How to Find OpportUNITY in a Crisis

How to Find OpportUNITY in a Crisis

I know what you are thinking, “not another article about “How to manage a crisis” – well I am with you! I have been in awe of all the people who had the time to reflect and chunk loads of content about what to do during crisis time. I was not one of them, far from that. I was just dealing with the crisis.

For anyone whose job involves leading a team during a crisis, any type of crisis, you know there are differences according to the situation, the control you have or not over the situation etc. I have over 20 years of experience in communication and marketing, and I have dealt, like many of my colleagues in the same field, with a fair amount of crises. COVID-19 is not like any other crisis, it is global, it deeply affects lifestyles and the sense of freedom and it redefines the notion of “unknown”. And it is, unfortunately, very much still going on.

If we look specifically into the impact of COVID-19 on the international education sector, it has shaken up the way learning is delivered and the way communication played a role during the crisis. For our school, this crisis has brought up opportUNITY. cheesy play on words maybe, but true nonetheless. The ‘unity’ in opportunity came from multiple angles and I would like to share some of them with you.

Unity in survival mode

The first unity came from the survival instinct that kicked in pretty early on. We had less than two days to provide technical support to our whole community (students, faculty, staff and parents) because Malaysia went into a whole country lock down. Solidarity was key, no hours were counted, it was all about achieving that one goal together. And we did. Then we had to adjust and set priorities while dealing with our own personal anxieties due to the unknown. And we also did it… and are still doing it. 

Everyone reacts differently to a crisis, I personally shut down all blogs and resources materials thrown at my mailbox during the peak of the crisis. I could not afford distractions, I trusted my instincts, I kept my ears virtually to the ground (another way to describe social listening :-) and made sure to set our priorities in terms of connection and communication.

Unity in the New Normal

So here we are, in the New Normal, which depending to where you are in the world, can have very different definitions. For us at ISKL, from August to October 2020, we were under a restricted movement order, which allows us to go to work and school following strict rules. Then, we had to go to Continuous Learning and put on, again, our Resilience Hat. One can only hope that, in due time, when it is ensured that we are all safe, restrictions will be lifted and there will be a New Normal again. I am not sure the New Normal is the right term as it is a rolling thing, it is a moving thing so in essence it can’t be normal, if you ask me. Maybe it is the new routine more than the normal. Anyway, when you are in an international environment, what is normal in your cultural or business practices might not be the same as mine, and this is OK, this is actually why one goes into an international career, to be exposed to different normals.

We are by essence a bit more agile and resilient because we are used (thriving) to changing (not necessarily to the current extent we are all experiencing globally, I give you that.) So, we are adapting to new routines, as and when we have to, what about the learning though? There are countless articles and opinions written about the impact of the global pandemic on the way education is “delivered”. I am not entering this debate, I leave that to my faculty colleagues who are experts but from an external perspective, I can see them think, unthink, rethink, unthink again and reflect.

It is not about rushing to change education altogether, but adapting it wisely, to allow quality despite uncertainty, to keep focus and centered on the learners despite the changing routines and that, my friend, is the real challenge.

Unity in sharing

Let’s put the record straight, I would love to take the glory but it was not me who decided to focus on Unity in opportUnity, it was our community. They came together and we (the Advancement team) were the messengers.

ISKL culture is grounded in care and empathy and nothing was more important to us, during this crisis or any crisis, to go back to the foundation of our culture and ensure everyone was still feeling how much we care for each and every one of them and that we understand the complex layers of feelings being experienced.

In this specific crisis, online connectivity was essential as it was the only way to stay connected (my homing pigeons' crew could just not handle the demand). We already had a respectable online presence and we made sure to put the tools in place. We set up a dedicated Continuous Learning website for the serious stuff - guiding principles, assessment, recording of online sessions with Head of School, Principals, Counselors and many more, as well as dedicated wellness tips and source of information. We also set up the PAWsitivity department (cheesy again, we just can’t stop ourselves) to channel all the fabulous and yes positive learning, virtual (with school friends) and in person (with family) moments experienced by our community and it just was incredible. We were like a newsroom, receiving, processing, broadcasting learning stories, stunning performances (did I mention a Call to Unite! and the whole Virtual Virtuoso movement?), and heartwarming community and outreach initiatives, all of which were 100% user generated content, none of it was marketing led (apart from a song and a “passing the Panther’, just because we also wanted to do you part in sharing the pawsitivity). There was still so much to share from our time 100% online; it took us the whole summer to share all the content produced, with love by our community, and we even dedicated our first magazine, The PAW, to it! And, as we are navigating on another controlled movement order, we found out that ISKL has been shortlisted in two categories in the prestigious International School Awards 2021. The ‘Strategic Leadership Initiative’ for our Staff Talent and Culture program which focuses on supporting the professional development and growth of our staff, recognizing the amazing contribution they make to achieving our school’s success, and nurturing our culture of care and empathy, collective efficacy, and high expectations.

And most relevant to this article, the ‘Wellbeing Initiative’ for the Department of PAWsitivity. 

To our dear community, this nomination goes to you!

About Catherine Gresse

Catherine Gresse is The International School of Kuala Lumpur Director of Advancement. Catherine has more than 20 years of experience in varied sectors, industries and countries. With an initial focus on marketing, advertising, early stage funding & business planning, Catherine had the opportunity to discover and thrive in the international education sector when she moved from London to Malaysia. Initially Head of Marketing at one of the oldest British Schools in Malaysia, Catherine joined the ISKL team in July 2018 and has been sharing the ISKL PAWsitivity ever since.


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