BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Lessons Learned About Pastoral Care in the International School Community

By Philip Harvey
Lessons Learned About Pastoral Care in the International School Community

Over the last six years I’ve worked as Dean of Students in the Upper School at the International School of Luxembourg (ISL). As I prepare to leave the world of education, I offer my reflections about leading pastoral care in a growing international school.
Maintain high expectations
It’s important that everyone in the school understands they are accountable and responsible for student welfare, with “unconditional care” for students being the mantra of good professional practice. Higher expectations for student care help create a better atmosphere.
You’re only as good as the (diversity of the) people you work with
Our Student Support Team at ISL consists of learning support teachers, personal counselors, higher education counselors, a school nurse, and section leaders. This team meets weekly, dialoguing about student concerns to promote strategies for working with students. The multi-disciplinary perspective of this team works against the specter of “group-think.”
Sometimes we view the needs of our students through very different lenses, so the opportunity is taken for professional dialogue with room for disagreement, which sharpens our collective wisdom. I have been fortunate to have had such a supportive, good-hearted, and committed team of professionals alongside which to work.
Be sure of data
I have observed that our best student support meetings have been ones in which team members bring the right kind of data to the table. Sometimes this is anecdotal, as with recent comments by teachers about a particular student’s behavior; sometimes the data takes the form of results, as with psychological evaluations or reading tests; sometimes colleagues share reflections on a parent meeting. Whatever the data, it needs to be current, grounded, and ideally, triangulated by other data.
Expect challenges with international families, support transition
Transition can be a fear-inducing, stressful process for people. This is as true of adults as it is of children. Families who make their first transition into an international setting need support. ISL runs a “Welcome Back” festival to which all new families are invited, where various community groups set up stalls. One of our counselors has developed a student ambassador program based on principles from Doug Ota’s transition manual Safe Passage.
Students in the Upper School volunteer and receive training in the role of student ambassador and “buddy up” with new students. Ambassadors then accompany new students in their first few weeks of school, assisting with social networking. We have found that new students who feel cared for socially are more resourceful and happier, while student ambassadors undertake valuable social learning.
Take time to create an effective advisory program
Six years ago we formed an Advisory Task Force, consisting of a few teachers, counselors, and leaders. We researched different models for advisory programs. A package of resources was put together focusing on three key themes: personal and social learning, careers education, and global citizenship. We planned advisory professional development, inviting trainers from Engaging Schools. This training created dialogue around the advisor role and strategies for advisory sessions. An advisory wiki was established with session resources. Leadership of the advisory program was decentralized, with each grade level run by a Grade Advisory Leader.
In doing all this, we worked from two assumptions. The first was that it is more effective to lead closer to the action. The second was that, in order to be effective, advisors need time, training, and opportunities for reflection.
Balance head and heart
It’s predictable that adolescents will make mistakes in their behavioral and ethical choices. If schools are interested in learning, then disciplinary mistakes are best viewed as learning opportunities in disguise. Mistakes have to be owned, apologies offered, reparations made, and reconciliations brokered. Such learning needs to be tailored to the individual, otherwise it is too easy to venture into legalism and an impersonal system of sanctions.
Contrary to populist views of “fairness,” students should not be treated exactly the same way. Rather, disciplinary responses must take into account the context of the misbehavior, the students’ socio-emotional health, the role of others, and personal circumstances.
Most importantly, discipline must always be offered as an expression of the in loco parentis mode of care. As William Glasser writes, “Discipline must always have within it the element of love.” When students know the approach of school personnel comes from a place of care then they will learn from this, though there may be a few seasons before the learning bears fruit in terms of mature self-discipline. It helps to take a long-term view of the harvest!
Care for the carers
Counselors, learning support teachers, school nurses, and others on the front line dealing with students and families in crisis will need networks of support. Sometimes these can be found within the school but it can be useful to engage in outside networks. Personal counselors should have access to external professional supervision. Of course, there are times when team members just need to “have a rant.” There is enormous therapeutic value in simply being listened to.
Stay engaged with students
It’s easy in a leadership role to get busy and become too remote from students. Taking a regular class or being involved with student activities helps you stay in touch with student concerns and perspectives.
Philip Harvey is currently Upper School Dean of Students, International School of Luxembourg and is preparing to enter a new career in the Church of England in July 2017. email: [email protected]
William Glasser. Reality Therapy. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


08/06/2017 - Dr. J
I was in Luxemburgh in 2007-08. I did not know about the school or the interesting mechanisms built in. I would have loved to visit the school. Specifically, I like the different models to foster active engagement - with the students and stakeholders.



Elevate Student Voice & Choice in Diverse Learning Settings
By Lindsay Kuhl, Jane Russell Valezy, & Esther Bettney
May 2021

Increasing Student Autonomy Through Time and Place
By Tim Johnson & Tony Winch
May 2021