In the process of moving families around the world, the task of finding international schools with available places for children is sometimes the deal-breaker. While most international schools offer consistency in language, education and teaching philosophy, these schools have also been given the task of helping children to establish themselves within the school community.
A new book by Douglas Ota argues that many students in international schools are suffering, psychologically and academically, due to an absence of available support during the transitional phases of joining and leaving the school environment. Hence, children are grieving the loss of the safe lives they had known, as they navigate through an unknown new school system, resulting in negative implications on confidence, self-identity and learning.
As a Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK), psychologist and previous school counsellor at The American School in The Hague (ASH), Ota presents relevant psychological theories and research, adding personal anecdotes to advocate the need for transitional programmes in international schools.
His book Safe Passage – How Mobility Affects People and What International Schools Should Do About It begins by considering the psychological stress children face when parents are relocated to a new country. He utilises attachment theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to identify the responses of children and staff members confronted by the ever-changing population of students and staff in international schools.
In later chapters, Ota presents a transitional model based on ‘Safe Harbour’, the programme he designed and introduced at The American School. Over seven chapters, this model is detailed in its design construction, implementation and evaluation phases.
The book concludes with eight ‘Messages in Bottles’ – or letters to the relevant stake-holders: students, parents, teachers, administrators, board members, counsellors, human resource managers, and admissions staff – that identify the need for a transition programme from their specific individual perspective. These messages offer a quick learning, or Cliff Notes option, for readers not wanting to read the entire book.
Safe Passage is based on thorough research conducted by an obviously highly experienced psychologist. The bibliography, notes and CIS accreditation standards total 32 pages, indicating that this book is more educational psychology textbook than a general expat resource guide.
Even as a parent of children who have been in the international school system in different countries, Safe Passage is an intense book, yet it should be a mandatory read for all staff of international schools. Helping to ease children through the transitional phase, central in expat lifestyles, is crucial in ensuring these children are happy, confident and able to fully benefit from the academic programmes on offer at international schools.