Tag Archives: Mission

Start the School Year : What is our ‘why’? 

Last week we spoke with students and parents new to our school, many of whom were new to Singapore.  We started with the why – our school’s Mission:
The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.

This may seem obvious,  but schools differ a lot in the ‘why’

For those who were understandably wondering about new classes, friends, uniform and timetables, this may have seemed a lofty, distant ideal. But with so many very good schools available in Singapore, this lofty goal remains our defining characteristic. Or more precisely – because lofty goals are easy to write – how we put this into practice remains our defining characteristic, and I hope why families have chosen us.

I am very pleased, however, that it is no longer a very special goal – at least, not if we take special to mean rare. Go back fifty years and this kind of thinking was marginal, outlier, considered naïve and well off the mainstream. Today the idea that we should not settle for less for our children is absolutely mainstream, almost banal. The notion that education should narrowly focus on academics, without recognizing that children deserve more and need a higher purpose, is clinging on here and there, but it’s on its way out. There are two reasons behind this; they may seem to be quite different, but ultimately, they are mutually supportive.

Our ‘why’, the reason we do what we do, has twin tracks but unlike a road, they both head in the same direction

Firstly, there’s the realization that academics are not enough even for the world of work. In truth they never really were, but the changing nature of work means we are increasingly focused on what skills students possess, and what they can actually do. In the past, these may have been very tightly linked to what students know – but in the disrupted, AI-influenced economy we face, knowledge alone will be far from enough.  To be ready for tomorrow, today’s students will have to be increasingly adept in human skills and qualities, and ready to use them in real-world contexts on difficult and complex human problems  It’s not just educators saying this, but governments, businesses, NGOs, the OECD and others.  So the contexts provided by our focus on the peoples, nations and cultures part of our Mission is exactly how to prepare students for an uncertain future; because these are the areas that are the pressing challenges we face and that will not be automated,

Secondly, it’s important to place schools in a much broader social context.  And that context may be startling. Because despite the horrific events going on around the world, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been, in many significant ways.  Extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.  Now let’s not be naïve here – tragedy, atrocity and grinding poverty are still real today. But the current trajectory is astonishingly positive, and where there is injustice, we are beginning to see outrage and social activism to address it – not consistently, but increasingly so. In the past where issues may have been ignored, we’re also seeing thought leaders take a lead.  That includes CEOs, and the US –  admittedly under extreme provocation from its administration – is leading the way here. CEOs have publicly come out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and most recently, against the extreme right. At the same time, we’re seeing many high profile billionaires – including two of the most famous in Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – pledge half their wealth to philanthropic causes.  So there is a broader social move towards widening moral circles; and schools both reflect this and importantly, prepare students to continue down this path.  That’s where the peace and a sustainable future part of our Mission comes in, and why we weave the Mission so carefully throughout our Learning Programme.

There is no tension between the pragmatic necessity to prepare students for their future, and the idealistic opportunity to make whatever small contribution we can to the historic trend.   We intend, this year and forever, to do both to the best of our capacities.

Principled in Character

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

After a yearlong review process, involving regular feedback and contributions from parents, students, and teachers through surveys, retreats, and focus group meetings, our school’s new mission statement was officially introduced this year.

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As part of an ongoing analysis of our school’s new mission statement, this week’s post looks at the third element of the mission: “Principled in Character”.

The American School of Brasilia (EAB) builds its educational program around the ideal of a whole child education that includes a focus on five pillars: academics, activities, arts, leadership, and service. Within this context, character education plays a critical role towards whole child development.

By way of example, EAB’s Character Counts! program has become a deeply integrated part of the Lower School, which also includes a monthly assembly led by students and regularly attended by over one hundred parents.  The program is framed by six ethical values – Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; and Citizenship – which are used to further develop a positive school culture where students feel safe in their learning environment. The program also works to develop a culture of kindness in addition to addressing issues associated with bullying.

The Upper School recently engaged in a collective process, led by students, to establish a student honor code, which was approved and is now a essential part of the school’s culture. EAB’s student honor code reads as follows:

We, as students of the American School of Brasilia, give our pledge to live by the guiding principles of responsibility and respect in all that we say and do, understand that these values carry far beyond the classroom environment, affecting not only our peers and the activities we participate in, but who we are and who we will become, we commit to treat all people with compassion, be engaged and collaborative in all aspects of our education, and in all cases act with honor and integrity. We will uphold these values as the core of our identity, hence becoming principled individuals and contributing citizens to society.

