Creating Impact through Collaboration

Creating Impact through Collaboration

Anja Junginger, MYP Design Teacher / Strategic Development Manager, International School of Stuttgart


Defining and building a culture of inclusive high-impact learning has long been a strategic priority for us at the International School of Stuttgart. As with any ambitious and ongoing change process, we have had to clarify our thinking around our s of success, aligned with our guiding statements, and our theories of action for achieving this success. At the heart of our work is the importance of inclusion and learner-agency. Our challenge has been to create the right structures that will positively transform patterns of behaviour and attitudes to amplify our values. This change, we hope, will in turn allow for all learners to be participants in creating a space that enables a visible, collaborative, self-directed learning culture where all can grow, and are seen and heard in the process.


The Program

There are many ways to achieve these aims, however one that we are implementing and evaluating this year is the ISS Teacher Residency Program. The program aims to provide an opportunity for aspiring educators, our Residents, to grow and develop as IB teachers within a collaborative experience dedicated to their professional growth and evidenced through student learning.  Experienced Mentor Teachers support this development not only as guides and coaches, but also as learners themselves. This is aligned with our developing strategic approach to professional learning and building a ‘Coaching Culture’. The program is rooted in the principles of adult learning, the IB Standards and Practices, and the NEASC ACE Learning Principles for all learners, as well as guided by the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning.

The Program is intended to inspire, support, and challenge both a diverse group of young professionals advancing on their career path, as well as the ISS Mentor Teachers who collaborate with them.  Our hope is that by enacting this learner-centered and job-embedded form of professional learning that we can lay the seeds for a culture of collaboration and self-directed learning for all learners at ISS. The program currently supports eight  Residents, eight Mentor Teachers, and two coordinators. Our aim is that these 18 educators will begin to create patterns of motivation and energy, clarity of purpose, and growth mindsets inspired by action research within their teams. This will ideally create an amplifying feedback loop.


Our Findings

Although only six months into the program, we have gathered evaluative feedback so that we can iterate improvements into the 2023-24 structure . We used several evaluation methods including surveys, collaborative brainstorming, and Focus Group sessions with the Residents, their mentor teachers, and school leaders. First, we wanted to find out if our success criteria were being met, for which we used the survey, asking participants to rate their agreement with the success criteria statements.

  • Residents express satisfaction with the ways in which they are treated and included as members of the ISS community:
    Average rating 4.4 out of 5
  • Residents can incorporate their prior knowledge into the program to aid and extend their learning:
    Average rating 4.6 out of 5
  • Residents have opportunity to collaborate based on their strengths and abilities:
    Average rating 4.6 out of 5
  • Feedback is used to support learning, in accordance with IB philosophy:
    Average rating 4.2 out of 5
  • The program is a holistic and coherent learning experience for residents in accordance with the principles of adult learning:
    Average rating 4.3 out of 5 for Mentor Teachers | Average rating 4.0 out of 5 for Residents
  • Residents can explore their personal interests and ideas and set meaningful learning goals:
    Average rating 4.40 out of 5
  • Mentors have opportunity to share their strengths and abilities:
    Finding: 4.67 out of 5
  • Mentors can describe their own professional growth because of program involvement.


Residents and mentor teachers


Some examples of what was said:

  • It’s made me more aware of my own practices and it’s challenged me to be a better teacher since I have to model that.
  • It has given me the experience to have/handle difficult conversations and made me focus on solution-based conversations.
  • It has required me to reflect on my own practices, listen and learn about new ones and perspectives, and apply them accordingly.
  • It has been a useful experience to stop and consider why I do things the way I do. It has provided new motivation to re-engage with research in education and to try some new things.

Then we also asked all groups to give us two stars and a wish. A key theme that arose can be seen in these responses:

  • Perhaps clearer expectations of what the teacher’s role is. The freedom is nice but extra guidance beforehand would go a long way in setting out roles and responsibilities.
  • Clearer expectations of the outcome of the program, possibility of residents working with more than one mentor.
  • The expectations need to be agreed and clear for everyone involved / avoid mixed messages (or perception thereof). Maybe even a job description now for the resident and one for the mentor?

As well as:

  • Make the residents and mentors more visible and enable them to contribute more to the school as a whole.
  • Communicate the program more transparently.

Another important aspect that we were curious about was what impact Mentor Teachers thought the Resident Program was having on student learning within their classrooms. Their responses included:

  • The students benefit from another educator, from an additional skillset and from another caring adult.
  • Students adapt to the circumstances put forth in the classroom and see that a teacher residency and the class teacher are both approachable and inspire, challenge and support each and every student.
  • Very positive. The students benefit from a male and female homeroom teacher – they see and respect the resident as a teacher and his relationships with both students and parents are excellent.
  • Time assigned to individual students is priceless, huge advantage for them, there are two of us at any given time. We can differentiate/individualise their learning.


Residents with students


What we have learned

We were happy to see the positive impact that the program is already having on attitudes and skills across the program participants. It was also inspiring and motivating to participate in the feedback and brainstorming sessions. These helped us to think about ways to strengthen the program for even greater impact. The new ideas that the feedback generated included:

  • Develop a clear mission for the program and better define the expected impacts
  • Make more use of the program to support all participants in developing their intercultural competency and international-mindedness
  • Clearer guidance for Mentor Teachers about expectations for observation and feedback
  • More opportunities for Mentor Teachers to share and develop their coaching skills
  • More transparency and communication of the program in the community
  • More touchpoints across the organisation with the program in order to increase impact
  • Clearer guidance on how Residents evidence their learning and progress towards goals


Our next steps

As we are continually working on developing and diversifying the program using a solution-focused design process, this feedback has been immeasurably helpful. Our first action has been to move towards a mission-driven goal, which is to diversify the program so that a greater focus can be put on promoting intercultural understanding. For the 2023-24 cohort we have been lucky to hire Residents from Bosnia, Kenya, the US, Germany, Canada, and Colombia. In line with this, we are developing a program mission rooted in developing intercultural understanding and learning impact. We plan to make the ECIS Global Perspectives courses and the Preparing for International Teaching Certificate modules a core part of our professional learning strategy.

