International-mindedness in a global pandemic

Victoria Hearn, Principal at Impington Village College, describes why nurturing international mindsets in their students is key and how they are looking to the future

The importance of cultivating international-mindedness and connectivity within our students has never been more relevant and no more so than as we approach the light at the end of the tunnel. In the midst of a global pandemic, when our students, who come to study with us from all over the world, were forced to the confines of their homes, this ‘new normal’ of learning presented a real challenge not only to our students’ education, but to the core of our college’s mission statement:

  • Inclusive: A welcoming place that celebrates difference and diversity
  • Inspirational: Providing a unique experience and a world-class education for all
  • International: Promoting positive values to secure a better future for our students as both local and global citizens.

International-mindedness sits at the heart of our ethos, and is about so much more than simply the geographical location of where our students come from. Instead, it is about the global perspectives that are present throughout our curricula and day-to-day college life, alongside our web of international connections and opportunities. Over the last year, with students having periods of time not being able to enter the physical classroom, our challenge was to maintain and continue to hero our international outlook to ensure they still very much felt part of our learning community – something that we tackled head on.

Within our college community, we were determined not to let the impact of COVID-19 damage the diverse and connected culture that we have spent years building. At both Impington Village College and our sixth form, Impington International College, variety, inclusion and adaptability make us who we are, and this past year has truly shown how resilient and adaptable our students can be. We have made a conscious effort to ensure that all students learning with us – whether they were based around the world or local to our college – felt just as involved and included within the learning process; this is especially true for our sixth form, where last September, students from 13 other countries besides the UK joined our learning community.

In an effort to help ensure that our 2019/20 Year 13 students felt fully involved and valued members of our community during the pandemic, last year, we decided to host our annual May Ball virtually. This allowed the cohort to dress up and join us via Zoom to celebrate all they had achieved with us. We have also invited this year group back to our 2022 May Ball to give them the physical celebration and long awaited catch up needed. It is through activities such as these that we can keep the spark of connectivity alive and provide our students with some fun and a well-deserved break from their studies.

As well as protecting and cultivating a strong community ethos within our college, through our status as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School we are always reinforcing to our students that they are responsible for being part of a wider, global community too. We have previously been lucky enough to take part in the International Exchanges for Schools programme; a grant that was awarded to our college, which gave us, and our students, the opportunity to travel and connect with other schools across the globe. Through this, in January 2020, a group of our students visited staff and students at Adea Model Secondary School in Bishoftu, Ethiopia. This trip provided our students with a physical, hands-on international trip, and also helped to show an inclusive environment, in which we were able to celebrate difference and diversity.

The trip to Ethiopia was, sadly, our last excursion abroad for our college in 2020. Despite this, we were still eager to continue with our programme of cultural exchanges, further keeping the flame of our much-loved intercultural connectivity alive. So much so, during November last year, our IB Japanese Ab Initio Sixth Form group and Year 7 and 8 enrichment groups, took part in a number of virtual exchanges and live lessons with our partner school in Morioka, Japan, focusing on the idea to engage both sets of students with new cultures and classrooms. This was important for us to do as it allowed our students to see that, despite the pandemic, they were not cut off from our international neighbours; it was also hugely beneficial on both sides in widening their understanding of the languages and allowing the sets of students to put their language work into practice.

Looking to the future, we will keep providing our students with rich experiences and are looking forward to beginning our adventure with World Challenge; an international travel programme that has empowered and changed the lives of over 150,000 students by providing opportunities to visit a range of countries across the globe. It is exciting that we will be able to give our students the chance to live these real adventures through exploring new cultures and countries, learning and growing alongside their peers. These experiences are of crucial importance in helping our students develop an international mindset. The personal growth that will be gained throughout this initiative will complement our college teaching, further providing students with the opportunity to become lifelong learners and global citizens. We are aiming for our first expedition to go out in summer 2022.

Connecting with learners all across the world is intrinsic to the ethos of our college. Due to this, we are introducing the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) from September 2021 in place of our current KS3 curriculum at the main college. As an IB World School, learning about different cultures and seeing ourselves as part of a global community is embedded as part of our day-to-day activity, and we are committed to developing our students to recognise themselves as responsible members of the world; helping them to evolve their natural abilities as inquiring, knowledgeable, opened-minded, balanced and reflective thinkers and risk-takers. Through our teachings of the IB, we continue to build on our strengths of connectivity, inclusivity, and diversity; doing more to help our students nurture international mindsets in a world that currently has global travel and connections paused.

Our latest addition of the MYP will mean that we are the only state school in the UK to offer three IB programmes, including the Diploma Programme (DP), which our sixth form has offered for over 30 years, and the Career-related Programme (CP). Our college upholds the values of an IB education, ensuring that we promote inquiry and reflection, while encouraging our students to be open-minded in their learning. It also remains extremely important for us to encourage a caring attitude amongst our cohort, which, in turn, encourages the building of respectful relationships. Our approaches to learning and teaching of the IB and its messaging allowed us to continue developing these traits among our students, even in the virtual environment. This included interactive lessons, encouraging debate and conversation amongst students and independent study break out rooms. Without these elements of our home learning activity, our college would not have remained the connected and open-minded space it is as our students return back to the classroom.

Our pledge to develop international-mindedness within our students has provided our college with a wide range of positive and constructive benefits and outcomes. Recently, we were proud to receive The British Council’s International School Award in celebration of the college’s achievements in helping to bring the world into our classrooms, while also highlighting our commitment to embedding an international dimension to our curriculum. This award has helped us to highlight the international culture that plays such an important role within our community.

Our international initiatives will not only help our cohort recover from the isolation-based damage this pandemic has caused, but they will continue to strengthen our core ethos and culture of international-mindedness, connectivity and inclusivity. With this at the forefront of our minds, we will develop and evolve as global citizens together, and I can’t wait to see what is next for us here at Impington.

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