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By Kru Nicki Robertson

The “Whole Staff Orientation” runs a week before the school year begins. This is usually a time when the returning team joins together with our new staff, who have been on campus getting the lay of the land. This year only one new staff member was able to participate, as the others wait patiently in—or for—Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ). 

On the first day of staff orientation, the buzz of holiday chatter echos through the cafeteria as the teachers recount their summer escapades. This year, their tales are only of Thailand exploration, sunsets, and island hopping adventures. Muffled laughter can be heard through the cloth masks as people compliment each other on their chosen patterns. Who would have guessed that mask fashion would be such a hot topic?

The next few days progress with team building activities, safeguarding measures, mindfulness practises, and teaching and learning expectations—meetings fill the days. Time is given for reflection on the past six months, the changes that have occurred, and the role that home learning has played in everyone’s lives. Emotions are still raw, but hearts and minds are ready to move forward. Teachers get to visit their classrooms, the empty shells that last held students in the middle of March. They scan the class lists, looking to see who will walk through the door on day one. Brain cogs shift smoothly from holiday mode to school mode. 

The week continues with new curriculum plans, new ways to make students feel welcome, whether on campus or still abroad. Discussions flow around how we can incorporate world issues into everyday teaching? Black Lives Matter, COVID, unemployment and the global impact. How can we build future change-makers? How do we incorporate agency, sustainability, peace? We are a unique school in a unique world, and we need to grasp this opportunity and make a difference. The energy throughout the school rises, with ideas flowing, teachers gather to explore possibilities.

The reminders of our COVID world are clear: red arrows, new seating plans, desk partitions—the “new normal”. Where can students eat? How many students per table? What sports can they play? The questions are never-ending. Crisis or challenge? Each teacher decides. The MOE arrives with their checklists, walking around for clarity; they want to keep us safe. Hospital experts talk through the impact that COVID has had worldwide. They explain the safety procedures and guide people through their recommendations. Teachers, admin staff, cleaners, and guards—everyone has a part to play.

The student’s first day draws near, and the excitement builds. On Day 1, the gates begin to fill. Temperature checks become holding patterns. Nervous energy all around is broken in a second by the first smile (now given away by a crinkle near the eyes), and Kru Jay’s familiar hello as people walk past. All too soon the air is clear, laughter breaks out, and hearts begin to smile. Only moments before it felt like we were all strangers, and yet now we are family once again. We have not changed, we are still the same: the same school, the same values, the same goal. Here’s to the new year, hold on for the ride.