Our next goal is to bolster the role of the Mentor Teacher through clearer support materials and professional growth opportunities within the school. Currently they receive ECIS MLC courses, but we want to embed this work more within the school and create more opportunities for coming together as a professional learning community. We believe that Mentor Teachers will benefit from reflection, sharing, and action research related to their own development as coaches, as well as their development as middle leaders. We also want them to have better guidance on how to observe and give feedback on learning.

For the Residents, we want to continue to emphasise the focus on goal setting and evidencing learning. It is an area to strengthen and be more explicit about. The power of how we document and monitor student learning can be highlighted as we encourage our Residents, and their Mentor Teachers, to focus on this as a vehicle to document and monitor their own growth as educators. We also want our residents to experience being in different classrooms as observers to expand their experience and create more touchpoints for the program in the school.

Lastly, we will place a greater emphasis on making the program and the work of the participants more visible to the community as a whole. The excellent work that is happening should be amplified more so that others might also be inspired, and the ripple effect can be maximised.


A Vision for the Future

The importance of keeping educators in the profession cannot be underestimated. Most notably research findings such as those cited by Johnson et al in their paper Conditions that Support Early Career Teacher Resilience (Johnson, 2010) point us to the importance of creating better induction programs that support new teachers in developing the skills and dispositions to thrive and stay in the profession. Amongst other points made are that:

  • early career teachers confront a serious mismatch between their ‘idealistic motivations’ and the daily realities of classroom teaching (Abbott-Chapman, 2005); and that
  • too few early career teachers experience a quality induction program (Algozzine, Gretes, Queen & Cowan-Hathcock, 2007). Most are left to ‘sink or swim’ and learn by ‘trial and error’ in their first year of teaching (Howe, 2006).

Additionally, our mid-career teachers are another important group to focus on as we aim to create sustainability in the profession. Often the only way to progress and develop in schools is to move out of the classroom into administrative leadership positions. What if we could develop our most excellent practitioners as leaders but keep them in the classrooms where they can have the greatest impact on student learning and act as role models as ‘teachers of teaching’? School systems that excel, such as in Singapore take such an approach. “Singapore invests significantly in teachers as professional learning leaders with leadership roles that recognise excellence in professional learning, helping teachers to lead professional learning within their own schools and to align teacher needs and broader school objectives” (Jensen, 2013).

Our vision is that by bringing these two groups of impactful educators together to inspire, challenge, and support each other we can create more sustainability in the profession, develop greater intercultural understanding, and ultimately benefit students not only at the International School of Stuttgart but also in the schools that our Residents will teach in in the future.




“Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems – NCEE.”, Accessed 1 Jan. 1970.

Johnson, B., Down, B., Le Cornu, R., Peters, J., Sullivan, A., Pearce, J., & Hunter, J. (2010). Conditions that support early career teacher resilience. Refereed paper presented at ‘Teacher education for a sustainable future’, the annual conference of the Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA), Townsville, 4–7 July.





Originally from Hamburg, Germany, Anja Junginger grew up in Virginia and experienced first-hand what it means to be an international student and EAL learner. She went on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Teaching from the University of Virginia, and later, a Master of Educational Technology from Boise State University.

Anja began her career in education, and at ISS, in 1992. She started as a substitute teacher and has since been a primary school teacher, IB Primary Years coordinator, Early Years coordinator, librarian, technology integrator, and the Director of Digital Learning and Communications, all of which has provided her with the passion and perspective to help in steering the strategic developments of the school so that they have the greatest impact on learning. Inspired through the teaching of MYP Design, as well as her role as a school visitor and workshop leader for the IBO, Anja enjoys supporting collaborations, developing meaningful projects, and strategic thinking.

In addition to her professional connection to the school, both of her daughters are proud alumni of ISS, who experienced their entire K-12 education as ISS IB learners.


Newsletter 101: A self-directed course for English Learners

Hatty Fryer Smith, Bilge Kalkavan, and Paul Magnuson


Veteran teacher, Hatty Fryer, is part of a group of teachers in an experimental program focusing first and foremost on transferable skills, e.g. collaboration and self-motivation. She creates room for students to practice these transferable skills by helping them create a school newsletter. The non-native English-speaking students are in US grades 8 through 10, with a range of language proficiency.


Hatty starts at the whiteboard, suggesting students break down their goals for the next newsletter into smaller steps to reach those goals. She asks her students to write these steps in bullet points using Google docs. Hatty leaves the board after a few minutes to speak with students individually about how they are planning to contribute to the next newsletter.


Bilge and Paul watch as Hatty speaks with the students. They notice the variety of topics the students are choosing to write about, from sports and video games to drug addiction and the LGBTQ+ community on campus. They also notice the numerous types of contributions students are planning: writing, interviewing, collecting art from students, collecting writing from students, talking to teachers in other classes, taking photos, and designing the pages.


This is an English writing course for non-native speakers, but in no way is the content limited to writing. Because the students are focused on an end product (with just a bit of the peer pressure that comes from publishing something for everyone else at the school), and because they have the freedom to determine both the end product and the work process themselves, the project does not seem contrived. Not only do they have to pull the newsletter together, they have to work on larger organizational issues, like balancing the complexity of the project with considerations for what is actually doable – and doable in what time frame. As students told us: Maybe we don’t have ideas so we have to think for ourselves, it’s hard to work by yourself without the teacher, and we have to find the things that we are going to do.


