How do schools ensure that their pastoral support structure nurtures future ready children?

“As the old adage goes, ‘It takes a village to bring up a child’, and at ISS International School, the academic and pastoral teams work closely and collaboratively together, guided by the ISS strategic pillars to strengthen the goals we set for our students, in order to achieve the best desired and effective outcomes.” Ms. Berna Sekhon, ISS Counsellor.

1. Both the Academic and Learning Support teams work in unison, guided by ISS’ core values to develop differentiated approaches for each student.

The Learning Support Team, like the whole academic team at ISS, is very much guided by ISS’ core philosophies of being nurturing, empowering, and inclusive to prepare our students to be strong global stewards. We strive to ensure the total well-being of our students to help them achieve their best potential. This is why there is an extremely close collaboration between the academic and pastoral support staff to enable us to work as a team when issues are identified. A student may come forward to a teacher, or a teacher may, in their daily close interaction with the student, identify a continuing issue.

To realise the potential of our students, we must ensure that their total wellbeing is well taken care of.

Depending on the issue, either our counselling team or learning support team will sit in-class to observe, in addition to having private one-on-one sessions with our student, in order to understand the possible cause(s) of the challenge. Depending on the situation, we also consult with the student’s  parents. Parents offer information about the child’s learning strengths and challenges and with this additional feedback, the academic and pastoral teams work together to better understand the child, and develop individualised plans to help them achieve their best potential.

Regardless, when possible conclusions are made, my team of support staff – be it the Counsellors, Learning Support Team, University Advisor, Guardianship and Boarding Coordinator, or Medical staff – and I will work together with the student’s academic teachers and division principals to develop differentiated learning and support plans to help the student to cope with the issue. It is literally an ‘all hands on deck’ scenario”, according to Ms. Patricia Winpenny, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12), Head of Learning Support and Wellness. “My team and I attend weekly staff meetings across all the grade levels to ensure that we keep track of the students’ progress as this helps us understand if the intervention measures are working, and to how modify these measures when and if necessary. This is the beauty of ISS. We are deeply involved with all our students and their families. We take the time and effort to understand what drives or does not drive our students. This thorough understanding of each student enables us to develop individual and differentiated student strategies, both on the academic and pastoral support fronts, which optimise the well-being of our students. This framework has worked for us successfully, and we have cases to show the fruits of our efforts. We have had students who have enrolled with challenges, but given our responsive and targeted interventions, have gone on to achieve strong IB scores and go on to attend top universities around the world.”

Strong collaboration between our pastoral care team and parents is essential in helping our students meet their needs and realise their potential.

“My role as a School Counsellor for both the Elementary and Middle Schools is to address all students’ personal/social/academic needs within the school. My role requires me to implement a comprehensive school counselling program that will enhance student achievement in all areas, and that will promote student well-being. My work is differentiated by the attention given to the different stages of the student growth. This includes needs, tasks, and interests.” shares Ms. Sekhon. “My days are generally filled with student appointments. These could be between 20 minutes to 1-hour sessions, depending on the need at hand. The issues we deal with the most are stress and anxiety within the student population, peer and parent relationships, conflict resolution, and time management. Whatever is discussed between myself and the student is upheld in privacy and confidentiality. I am guided by my personal goal as a counsellor, which also aligns with ISS’ strategic values, which is the strong belief that every student is an individual who requires a different approach to learning. No two students are the same and therefore I provide my students with a safe environment where they can share and discuss their innermost struggles with a trusted professional who keeps their emotional well-being as a top priority. With genuine support and guidance, each student is able to reach their best potential.”

Our teachers also play a part in being there for our students, listening to the concerns of their students.

2. Create a safe and comfortable environment.

A safe classroom environment allows students to seek comfort and discuss their emotions. Support from peers are also important! support-from-peers-is-also-important

Pastoral Care is not just the responsibility of the Learning Support and Wellness Team members at ISS. This is facilitated by all teachers across the school. Ms. Leah Wright, our Grade 1 Teacher believes that at ISS, addressing the needs of the whole child is core. “I establish a safe classroom environment where students are comfortable discussing their emotions. Talking about emotions helps our young students identify how they are feeling as well as come to a better understanding of the reasons behind their emotions. As the other students listen, they build empathy, make connections, strengthen their relationships and develop their problem-solving skills.”

Ms. Leah continues to share that if an issue arises between two students or a small group of students. She normally adopts this approach. “I will ask open-ended questions and give each student/group a chance to share their version of the issue. Each time, I ensure that the other student/group is encouraged to listen respectfully, without interrupting, and give assurance that they will have a chance to respond afterwards. When both students/groups have finished, we talk about what might have been done differently and we try to come to a fair solution. Over time, students require less support and are able to hold these conversations independently as they not only become more aware of others but also more aware of themselves. I apply the same technique with students who have had problems at home and have asked me to help them open a dialogue with their parents. By using these techniques, child and parent have been able to develop a greater understanding of one another and come up with resolutions that work for both parties.”

