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Protecting Our Students
By Mick Amundson-Geisel 09-Nov-16
It is the responsibility of every teacher, administrator, custodian, driver, security officer, parent, coach, counselor, maintenance staff member, building manager, administrative staff member, and everyone who comes in contact with our students to ensure that students who attend International School Yangon (ISY) are learning and thriving within a safe environment. Further, we have an obligation to teach our kids how to recognize potentially unsafe situations so that they can make good decisions and know when to report to an adult. With this in mind, ISY embarked on developing child protection policies and procedures beginning in the spring of 2015. Our first challenge was writing policy that considers the unique characteristics of our ISY community while protecting children who come from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. Fortunately, the government of Myanmar has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, which sends a strong signal to any organization existing within Myanmar that child safety is a priority. As a first step, we brought in Katherine Levi from Breakthrough, a professional development and training organization focused primarily on the needs of international schools. Katherine spent time in our school meeting with both Myanmar and expatriate staff members and identifying key school cultural aspects that might impact child protection policy and practice. Within a few months, she provided us with the first draft of a policy. We formed a child protection development team consisting of the School Director, administrators, and counselors from all divisions. The team met several times during the 2015–2016 school year researching best child safety practices, consulting with other international schools that have a Child Protection Policy in place and attending conference sessions on child protection. The team reviewed, and in many cases carefully modified, each section of the policy to ensure the following: • That it included all of the important aspects of protecting a child (screening of new employees, teacher Code of Conduct, definitions of abuse, etc.). • That policy statements were clear and concise. • That the guidelines included acknowledgements of some of the characteristics of the ISY community. • That it was clear what action school personnel would take if/when there is a report that a child is unsafe. Another challenge was increasing the awareness of child protection issues among the students, staff, and parents of ISY. Fortunately, we found a passionate consultant who has worked tirelessly on the child protection movement in international schools for many years. She engaged our faculty in interactive activities that led us to examine our own attitudes and beliefs about child protection and informed us of the most common student safety issues in international populations. She explored the sensitive but important subjects of abuse, sex, and accountability with our Myanmar staff members. Finally, she supported the counselors with advice and practical resources for parent presentations and guidance lessons for our students. The elementary and secondary counselors had already been teaching anti-bullying lessons that included skills such as active listening, problem solving, assertiveness, and emotional regulation. Students also learned what to do if they or someone else was experiencing bullying behaviors. Thus, incorporating personal safety lessons along with age-appropriate information about abuse was a natural next step. The Board of Management and Director of the school gave their full support throughout this process. In fact, the Director took personal responsibility for many of the adjustments that ISY had to make in order to fully comply with the new policy and increase safety on our campus. We officially launched the new policy with the start of the 2016–2017 school year. The counselors developed and facilitated child protection training sessions with every member of the ISY staff, from the new Director to the custodial staff. We formed a Child Protection Team consisting of teachers, local staff, administrators, counselors, the doctor and nurse, and an outside child psychologist. This team will meet twice a year to review policy and procedures and how they are implemented and will offer feedback on ways to further improve. Parents received information about the policy and how ISY will use it to ensure all students feel safe. Finally, the biggest challenge currently facing us is developing connections to governmental and non-governmental agencies that also work to protect children. We would like to develop relationships with individuals within these organizations for three reasons. First, to consult with people who are currently working on child protection issues within Myanmar in order to learn from their expertise and be up-to-date with the current state of child protection. Second, in the case when a law is broken, we know the procedures related to reporting in a way that safeguards the child. Lastly, we want to ensure that the community that surrounds ISY understands how and why we are making such great efforts to protect the children who attend ISY. Our work is just beginning. We will continue to offer parent information sessions. Staff will continue to be trained each year. But, most importantly, we now have a system in place with clearly defined parameters, that will guide our safe interactions with students, ensure we take action when a student is being harmed and help us ensure that students are learning in a safe school environment.
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