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Open minds are essential at school

PACK your schoolbag, make sure you have the latest gadgets and to keep an open mind. It's back-to-school time and the new semester brings all kinds of new things - friends, teachers, classes and activities - and ideas.

"Going back to school after a long and relaxing summer vacation is always somewhat stressful but it's also exciting," says Francesca Kluessendorf, a 10th grader at the Shanghai Community International School's Pudong Upper School.

"You get to meet new kids and new teachers. There are new classes and after-school activities to explore. You get to dive into your new grade and recreate yourself. But before the real adventure begins, you need to get ready for challenges," Kluessendorf says. "There's the situation of meeting new teachers, being in a higher grade level, having more difficult classes, and maintaining a positive attitude throughout the whole process. You usually adapt quite fast to all the new changes in your life and accept that this is the first step in the new school year."

Nandita Jain, a parent from Dulwich College Shanghai, also values the power of an open mind to accept changes and possibilities.

"This can enable a person to adjust future thoughts and actions according to further inputs, with greater resilience. Young children, by nature, tend to be more adept at this than teenagers and adults," the mother says.

She believes change and open-mindedness are inter-dependent. "An open mind accepts and adjusts to change, and even seeks it," Jain says.

Learning about the world

The family's globe-trotting experience has shown them that this process can be easy or frustratingly difficult. "However, it is always valuable while moving to and settling down in any new environment - a new neighborhood, school, workplace, city, country, or even another class at school," she says. "It has been particularly interesting for me, as an expatriate mother to watch myself and my children take inputs from culturally diverse sources and sift through them, learning about our own selves and the world along the way."

As the students of Shanghai Community International School head back to school, they also think of children heading off to schools in the faraway Tibet Autonomous Region, where their school helps children who are blind or vision-impaired.

"Braille without Borders (BwB) teaches blind children in Tibet to read and write in Chinese, Tibetan and English. Through its primary goal of teaching the children to become literate, they hope to achieve their long-term goal of developing these students into independent living and working citizens," says Nicolette Ypma-Kloek, a parent at SCIS' Hongqiao campus.

For the past four years, students at both Shanghai Community International School and its sister school, Hangzhou International School (HIS), have raised money through the annual Read-A-Thon to support this program in Tibet.

This year, the goal is to help Braille without Borders pay the daily operational costs of the school and bakery, as well as living expenses for staff and teachers.

It is also a new year for school teachers.

"This year we again aim to explore educational themes and issues from the perspective of a manager working in international/bilingual education here in Shanghai," says Richard Eaton, head of the North American School, Shanghai United International School's Shang Yin campus. "Our goal is to offer fresh, innovative solutions, as well as expert opinions on the educational issues facing the international community in the 21st century."

Eaton recommends three books he has read over the summer, "Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer" by Jim Collins; "Transforming School Culture" by Anthony Muhammad; John Krakauer's "Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way."

Though Eaton returns to a fair dose of paperwork and quite a few e-mails, he says his summer reading has reminded him "that measuring success is about more than bean counting.

"A healthy school culture requires all of us to look deeply into ourselves; and honesty is a timeless virtue. Whether or not you make time to read these books in their entirety - as a parent, a school leader, a teacher, or even as a student - you will be well served by bearing these insights in mind as we march into a new school year," Eaton says.


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