I was prompted by a couple of articles that I read recently to reflect on one of the processes that I was most proud of when I left Island School in Hong Kong in 2017. The first article was one suggested by Nick Thody, head of St Nicholas School in Sao Paulo about an interesting school in the Netherlands, the Agora School. The second was an article in the latest International School Leader Magazine by Gabriel Rshaid about The Global School he has opened in Buenos Aires. Nick and Gabriel are great champions of change in schools
Both the examples, the Agora School and the Global School demonstrate how you can do things differently if you start from scratch. This echoes an assertion I heard at a recent conference that for a school to be “Innovation Ready” it is best for it to be brand new. This is not the challenge for most of us who are in a position of leading or working in schools that have the baggage of history and tradition creating an inertia that makes change harder. I am not suggesting that this baggage is all negative. Far from it. Where I am now, in Markham College in Lima, our tradition provides a stability based on excellent achievement in a wide number of areas of the school. We have a reputation for excellence in the region that is well founded in our 75 year history. But like any school in the world, we can do some things better and differently. My challenge, our challenge, is to make the changes without breaking the thread.. To replace the dirty bath water without losing the baby.
This brings me back to Island School in Hong Kong. When Daniel Trump (now in Bangkok) was a Director of Studies there, he started a group of students called the Senior Learning Advisors. First it was two students who worked with senior management and offered student views, based on their research, on what learning was actually like in the school. They surprised us, enlightened us, sometimes challenged us and sometimes confirmed our thinking on a number of the experiences students went through. The group grew and when Daniel left us, it was taken on by Vice Principal, Monica Gilbert Saez (now Head of Rotterdam IS). The Learning Journey Project began when we decided to update our 10 year old teaching and Learning Policy. Previously this had been written by teachers, but we asked why shouldn’t we consult the Senior Learning Advisors? The group was now about 12 students, and their consultation role soon developed into an ownership of the project. They worked with teachers, certainly, but most of the final wording was the students’. It was called a document that was both descriptive of what we do now, and aspirational for what we should be doing. The tension between the parts of the educational programme where the Learning Journey described what we did, and where we needed to aspire to get closer to it, was the catalyst for the changes we needed in the school.
I am proud of it because I think it is a fantastic description of what learning should be about, probably as good as any by the IB, The Common Ground, the IPC or whoever. But it is better because of the ownership of it by the school, and particularly the students. You can see it at the bottom of this article. It is on the Island School website here. The next group of Learning Advisors took on a different challenge. There were now around 20 of them. The challenge was to take aspects of the Learning Journey and see where they described what was happening. Where could they see students owning their learning, where was it authentic, where it is social and where it is individual etc. The school’s challenge is to aspire to incorporating these aspects of learning wherever possible and appropriate. This provides a direction of travel through change that builds on the successful aspects of the history.
Many schools take an off-the-shelf description of learning such as the IB Learner Profile and aspire to it, and it is a fine document. Some schools give students more control over what and how they learn such as the examples above. I know of no other school where the students actually create the description of what learning is and what it should be. If you know of one please tell me.
Our Learning Journey
was written by students and teachers of Island School, Hong Kong. It describes the way students learn and the active role they must take in their learning
We own our learning
As we become confident with how we learn, we take more and more responsibility to define who we are and what we want to achieve. This is enhanced by the opportunities we have, from early on, to select our own learning pathways. This enables us to excel in our learning, and pursue the things we are good at and enjoy. We grow into active and engaged learners.
We learn through challenge
We believe that learning is best when it is varied and achieves a range of outcomes. We acknowledge that not all learning has a visible, measurable or immediate outcome and as learners, we will go through experiences that develop our confidence, skills, help us acquire conceptual knowledge and enhance our character. The process of learning is not always linear, yet we maintain a resilient, healthy and positive approach to the challenges of learning.
Our learning is authentic
Authentic learning aims to increase our awareness of the local and global community around us. Learning becomes more authentic when it is purposeful, relevant and solution focused and the boundary between school and community is dissolved. These aspects are integrated into the learning process in order for us to engage with and solve real world problems.
Our learning is connected
Learning has no boundaries and takes place everywhere. We establish connections between the different facets of our learning, and transfer and apply understandings and skills from context to context. We use the understanding from the knowledge we have remembered to apply to problems and situation in the future. We learn to thrive in conditions of complexity, uncertainty and opportunity. We want to be critical and creative thinkers.
Our learning is social and individual
We thrive on a balance of working individually and in groups. We recognise our ability and capacity to make our own decisions about leading our own learning. Our learning is enhanced through engagement with others. For this, we are committed to be effective communicators and collaborative contributors across all aspects of our school life. We choose when to learn individually and when to learn collectively. These vital skills are explicitly taught, learned and practised.
We respect others through our learning
We strive to value and understand different contexts and perspectives in the world. We respect and embrace a variety of cultures as a reflection of our rich and common humanity. At the same time, we foster the critical and discerning formation of opinions, and we express ourselves in creative and thought-provoking ways. We learn to appreciate the implications of our actions and viewpoints, and to take responsibility for them.
We learn about the needs of our world
Being a responsible global citizen implies the need to create strong ties to relate to others who are distinctively different. We foster cohesion, collaboration and agreement to ensure the wellbeing and sustainability of our planet and everything on it.
We believe in the value of childhood
We believe that childhood is an integral part of a person’s life and not just a preparation for adulthood. Therefore we respect the wellbeing of all students and it is everybody’s business to make sure they feel safe, secure and validated. We endorse the idea of ‘living in the moment’. Education, school and childhood should be engaging, formative, inspiring and fun.