Principal's Message

Principal's Message - Term 1A Week 6
Paul Tough

Dear Parents, Staff, Students and Friends of BST, 

The seasonal wet weather didn’t dampen spirits and it’s been another terrific week at school. Highlights have included Year 6 students’ trip to Mount Takao, Reception children visiting Showa Kindergarten and a set of outstanding auditions for the annual Concerto Competition. Year 3 also impressed me this week when they displayed kindness and consideration when hosting a successful visit by children and staff from Tokyo Jogakkan School

Members of the PTA Committee and the Board of Trustees were also busy with various meetings. It was a pleasure to drop into the PTA’s sessions where planning was underway for this year’s events, including the much-anticipated Spring Fair. I also attended the first Board meeting of the year, where discussion relating to the school’s operation and strategic direction took place.

In total, over one hundred parents attended the parent forums I ran earlier this week. It was great to speak with a mixture of new and longstanding members of the school community. During the sessions, we discussed many of the school’s strengths and some areas for development. Parents also had the opportunity to ask me questions on a range of educational topics. Significant themes discussed in the forums included:

  • the importance of consistent and clear expectations across the school;
  • the nature and definition of excellence within our school context;
  • the implementation and impact of High-Performance Learning;
  • the use of school facilities;
  • opportunities for greater parental engagement and involvement;
  • challenge and support for different learners;
  • language pathways in primary and secondary; and
  • communication methods used by the school.

Children achieve their best when parents and school work together in partnership to support learning. Equally, ongoing and open feedback is one of the most powerful influences for sustained and meaningful development within schools. To this end, I aim to host more forums as the year progresses and to seek regular feedback to ensure we know what we are doing well as a school and where we can make improvements. I will also be asking different groups in the school community to respond to a Principal’s survey immediately after half term. Significant outcomes from the survey and the more extensive consultation process will be published in due course. 

In the meantime, please contact me if you have any questions or would like to meet in person.

It seems we are facing a wet and windy few days ahead, so please stay safe and enjoy the long weekend.  

Paul Tough

Principal 

Principal's Message - Term 1A Week 5
Paul Tough

Dear Parents, Staff, Students and Friends of BST, 

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to join Primary assemblies where the importance and power of words have been highlighted. Yesterday at the Showa Primary Assembly, I took the chance to explain to the children that my favourite words are 'thank you'. As adults, we know these two simple words can have a profound impact on our daily outlook, our ability to chart a course of success, and, most importantly, to be happy. As a result, I challenged the students to show gratitude whenever possible and to see the importance of saying “thank you” whenever they can.

Personally, this week, I was thankful for the opportunity to attend two compelling Rugby World Cup games - Japan v Ireland and Wales v Australia. Both games were exhilarating and enthralling in equal measure. Confirmation that sport never fails to inspire and provoke an overwhelming emotional response from people of all ages, including me. I hope both teams build momentum and go far in the tournament.

That said, the best moment from the weekend’s rugby came on Monday when I watched footage of Year 5 student and Welsh Team mascot, Benji Hickinbotham. Benji's reaction when he saw Welsh National Team Capitan, Alyn Wynn-Jones, before kickoff was fantastic. The TV footage of Benji’s response has gone viral with hundreds of thousands of views worldwide. For me, this particular moment emphasised the power of sport to inspire us all. More importantly, however, it acted as a reminder of the impact of adults (whether they are aware of it or not) on young people. Something we as educators and parents should never forget. Benji’s joyous reaction made my week and I hope you enjoy it too:

twitter.com/rugbyworldcup/status/1178870938084864000?s=20


Other highlights this week have included an excellent parent forum on High-Performance Learning hosted by my colleagues Ruth Unsworth and Jonathan Travis. High-Performance Learning is a researched driven approach to developing cognitive skills, attributes and attitudes and is slowly being implemented as an approach to learning across the School. While I also had great fun with Year 1 students when they explained their learning from International Dot Day the previous week.

www.instagram.com/p/B3L4WhKJv5x

Looking ahead to next week, Year 6 students are visiting Mount Takao, and although I am disappointed not to be joining them, I’m sure they will have a great time. I am, however, looking forward to next week’s Parent Forums, where there will be an opportunity to talk through the School’s strengths and areas for ongoing development. If you haven’t already done so and have time to join us, please sign up as it would be great to see as many people there as possible.

Finally, please remember that a significant opportunity to contribute to BST’s Nepal project takes place in November with the School’s 30th Anniversary Charity Ball. As I mentioned in last Friday's missive, all proceeds from the event will be donated to the fund for building a new School in the Batase community of Nepal. For more information about the Ball, email comms@bst.ac.jp and to find out more about United World Schools' efforts in Nepal, please visit www.uwsnepal.org.

Best wishes for the weekend.

