “I joined ISL in 2009. Dr Richard Pearce had already written a lot about intercultural education and so our school had already started on that journey.“It really resonated with me because I have a background in psychology and the wellbeing of our community is important. I found my tribe as well and realised very quickly that many schools have a transition programme, but don’t realise it. What takes it to the next level is when you embrace it and it becomes part of your DNA.”Describing the journey from early-adopter to Relocate Award-winner, Claudine Hakim said the first step was for the ISL leadership team to come together to work out what representation and support is important for a transitions team.“Someone was named as taking ownership for this community where everyone has to be involved, whether it’s the PTA on the parents side, HR for staff and teachers for children,” says Claudine Hakim. “We had a committee that looked at and mapped the whole journey from first contact with the school to leaving.“What is critical is understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy. If children’s basic needs aren’t met, then they can’t reach self-actualisation. If everyone accepts that as a given, it becomes obvious. All these steps on the journey are rituals – but it takes the theory of why they are important and to evaluate what we are doing to ensure it includes every aspect of the school community.”

Transitions during a time of transition

The ISL’s integrated approach takes care of children’s, as well as teachers’ and parents’ wellbeing, with additional offerings like parent workshops and staff counselling. It has also stood up to the test of transition support during the coronavirus pandemic.As an international school, it is common for new students and families to join the school community at any point of the year. The ISL had three new families join in May. This was mid-lockdown for the UK where school buildings were closed and learning was online. Personalised transition support was more important than ever given that people couldn’t meet each other and connect in person.“One student spoke no English and had not been able to visit the school before joining,” says Claudine Hakim. “We modified the student’s programme, so the first two weeks was about orientation with people who spoke the same language, creating that link with other students.”The ISL also provided introductory English classes for three weeks before the student joined. “The feedback we got is that it really made a difference to that family,” said Claudine Hakim. “Being flexible, connected, adaptable and creative helped us keep families and teachers as happy as can be under the circumstances.”

Discover how the Relocate Award winning, International School of London lives and breathes transition-care across their school community

Flexible transitions and student support

The Taipei American School is another that actively values transition support and has embedded this in their culture and practices. Ryan Haynes, the school’s Director of Upper School Academic and Personal Counseling says, “It helps having a head of school who gets it and understands transition. Having her onboard and the Director of Admission and divisional colleagues also helps.“Counsellors are heavily involved in transitions process. Prior to arrival we have a file and match up students with ambassadors based on their interests and where they are coming from in the world. They reach out to their buddies prior to arriving and on arrival go through their schedules and a tour of school.”Here too Covid-19 has called for a flexible approach to account for students having to quarantine or await visas with their families. For placement tests in maths and writing, “students can submit writing samples from where they are coming from,” says Ryan Haynes. Overall, “it’s really been a total team effort, so kudos to all in the school as to how we welcomed families.”Together, this important transition support for students, parents and teachers at international schools and its focus on wellbeing is helping to equip future school-leavers and leaders with the emotional intelligence and resilience needed to thrive and navigate in these changing times.Each panel member is a current board member of the ground-breaking SPAN (Safe Passage Across Network) group of educators, psychologists, intercultural and transition expertise. Set up by Dr Doug Ota, SPAN is a non-profit organisation which offers a home to people and schools committed to healthy student, family and staff transition.

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