BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
Yesterday at about 9.20 I burst into a year 8 class unannounced followed by a reporter, a camerawoman and other people in tow. The surprised teachers (Mme Leonard and Mr. Williams) took the intrusion in their stride, the students looked a little confused, then as they saw that the camera was out and that they stood a chance of having their photo taken there was a lot of preening and combing and surreptitious mirror checking! The reason for invasion soon became clear to the class and we had some great photos taken. For the previous hour the reporter had been grilling M. Soulard, M. De Surville and myself about the school. At the moment there is clearly a buzz out there about FIS. It seems that the main reason is obviously the brand new campus being built at TKO and there was a lot of talk around that. However, the thing that really piqued the reporters’ interest was when I talked about our service learning programme that we are starting to develop at the school. I was interviewed by another magazine earlier this week and the thing that really attracted her was the fact that we are doing learning without walls and that we were doing many of these projects in Hong Kong.
This week in an assembly, the secondary school launched their CAS (creativity, activity and service) week: week without walls. In it the school presented 5 service learning activities, four of which were based in Hong Kong. In the last edition of the blog I talked about the importance of student well-being and that being a far greater indicator of success in adult life than anything else. One of the key tenets of service learning is that students should participate in it for their personal growth and as a contribution to society. Psychologists have identified these activities as boosting people’s sense of well-being. I love the idea of schooling without walls. The two traditional restraints (time and place) are being eroded, but schools have been slow to adapt to those changes. A student spends around 15% of their year in school. This means that the vast majority of their learning takes place outside school, most notably, the family, the community, with peers and using social media. So learning is available 24/7 in ways that were unthinkable when parents were growing up. The restraint of place is being eroded too. Any definition of an international school, or internationalism is laced with references to international understanding, but importantly should promote immersion experiences in other countries and cultures. So that means by definition leaving the classroom.
Students need to be given a deep understanding of why they should be involved in service learning. It leads to the development of the whole child, beyond the academic learning into applied knowledge and personal conduct. Students need to become involved in service learning to internalise the values of the school and carry them out in real life situations in a profound way service learning is at the heart of what it means to be human. It develops values like humility, empathy, open-mindedness, commitment and leadership. The school has been committed to service learning through the year 12 CAS trip. It is our aim to make the service learning more profound and durable. The school wants to move students on from the ubiquitous bake sale to understanding key reasons for key situations, to awareness raising, but then crucially, action taking. The great thing about service learning too is that it is reciprocal. The positives for the students are multiple, personal growth, long term commitment, respectful attitudes. On the other side of the coin, those directly benefitting from service learning are having the spotlight shone on issues, getting help and support and seeing that in Hong Kong, as someone explained to me, ‘it is not just about privileged kids doing privileged things.’ On a personal note I am looking forward to taking part in this week myself and celebrating it on the final day of the academic year. I would also like to publicly thank Rachel Leonard for the tireless work that she has put in to making this week happen. Thank you!
General information on the different proposed trips / activities can be found here .
Let me say something at the start of this blog entry which is this, a child’s emotional health is the best predictor of whether the adult they will grow into will be satisfied with their life-far more important than their academic achievement. (Lord Darzi 2015)
Does anyone need to read it again? If so, now is the time to do that. People who persevere and work hard are more likely to succeed in a highly dynamic and skill-driven labour market. Those who work hard are more likely to follow healthier lifestyles and remain fit. The evidence surrounding well-being, personal and social health, mindfulness etc is overwhelming. This is not just coming from ‘new-age’ types who have spent too long in California, it is coming from hard edged research from hard edged institutions and individuals.
Approximately one-third of the world’s population is under 18, at least one in ten of those is suffering from a diagnosable mental disease. These children are not just residing in the less economically developed parts of the world but in the more economically developed parts. In other words GDP seems to have little to no impact on happiness. In fact it has been argued that there is a better measure of a country’s world standing by measuring gross national happiness. (HK came in around 72nd place out around 150 countries surveyed!) The UN has these reports over the last 3-4 years as it has become clearer that happiness is a key feature of economic and life success.
Over the last 10-15 years schools have increasingly become exam factories, driven by scared governments, scared parents and ultimately scared teachers and students. Yet the paradox is that happy children do better academically than scared, worried or stressed ones. Great schools have tried to rise to the challenge in terms of academic success. They have made sure that their students had access to the most advanced knowledge and worked hard to strengthen creativity, communication, critical thinking and other key things. However, according to the OECD, the institution responsible for the PISA rankings, the very best schools aim to develop character aspects, such as mindfulness, resilience, courage and grit. A survey of 200 schools that had implemented these programmes found that their academic scores had increased by 10%. Schools like Wellington College under the leadership of Dr Anthony Seldon, introduced well-being classes to address the emotional and spiritual needs of children as well as their intellectual development way back in 2006.
The World Happiness Report has outlined the kinds of things that schools should be doing to help maintain and promote the well-being of the children in their charge. For example each school should have well-being of students as an explicit objective of the school. Schools should measure the well-being of the students regularly and there are some metrics for that. If you treasure it, measure it. There should be a life skills curriculum of at least one hour per week to explicitly teach these skills. All teachers should be trained in promoting and noticing student well-being. At FIS we are have recently undertaken these initiatives and they are all helping to support our students.
A massive word of warning here too. Please don’t confuse determination and resilience as working into the wee small hours and missing out on sleep or adopting bad eating habits. Instead research shows that determined students were more likely to be well-balanced and lead healthy lifestyles and would not miss a night’s sleep to enhance their exam performance. Neuro scientist Christina Hinton, a faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education says: ‘Our results suggest that grit does not require pushing yourself at all costs, but rather cultivating healthy emotional regulation skills and effective learning strategies.’