Grinnell alumnus guides Hong Kong school through pandemic complexities

November 24, 2020 — Along with acclimating his everyday life to the new realities created by COVID-19, Josh Blue ’01 faces one of the tougher challenges posed by the pandemic: how to ensure young students continue to learn amid drastically altered learning environments.

And for an added layer of difficulty, he’s doing it in a city that has no shortage of educational expectations.

“Hong Kong is fast-paced and highly driven, and expectations are incredibly high,” Blue says. “Trying to find a system that would work for us, that was manageable, and that would appease parents was the real challenge.”

Blue said Grinnell College helped him gain the skills needed to face his current challenges, especially in communications.

Josh Blue '01
   Josh Blue ’01

“In my role as principal, I put out heaps of communication, and it’s vital that the wording and phrasing of the communication says exactly what it needs to and nothing more,” he says, adding that thanks to Grinnell, concise and clear writing has become one of his biggest assets. “It’s one of the things that I’m often recognized for within the communities I work with, which is really nice.”

Blue’s path to leadership roles began in the history program at Grinnell. The Palatine, Illinois, native originally planned to study biology with aims of becoming a doctor, but Grinnell faculty such as History Professor Emeritus Victoria Brown inspired him to change course.

Blue earned a history degree at Grinnell and then, in 2014, an International Executive Master of Arts in educational leadership and change from the Education University of Hong Kong (formerly the Hong Kong Institute of Education).

While at Grinnell, Blue discovered an affinity for life abroad when he traveled to Nanjing, China, on a teaching fellowship.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said. “Before going, I had never been out of the United States. I hadn’t had the opportunity, but I knew I wanted to, so I embraced it and off I went.”

He originally planned to move back to the U.S. when the fellowship concluded in 2002, but realized he really enjoyed living abroad.

“I think it’s just that everything is always new,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how long you live in a country or in a city that’s not your place of origin, there’s always something new or a new perspective that’s kind of thrown at you, and it gives you an opportunity to say ‘all right, I’m ready for this next challenge.’”

Blue has mostly worked for international schools overseas, including Kingston International School, the Japanese International School, and ESF Kennedy School. Blue also works with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP), traveling the Asia-Pacific region to provide training and consultation. The IBPYP curriculum framework is the primary education framework based on a pedagogy of inquiry, socio-constructivism, and transdisciplinary learning that leads in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), which helps prepare students to attend universities worldwide.

Josh Blue gives his son, Isaac, a bear hug.
Josh Blue gives his son, Isaac, a bear hug.

Blue was serving as vice principal at ESF Kennedy School when the pandemic hit Hong Kong early in 2020. As Kennedy and other schools shut down, Blue had to quickly determine how to ramp up remote learning systems.

A second wave of COVID-19 hit Hong Kong in July, just as Blue was preparing to begin his current role at Discovery College. The pandemic forced him to begin the school year online, adjusting to an entirely new school, leadership team, and community via Zoom.

International schools in Hong Kong operate much as U.S. schools, and the language of instruction is English. Blue said a major difference comes in the diversity of the student body in Hong Kong, with many students’ families hailing from abroad, creating a greater mix of language backgrounds.

The educator role also occurs at home. Blue is working to instill a strong multilingual foundation in his 3-year-old son Isaac. His son is learning Japanese both at school and from Josh’s partner of 10 years, Taka, a flight attendant and native of Japan.

Blue noted that Grinnell ultimately helped prepare him to live and work within diverse communities.

“I definitely think that Grinnell helped encourage a global mindset,” he says, “and instilled the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice – the heart of being international minded.”

—by Laura McKnight

For your information:

While some activities have paused during the pandemic, Grinnell’s Institute for Global Engagement continues to promote global greater connectivity in a number of ways.

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