Their comments exemplify the goal of this class, and others like it in our Edge program’s set of elective courses. We are supporting student growth to greater self-agency. Along the way the students in this class are also very likely to improve their English writing skills.


Hatty had this to say:


Teaching an Edge class at Leysin American School (LAS) has caused me to examine my expectations and assumptions about students and learning in general. It brings into stark relief a point about learning that I, and perhaps other teachers, habitually lose sight of – namely, that the process is more valuable than the product.


In an Edge class, I am more conscious of myself than usual. I make an effort to step back and allow the students to get on with it because that’s the philosophy. When observing students I often think “Why would you do it that way when it would be so much better and quicker to do it this way?” It’s hard to resist that feeling after years of teaching students in a traditional way. But I have learned to keep quiet and to hope to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.


About fifty percent of the time I am proud of the product. Typically, students work quite slowly without teacher assistance but do a fine job in the end.


The value of the process is clear: students are learning self-reliance. Sometimes the final product is great but completely different to what the student had talked about at the outset. In these cases learning is also clearly happening. When the teacher steps back, students have some space to discover what they are really interested in. Any interference from an authority, positive or negative, might stop them from changing tack and following their own instincts. Students learn to have self-confidence and to trust their own instincts and decision-making.


But I would say that about fifty percent of the students produce a final product that is disappointing. Do these students also benefit from the Edge class experience?


I haven’t yet experienced a student who didn’t submit any work at all, because although students are not graded and cannot fail, there is something about letting the group down that forces them to finish something, even if of poor quality and at the last minute. A common scenario, for example, is that a student starts a project with enthusiasm and then gets bored of it as the classes go on.


But I think that even if the student is not proud of their final product, they know that it is due to their own lack of work, making the process a valuable experience. Here is where my skills as a teacher are fully in play, because feedback to the student needs to be managed carefully. There must be a balance through helping the student learn through the experience of producing poor quality work so that the student sees the experience as a chance to learn rather than a failure.  This is tricky since students have been trained most of their academic lives to avoid failure and they may be fighting feelings of shame or constructing all sorts of defense mechanisms.


If I as the teacher do not address what’s happened, they may withdraw (literally or figuratively) from the class – or they may decide that I really do not care if their final product is of poor quality.  They will say they didn’t get the help they needed or that the course is ‘too easy’. But if they see that the teacher is non-judgemental and actually interested in ‘what went wrong’ – and genuinely not concerned about this particular final product – they will pick themselves up and try again.


Bilge and Paul leave the class to discuss the experience. Bilge noticed some of Hatty’s specific moves to keep the students in charge. To the student with an idea for the newsletter’s cover page, Hatty says: “Why don’t you ask the class if you can be the one to do the front page?” Hatty offered a strategy to move forward with the work – but didn’t use her status in the class to determine the course of the work. To the student who asked, “Miss, do we have to have the contents on the front page?” Hatty answered, “No. You do whatever you want.” It’s the process that counts, after all. Hatty’s approach gives important pedagogical insights for teaching contexts and reminds us to be facilitators for our students rather than a dominant teacher figure. From topic selection to design, Hatty allows her students to make their own decisions as autonomous learners. During teacher-student interaction, she hesitates imposing her opinion and assists them with her questions to help them to set their own goals and design their own work.


Paul smiled as he recounted what another student told him. “We don’t have to think about the grade. I think it’s super good. No grades is the best point [of the class]. It’s a workplace environment. You do it by yourself. If there’s a mistake … you can try something else. We can learn.


Exactly. We can learn.


We would love to hear your thoughts – please share them below.



Hatty Fryer Smith graduated from university with a Masters in Contemporary Fiction and has taught EAL and English literature. Currently she teaches a Creative Writing class in which seven students from different nationalities and abilities in English come together three times a week to create a magazine for the school.


Bilge Kalkavan is in the Faculty of Education at Hasan Kalyoncu University. She has a PhD in Language and Communication, an MA in Applied Linguistics, and an MA in Business Administration. Her research interests include interaction studies, second language acquisition, language, culture, and communication. She visited Hatty’s class during her second stay at LAS as a visiting scholar.


Paul Magnuson is director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and Academic Development Specialist for Moreland University. He has a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction and an interest in furthering student agency.


Storytelling as a way of mapping student learning

Jonathan Butcher, Primary School Principal
Aisha Kristiansen, EdTech Integrator
Berlin Brandenburg International School


Like any great navigation system, learners, teachers and families need to have a sense of direction, in order to know past, present and future destinations. The ‘OECD Learning Compass 2030’ provides a framework for understanding the learning landscape, so that schools can start to reimagine learning possibilities and empower students to shape a positive future for our world. With this in mind, the Primary School team at Berlin Brandenburg International School have worked incredibly hard to charter the systems and structures that would support this approach to education.



Understanding By Design – Developing Knowledge, Values, Skills and Attitudes


The Primary School’s overarching focus on highly effective teams – and a review of our work as a pedagogical collective – determined that the IB PYP enhancement focus took us beyond a mere redesign of the planner. Instead, we placed team dynamics and effective collaborative planning at the forefront of our efforts. Within this, there were four central drivers:


1. Capitalise on highly effective teams

2. Concept-based inquiry planning

3. Being intentional, identifying critical curriculum areas

4. Getting to the core of documentation


With the help of leading concept-based inquiry thought leaders – Carla Marschall and Rachel French – the school built a shared understanding of the Inquiry Cycle. We developed a backwards by design model, whereby teachers intentionally planned for the development of knowledge, values, skills and attitudes in our learners. As documented by Professor John Hattie in his Visible Learning research, shaping ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’ meant that we were chartering the learning terrain for our students, and giving our teachers a strong sense of collective purpose and direction. The primary goal of the planners was to provide a rich, transdisciplinary and collaborative story of the learning journey.


