The Wellington Spirit: Alive and Well in Hangzhou

There is a well-known saying in English, “what doesn’t harm you, often makes you stronger”.

As a leader who has worked in various schools across the world before coming to Hangzhou, I have been involved in various ‘crises’ or ‘challenges’ during my time. It is interesting that many peoples’ ideas of what a crisis really is can often be very different – depending on your own experiences and perhaps your own level of comfort. For some, an electricity cut may seem the end of the world whilst for others it is barely noticeable. When we do all agree or recognise that we might be in the midst of a really challenging time (as we currently are here in China – despite the good news that the Coronavirus is slowly being brought under control) – for those outside the situation, this is can often far be labeled too easily as a disaster. However, for those of us intimately involved on the ground, it can more often seems like a human triumph over adversity.

For me personally, the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in Japan, the huge and frequent sandstorms in Libya or even a completely unexpected hurricane in the UK, which completely destroyed not only my school but damaged much of the town we lived in; all presented immense challenges. Immense challenges but not insurmountable ones. Whilst the school may well be physical closed at this time, the teaching and learning continues. As does the spirit and drive of our community. Since the beginning of this experience we have articulated that it is events like this that can galvanize a population and bring out the best in us all. I truly believe this has been the case. Not only in our school community, but also in Hangzhou and China in general.

And here we are – still working and still teaching our pupils to the best of our ability, regardless of where staff are at this time and in which time zones they may find themselves. Indeed, this whole experience offers a wonderful opportunity for widening our teachers’ expertise as well as our pupils’ learning skills.

Despite the fact that we already had technology deeply embedded into our learning environment (which helped us prepare for such circumstances), it is always good to see the ways in which we can continue to improve.

All teaching that takes place in an ‘eLearning’ environment relies heavily on a technology infrastructure. In this respect we are at a great advantage, living in one of the most technologically advanced and modern cities in China. But the eLearning environment must also consider that pupils here in Hangzhou and other parts of China have been in such a challenging situation, often stuck in an apartment or house for days on end with little physical exercise or diversity of experiences. Therefore, it would have been wrong to focus on quantity over quality when teaching via eLearning. We have had to structure our days so there is a mixture of face to face teaching time (virtually via a computer or iPad screen), video instruction, Q&A time, work set and then marked, as well as individual tutorials. In reality, this has involved a huge amount of preparation, not only from our teaching staff but also our very supportive non-academic team. It would not be untrue to state that our teachers have probably been working a lot harder during this period than they normally would do – whilst at the same time maintaining the high standards of work being undertaken,  as well as the important focus on working positively with pupils and parents alike.

And why is this? We believe strongly that open, regular and detailed communication between all stakeholders involved in the school is crucial. Whether this is between teachers and parents, pupils and teachers or school management and parents. Wellington College Hangzhou already has a strong relationship with those stakeholders as well as a robust platform for communication, whether this is via Tchat (used on a daily basis to communicate with parents), Microsoft Teams, email or letters. And of course, our school radio station (Dukebox) continues unabated as a beacon for the school population broadcasting pupil and staff messages, featuring Storytime with our teachers as well as dedications and so much more. Clear communication has also been essential both for imparting news on the current situation as it has changed almost daily, and for boosting and maintaining community moral. Luckily, we know that we already have an extremely strong and positive ethos at the school and many of our staff and parents (as founding members of the school community) are even more invested in flexibility, openness and change than many. For us then, this time has been an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. A time that will make us all the stronger as a result. And this includes the children in our care.

And we have to consider how this period of time has affected those pupils at Wellington College Hangzhou, amongst other things, in terms of our own Wellington values and identity. Has it given them an opportunity to build on their independence? Almost certainly. Have they had to show integrity in terms of ensuring work is completed on time and to the best of their ability? Absolutely! Have they needed to take more responsibility at this time for their own time management and study in general? Yes, they have. So, whilst recognising that our current predicament is not ideal, we look to the positives and try to use it as an important learning experience for all involved.

The future remains bright and our college will be a stronger place when we reopen.

Paul Rogers, Executive Master Hangzhou, February 2020

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