EAB’s efforts in the area of “Principled in Character” are guided by our school’s Student Learner Profile, which highlights how learners are Engaged, Collaborative, Contributing, and Principled. The Learner Profile further emphasizes the “principled” focus with the following statement: “As an EAB Learner, I am responsible for my learning, my actions, and their consequences.” This statement is then articulated with additional and more specific assertions:

  • I am responsible and do my best when assigned a task.
  • I persevere even when something is difficult.
  • I meet deadlines.
  • I come ready to learn with the materials and mindset needed for school each day.
  • I approach problems respectfully and ethically and work hard to solve them.
  • I know the difference between right and wrong and accept consequences for my actions.
  • I look for opportunities to learn and grow beyond what is expected of me by my teacher.

Perhaps the best way to summarize EAB’s work with respect to the “principled in character” aspect of the school’s mission statement is to refer to a comment made during a professional development session. Dr. Michael Thompson, a renowned child psychologist, was asked to define a “moral school”. He responded by quoting another author (whose name I cannot recall), who stated, “A moral school is a school that is always talking about what it means to be a moral school.”  This is a profound statement in how it highlights the importance of process and focus, rather than one definition that would inevitability lead to an oversimplification of a deeply complex issue.

It would be an act of hubris for EAB to claim, as a school, that it always has all of the right answers for all situations in relation to character and education. It certainly does not and nor does any school. However, what is important is to be always engaging in a collective conversation about character, in the context of programs such as Character Counts!, and working with guiding principles, as found in the Student Honor Code and Learner Profile.


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Beccatevi questo! (Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino) https://www.flickr.com/photos/56743832@N04/8662153499/


www.barrydequanne.com

More Than Words

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

A little over a year ago, our community embarked on a journey of reflection and self-examination as we conducted a review of our school’s mission statement and associated core documents. As with most meaningful endeavors, it was recognized at the start that the learning from this process was arguably as important, if not more important, than the final product. To that end, the yearlong review included the involvement of parents, students, and teachers through surveys, focus group discussions, retreats, review committees, and a school improvement team. At the end of this process, the American School of Brasilia’s (EAB) Board of Directors, who were also active participants, were presented with a proposed new mission statement, which was approved. As we look to the current year and years ahead, there is excitement surrounding the opportunity and challenge to make the new mission statement come alive.


Process

To avoid lengthy discussions and potential misunderstands regarding terminology, our School Improvement Team (SIT) agreed to not let the strict definitions and debates associated with the words mission and vision take way from the review process. SIT agreed on a basic definition of mission as “who we are” and vision, with an emphasis on the future, as “where we are going” and, more subtly, “how we will get there”. While not perfect, this was enough to move us forward.

As part of the reflection process, we literally reviewed hundreds of mission statements from schools around the world, fortune 500 companies, and internationally recognized not-for-profit organizations, with the goal of establishing criteria associated with an ideal mission statement structure. This process was helpful and led us to the following criteria:

  1. Accurately reflect our community and school
  2. Be short and concise, such that it could be easily memorized
  3. Avoid lofty language that sounds impressive but has little practicality
  4. Avoid a statement that encompasses everything but says very little
  5. Provide a framework to clarify who we are and what we value
  6. A blend of realism and optimism
  7. Strive for language that is accessible to all student ages in addition to community members whose first language is not English.

It was also agreed that the descriptor statement about the school would be removed from the mission and listed as a separate statement called “Our School”.

Our School: We are a diverse community that provides an English-language based pre-K through Grade 12 education. We are an International Baccalaureate World School with U.S. and Brazilian accreditation.

The remainder of the process focused on identifying and articulating the key components associated with our school’s identity. As those who have participated in similar processes, this is not an easy task but is at the very heart of establishing a new mission statement.

Looking back on the process, a key moment in the discussions occurred during the review of mission statements from other organizations, when someone highlighted the Ritz-Carlton motto:

We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

This statement is not only elegant in its simplicity and content and easy to remember, but also acts as an effective and inspiring guide for everyone who works at the Ritz-Carlton.