Evidence of Learning – Core Foundations


For the planning to be effective, we used the phrase ‘compelling evidence of growth’, as a gold standard of what we wanted to document. The compelling evidence of growth would provide the basis for developing student agency and transformative competencies, so that learning and teaching was both personalised and engaging, and within the zone of proximal development. We started to look closely at student work, in order to gain a shared understanding of achievement and implement future steps. This would allow the teams to plan for intentional action. These conversations had a two-fold effect. Tuning staff into what great learning looks like, whilst consciously planning to make learning visible for our students.


Like any great story, we needed a climax and that came in the form of evidence of impact. Through reviewing the cognitive, health, social and emotional data for our students during rich collaborative planning conversations, the teams received affirmation that they were heading in the right direction. These discussions also provided a catalyst for next steps, so that students were experiencing ‘just right’ learning, resulting in excellent outcomes in growth. This evidence would also be used to create powerful, reflective and highly personalised learning stories.


Partnerships Within and Beyond the Classroom – Capturing and sharing ‘Learning Stories’


By late 2019, our school’s position on the map was clear and the direction was set. We had established a clear purpose for our learning stories, which was for students to build their metacognitive skills to reflect on their journey and to establish strong partnerships beyond the classroom. Evidencing learning was a term that was understood and became widely expected amongst our staff. Capturing compelling evidence of growth, and sharing these stories through Seesaw and our social media channels, provided our families and the community with a window into learning, especially when doors were closed to the outside world.


The Anticipation-Action-Reflection (AAR) cycle of the OECD Learning Compass 2030 states that learning ‘is an iterative process whereby learners continuously improve their thinking and act intentionally and responsibly, moving towards long-term goals that contribute to collective well-being’. Giving students an authentic audience to share their learning improves the quality and impact of their story. It provides a detailed map of their learning journey, so that students can be proud of their travels, whilst engaging in reflective discussions about how to grow. The learning stories also created a platform to celebrate the action part of their learning and ensured student agency.


Reflecting on the Journey


As outlined above, our next step is to ‘zoom in’ on the reflection piece. As Hattie highlights:


There are many misuses of this term (reflection), and it does not mean looking back to where we think we have been. It is more a “disciplined way of thinking” and more often the more powerful notion of reflection is “seeing your learning through others eyes”, seeking and using feedback about progress, checking our cognitive biases (especially confirmation bias), and adjusting our learning to more effectively attain the expectations developed in the anticipation phase. 


Supporting our students to take an ‘outsider looking in’ approach to their learning will continue to enhance the quality of student learning and achievement. Similar to intentional planning, compelling evidence of learning and rich learning stories, this next developmental phase will take a shared agreement and collective effort by our team. The work has already been piloted with our Early Education students through the ‘Growing Up Project’. For this initiative, our youngest learners are being challenged to create new value, reconcile tensions and dilemmas, and take responsibility within an ethical framework. It is grounded in Hattie’s view of true and authentic reflection. This project has been shortlisted for the Ethical Values Category for the International Schools Awards. For more information about the project, please visit –


And of course, embedded throughout this journey is a strong focus on high quality feedback, but perhaps that’s a story for another time…


Berlin Brandenburg International School is the ECIS Member School of the Month for January.





BBIS homepage





OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030. “The OECD Learning Compass 2030.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development,


Hattie, John, “Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie.” Visible Thinking,


Hattie, John, “Thought Leader Written Statement.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development,



What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Jonathan Butcher holds a M.Ed in International Education, and continues to learn how to maximise learning through meaningful projects. At a time where the world needs compassion, innovation, and action, he is committed to working with others to call for Education for Sustainable Development. Jonathan is the Primary School Principal at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Aisha Kristiansen holds a M.Ed in Leadership and Gifted & Talented Education. She has worked in a range of curriculum and leadership roles, which have focused on placing students at the centre of the learning process. She is currently working as the EdTech Integrator at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Incorporating Student Voice in the Classroom

Chrissy Talbot
General Education Teacher

Providing students with a voice is an important tool in creating an engaging classroom environment. As an elementary teacher, I’ve noticed that when my students feel that their own voice is valued they are often more willing to take academic risks. Below I’ve listed three practical ways you can provide even your youngest students with an opportunity to have a voice in their own education.


1) Morning Meetings & Entrance Tickets:

One way to provide students with a voice is by giving them a platform to express themselves. This can come in multiple forms. You can set up a morning meeting where students have the opportunity to discuss things they are feeling or events happening outside of school. A safe space for students to engage in honest conversation should never be underestimated. Or, if you want something less time-consuming, you can create Google Forms or entrance tickets that ask students to suggest topics for class discussion or their thoughts and opinions on the curriculum. Of course, you can modify these ideas to meet your specific grade level. Starting your day off with an opportunity for students to have a voice sets a tone that their opinions and thoughts matter in your classroom. They are valued.


2) Choice in Projects: 

Student voice can also come in the form of choice. This might mean giving students the opportunity to express what they have learned through different mediums. Would they rather make a diorama of an ocean habitat or create a video complete with sound effects and narration? Sometimes it can be hard as the teacher to release some control to our students but by doing so, we are showing our students that we trust them and that we accept them as individuals who may not always learn the same way. You cannot have student voice without student choice.