Paul Tough

Principal

Principal's Message - Term 1A Week 4
Paul Tough

Dear Parents, Staff, Students and Friends of BST, 

The pace of school life has quickened this week and it’s been fantastic to see student learning taking place in a range of different contexts. The variety of learning opportunities has been a significant feature. Indeed, students have impressed and excelled with their commitment to learning and their willingness to challenge themselves in new situations and different ways. Highlights have included students’ participation in the Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony, Royal Opera House quintet masterclasses and Kanto Plains sports competitions. 

Observing many of our new teachers in action has been one of the additional highlights of the week for me. I’m pleased to see that the new staff are already making a positive impression with their students and colleagues. I've seen some innovative and creative teaching taking place and respectful and purposeful relationships being forged, which of course augers well for the year.

I have also been impressed by the sense of responsibility and leadership inherent in our students. It was a pleasure to meet our Head Students, Emi Grey and Roshan Soni and listen to their ideas for making an impact across the school. I’m now looking forward to meeting the newly formed Primary Student Council and finding out what they would like to achieve this year.  

Without a doubt, student agency is crucial for the ongoing development of the school and it is incumbent upon us as a community to support this wherever possible. With this in mind, I’m delighted that BST’s association with United World Schools (UWS) will strengthen further this year. It is a truism that “education transform lives,” and BST certainly made a significant difference when it helped to establish a school in the Dor community in Cambodia last year. This year the focus turns to the remote Batase community in the Sankhuwusaba district of Nepal. The community sits in the foothills of the Himalayas and BST’s commitment to building a school there will support children in one of the more remote and impoverished areas of the country.  

A significant opportunity to contribute to the Nepal project takes place in November with the School’s 30th Anniversary Charity Ball. In addition to dancing the night away and celebrating all things BST, all proceeds from the event will be donated to the fund for building the new school in Nepal. We look forward to seeing as many people there as possible. More information about the UWS Nepal Project can be accessed via the following link:

http://www.uwsnepal.org

This week the first round of Board of Trustee meetings takes place and it has been a pleasure to meet new faces and discuss a range of topics. The Trustees are an invaluable source of expertise, knowledge and support for the school and I'm grateful for the huge commitment made by each in the ongoing success of BST.

Finally, I wanted to thank the PTA Committee for their efforts in arranging the recent family picnic at Setagaya Park, which was a great success. Many of our new parents have told me how grateful they have been for the PTA’s support as their families have transitioned to Tokyo and the school. First impressions count, and it has been heartening to see the warm welcome and generosity of spirit displayed by the PTA and the whole community to our new joiners. 

Best wishes for the weekend ahead. 

Paul Tough

Principal

Our Children III
Brian Christian

Our Children, Our Planet, Our Responsibility (III)

Readers who regularly endure the unmitigated torture of long-haul flights with restless young children should look away now. I enjoy flying. It comes with the territory in my job and for most of this century at least I have been lucky enough to have criss-crossed the world at fairly regular intervals. There is always a sense of anticipation that even the most frustrating security protocols have so far failed to dispel, and I never fail to appreciate that moment when the doors finally close, for a few hours at least, on all the demands of everyday living. There may be jet-lag ahead but…

Photo credit: Andrey Khachatryan

I cannot imagine a world without air travel. What a privilege it is to be alive in an era when we can experience and appreciate so many of the diverse wonders of our planet so easily. Unfortunately, there is a catch. I only hope that my delight in the pleasures of globe-trotting will not deny my grandchildren the same opportunities.

Almost ten years ago, it was estimated that 2% of the world’s carbon emissions emanated from air travel. At the time this was thought to be a conservative estimate and we all know how airports have become busier, how many new runways have been built and how many more routes have opened up in the years since. The airline industry has made massive strides in terms of fuel efficiency in the last ten years, but a family flying economy direct from Tokyo’s Narita Airport to Heathrow just once will still add more to their carbon footprint than an average year of driving will.

The carbon footprint of our whole school community is huge. We regularly send staff and students on overseas trips for recruitment and training, we provide almost all of our teachers with annual return home leave flights and, of course, our parents clock up an incredible amount of air miles for business or pleasure in any given year. Compared to this, anything we do in terms of turning down the air-conditioning or switching off lights when we leave the room is very small beer.

I know that – like some proverbial polar bear – I am treading on very thin ice here. It is the nature of a community/business such as this one in a location like Japan that frequent long-haul flights are largely unavoidable. It is all too easy to veer towards hypocrisy, preaching a doctrine that contradicts the very philosophy of globalism upon which our community is built.

But we have to do something. We have no choice. We must do more than talk, and we must do it now.

Photo credit: K. Elliott, NOAA

A useful starting point would be to factor concern for the environment into our every aspect of our annual planning. Do we really need to send four teachers back to the UK or over to Singapore if we can bring one trainer out here? How important is it that our football team plays in a tournament in Hong Kong when there's an equally competitive opportunity for them in Kobe? If we offer a service expedition to Cambodia, do we factor the cost of carbon off-setting into the charge for the trip?

