“The differences in abilities are very obvious. When I view student journals and reflections, the depth of what is shared from a student who has been in the ISS environment for a longer length of time, in comparison with one who has spent less time with us is stark. There is a lot more analysis and thinking, as opposed to just a regurgitation of the process or experience.” Ms. Judith Larue, Visual Arts Teacher, High School.
At ISS International School (ISS), our diverse student population comes from over 50 different countries, each fluent in their own mother-tongue, with different value systems and beliefs, academic abilities and from different curricula. Yet by the time they graduate at Grade 12, the gap that existed when they first enrolled is narrowed significantly and each leaves and graduates with language skills, abilities, values, and beliefs that will more than equip them to be future ready global citizens.
Our IB results and the Universities that our graduates move on to are testament to this. For the past 8 years, our students have achieved top IB scores of between 40 to 44, with the average IB score at 33, which is well above the worldwide average of 29! Pass rates have been consistently achieved at between 91% to 100%. Our Alumni are now attending top universities around the world such as University College London, Imperial College London, London School of Economics, University of Edinburgh, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, University of Toronto, McGill University, University of Osaka, University of Hong Kong, etc.
- a) Inclusive school with differentiated learning approaches
Key to developing successful graduates is our inclusive academic philosophy which facilitates a bespoke approach for every student. “ISS is an inclusive school,” shares Dr. Lessons are redesigned to provide a differentiated approach that engages, fits and supports the passions of students. Margaret Alvarez, Head of School at ISS. “What this means is that we are guided by and practice an inclusive philosophy in our academic environment – all children are given the right to an education, regardless of language or ability. We prove our success by ensuring that each student we admit is able to achieve their potential. We never ask why a child cannot be admitted to ISS, we look at how our systems across the entire school from kindergarten to grade 12 can provide a differentiated approach to support each and every child. Our student tracking systems demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that each student can achieve personal success.” This is the first pillar in our strategic plan/ framework that guides all the academic plans that are developed.
- b) Inquiry-based learning with a multi-disciplinary approach
A second factor that is key to our academic success at ISS is our strong inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary approach. We teach our students to think creatively and critically. We create a multi-disciplinary learning environment by exposing our students to multiple dimensions that are characteristic of a global education, and not tied to a specific culture or way of learning. Our teachers act as facilitators, encouraging our students to research, discover, think, and form conclusions as they progress and learn. This encourages our students to be innovative and discerning as part of their self-discovery process. These approaches prepare our students for the complexities of living in a globalised world, and develop their IB profiles and hone their social interaction, research, communication, thinking, and self-management skills; the ‘Approaches to Learning’ (ATLs).
Mr. Christopher Hayward, our Assistant Principal (High School) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator (Grades 9 and 10) shares this. “A key part of the ISS MYP is the interdisciplinary learning and the ATL skills. These are transferable skills that are embedded in all subjects. Long-term planning enables departments to work collaboratively on areas of the curriculum that allow for greater interdisciplinary learning.” This is further echoed by Mr. Wesley Whitehead, Science and Environmental Systems & Societies Teacher, and Service as Action and Creativity, Activity, Service Coordinator at High School. “I ensure that my lesson plans adopt an interdisciplinary approach by making connections to other subjects when feasible. I work closely with all my colleagues, to enable my students to have more depth in understanding, and connections with what they learn in science. As an example, we enquire into infectious diseases, their causes and effects during Science and Environmental Systems & Societies class. The collaboration with my English and Mother-tongue language colleagues has enabled the students to write action plans to address the spread of infectious diseases. This has helped not only to make the study of infectious diseases more interesting, but this also gives it more depth, and the students improve their language abilities at the same time too!”
- c) Ensuring continuity by establishing vertically integrated academic plans
Adopting a vertically integrated approach in the development of our academic strategies is the final pillar that has led to us developing successful graduates. Lesson plans are never created and developed in a silo i.e., by each class or grade level. Instead, the plans are integrated to allow continuity across the levels, varying in terms of depth of concepts taught and the student work that is eventually undertaken.
Our annual celebration of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Week at Middle School shows how both this vertically integrated and inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary approaches are manifested. Across the various grade levels at middle school, our Grade 6, 7, and 8 students enquire into the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their Humanities class. Creating an awareness of these goals, how these goals aim to tackle and solve many global socioeconomic developmental issues, and the part that each student can play to make an impact and difference to the wider community was considered in Humanities across each of the grade levels. The hypothesis, solutions, and models were how the students applied their knowledge acquired in Science at each grade level to research, create, and develop their exhibits and presentations at STEAM Week. The depth and level of difficulty differed according to the grade level, but the central idea was continued across the middle school grade levels to ensure a strong holistic grasp of the subject.
As a result, we saw many outstanding works presented at the STEAM Week exhibitions. Grade 6 committed themselves to building water filtration models using materials that are easily accessible (sand, rocks, cotton) in order to convert ‘dirty’ water to clean water, while the Grade 7s collaborated and came up with innovative solutions to design sustainable and resilient homes that would address the hazards brought about by climate change. Grade 8s supported the UN Sustainable Development Goal 9 and presented on ‘Electromagnets for the Future or Metals for Modernisation’. They hypothesised on how the use of these metals / electromagnets, when used in their topic of choice, e.g.: cars, household appliances, weapons, can affect positive change for the future.
