An exercise schools routinely undertake is to create a profile of their graduates. For parents, the question is: What will this school provide to ensure my child thrives?
From the perspective of a school governor, leader, and/or teacher, the question is: How does our school mission drive all that we do in our schools to support the development of the attributes required for students to thrive? Another question may be: How will other schools, colleges, and employers perceive our students?
Once a school initiates this process of identifying the attributes that represent the core of the graduate, it is revealing and powerful to see the characteristics emerge. They do not include words like “excellent grades” or “great test-takers,” but they do include attributes — or qualities — such as being principled, compassionate, and open-minded. In a landscape where schools are rightly held more and more responsible for business-oriented concepts such as higher standards of accountability, expectations, and targets, it is equally important that school leaders and teachers do not lose sight of their high sense of moral purpose. In my experience, in addition to academic rigor, schools desire to provide service, create community, stimulate inquiry, and nurture a sense of justice and equality.
In my almost 25 years in international education, I am humbled to have belonged to and served such learning communities. We are fortunate to have school governors, leaders, faculty, and staff who are committed to inspiring future generations to gain more from school than just knowledge and academic success. While gaining the knowledge students need to continue their learning journey is obviously important, so too is the development of attributes that will promote a focus on community as well as self and define our current generation of students as principled, compassionate, and open-minded.
When school governors, leadership teams, faculty, parents, and students focus on more than test scores, it can transform their learning communities. These schools flourish through the positive and supportive relationships they build, both within the school and the wider communities to which they belong. Community service features high on the list of priorities and, as compassionate school community members reach out, they will be inspired by those for whom they provide service. These flourishing schools also provide balance through a range of pathways that offer a wide variety of subject areas and co-curricular activities that engage students in learning through physical, cognitive, and affective domains.
Students from these schools commit to the quality of relationships they wish to have with their peers and teachers. They are confident, not only in the areas in which they find joy and success but also when faced with challenges. This self-assurance enables our young people to embrace the possibility of failure and to pursue a less well traveled, but ultimately more illuminating, path. This courage sparks innovation through the opportunities that students, teachers, and school leaders identify that will enhance learning and teaching. Such innovation and creativity go far beyond introducing various technologies and revising course guides or content. It delves into the exploration of meaningful questions and real-world issues, providing our future leaders with the ability to be open-minded enough to embrace and analyze multiple perspectives and opinions, to respectfully communicate their questions, suggestions, and solutions, and to effectively collaborate with others to resolve complex and dynamic issues.
As educators, we know how important rigor and results are in determining school success, as evidenced by the plethora of marketing emails and posts we see from schools following the release of examination grades each summer. But we need to courageously take that additional and challenging step to focus our school communities on creating opportunities for our children to inquire, explore, and discover within and beyond whatever content our curriculum defines. In this way, we will promote the skills and attributes that will serve them (and us) well in the future.
The strength of this foundation will help schools truly embolden our children and inspire a life-long passion for learning that will ensure they are ready for whatever challenges face them and their communities in the future.
Bryan Nixon, Head of School
TASIS The American School in England
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