3) Student Surveys:

Lastly, you can promote student voice simply by asking for it. Give students an opportunity to drive your instruction and tell you how they learn best. Student surveys at the beginning of the year are helpful to get an understanding of how our students learn. We can then decide if we need more group projects or technology or visuals in the way we deliver instruction. But the surveys shouldn’t stop in the fall. We need to continue to ask our students for feedback. Would students like to see more videos or do more hands-on experiments? Assessments give us a lot of information about how much a student has learned but they don’t give us insight on the student’s learning experience. I believe learning experiences should count for something because, after all, aren’t we trying to foster a love of learning in our students? I think the best way to do this is to give the students a voice continuously in the way we deliver our instruction and the way we assess our students.


These are just a few strategies you can employ in your classroom to help lift up your students’ voices and make them feel heard.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook or forget about the importance of this work but it’s so important for building long-term relationships with our students. We owe it to our students to show them that their thoughts are valued.


To learn more about Social-Emotional Learning and access additional resources to support a SEL environment, click here.


This article was originally published by Savvas:


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Chrissy Talbot

“My name is Chrissy and I am a creative, hard-working, and passionate teacher. I’ve been teaching second grade for the past four years on Long Island, New York. I’m currently the general education teacher in an inclusive classroom environment, and I LOVE it! I received my BA in Elementary Education from Stonehill College in Massachusetts and later earned my Masters in TESOL from Touro College in New York. When I’m not lesson planning or making anchor charts for my kiddos, I am reading books on my couch, planning my latest travel adventure, or spending time with my friends and family.”

Embracing democratic dissent in a data-driven age

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge



We teach in a pre-service teacher programme that prepares students for a teaching career in international schools. In one of the courses, we discuss models of teacher appraisal and teacher effectiveness, their purposes, and how different schools approach them. We ask whether or not student performance data should be part of these processes. During the discussion, it is inevitable that one of the students will argue that data must be used because, ultimately, the most important concern of a school is the learning of students.


During our time as schoolteachers and in our ongoing conversations with colleagues, we have heard this same argument, in different forms, many times over.


How dare you – it’s all about student learning!

These days, we often hear that the student – and student learning – are more important than anything else, and should be the yardstick for all that happens in schools. The problem with this is that it seems impossible to argue against. Who in their right mind is going to say “the students aren’t really the most important” or “hmm, I don’t think student learning is really at the centre of what we do as a school”?


The view that student learning is the aim of schooling might seem obvious, but has been challenged, perhaps most notably by the academic Gert Biesta who argues that education is a much broader enterprise. While the claim that student learning is all that matters is itself problematic, it is also used all too often as a “shut down” to alternative voices.


If you’ve ever tried questioning the latest initiative focusing on wellbeing, resilience, growth mindset, or “soft skills”, you’ve probably experienced “the shutdown”! If you’re thinking of being that person, good luck!


The ‘research shows’ argument

Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting about increasing the quantity of reporting. The school leadership is arguing that parents should get more regular feedback, as well as more detailed end-of-term reports. As concerns about the increased administrative requirements for teachers are voiced, the reply comes: “research shows that formative feedback and home-school partnerships are key to student improvement, and surely that is our primary aim?”


The argument here is not only that student learning is the only thing that matters, but that ‘the research’ undeniably supports the particular initiative being proposed. In this sense, ‘the research’ is often quoted in a vague and ‘handwaving’ manner to justify an initiative. After all, who can argue with ‘the research’?


So, just like the ‘student learning’ strategy, the ‘research says’ declaration is too often used to quash dissenting voices.


Democratic education

The dissenting voice, however, is central to ensuring a democratic education.


Put another way, the data-driven, evidence-based discourses in schools risk undermining the various forms of education that prioritise students’ responses to the world around them, inquiry and the construction of knowledge, and engaged citizenship, all elements of a broader vision of education than one which simply focuses on ‘learning.’


When teachers become focused on the numbers and the data, they are more likely to engage in practices that primarily focus on that which can be measured. That is, teachers are more likely to do the equivalent of ‘teaching to the test’. As a result, we start to value what we measure instead of measuring what we value (Biesta).


Given that many international schools claim to provide exactly the kind of education that guides students in becoming responsible members of a global society, it is important that we consider the implications of focusing on data and numbers.


Dissenting voices

In fact, if we really believe that the best education for our students is that which ‘draws out and opens up’ rather than ‘narrows in and closes down’, then we ought to be more, not less, sceptical about educational agendas which flatten and standardise practices.


And we ought to be willing to embrace dissenting voices from teachers as well as students.


But while we make the argument for allowing dissent, it is important to note that this is not the same as mere complaint. Dissent, it can be argued, is more closely aligned to democratic education, not because it allows the community to simply say whatever they want, but because it involves giving account for one’s position.


Dissent emerges from genuine concerns – whether philosophical, practical, political or pedagogical – and can, therefore, play an important role not only in critiquing the way things are, but in contributing to different and innovative ideas for education.


Embracing alternative views for education

The start of a new school year is the time in which new initiatives are proposed with energy and enthusiasm. School leaders are often keen to ensure that they push something through, before the grind of the daily and weekly routine sets in. As such, it can be tempting to resist the dissenting voices by invoking ‘the research’ which is, in actual fact, always contestable, or the centrality of student learning.


Managed well, a genuine invitation for dissent is to see any proposal of a new initiative as an educative opportunity itself. It is an opportunity for the community to genuinely inquire into, grapple with, critique and imagine alternatives. It is an opportunity to ask: what does the data actually tell us? What does the research not address? And, are there other factors – outside the data or the research – that perhaps ought, nevertheless, to carry more weight in making a decision?