Ms. Kate Bond, our Inclusion & Achievement Coordinator (Literacy) for the Elementary School collaborates frequently with all teachers to develop ‘mini-lessons’ focused on developing our students’ literacy skills. The lessons will always be aligned with the bigger ‘picture’ of what is taught in class, across the various grade levels to maintain a vertically integrated approach. It is also in these meetings and discussions that differentiated approaches are adopted based on each student’s needs and reviews take place to ensure that what is delivered optimally supports each student.
These strategic pillars, combined with the caring and nurturing support of our academic staff who guide and empower our students to take charge of their learning journey, are what forms the basis of the whole school’s academic and even pastoral support plans. There is a strong focus on continuity and integration of plans to ensure that our students benefit from being nurtured in our learning environment. The longer a student has been guided in this environment, the higher the chances of success.
Close collaboration is our success formula and this starts from the very top. The Academic Board (AB) chaired by Dr. Alvarez determines programmes that are required, approves programmes, changes to programmes, resources, training, and monitors curriculum review. It is responsible for ensuring that the academic benchmarks are met. “In a nutshell, the AB is the ‘air traffic controller’ for all things academic at ISS. We monitor alignment with mission, vision, values, strategic plans, and ensure compliance and checks for system capacity to make sure that ISS has the required resources to accomplish our strategic plans. The AB drives the teaching and learning section of the strategic plan. As Chairperson of the AB, I ensure that our practices answer our academic needs but also comply with the Committee of Private Education (CPE), the IB, and accreditation agencies. Decisions are made by a committee in keeping with CPE regulations.”
At the individual school level, all our Principals ensure that the academic strategic plan is maintained through “regular weekly meetings which are held with the professional learning teams to collaborate on the taught curriculum. Current educational thinking and research are discussed and reviewed and innovative and relevant enhancements that will provide opportunities for our students to be successful are implemented, once approved by the AB. At the core of all professional learning team meetings is student learning and when we reflect, review, and adjust our academic curriculum, we aim to meet every students’ need,” Ms. Nicola Zulu, High School Principal. In fact “it is important to include student voice into the academic strategic plans and in the High School we meet regularly with our Student Council to not only discuss student events and service learning opportunities, but to also include their thoughts and insights to how we can continue to make our curriculum relevant and accessible for all.
We empower our students to ‘think out of the box’ and contribute to our continual growth. Last year we implemented ‘Wellness Wednesday’ in direct response to student voice on the need for personal time to work on their Internal Assessments, Personal Projects, Extended Essay, and other curriculum-related work. The positive impact of providing the students with independent study time has been two-fold, students are becoming more independent learners, and teachers are using the time to collaborate on a range of topics from mindfulness, service learning, Extra Curricular Activities (ECA), Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), assessments, classroom culture, and global citizenship. Students and teachers working together to constantly improve the learning environment means that we have buy in from all stakeholders and we are successful in realising each individual student’s potential.”
“As the MYP Coordinator for Grades 9 and 10, I ensure that the strategic academic plans are similarly carried through to keep the sanctity and continuity of these goals. The Divisional Goals and Programme Goals (MYP goals) are formed based on the Strategic Plan focus. In turn these guide parts of the personal goals for the academic staff too. The MYP Curriculum Plan is reviewed, developed, and implemented based on the MYP and Strategic Plan goals. Within departments, this is monitored by the Literacy Learning Coordinator (Head of Department) and as the MYP coordinator I have oversight of each department in this area.” Mr. Christopher Hayward. “As I am also a mathematics teacher, my lesson plans and goals which I develop all stem from this strategic plan and this is assessed with Ms. Zulu and the Head of Department, as part of the ongoing review of goals both formally and informally.” This ensures that the strategic academic plans and goals that drive our learning environment are continued and manifest themselves in what our students learn. This is how we at ISS manage to close the gap that is seen at enrolment within our multinational student body. “There is always the opportunity for checks and balances,” shares Mr. Hayward.
“Frequent two-way communication between teacher and student – the provision of high-quality feedback to students to empower our students to take charge of their learning journey and the reflections that students write, together with the one-on-one sessions that I have with my students during the unit to talk through the written feedback as well as assess the ATL skills, provides valuable feedback for me as a teacher in being aware of student needs and acts as a check to my approach to teaching and whether this continues to support our strategic pillars. The student’s input to this discussion is of great value as they become more aware of areas for development and, as confidence grows, become more effective in setting goals for themselves.”
Our strategic pillars of delivering a differentiated academic approach for each student, because we at ISS believe that every child has the right to an education, coupled with a strong inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary manner of academic instruction, steeped in continuity since our curricula is vertically integrated across the whole school, is our formula to developing successful graduates.
So do International Schools which are guided by strong academic strategies nurture better graduates? Most definitely yes, and the proof is in our ISS graduates. Here’s to stronger IB results and more happy, fulfilled graduates!