Sharing Lessons Learned from Reopening Our Global Schools in a COVID-19 World

“It was by far the single most informative webinar I have listened to since COVID-19 became a household word.”
– Nancy Mugele, Head of Kent School, Chestertown, MD

With return to school amid the continuing pandemic foremost on everyone’s mind, U.S. school leaders have been eager to hear from colleagues abroad who reopened their schools in late spring to glean insights as they prepare for their own this fall. 

Recognizing Dwight’s global leadership role and its unique ability to share lessons learned when our schools in Shanghai, Seoul, and London welcomed students back to campus, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS); and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW), alongside its sister organization, the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools (AIMS), invited Dwight to speak to their members. In total, leaders from 400 independent schools in New York, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland logged on to multiple webinars with Dwight panelists: Blake Spahn, Vice Chancellor; Dianne Drew, Head of School; Brantley Turner, American Principal of Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School; and Kevin Skeoch, Head of Dwight School Seoul. 

Our schools in Asia were the first to navigate the uncharted COVID-19 waters by closing and shifting to distance learning beginning in January with Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School, as the coronavirus emerged in China and started its dramatic deadly spread around the world. So, too, were our schools there the first to reopen, followed by Dwight School London — each without one COVID-19 case. Dwight in Dubai and New York remained closed with robust distance learning in place through the end of the 2019-20 year.

As all school leaders plan for a hopeful safe reopening in the fall, the administrators and educators who attended the NYSAIS and AISGW webinars were interested in hearing from Dwight’s panel about many topics, ranging from logistical considerations, health and safety protocols, and social distancing, to curriculum and classroom changes and the social and emotional impact of COVID-19 on the Schools’ communities. With a focus on what worked well and what will be improved, Dwight leaders shared how they’re planning to welcome students back to all of our global campuses at summer’s end based on reopening experiences to date. 

Dwight School London
Dr. Spahn introduced our global network and noted that each one operates differently in a COVID-19 world based on government stipulations in their home countries. He shared insights gained on the ground from Dwight School London’s reopening in April following a month-long shutdown and with little notice from the government. Parents there had the choice to have their children return to the brick-and-mortar campus or continue with distance learning, making for a unique reopening and some challenges that teachers faced in managing both simultaneously. 

Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School
Both Ms. Turner and Mr. Skeoch also began by putting their school reopenings in the larger context of their unique cities and countries, which have higher levels of government control and expectations than U.S. schools do, as well as different cultural norms and behaviors. With that said, COVID-19 is under control in Shanghai and Seoul, and Ms. Turner enumerated some of the protocols implemented at our boarding high school there, which can be replicated or adapted to help schools elsewhere return safely. She also covered a variety of considerations around academics, leadership and decision-making, digitizing processes, and supporting faculty and staff.

Dwight School Seoul
Mr. Skeoch, who noted how technologically advanced Seoul is as a city and culture, spoke about one of the high-tech solutions employed on our campus: a circulating robot to remind students, especially younger ones, about the importance of temperature checks and social distancing. Students of all ages have adapted well to the new requirements, particularly with regard to wearing masks.
Mr. Skeoch also shared some of the collaborative hurdles social distancing brings to classrooms such as the need to remove reading rugs and couches, where younger students gather, and how to best facilitate group project work, which is integral to the IB curriculum across all ages. 

Throughout the webinars and Q&A sessions, Dwight leaders delved into a variety of additional scheduling, facilities, transportation, budgeting, admissions, and safety considerations and recommendations, which are helping our schools in Dubai and New York to prepare for successful reopenings and welcoming students back to campus at summer’s end. 

Ms. Drew spoke to the critical importance of transparency and consistent communication, highlighting what’s working well and surveying community members on a regular basis to gather feedback to make necessary adjustments. She also highlighted how helpful it is to share a reopening plan with all community members to help reduce anxiety about what to expect.

Webinar attendees were grateful for the practical advice and recommendations Dwight provided to help them envision what the back-to-school landscape could look like and manage uncertainty, as COVID-19 continues to be a public health threat. Among their many take-aways was the knowledge that schools around the world are all facing the same pandemic challenges — some just sooner than others.

To hear some of what our Dwight leaders shared, please click here.

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