A school that breeds a culture of genuine engagement with ideas, and leaders who genuinely listen to dissenting voices, model something of the kind of democratic education that so many international schools claim to promote. In embracing this culture within the staff, the effects will be felt across the school, including in the classrooms.


So, next time we are tempted to shut down debate by blithely stating “learning is the most important thing” or “the research says”, perhaps it is worth thinking about what this says about our perspective on the role of education.


Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge have all been teachers and leaders in international schools. They now work in the Department of International Education at The Education University of Hong Kong, where they teach and conduct research on critical aspects of international schooling.

The Power of Community and Masterminds – creating connection and empowerment during our world crisis


Becky Carlzon
Co-creator of and


If there’s one thing for sure, our shared recent world crisis has rocked the world. In many ways, this has had devastating consequences – lives have been lost, businesses have crumbled, people have been isolated.


In other ways, we have had to learn to pivot – to think on our feet and think up creative and innovative ways to solve problems; most closely to our hearts as teachers, this has involved developing effective online learning programmes whilst juggling home lives, navigating new technology and, if we’re lucky, getting out of our pyjamas, ready for our 8am maths lesson, trying to maintain the focus of 30 children surrounded by siblings, pets, and, in one of my calls, a feral bat!


Although this has been a challenging process, perhaps there are some gifts too – some silver-linings to the cloud of COVID. For me, one of these gifts has been making space to reimagine.


Here are a few ways I started to reimagine after online learning:


  • I wonder what learnings I can take forward from developing lessons remotely? What new technology can I incorporate? How might I be able to plan for more cross year group learning? How can I deepen relationships with families and therefore impact more on learning?
  • Can we build connection and community, even when isolated in our own homes?
  • Now that we can’t invite in consultants for staff training, how else could we develop effective professional learning opportunities?


It was these final two wonderings, that led me to develop online learning communities and Masterminds. Here were my “what ifs” to make that happen:


  • What if we could create a safe space for hungry-to-learn practitioners to connect?
  • What if we could run regular “Mastermind” sessions where we could troubleshoot best practice together?
  • What if we could collectively write a list of “dream” speakers and co-create questions for them to suit our individual needs and contexts?
  • What if, by doing this, we could connect practitioners, philosophies, curriculums across the globe and, in doing so, open our minds to new possibilities?


Well, that’s just what we did – We built an international community called “Learning Pioneers” committed to learning from and with one another, powered by the world’s learning minds. Since I have worked closely with Professor Guy Claxton, this began as developing our practice in Learning Power. Since then, it has expanded to exploring any ideas and approaches that empower students and ensure learning is meaningful, purposeful and joyful. So far, we have co-created interviews for speakers including Kath Murdoch, Professor Guy Claxton, Trevor MacKenzie, James Nottingham and David Price OBE. We have learned and implemented effective strategies in, amongst others, assessment, learning environments, growth mindset, agency and challenge.


And, now, a year after having got this started, we are really starting to understand the impact of developing a learning community like this. Research into teacher collective efficacy, shows that continuous professional dialogue over time can have a 4-fold impact on learning (Hattie). A GTCE study in 2007 found that effective teacher learning involves sustained interactions and interventions over time, teacher choice and influence over their learning and learning within a collaborative network – turns out, we have all three.


So, now I am wondering:


  • How can I empower others to set up learning communities of their own? Our focus is on the most impactful and meaningful learning. Other communities could be set up around STEM, best use of technology, oracy, inquiry, student agency, SEND provision … The possibilities are endless!
  • How can we go even deeper in our Learning Pioneers community? For example, Dr Kulvarn Atwal, who has a PhD in developing dynamic learning communities, will be an integral part of our learning next year.
  • What would this look like as a whole-school approach to professional learning? Not only are whole schools signing up to Learning Pioneers, but I have developed a new learning community called “PressPlay” with Kym Scott, Early Childhood Consultant, dedicated to supporting and empowering schools to take play beyond Early Years.


And I am wondering about you too.


  • What have your greatest challenges been during our world crisis? Did you get better at overcoming them as time went on?
  • Were there any silver linings to your clouds?
  • What are your thoughts on online learning communities? If you were to set one up, what would you like to investigate and learn about with others? Which speakers would you invite in?!


I would love to hear the answers to these questions! Imagine if we could all connect with like minds across the globe to learn and grow together? We could fire up education and learning from the ground up and, quite frankly, change the world (or at least our part of it!).


You can link with Becky via Twitter @beckycarlzon  and via LinkedIn.


And find out more about her learning communities via:



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Becky is the Co-creator of Learning Pioneers, with a focus to make our classrooms as exciting, impactful and purposeful as possible. You can find out more at

She is also the co-author of Powering Up Children, which is bursting with tips and techniques to get students learning muscles stretching from a young age. The book is designed for busy primary school teachers who want to get started on the LPA journey as well as for those who have already made good progress and are looking for fresh ideas.

Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal


Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting


It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.


Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:


Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.


Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.


Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.


As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Leveraging student voice for a new world


Marta Medved Krajnovic
and Stephen Taylor
Western Academy of Beijing


This article first appeared in the June issue of International School Leader.

At a recently hosted TEDx at Western Academy Beijing (WAB), eight students shared ideas that were informed or inspired by the coronavirus outbreak. Topics ranged from innovation in biotechnology to music production at home, to learn more about what we are as humans and how we react when faced with a global crisis.


Research is confirming that being empowered, having voice and choice, and working together increases not only engagement, motivation and learning, but also student well-being. It is not just special events that create the opportunities for student agency to drive the learning in our schools. That journey of ‘students in the centre’ started at WAB through our founding values and, over time as an International Baccalaureate continuum school, we have incorporated it into all stages of our teaching, learning and school development.


