1500 students, 1500 ways of being intelligent

As I wrap up my time here at the International School of Brussels I can’t help but think about the students that get an opportunity to go to such an amazing school.

I had the pleasure of sitting last night and reflecting on my time here as I watched my first American Football game in over 8 years. I’m proud to say that ISB beat SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) and the hamburgers grilled up by the head of school (Link to his new blog) were fantastic. For a moment I felt like I could have been in any small town in the heart of American enjoying Friday night football. As I sat there in the crisp fall air the memories of my own high school days of Friday night football games came back. Sports were the reason I went to school, they were the only reason why I tried to pass classes. You had to have a 2.0 GPA in order to play and, well, lets just say I did pull at least that…..most the time. Motivation to do well comes from many different sources for kids. For some it’s sports, for others it might be band or theater, and yet for others it’s school itself that motivates them to do well. But understanding that each student is unique in what they are passionate about and what motivates them to do well is what every school, teacher, educator should strive to become.

ISB is a unique school internationally. While most large international schools have rigorous entrance exams ISB-Brussels has taken a different approach…..one of inclusion.

As their Impressions brochure states:

1500 students, ages 2 1/2 to 19, from 70 countries. Each with his or her own learning style, skills, interests, passions, personality,hopes and dreams, 1500 students, 1500 ways of being intelligent.

My favorite conversations of the week revolved around this idea that every student is unique and with that we need to find unique ways to reach each one of them. ISB is a 1:1 school from 3rd-12th grade. Two years ago they took the plunge, with little to no known research backing 1:1 laptops programs in the elementary school. But it doesn’t take long to get a feeling that at this school it’s students that matter. That if there is a way that putting a laptop in the hands of every child might help….then they were going to do what was best for kids. Research or no research they had a gut feeling that computers at all levels could help students learn.

Many conversations revolved around the whole child and the whole class. Not every student is a reader, not every student is engaged by technology, and that’s OK. How can we put the tools in the hands of teachers and give them the opportunity to use them where and when appropriate.

It’s what many of us have been saying for years. That the technology is just a tool that can lead to learning, when you have as many computers as pencils in your classroom it makes it easy to choose the right tool for the lesson. My message to the people that attended my sessions was start with the learning outcomes and see where it all fits. Where do you write with a pencil, where do you watch a video, where do you interact with digital media, where do you create content for the world, and how do you meet the needs of each of your students?

You could feel a culture within the school (mostly around the heated passionate discussions in some of my sessions) that ISB is not a school that is going to find research and then react…..instead they are out there creating the research themselves. They’ve been 1:1 in the elementary school for two years now and are starting to collect some data around learning. What I love is that their first round of student tablets are about ready to be replaced and the school is asking itself what’s next? Are tables the best tool? Is there something better? Where do we go from here?

When you are a school, as the slideshow says above, believes in innovation, innovation, innovation, it means celebrating your successes and learning from your failures. The school is not perfect, they know that, and in this day in age we all feel like we have a lot to learn and that we will never be able to learn it all. That’s a mindset I believe many people feel with the pace of change today. As some point we need to stop trying to learn it all and learn how to learn what we need when we need it. In my session on Digital Literacy we only made it through 3 of the 10 slides I had. The conversation was intense and passionate, as we tried to answer the questions:

What is the role of a teacher is today?

How is technology changing that role?

What does it mean to be literate and how do we teach that in all subjects to students?

It was a great session (I thought anyway) that allowed people to share what they felt it meant to be a teacher, something I think we do not get enough time to discuss within our schools.

At the end of the day if you are a school that believes in innovation, innovation, innovation and that through being innovative you can reach each child and give them “multiple opportunities to success” then you are a school on your way to truly changing the world.