Our students know that they are listened to and that they can address their concerns to any teacher.

While this may work for the younger students, Mr. Bruno Alen-LeBon, Drama and French Acquisition Teacher, cautions that “we do not single them out. Older students want to feel they are very much part of the group, in order to feel safe and be willing to talk”.  Mr. Christopher Hoddinott, Grade Level Leader 10, High School Project Coordinator, and Music Teacher, also concurs with this and adds that the most important thing to support the older student is to “always listen to the concerns of a student, no matter how small. What is important is that a student feels safe and welcomed in the school environment. It is critically essential that the student knows that they are listened to, that their concerns are heard, and they have a variety of outlets to address their concerns to not only their pastoral teacher but also the Grade Level Leader, or the school counsellor to name a few. It is also essential that issues are dealt with calmly with the student’s interests at heart.”

3. Mindfulness activities are a good source of helping our students get in touch with their emotions.

Carrying out mindfulness activities helps our students to be more in-tune with their feelings. peer-counselling-training-sessions-teach-our-students-to-look-out-for-their-peers-family-and-people-around-them Mhairie Flor was also part of the Peer Counsellors in Training student group, which aims to promote mindfulness, awareness of one’s mental health, and look out and provide support for their peers, family, and people around them.

“I advocate for mindfulness activities regularly as this helps students become more in-tune with their feelings and develop strategies they can use when they feel overwhelmed. I use a variety of mindfulness activities in class such as mindful colouring, meditation, yoga, or going on a mindful walk.”, Ms. Leah. Mindfulness activities are used across all grade levels and our students have benefitted from them.

“Mindfulness activities really helped tremendously in my crucial Grade 11 and 12 years,” shares Mhairie Flor, who is from the Graduating Class of 2018. “Mindfulness helps to make a person aware of the situation that they are in and allows the person to make an analysis of that situation appropriately instead of stressing and forgetting the importance of your mental health. This helps the person make rational decisions and take responsible actions. I took music as one of my subjects at IB. As part of the exam requirements, I had to perform publicly on stage, and this performance was graded. I was a nervous wreck at the rehearsal, just before the actual performance. My voice shook so much as a result of my nervousness and I just could not sing. The School Counsellor took me aside after the rehearsals and we practiced mindful exercises. I gave one of my best performances that evening. The exercises worked and since then I have relied on mindfulness stress-based reduction exercises to help me with all my future music performances and also in my academic exams as well.”

4. Pastoral Support extends to the family at ISS.

Our 'Conversations with the Counsellors' sessions are just one of the many activities where we encourage our parents to be more involved in the well-being of their children
Our ‘Conversations with the Counsellors’ sessions are just one of the many activities where we encourage our parents to be more involved in the well-being of their children.

There must be the continuous and seamless execution of individualised student support plans in school and at home. This is why parental involvement and support is key. “As parents play an important role in the well-being of our children, we have held bi-monthly ‘Conversations with the Counsellors’ sessions with our parents from Elementary, Middle, and High Schools to discuss the most prominent issues that students and/or parents deal with on a daily basis. These sessions have proven to be extremely helpful in connecting the parents to the curriculum and the culture of the school”, Ms. Sekhon. “I am so glad that I attended these sessions. They have helped me realise that I am not alone and that there are other parents who face the same issues with their children. This is a good support source.” -ISS Parent.

Our Parent Teacher Association (PTA) also plays a core role at ISS. The PTA exists to support the school by fostering a spirit of cooperation and community among parents and teachers as they work together for the benefit of the school community.

The PTA Committee strives to support our parent community by organising many inclusive activities
The PTA Committee strives to support our parent community by organising many inclusive activities.

“Since ISS is committed to enrolling an inclusive and diverse student body, we as a committee strive to support our parent community through as many inclusive activities as possible. We have gone to great lengths to ensure we have a little something for everyone, to foster a strong sense of community. Besides regular monthly meetings, we also run many social events like the much sought after annual PTA Fun Fair, guest speaker talk sessions, get-together evenings etc.”,  Savannah Fellows, PTA President.

The many subject-specific coffee mornings, orientation sessions where parents are introduced to the IB curriculum, University Advising sessions, PYP, MYP, and DP Evenings are activities that we organise events each semester to give our parents the opportunity to pose their questions directly to our academic team, seek clarifications, and get a better understanding of their child’s learning environment. These provide parents with the necessary understanding to enable them to support their children throughout their learning years at ISS and facilitate the total well-being of not only our students but also their parents.

The well-being – physical, mental, emotional, academic – of our students is our top priority.

The well-being – physical, mental, emotional, academic – of our students is our top priority at ISS International School. We are holistic in our support and we intervene to help each and every student along in their journey to leading happy, fulfilled, and successful lives, realising their potential along the way. Our students know this and that alone makes all the difference for them.