Student voice and choice in daily learning

Even our youngest learners in Elementary have choice and voice, from how they connect with a unit of inquiry to the opportunities to co-create their daily schedule. In Grade 3, students engage with a prompt, “what did I do well this week and what do I need to spend more time on”, and then based on their responses they allocate part of their schedule to focus on this area. In Middle School, our student surveys have become a continuous collaborative effort with the Middle School student council. They work with school leadership to co-create the questions and analyse the results. Questions cover teaching, social-emotional support and inclusion, and the responses inform our planning for the coming year. In the Middle and High Schools, we have a nine-day rotation in our schedule. On Day 9 students have full freedom of choice on how to build the most inspiring and helpful day for them. Choices include academic, social, physical, leadership or creative options. Students also have the opportunity to lead workshops for their peers and teachers. Another example of student agency is Grades 6–9 Maths. During these lessons, students can choose whether they want to work in groups or individually, the space they think is most conducive to learning and whether they would like self- or teacher-directed instruction.


Student voice events at WAB

TEDx is not the only event where students have the opportunity to share their voices. When planning our global conference, students have played an integral role. At the Future of Education Now (FOEN) 2019 conference at WAB, students were supported with a facilitated stream over the three days where they could join workshops and speaker sessions. The conference culminated with a student-led closing keynote where they shared their vision of the future of education.


Student voice in the design of space

As spaces at WAB are changed to better support learning and well-being, so our students have a voice in the design. For their new Middle School playground, the student council surveyed and ran focus groups with fellow students on what they would like. Their feedback resulted in a tailor-made space that is used not only for play but also as a dynamic learning environment.


“We are facing not only a public health emergency with COVID-19, but also an economic and climate emergency… I can’t vote for another five years, and neither can my friends, but my family, teachers and politicians can invite more of us into their conversations about how we envisage our world. So, before you ask us the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” ask us the question, “what kind of world do you want to live in.” We need everyone, adults and children in this fight for a better future and the only way to do that is together.”  – Jeremy. Grade 8 TEDx speaker


“Perseverance has become almost like a ‘hello’ part of our daily conversations. But contrary to its usual connotation, our constant need to persevere has shown us that we can transform it into creativity, wellbeing, and fulfilment. With our speakers and audience spread across the globe last year, we took on the challenge to host an online event. Despite the physical distance, it brought us as an organising team closer, and showed us how we can transform our stress and fear of the unknown into a movement for empowering student voices and learning. We turned our resilience into passion, which has, in turn, become a part of our well-being.” – Katarina. Grade 12 TEDx leader.


In our High School, a Design in Service (DIS) student group has been working with the leadership team to redesign the outdoor spaces of the campus and to purchase new furniture. As part of the refurbishing of the High School, a sample classroom was set up and students and teachers tested furniture and gave feedback. Their feedback was the basis on which the final decisions were made.


Student leadership and voice in strategic planning

In 2016, in the process of creating the WAB 2017–2021 strategic plan and envisaging our innovative education strategy (later named FLOW 21), students across all school sections were already quite articulate about what kind of school experiences they would like to see. They wanted greater control over what, when and how they learned; they wanted their work to be meaningful and relevant, and they wanted passionate and engaged teachers.


Five years down the road, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the complexity, disruption and grief it has brought, we feel an even deeper urge to engage our students in interdisciplinary, transformative, creative and joyful learning that will help them better understand and navigate a complex world. However, isn’t it presumptuous to think that we are the ones who can help students understand the world around them? Maybe they are the ones who can help us understand it better and discover what we need to learn and do to help our students “find their voices to create a world as it could be, should be, might be, what we hope it will and what we hope it won’t be” (Steve Sostak, Inspire Citizens).


Guided by that thought, from being only one of the voices in our strategic planning five years ago, this time around our students are leading WAB 2021 strategic planning and engaging the whole school community – their peers, their teachers, their parents – in designing ‘Portraits of WAB Alumni’. They are change-makers that will leave WAB with a sense of agency and empathy, voice and confidence.


Giving students voice and choice can be uncomfortable as we cannot predict what student voices will raise, what choices they will make, what disruption will happen in some of the ways we approach teaching and learning. Nevertheless, at WAB we firmly believe that the synergy between student agency and our school mission, and our willingness to listen and learn together, are our best guarantee that WAB alumni are future-ready.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic is Head of School and Stephen Taylor is Director of Innovation in Learning and Teaching at Western Academy of Beijing.
Connect with them on LinkedIn: Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic and Stephen Taylor.

Helping Students Find Their GPS; Gifts, Passions, and Sense of Service.

Jade Vidler, Deputy Housemistress, Sotogrande International School.

Helping Students Find Their GPS; Gifts, Passions, and Sense of Service.

In September 2019 we were reminded of the power of children and young people as millions of students forgave their education, using their voices to stand up against climate change. One student, Greta Thunburg, led this specific movement using her own GPS. This is a strong reminder that students already are agents of positive change and their capabilities should not be underestimated.  

Helping pupils find their gifts, passions and sense of service is arguably the most important thing a school can do. Encouraging students to uncover what they are passionate about; what they care about and ultimately how they want to shape their lives leads to well-rounded individuals who are equipped with direction for life post-education. However these factors have to be nurtured; there needs to be time and space for these gifts and passions to emerge, and students need to feel empowered. 

When students realise that their agency is entirely within their own power and not something they are born with or without, and they start to explore it and feel passionate and empowered by it, then the magic can really be unleashed. Poon (2018) in Education Reimagined explained student agency as having four components: 1) setting advantageous goals; 2) initiating action towards these goals; 3) reflecting on and regulating progress towards these goals and 4) a belief in self-efficacy. The fourth element is recognised as underpinning the first three and demonstrates the importance of students’ sense of self belief. This can be facilitated largely by educators as we provide tools for students and prove to them that they can do things and that their actions can make a difference.  