We recognise that there is an appetite among our students and their parents to make a difference. How can we make it easier for them? Our website now hosts a carbon off-setting calculator:
https://www.bst.ac.jp/our-community/climatecare
Anyone who chooses to do so can calculate the carbon cost of their travels and, if they wish, make a donation to compensate for the impact on the environment. As with all of these schemes, there is the potential for exploitation so it is important to be discerning but, once you know the size of your carbon footprint, there is always the option to support a local initiative where you can be sure that your donation is being spent effectively. One day, perhaps, we will be able to launch a scheme of our own.

All this goes hand in hand with the everyday things that we are trying to do in school - installing water fountains specially designed to make refilling reusable water bottles easy; selling reusable bottles and bamboo drinking straws; banning plastic cutlery, etc. We have even banished vending machines selling drinks in plastic bottles from our school building at Showa - a big step in Japan!

The British School in Tokyo is just one international school in a similar position to thousands of others around the world. Imagine the impact that a sector-wide approach actively promoted and pursued by organisations such as COBIS, FOBISEA and the Japan Council of International Schools could have on the health of our planet.

I have always believed that one of the primary aims of membership organisations such as these should be to model best practice, to set a clear example to the world of international education. This has clearly been the case with the admirable and highly effective stance taken on child protection and safeguarding. Can they now take steps to do something similar in response to a global emergency that so many of our students see as being the most pressing issue of our time?

Schools such as ours have to accept responsibility and must be prepared to be held to account. Here at BST, our next step is to share an annual Environmental Impact Statement with our school community. Will the organisations who accredit our schools now rise to the challenge and follow suit? I hope so - time is not on our side.

This is the last in a series of three short pieces about young people and their concerns about the environment, and about our responsibilities as parents and educators.

Our Children II
Brian Christian

Our Children, Our Planet, Our Responsibility (II)

If I look at my generation, the people who are running the companies and countries and society in general, I don’t know if we are going to be able at this point in time to make extreme transformative changes, because we love to do the things we way we always do things. If I look at young people, I am optimistic. They are people who have grown up with environmental concern. I think we are going to have this transformation from the old society to a new environmental society in the next 50 years. But if we cannot change business-as-usual we are going to be in trouble.

Ana María Hernández, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services.

As India faces the worst water crisis in its history and an unprecedented early summer heatwave scorches Europe, New York City has just announced that it has joined Sydney in declaring a climate emergency. Last month, the UK Government committed to zero carbon emissions by 2050, 71% of US Democrat voters identified climate issues as a voting priority and, here in Japan, the ubiquitous Seven-Eleven chain announced that the 2.2 billion onigiri it sells every year will soon be offered in a plant-based wrap. Perhaps we are finally waking up to the realisation that the impending climate disaster and the war on plastic demand decisive action today, not more vague promises for tomorrow. Perhaps…

I ended the first short piece in this series with some double-edged statistics that set loud alarm bells ringing while also offering a tantalising glimmer of light. In The Uninhabitable Earth, his searing assessment of a planet in crisis, David Wallace-Wells offers us a damning insight into the shameless refusal of the most privileged to see beyond self-interest and share responsibility for the harms we are inflicting upon our world:

If the average American were confined by the carbon footprint of her European counterpart, US carbon emissions would fall by more than half. If the world’s richest 10% were limited to that same footprint, global emissions would fall by a third.

We can still find a way through this - but only if the wealthiest and most powerful among us are prepared to countenance real change.

Here at the British School in Tokyo, led by enthusiastic students working in tandem with a committed group of parents, we are taking some small but important steps towards making a difference. The parents’ E-ASY Green team has raised funds to install additional water fountains specially designed to make refilling reusable water bottles easy; they have been selling reusable bottles and bamboo drinking straws, and campaigning to outlaw the use of plastic cutlery. The students’ E-Cool activists have been working to dissuade us from resorting to single-use plastics wherever possible and have even banished vending machines from our campus - a bold move in Japan!

Both groups recognise that these are baby steps, far from world changing in themselves, but designed to challenge the status quo and to raise awareness of the issues across our community.

We all know that education has to play a significant part if we are to have any hope of modifying deeply entrenched attitudes and behaviours; and international schools are ideally placed to be in the vanguard of such change. When our E_ASY Green group arranged for the renowned Japanese nature photographer and environmental activist, Junji Takasago, to visit the school, I was struck by the diversity of the audience he attracted: young children, teenagers and adults from a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds.  Every one of them was receptive to his message, so graphically illustrated, that we all bear responsibility for our planet, that we are all obliged to take action, and that time is rapidly running out.

Junji Takasago (Planet of Water)

So often when we speak of the importance of education, we think of its impact on the youngest members of our society. When it comes to the climate crisis and safeguarding our environment, it seems that many of our children have already passed the test; perhaps it is time for some more mature students to do their homework!

This is the second in a series of three short pieces about young people and their concerns about the environment, and about our responsibilities as parents and educators.