Teacher Role in Pastoral Care: An EARCOS Weekend Workshop

This weekend we hosted Dr. Christopher Liang, a professor of psychology and counseling from the Lehigh University College of Education. Dr. Liang led a group of more than 50 educators from around the EARCOS region for two days and then followed up with one day with our faculty. There was much to take in and I am posting my full notes from the conference below. I will try to summarize my big “take-aways” from the workshop in this blog post.

A focus this year at OIS is student well-being which includes mental, emotional, and physical health. Pastoral care or social-emotional teaching and learning are more effective within a Multiple Tier School-wide Support (MTSS) program. “Tier 1 for Everyone” is the part of the MTSS that is preventative instruction for all students and for about 80% of the students, meets their needs.

The key to a strong school culture of well-being starts with close, healthy relationships. This can be teacher-student relationships, teacher-teacher, and any combination of stakeholder groups in a community. Dr. Liang covered a lot over the three days, raising awareness of mental health and the mitigating factors schools can implement to minimize risk. Some topics included the effects of stress, Third Culture Kids, depression, mindfulness, “hikikomori”, brain education, vocational education, demonstrating care, the impact of culture & identity, and dealing with emotions, among others.

One of my main learning points is the relationship between vocational education and well-being. The stress of having a lucrative career drives families to strive for selective universities, high IB scores, etc. When students and parents have more information about career paths, this can lessen these pressures.

Some online resources noted over the weekend are as follows:

OIS History Students Featured in the EARCOS Journal

In the Winter 2018 issue of the EARCOS Triannual Journal: A link to educational excellence in East Asia, OIS Humanities teacher Tara Cheney published an article about her classes here at OIS. The grade 10 and 11 students investigated the renovated Osaka International Peace Museum. The students developed critical thinking and analytical skills to reflect on what the museum offers the public regarding World War II history and Japan’s role.

OIS Grade 10 is featured in the latest issue of EARCOS Journal

The East Asia Regional Council of Schools consists of 170 international schools serving over 140,000 students in the region. The journal has a wide circulation. Teachers share ideas and best practices. The OIS project will inspire EARCOS faculty to do similar projects in their region.

The published article fits in well with our 2 Schools Statements of Belief. “We believe that one of our goals is to demonstrate new ideas, practices, techniques, and systems to other schools around Japan and the world.”

Congratulations to Ms. Cheney and her history students!

OIS Seniors Talk IB DP

Grade 12 Dian “Andy” Guan produced this video as a Creativity, Action and Service project. His goal was to reflect upon his classmates’ experiences and opinions about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). You can find more information about our DP programme and offerings at our website

In listening to our students, I am always so impressed with their poise, presentation, vocabulary and creativity. I think hearing directly from them gives our community and others, a good idea of the type of school we are and are striving to be.

Andy asked his friends, the following questions:

  •  Would you agree the IB is a very rigorously challenging program?
  • What is your biggest source of stress? How do you reduce it’s impact on you?
  • Are you active in extracurricular activities?
  • What skills have you developed from the program?
  • What advice would you give to someone just entering the programme? 

I would like to thank Andy for sharing the video with us and the students who answered questions and help with the technical aspects of the video. 

Japan’s Declining Population

A declining and aging population for the future of Japan (chart courtesy of CNN)

The passing of a bill increasing blue-collar immigration by the Japanese government has been in the news recently. There is a labor shortage due to the aging population and a decrease in young people entering the workforce. CNN’s article, “Japan needs immigrants, but do immigrants need Japan” really captures the challenges of a declining population. 

In one way, I think it is great. The islands of Japan are roughly the same size as the state of California, but with 126 million people compared to the 40 million Californians, I would say it is crowded here. With great public transport, smaller housing/denser housing and a high rate of urban living, it is a pleasant place to live and you don’t feel the population density. However, growing up in rural northern Michigan, fewer people here would be a good thing in my opinion. More room for wilderness! 

If you look at the chart above, without immigration and a continued low birth rate, Japan’s population will drop to around 50 million by the end of the century. More importantly, the percentage of elderly will rise to almost half of the total population. Japanese people have some of the longest life spans of anyone on earth and with laws requiring mandatory retirement around 60-65, most people have 20 to 30 years of living on a pension. With many less workers paying into the pension system, the government will be running up a huge debt. 

Japan has one of the lowest rates of immigration in the world. Only about 2% of the population are foreign residents. Other aging countries like Germany and Singapore are actively recruiting young people to move to their countries. The lack of English and long work hours discourage people from settling here long term. 

For international schools, increased immigration, especially temporary residency, would be a good thing as perhaps there would be a need for families seeking an education in English. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Japan. It is a preview of what is coming for other countries including the USA. 

Your Child In The Digital World: A parent conversation – December 6

OIS counselor Michelle Vogel, Technology Learning Coach Oscar Sala and Head of School Bill Kralovec will be leading a conversation about our students learning to manage their digital life. We feel students need support from both school and home and giving a child an iPhone, is like learning to drive. There are risks and students and parents need information, techniques and tools when using digital devices, just like driving a car.

The talk is more geared towards parents of middle school and high school students, but elementary parents will take away useful ideas from the event. There are two resources parents can read that will help them and will be discussed in the workshop.

Culture Reframed is a non-profit organization that provides education and resources to build resilience to hypersexualized media and porn. The Center for Humane Technology founded by former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris raises awareness of how digital tech companies have a culture, business incentive, design techniques and organizational structures that are driving technology to “hijack our minds”.



ICEF PD 2018 Student Wellbeing is on Everyone’s minds

I attended two sessions about student wellbeing and it seemed to be a hot topic at the event. Bobbi Hartshorne from GSA (Global Student Accommodation) a company that provides housing for international university students (see their growth in Japan) for over 13,000 students. They are an extremely fast-growing company, but most importantly for me, they are becoming experts in student wellbeing in a boarding situation. They did a huge study on the impact of the environment (housing) on student wellbeing. The report found that the quality of accommodation plays a huge role in well being. It makes sense since they spend 67% of their time in the dormitories or apartments. They found that accommodation staff are the people best placed to identify wellbeing problems, even more so than teachers. Students in trouble often close the door and spend hours on the internet when they are lonely, depressed or anxious. Schools can counteract this by using common spaces in the dormitories better by making them more appealing, getting guest speakers to come and meet with students, and other activities to try to build community spirit and increase the human connections among boarding students. Bobbi mentioned the Warwick Edinburg Mental Wellbeing Scale which would give quantitative data to schools wanted to measure student wellbeing at their school.

She talked about today’s youth and general characteristics of the generation. At GSA, over 50% are multiracial, they are great at filtering information and value experience over luxury. The Varkey Foundation and GEMS Education did a big study and found that there is a movement of global homogenization and students around the world are more similar than previous generations.


Stephanie Hiltz & Julia Salema from Study Insured an international student insurance company gave a good talk on using technology to help the mental health of international students.

There were several apps that students can use to help improve mental health.

  • Headspace – Meditation Made Simple
  • Calm – The #1 app for Meditation and Sleep
  • Pacifica – Reduce Stress – Feel Happier
  • Moodpath – Your Mental Health Companion
  • 7 Cups – Online therapy & counseling

These are apps that use game theory to also support mental health.

  • Flowy – a game to help sufferers of panic attacks
  • SuperBetter  – a game to increase resiliance