The founding of The Kindred Project 

At Sotogrande International School we strive to empower student agency. In 2010, through a deep process of reflection, we questioned the impact of the funds raised through events and in turn, the learning processes provided for our students. We looked into models that would enhance our social impact, but what intrigued us most was, how this would look if it were completely student-lead? This inspired the birth of The Kindred Project, or ‘KP’ – our student-lead NGO. It has been designed as a guarantor that student-led action has a real positive impact in the communities we work with, creating win-win situations for all involved. KP achieves this by using tried and tested models implemented by international development organizations, which allow for the monitoring of activities and funds, as well as evaluation. This enables action that, as a response to a genuine need, is mindful, appropriate, and sustainable. For our students, it’s all about experiential learning. In line with our partners’ needs, students come up with ideas, projects, inventions and products which help to address social or environmental issues. We then provide the platform for these dreams to become reality through our framework of student entrepreneurship. To deepen the learning and social impact, we offer students the opportunity to make direct connections by participating on incredible expeditions to our partners spanning over 4 continents. 


What does this really look like? 

We facilitate the majority of this learning and many of these experiences through the KP Club. This is an after school club that runs three times a week and currently engages over 70 students. Through structured but flexible and creative systems, students take the lead on all aspects of the projects from the initial ideas, to the running of an event or development of a product.

The students have complete control, coupled with careful guidance, and what they produce is truly outstanding. An example of one project is the Little Suns project, started by Max G, aged 15. Through curricular connections, Max understood that the community of one of our partners in Nabugabo, Uganda, struggle to carry out daily tasks after sunset without electricity. He had the idea to provide solar lamps to the people of Nabugabo. He researched, fundraised and sourced 60 Little Suns solar lamps which he had delivered to our school, ready to be taken on our next expedition to Uganda. These solar lamps were distributed amongst the community. Seeing the huge impact his project had had on people’s lives, Max was inspired to continue raising funds for more lamps and applied to take part in the next expedition to see it first-hand. His reaction on the ground in Uganda was profound and life shaping. However, KP also goes further than KP Club. The values, morals and passion of KP are also sewn into the curriculum at Sotogrande International School. Class projects begin in our youngest years and continue up through the school, with many students focusing their community and personal projects on addressing social and/or environmental issues, giving back to the community and cultural exchanges.  

Expeditions are an essential part of KP as they provide the rawest, realest experiential learning possible. They accommodate the opportunity for experiences of human connection and personal realisation, as well as skill development and intercultural understanding. The expeditions include working with our partners in Spain, Morocco, Uganda and Ecuador, and this summer saw our first expedition to the Himalayas. All of these trips are unique, with an individual sense of purpose that provide life shaping opportunities for our students, as well as the communities we work with.  


What does students finding their own GPS look like? 

For most students, experiential learning is what they remember. It’s most likely through experiential learning that they have their ´lightbulb moment´. It causes them to understand what is important to them, and that alone, can be life shaping. One example of a student experiencing this is Enola G, aged 16, who tells us “Through hands-on work in the community of Nabugabo, I realised that I am driven by helping others, and suddenly my career path became very clear. The day I came back from the trip, I was confident about studying politics and international relations at university, with the intention of making a difference for those who need it the most.” 

Another student, Nele W, aged 17, reflects “this expedition was completely different to anything I have ever experienced before. Following this trip I have come to the conclusion that anyone can make a difference. Over the coming months and years I will always continue to reflect on this journey. I have learned that when you take action by following what you love doing, you really develop a life-long passion.” 

These are just some examples of how students have been personally impacted after finding their GPS through experiential learning on one of our expeditions. Flora S, aged 17, reflects on her work with KP as she prepares to move on to higher education and summarises the importance of giving students opportunities to find their GPS’s. “What I have learnt, and what I continue to learn, can be taken with me wherever I go; it is a gift that I didn’t even realise I was being handed as I embarked on all those years of challenges and adventures. And it is one I will cherish for life.” 


And how can you replicate this in your school? 

There are three main factors in replicating this model within a school; passionate people, human connections and space for student agency. There are passionate people in every school, and bringing them together will help create the right environment for this type of model to flourish. This includes both staff and students.  

Another key factor in making this model sustainable is the human element. Human connection is what really fuels these projects and programs to run successfully. Making the programs real through relationships is invaluable. If this cannot be achieved through partnerships, human connections between staff and students can also evoke emotion. The key emotion to awaken through these projects is empowerment. Once the students feel empowered, their investment in the projects climbs, as does their self-esteem.  

Facilitating space for student agency is also imperative. Having a ‘yes’ culture, which is followed up with assistance, guidance and reflection is where the key lies. Letting them direct the project, event or idea is an essential factor in the development of their sense of agency. Being open-minded and allowing the roles to be reversed to some extent from student to teacher helps the opening up of projects and allows the model to run. The thing to remember above all else is that our youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the changemakers of today. 



Poon, J. (2018). Part 1: What Do You Mean When You Say “Student Agency”? [online] Education Reimagined [Accessed 14th March 2020] 


Jade has worked in Boarding schools for a number of yearsand developed a passion for giving students real-world experiences and helping them to navigate their path in life. She is currently Deputy Housemistress at Sotogrande International School and combines this with working as an Educational Specialist at The Kindred Project. Having been on leadership teams on expeditions to Uganda and Ecuador, and through running the KP Club, she has seen first hand the life-shaping impacts discussed in this article.