Our mission to Inspire and Empower Compassionate Global Learners informs our academic philosophy at every level.
To inspire learners we need to know each as an individual. We need to create and sustain developmentally appropriate spaces and experiences in which students feel connected and safe. Sharing one’s inspiration can sometimes be an act of bravery and vulnerability. Students need to feel comfortable expressing their inspiration without threat of it being used against them or teased for it. We also need to create collaborative opportunities b/c sometimes inspiration is what exists between people as they ideate and “yes, and” with each other. Students also need opportunities to wrestle with creative solutions to design challenges and novel ideas, questions, and opportunities. They need to experience the productive tension between structure and choice – enough structure to ensure they learn what they need to know, understand, and be able to do – and enough choice that they know their voice and agency have a place in our classrooms. Another frame for that productive tension is balancing consistency and novelty. Knowing what to expect gives them a sense of safety and reliability and novelty provides opportunities for sparks of joy and ideation.
We see empowerment as a process not an event. A 13 year old with keys to a car isn’t empowered to drive. That’s just a recipe for mayhem on the streets. Rather, over time in the appropriate contexts, situations, and supervision, a teenager learning how a car, traffic, and pedestrians move and how to safely navigate the rules of the road is empowered over time to take themselves wherever they want to go. Empowerment of the young brain is much the same. Over time, they learn to drive their brain to go wherever they want to go, literally and figuratively. This is the bucket where reading, writing, and arithmetic live. This is also where we ask the question, “If we want students to graduate as creative, collaborative, and critically thinking complex problem solvers, what kinds of experiences do they need to have?” Inevitably, the answer is, “They need experiences solving complex problems through creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.” They need to see that their actions and agency result in outcomes that positively impact the world around them.
Compassion is literally and figuratively at the heart of our mission statement. History is rife with people/states who have been inspired, empowered, global learners who acted without compassion. People who’ve acted out of greed, power, or desire to oppression/enslave others and do harm to others in the process. We have also studied those who are inspired, empowered, global learners who act with compassion – Nobel Peace Prize Winners, humanitarians, human rights activists, care givers such as Doctors Without Borders who put their efforts into making the world a better place, especially for marginalized peoples. This is the space where we nurture and cultivate caring for oneself, each other, and the world around us. But not as something separate from other subjects, but integrated into them. We look at compassion in our program through two metaphors:
- The Group Photo: We all do the same thing when we encounter a group photo we know we are in – we look for ourselves. The second thing we all do is wonder, “How do I look?” Students do the same thing when they arrive on campus – where am I and how do I look? When students encounter representations of themselves in our curriculum, how do they look? When they encounter Black history is it primarily focused on enslavement and struggle or do they encounter opportunities to celebrate and elevate Black history? When the teenager who is exploring gender identity, expression, and/or sexual orientation encounters LGBTQ+ history, characters, people in our curriculum how are they presented? Does the student encounter the normalization of the LGBTQ+ community or the oppression and marginalization of it? We want all students to see themselves in our program and to see themselves looking good.
- Mirrors and Windows: Mirrors are at the heart of the phrase, “representation matters,” and they give us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and make improvements to ourselves, literally and figuratively. Windows give us access to other lived experiences and creates necessary exposure to others’ perspectives, backgrounds, and ways of thinking. Understanding differences of backgrounds and experiences lays the foundation for empathy, and ultimately, the normalization and celebration of differences.
Global for us has three key levels:
- At the heart of it is the whole child, the totality of the person. We look at the whole child’s wellbeing through four domains – the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual safety of each person. We all know it can be hard to focus and accel when we don’t feel emotionally safe, or socially safe, or intellectually safe, and/or physically safe. If we can hold those four domains well for each child, our theory of practice is that they will be more prepared to wrestle with challenging learning experiences.
- International mindedness. Our MS is an International Baccalaureate program and we are beginning to explore becoming authorized as a primary years programme as well. We think it is important for students to encounter experiences, ideas, and perspectives that reach far beyond their own backyard in developmentally appropriate ways. With globalization, climate change, pandemic, and international relations, students need access to encountering the big picture and the interconnectedness of systems.
- The globalization of learning. What we mean by this is not just learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, but to apply them to larger ideas and initiatives and projects/problems. An example of this might be 3rd graders designing a vessel to hold an ice cube for an hour as a way to discuss the challenges of getting vaccines to remote places around the world. Or 5th graders using their robotics design challenge to build and facilitate an escape room for younger students. Or middle school students using their community project to wrestle with solving a complex problem locally or globally – food shortage, white supremacy, protecting glaciers, creating inclusive spaces, etc. The goal of this lane of “global” is to create opportunities for interconnecting academic and social skills toward larger, more consequential objectives.
We should all be learning. This applies to us all.