New Mission Statement

There is no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton motto influenced the key aspect of EAB’s new mission statement, which articulates that we are a community of learners, adults and students alike, working together on an educational journey. It is EAB’s conviction that student learning is only maximized when all members of our community are also engaged in the learning process. It is this focus which led to the first words in EAB’s new mission and also serves as the new motto:

Learners inspiring learners

Education has fundamentally changed and continues to change, specifically in terms of who controls the flow of information. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance that schools be designed in an adaptable manner, such that they are positioned to take advantage of the current and future changes associated with learning. It was hoped that the concept of “learners inspiring learners” would capture these concepts in terms of how everyone in our community is always learning, adapting, and growing. Given that the control of information has shifted from teachers to students, we must then expect that parents, teachers, and school communities must also be continuous learners or we risk becoming irrelevant in the learning process.

With the first three words of the new mission statement established, the remaining parts of the mission emerged quickly, with the following result:

PREVIOUS Mission Statement:

The American School of Brasilia serves the International and Brazilian communities by providing a U.S. and Brazilian accredited pre-K through 12th grade program and International Baccalaureate Diploma in a culturally diverse atmosphere. Our English- language school develops and supports the whole child in achieving his or her own potential. Through a differentiated, innovative learning experience, we cultivate responsible and contributing citizens, leaders, and environmental stewards with a strong foundation of academic excellence.

NEW Mission Statement:

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As stated, “Learners Inspiring Learners” highlights that we are all life long learners, learning together. “Inquisitive in Life” is about a focus on academic learning. However, learning should always take pace within the framework of character, ethics, and acceptable values. It is this belief in a whole child approach to learning that resulted in an emphasis on character: “Principled in Character” is about being a good person and making good decisions. Yet, it can then be argued that we have a moral imperative to use our learning and character to make a positive difference: “Bold in Vision” is focused on channeling our creative and innovative energies towards making a positive difference in the world.

In summary, after a yearlong review process, it is believed that the new mission meets the criteria set at the start of the process. The statement accurately reflects our community’s beliefs, is sufficiently short and concise such that it can be memorized, and avoids lofty language and jargon. It is also believed that the statement further articulates our values within the context of a blend of realism and optimism for the future.

We are excited to officially introduce EAB’s new mission statement. The next step is to ensure that the mission guides everything we do in addition to finding ways to make the mission come alive at our school.


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Muha… https://www.flickr.com/photos/alpstedt/13339786034


Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

Mission-Driven Learning

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

The ‘why’ highlighted by Nietzsche is equated, in schools, to foundational documents, such as mission statements. These essential documents act as guiding principles for all facets of education, ranging from day-to-day instructional approaches, to business office and human resource decisions, to the building of new facilities, to educational program implementation, to co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and to long-term, strategic planning.

By way of example, I had the privilege of receiving an invitation to work with our Grade 3 classes on the development of a class mission statement. Once my introduction was completed, the outstanding Grade 3 teaching team led the students through a process to create a unique mission statement for their class. Through an effective and collaborative process, the students worked diligently to arrive at a consensus, which resulted in the following mission statement:

In third grade, it is our mission to explore new things, to make new friends, and improve ourselves so that we can solve problems and become responsible citizens of the world.

This statement will guide the learning and development of all Grade 3 students throughout the remainder of the year. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the student mission statement expands on the tenets of our school’s overall mission. By design, everything at the American School of Brasilia (EAB) is framed and guided by the school’s key foundational documents.

EAB’s ability to provide our students with the best holistic education possible will be achieved through a partnership between students, parents, and the school, towards the realization of the ideals presented in the mission, vision, core values, and motto.

IMG_1815
EAB’s Foundational Documents

MISSION
The American School of Brasilia serves the International and Brazilian communities by providing a U.S. and Brazilian accredited pre-K through 12th grade program and International Baccalaureate Diploma in a culturally diverse atmosphere. Our English-language school develops and supports the whole child in achieving his or her own potential. Through a differentiated, innovative learning experience, we cultivate responsible and contributing citizens, leaders, and environmental stewards with a strong foundation of academic excellence.

VISION
At the American School of Brasilia, each student pursues an excellent academic program in a supportive and nurturing learning environment, whose rigor and relevance is evident through the five pillars of academics, arts, leadership, service learning, and activities. In an EAB education, our students are:
…provided a differentiated education, that optimizes academic potential;
…exposed to the arts, achieving proficiency in at least one area;
…provided the opportunity and support to develop as citizen-leaders;
…engaged in meaningful and sustainable service learning experiences;
…involved in co-curricular activities or sports.

CORE VALUES
Trustworthiness – Respect – Responsibility – Fairness – Caring – Citizenship

MOTTO
Celebrating Diversity and Cultivating Citizenship

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Photo Credit: Matt Hajdun / Caira Franklin