Back to the classroom
By Jessica Thompson, Newswire and Nick Yates, ISB Communications
At the International School of Beijing (ISB), learning is not just for students. Through ISB’s Parent Education Series, family members can pick up some of the same knowledge and skills as their children and also understand some of the rationale behind how ISB teaches.
In this series of talks and workshops, which is about to launch for 2019-2020 after a successful first year in 2018-2019, members of the ISB community are invited to hear from experts from within and outside the school. The series explores the careful thinking that goes into ISB’s programs – the curriculum is regularly assessed and updated to remain based on best practice and latest research in pedagogy.
ISB families are encouraged to invest in what their children are learning, and the school aims to foster a sense of community that extends beyond the campus.
“Our parents are curious about what the school does and why we do it,” said Stacy Stephens, who helped launch the Parent Education Series as ISB’s Director of Learning and Strategic Planning.
Visiting experts have included Kevin Hawkins, who advises schools on best practice in social and emotional learning and mindfulness
ISB’s practices and readiness to modernize make schooling in this corner of Beijing very different from what older generations may have experienced elsewhere. According to Stephens, partnered with parents’ curiosity is a certain degree of trepidation.
People may instinctively be conservative when it comes to schooling. “That’s why the Parent Education Series is so important,” Stephens said. “One of our strategic initiatives is to unite the community, [partly so] we can support people understanding why we make the choices we make at the school.”
The series involves hands-on workshops as well as seminar-style sessions with a presenter. ISB recruits the most qualified, experienced, and passionate teachers, so the school’s full-time senior staff are in a good position to present. The presenters may likewise be visiting experts – also brought in as consultants to work with staff – who tend to have backgrounds in educational theory, and who are asked to explain what the research suggests is the best way for students to learn in their subject. There is time for parents to ask questions at the end in case they need further clarification.
ISB parent Christine Ren has been to several talks. “They’re useful because they give us good exposure,” she said. “Parents are also learning in the international school environment.”
Pace of change
This learning for parents can be a bit harder at ISB.
“We are a very progressive school,” Stephens said. “I always tell parents, ‘If we look the same in five years, we’re actually not doing our job because we’re not taking on new research and new learning. This is a school and good schools are defined by change.’”
According to Ren, the Parent Education Series helps the community understand this change as it happens. “It’s very beneficial for us as parents to look at things not just from the perspective of how we grew up, but from the point of view of advanced research into how to educate children. We come from a traditional Chinese family and therefore how to educate our kids in an international environment is a new challenge.”
ISB put on dozens of workshops in 2018-2019, and there were many standouts.
“We had a speaker who talked about the lack of women in the STEM field and explored where that comes from,” Stephens said. “The workshop was about helping parents understand some of the program changes in science.”
Recently, ISB made changes to the curriculum which guaranteed grades 9 and 10 take biology, chemistry, and physics.
According to Stephens, this was one of the biggest programmatic changes ISB has made during her time at the school and not all parents understood why it occurred. She witnessed parents who attended this workshop experience an “aha” moment as the consultant spoke.
“At ISB, we’re making decisions so that our kids have options and pathways,” Stephens said. “This program change is a decision based on equity and access.”
Tanya Crossman comes to ISB to advise on what it means to grow up cross-culturally
When asked for her most memorable workshop, Ren stressed how much she learned from one on mindfulness. She said, “Mindfulness was really interesting because we need to think about our kids not just in the academic environment; we need to think about them psychologically and how they think about the world.”
The workshop explored what parents can do to help healthy emotional growth in their children.
“If we are aware of these things and apply them while we’re at home, we’re in sync with the school,” Ren said. “If you can synchronize, that’s the best thing for the healthy growth of your children.”
The Parent Education Series bridges any gaps that may exist between the school and parents by providing transparency.
“Having a parent education series is an opportunity to build trust in the community because of the information we’re sharing,” Stephens said. “They can trust our decisions because we’re sharing with them what we’re learning, what the research says, and why we’re doing it.”
Any ISB community members interested in attending the Parent Education Series can click here for information and to sign up for upcoming talks and workshops.
ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.