Thursday, September 17, 2009

Who are our schools for?

At ISB, we have a simple response to the question: Our schools are for everybody.

OK, let me qualify that remark. When I say “everybody,” I mean this: When a family moves abroad, or, in the case of our increasing number of local families, moves down the road, they tend to bring all their children with them. Not just the academically “smart” ones, or the confident ones, or the athletic ones, or the “teacher-pleasers”, but the whole bunch. They don’t leave any at home in the attic.

We consider that our work is to serve those children. All of them. That may be considered a philosophical decision, or an ethical decision or even, I suppose, a business decision. For us, though, it’s almost no decision at all - just natural, common sense. These are the kids, so we teach them.

To get a clearer take on current reality, though, I’d have to add some qualifiers: we are an expensive school, and for our more “intensive support” kids, in our Special Education units, there are further fees, helping make the programme more or less self-supporting. Put more cynically, one might say our school is for everybody who can afford it. However, the truth is that we have always managed to persuade employers to pay and never excluded a special education candidate for financial reasons.

A further point: we don’t accept students with severe/potentially dangerous behavioural or medical disabilities. We also keep a good balance and limit “mild to moderate” support students to 15% of our population; with “intensive support” set at 1%. Interestingly, this matches our general population and the approximate number of annual applications. So, again, it is rare for us to exclude a student.

So, if you accept that our ideals are tempered by a degree of pragmatism and sound strategy, we really can say that our school is for everybody, and that we believe our job is to include them, challenge them, help them find their own success. We believe that’s the work of international schools.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who are we listening to?

Schools are complex organizations.

It is hardly surprising that they tend to be dominated by numerous overlapping conversations. So if you want to eavesdrop, here are a number of conversations that we are having right now.

Listening to our students: we are talking with students about their learning; inviting them to rate this learning against commonly agreed standards.

Listening to our parents: we are leveraging the power of web 2.0 technology to listen-in to what people are saying about us. We are also spending a lot of time in more traditional face-to-face meetings with parents. We want to better understand the hopes, fears, expectations and concerns of families arriving from every corner of the world.

Listening to companies: we are preparing our students for life beyond school, recognizing that many of them will pursue careers in the world of business and enterprise. We cannot afford simply to assume that our programmes of learning are adequate in their preparation of these students; so we are talking to companies, listening to their present challenges and future predictions. Only in this way, it seems, do we stand any chance of equipping our students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions they will need in the future.

Listening to other schools: no school knows it all! Not surprisingly, then, by some distance, the most utilized forms of learning for school leaders are the well-established global networks of ‘schools talking to schools’. On any given day, schools leaders from across the globe are talking to one another, gathering best practice and finding new solutions on any number of practical or pedagogical issues. Social Media is undoubtedly making these conversations more effective and more immediate.

So what are the most important conversations you are having right now?