Head of School Dr. Grace Cheng Dodge spoke to all Taipei American School employees on Zoom during the morning of the September 3 professional development day to stress the importance of these days during the school year as a way to prioritize our community's health and safety, while making progress on the school's larger strategic initiatives including the new mission statement and JEDI priorities.
She first opened with both gratitude and acknowledgment to all members of the community for their good work at opening the school year in person for the first four weeks. "Every day that we can stay open really does feel like a gift," she said. "Now that local schools have also returned, I hope that we will feel society calming down and accepting this new normal. As a community, we have been through so much. Thank you for your flexibility and strength during these trying times."
She also clarified the school's involvement in the government's plans to have schools act as vaccination centers. "It is our sincere intention to be able to provide space on campus to support the student vaccination process, but like all other schools in Taiwan, we are waiting for the government to implement the program," said Dodge. "We remain patient and will release additional information as soon as we receive it."
This year, the school's administration purposefully planned this new professional development day to occur early in the school year as a day to "have space for ourselves in these unpredictable times." Last year, the community did not have any learning breaks until the Double Ten holiday, but this year the school introduced both this PD day and a new two-day holiday to celebrate Taiwan's Mid-Autumn Festival. To Dodge, the teaching of wellness can not be confined to classroom initiatives; it must be deeply integrated and embedded in the institutional practices, including calendar management.
Dodge then turned to several large areas that she will prioritize throughout the rest of the year.
Her first priority is fairly simple but important. She wants a "smooth transition" into her new role through a year of what she calls "community building." "I will continue to highlight belonging, resilience, togetherness, compassion, and trust," said Dodge.
One employee said that she found Dodge's discussion of resilience particularly moving, as Dodge explicitly addressed different cultural expectations within that word. "I liked what she had to say about resilience because it felt like she understood that Taiwanese and American people come to that word thinking different things," she said.
Dodge's second priority is "obvious," she said in her speech. "Given the uncertainty of the times, I need to ensure the continuity of learning by keeping the health and safety of students and employees at the forefront of every protocol we put in place."
Finally, and equally important, she said that her last priority is to support the "ambitious work" regarding the school's new strategic plan, mission statement, and JEDI commitments. She says to stay tuned because all community members will know when something is changing at TAS, "because you will be asked to be a part of that effort."
Dodge closed with a call to action. "I hope you see great irony in the fact that our job is to educate as well as to be constantly learning ourselves," said Dodge. "But schools are often the slowest institutions to change. With technology, with globalization, with changing demographics, with geopolitical uncertainty, and with pandemics, I hope that you believe and see that there is an opportunity to grow, especially when we better understand who we are, where we are, and what we promise to provide this community of students."
One faculty member described Dodge's speech as "transparent." She said that she appreciates how Grace speaks to the faculty without being pretentious or from a position of power. "She tells us what she is working on so that we know in advance why and how the school will work on a subject."
Another faculty member praised Dodge for what he called the "human element" of her speeches to employees. "She lets us into her life and gives us all a shared feeling of camaraderie, that we're all in this together."