Friday, April 12, 2024

Teaching During a Global Pandemic: A Globalized Look at Being an Educator During COVID-19

According to a United Nations study, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the largest disruption of education in history, having already had a nearly universal impact on learners and teachers around the world. Head of school at the International School of Indiana (ISI), Elizabeth Head, has details to share about a faculty member that has the distinction of being an educator during the pandemic in both China and the U.S.

Reopening Schools on Different Sides of the World

Richard Bruford, our current upper school principal at ISI, started 2020 as the head of an international school in Suzhou, China, and within months found himself moving to Indianapolis to fill the upper school principal role at ISI — all during a global pandemic. While reopening two schools on opposite sides of the world during a global health crisis was not what Richard had expected, the globalized experience of working through the challenges of a pandemic with staff, faculty and students from all over the world has been invaluable for him and the rest of the ISI administration.

Richard was working at Suzhou Singapore International School when the COVID-19 pandemic first started. China was one of the first places to shut down due to the origin of the virus, which meant their schools also were among the first to go virtual. The pandemic started when his school was on break for Chinese New Year and with so many teachers and students abroad when the country locked down, they resumed learning with teachers and students across 10 different time zones.

Richard’s team in Suzhou was unique in that it was among the first in the world that had to implement a plan for virtual learning. Other parts of the world were actually able to learn from China’s switch to virtual learning and had time to prepare. Similarly, the ISI team was one of the first in Central Indiana to create a plan for reopening. As an international school connected to a network across the globe, ISI had the advantage of drawing on their peer institutions to develop a successful operational plan.

Making the Move from China to the U.S.

After the initial outbreak of the pandemic and just as classes in Suzhou were returning to in-person learning, Richard chose to take a job across the world in Indianapolis. ISI appealed to Richard due to the small class sizes that offered a more personalized approach to both teaching and learning. He chose to move across the globe to ISI because of the diverse school community where students can develop a globalized perspective and have empathy for others all over the world.

With travel restrictions, it took exactly one month door to door for Richard and his family to make the move from Suzhou to Indianapolis. When arriving in Indianapolis, he found the U.S. was in a different place with the virus due to differences in protocols, procedures and the rate of disease transmission. The students, teachers and staff at ISI were able to find support and comfort in his experiences, as he had already gone through many of the challenges of teaching during a pandemic while at Suzhou Singapore International School.

Using Global Experiences to Create a Safe Learning Environment

Richard was happy to use his experiences to share safe and effective procedures with our ISI staff. For example, ISI created a cohort model specific to our school and campus that kept students in pods to prevent transmission if a student were to contract COVID-19. Richard, as well as the entire staff and faculty, positioned ISI to be one of the first schools in the region to create and implement a COVID-ready campus plan, developed through proactive conversations with the first foreign schools to deal with COVID-19. As a result, our school was among the first Central Indiana schools to safely resume in-person instruction.

Progressing Beyond the Pandemic

Schools are still facing challenges as they continue to work through COVID-19, but ISI has found that flexibility has allowed the school to exceed even during a pandemic. Since state-mandated reporting began in September, ISI has only had about two dozen confirmed cases (3.6%) among students, faculty and staff. That places the institution near the top percentile in terms of COVID-safe campuses among our Indianapolis-area peer schools.

“That genuine care for the student’s health and well-being has driven ISI to be successful in providing students with the best education in a safe and fun environment,” Richard said. “I couldn’t have made a better choice.”

As the pandemic continues to impact the world, ISI has found a globalized approach to education offers a perspective that allows the school to flourish even with the challenges brought by COVID-19. With staff members like Richard, we are able to come together collectively to make choices that are best for students, staff and faculty.

For more information about ISI and safety procedures in place at the school, visit

Elizabeth Head is head of school at the International School of Indiana.

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