Directors' Conference - Together online

Every year, at the beginning of May, there is an event our members really look forward to: The International House Directors' Conference. This event provides an invaluable opportunity for all International House Directors to meet, discuss best practice and share new ideas and innovations. The conference is hosted by an IH school in a different location each year and in May 2020 we should have been in Sydney.

Undoubtedly, we were sorry to miss the wonderful event that IH Sydney director, Tim Eckenfels, and the teams at IH Sydney and IH World had planned for us in Australia. The magnificent Gala Dinner at the Opera House and the joyful time we would have spent with our colleagues and the Australian team. However, we weren’t going to let the crisis stop our network from coming together. At such a difficult time of social distancing and travel bans we feel that it is more important than ever for us to be united and working closely together. We realised the opportunity for IH directors to share and collaborate with like-minded colleagues would be even more valued than usual so we decided to make the event live and online!

The response to this new online conference format was impressive from the whole IH Community and it allowed Directors to attend from all over the world. With no travel required, the numbers of participants were some of the highest ever recorded and we had over 150 directors join the sessions.  It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces joining from their homes. The setting was virtual but the conference felt as real as ever. Rosario Estrada, Director of IH Montevideo,said that one of the highlights of the conference for her was "above everything seeing each other!" and so felt Janet Sinclair, Director IH Braga , who commented: Excellent sessions, great quiz, morale booster but most of all being able to recreate our USP of the wonderful feeling of community even at a distance.❤️

Lucy Horsefield, Managing Director of IHWO, kicked off the conference and said, “The International House network has always placed a high value on sharing ideas and working together, but at this incredibly difficult time it is more crucial than ever. The IH Online Directors’ Conference gave our members the opportunity to come together as a global community and start to ‘reimagine’ the future."

Plenary speakers

In her plenary, Monica Green, Executive Director of IHWO, asked attendees take a moment to share and reflect on what we have all learnt in recent weeks: about the our markets, our clients, our staff, ourselves - and identify what we could add to our repertoire to make us stronger as we go forward together.

Our guest plenary speaker, the award-winning author and futurist Michael McQueen, delivered an inspirational talk on 'Maintaining Momentum in Tough Times'. Michael explained that the formula for maintaining 'Momentum' is a combination of 'Activity', 'Focus' and 'Consistency'. Whilst we can't control what the future may bring we can focus on 'The Controllables' - the activities we can control and work consistently to obtain the best results.  As Winston Churchill once said 'never let a good crisis go to waste'! Michael McQueen encouraged attendees with the message that although these times are proving very difficult for everyone, with the right mind set, they can also provide an opportunity for future success. Giuseppe Romagnoli Director of IH Ancona and Jesi felt that this session was ' inspiring and it gave me useful reflections on how I need to think of the first part "Activity".... it is the momentum, the now opportunity to think of what drives me as an entrepreneur in this industry...thank you for organising it!'

'Forging ahead: finding our feet inside the new normal' was the subject of the plenary given by Coach, Management and Training Consultant Loraine Kennedy. She presented the main themes and issues that are affecting International Education, stating there is no time to waste. Urgency and speed are important, but so is well-informed decision-making. Loraine outlined that IHWO’s strength comes through mutual collaboration and support. Peter Hayes, the Director of IH Manchester, particularly noted Loraine's words: "The digital demon is out of the box and will be hard to put back"...."This is not a temporary disruption, it's a completely new way of life" he further commented 'Lorraine's insights brought home the need to "embrace the new reality". She made it clear that whilst many things we've done to adapt might be OK for now, they won't be good enough for the future, so we need to continue to innovate'.

As always, an important feature of the conference were talks on innovation across the IH network delivered by school directors. Tim Eckenfels and Fernando (IH Sydney/Bondi/Melbourne/Darwin) spoke about their Business College, which has grown to 1800 students across their 4 campuses. Palmina da Rosa, from IH Catania, described how she has taken her coaching for teenagers online. Eleri Maitland, IH Rouen – French in Normandy explained how going online led to a new range of courses for her students including cooking. Finally, Simon Harris from IH Sofia summarised the main areas of innovation identified in his ‘Innovation in ELT' PLG.

Simon Cox from General Plan IH Shanghai also delivered a session on 'Making Sense of it All: a ‘sense-making’ tool for managers' and suggested an approach to help make better management decisions in the future.

Beccy, Director of Member Services at IHWO, delivered a session on 'Moving online learning from an emergency stopgap to a quality product' and shared a straightforward self-assessment tool to help schools' plan improvements to ensure their online offer is as high a quality as their face to face classes. Patricia Durden, Director of IH Palermo Language Centre, commented: "It was all excellent and above all, we saved and learnt so much. Beccy brought us positively 'down to earth': use the IHWO website, it’s all there".

Rosario Estrada IH Montevideo further commented: 'Loraine was Fabulous as she always is, Beccy too and the quiz was Great Fun! Loved Ariel’s Party too!' and Rosie Burke Director of IH Sabadell 'Loved the quiz. A great way to end the week'.

Social Events

And last but not least, the IH Mexico hosted ‘IH Online Fiesta’ was a tremendous success, full of liveliness, good spirits and goodwill. Thank you IH Mexico! During the party there was a really entertaining talent show with Directors playing an instrument or demonstrating another fun skill.

The IHWO team also delivered two live quizzes with some really creative rounds, one of which included recreating a famous piece of art!  Director Rosie Burke from IH Sabadell concluded 'The fact that we all got together and saw each other, chatted, worked in groups, had coffee and fun.... has left me with the feeling that there really was a conference this year. And there was!'

A very special thanks to:

Higher Education Marketing who delivered a session on 'Using CRM to efficiently manage and convert inquiries and bookings' - Speakers Philippe Taza and Katharina Benecke

Keep Me Safe/Guard Me who gave a plenary talk on 'Mental Wellbeing – Supporting Students and Staff' – Speaker: Christina Furtado

GEL – Guided E-Learning 'Taking your school online—a case study with IH Palermo Language Centre' - Speaker: David Coarsey