Visiting Scholars

Our school has been hosting visiting scholars for the past six years. To date nearly fifty graduate students, business people, teachers, and professors have lived and worked with our faculty on curriculum, research, and other projects. 

As I write, one scholar, now on her third visit, is taking the train to visit a student in the hospital. He recently interviewed her in front of several classes – the day before, in fact, the ski accident that landed him in the hospital. In front of me are the preparations for two additional visiting scholars, arriving this weekend. One is on sabbatical from his teaching position, here to learn how we use technology at our school, the other is contributing her knowledge to our ongoing studies of research about the climate crisis.

This past week I interviewed some former visiting scholars for a publication that four of us are working on – three past visiting scholars and me. The interviews were the first time in six years that I’ve reached out to visiting scholars to learn about the experience from their perspective. (From my perspective their visits are incredible. I learn from them and with them and get glimpses into their cultural points-of-view. My colleagues connect with our visitors, many form ongoing friendships which sometimes lead to travel, presentations, and additional projects.)

So while we plan to write up what we learn from our interviews in a more formal publication, I don’t have the patience to wait before sharing some of the things I’ve heard in the first three interviews. From Australia and Northern Europe, here is what they said.

Alys shared that she had strong feelings of accomplishment while with us and that she gained personal confidence. As a PhD student at the time, being treated as an expert, and given the chance to make useful contributions to our faculty members, helped her develop into the academic she is today. She enjoyed the creativity, the chance to work directly with students, and all the conversations and reflections with those she met at our school. 

Alys remembers in particular the drama teacher that she met during one of her visits and how he appreciated having someone outside the school observe his lesson. She enjoyed being a presenter at our annual student conference, and publishing a piece about the curriculum we developed for that conference. She also made at least three further connections through our research center, connecting with administrators and visiting their schools in Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Alma stayed with us once, for nearly eight weeks, during which time we developed and taught a curriculum unit on the rights of the child. We published a piece about it following her visit and I still use the curriculum in teacher workshops I lead now and again.

Alma was chiefly looking for a quiet place to do her own work. She found it here among the Alps, in our quiet village. She rearranged her room so that the desk faced out across the valley, enjoying the view while she read and wrote. 

While she enjoyed her experience, she reflected afterwards – and she recommends for future visiting scholars – that it’s good to get involved with the school and it’s valuable to spend time with the children. She reflected on her own time in boarding school, at roughly the same age as our students, and how children face more or less the same issues that she faced. 

Alma also mentioned that through the visiting scholar experience here in Switzerland she got to know one of her own colleagues, Baldur, from their university.

Baldur stayed for a shorter visit than Alma, but like Alma, enjoyed the ability to concentrate, away from the phone calls and meetings of university life. He read and wrote and enjoyed the inspiration of our school’s setting, particularly after he realized that we didn’t expect him to prepare a report or achieve any particular results. He felt he could just care for himself and adopt a rhythm which allowed him to catch up on reading and writing that he had been waiting to get to for a long time.

Baldur is proud that an initiative he started, a student led writing center, has turned into an ongoing project supported by both librarians. His university has in fact provided online training for one of our student writing tutors, and as our writing centers grow we intend to lean on Baldur and his expertise even more. 

Baldur also felt he grew a bit personally as he watched the faculty and students of an international school, from more than forty nationalities, interact on a daily basis. The international nature of the curriculum and the constant infusion of global issues differs from his experience at home. Luckily he attended an event led by a group of university students during his stay – an event that we were bringing students to, so we took Baldur along. That night we all simulated the negotiations of the Paris Climate Agreement in the basement of a hotel, as representatives from various countries across the world. 

Summary

Jumping into whatever activities the school happens to be involved with is a hallmark of the visiting scholar experience. As Baldur said about the grill party in our community garden, with chickens running between us pecking for fallen scraps of food, “I loved it.” 

Each of these visiting scholars mentioned the beauty of Leysin, the view, and the ability to focus (even while living in the middle of a boarding school). They all three mentioned meeting colleagues from around the world, particularly in the cafeteria, and all the conversations they had, whether about their own research or other teaching and learning going on at the school.

And as is evident, they all stayed connected with our school, and they all hope to come for another visit (and we would love to have them spend more time with us). It’s a beautiful thing to grow an interwoven community of practice across institutions and countries, and even more gratifying when the scholars become lifelong friends who invite us from Leysin to come visit them in their homes and spend time at their schools and universities. We are a truly lucky school.

During the 2019-2020 school year, over 20 visiting scholars have visited LAS. We thank them for sharing their time with us and invite you to contact us if you are interested in learning more about the program.

About Paul Magnuson

Several years ago, Paul Magnuson founded a research center at the high school level in collaboration with colleagues at Leysin American School. The center supports professional learning through a variety of programs, including year-long action research projects by faculty who receive competitive resident scholarships. In addition, the center works with schools and universities around the world, hosting 10 to 15 visiting scholars annually, and consulting and presenting at schools and other organizations. Paul has created a number of tools and programs, including classroom observation schemes, language immersion summer camps, the middle school at LAS, and most recently, edge, a high school program which offers an alternative to traditional school through greatly increased student agency. His current interests are the documentation of edge, pulling agile into education, and self-regulation for both students and teachers.
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