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Innovation at the International School of Beijing

By Kate Ferrier
Innovation at the International School of Beijing

The International School of Beijing (ISB) believes that successful organizations are characterized by an ethos of innovation. The school has always aspired to be a forward-thinking learning community, and in 2007 established the “Futures Committee.” This Board sub-committee brought together teachers and board members to look at the future of education and of the school.
In 2009-2010 the Futures Committee expanded, reaching out to parents and students to address broader questions concerning the culture and vision of ISB. This inclusive committee developed the school’s Strategic Plan IV, focusing ISB on the future of education. Strategic teams, consisting of teachers and board members, worked together to identify specific targets to help bring these initiatives to life.
Once Strategic Plan IV had been approved by the Board, the work of the strategic teams was shared with teacher-led Design Teams. Through this model of distributed leadership, the teacher-led teams helped guide professional development to invigorate ISB’s teaching and learning practices.
In January 2014, recommendations from Design Teams brought about the Strategic Initiatives Action Grant, offering funding to support individual or groups of educators in pursuit of innovation.
The Strategic Initiatives Action Grant enables ISB faculty members to explore the interests and passions that stem from and extend beyond their teaching. The criteria for the allocation of the grant are that the proposal moves beyond ISB’s current practices and presents new ways of achieving one or more of the school’s Strategic Initiatives. A committee consisting of two members from each of the Strategic Initiative Design Teams, and a member of the leadership team from each school division are responsible for assessing the grant proposals.
To ensure the alignment of staff professional growth with ISB’s strategic direction, the innovative development strategy must be put into practice with students, and the impact on student learning should be shared with colleagues for the benefit of all students.
One of the projects that has been made possible through the grant is a student-driven educational video, to be used across the curriculum. High school and middle school students at ISB have collaborated to produce “The World is a Stage: Basic Drama Exercises for Our Everyday World.”
Middle school dance and drama teacher Hannah Northcott brought together the Middle School Teen Theater group and the High School Filmism Club to produce a series of short clips that demonstrate 21st century learning skills such as communication, collaboration, and creativity.
“The World is a Stage” was formed and planned as a project-based learning experience. Before embarking on the project, theater students brainstormed ideas about the types of dramatic skills all students can learn from.
Students in Middle School Teen Theater group identified physical theater, vocal technique, biomechanics, and neutral mask work as beneficial and chose to include these elements in the video. These students were not only involved in the conceptualization of the video but were part of the script-writing process and worked together to block the movements for the performance.
Students from the High School Filmism Club constituted the production crew and were responsible for shooting and editing the video. While performing for “The World is a Stage” provided an authentic learning experience for students, it was also designed as a resource for teachers across the curriculum to help integrate movement, vocal technique, and presentation skills into any learning experience.
The Strategic Initiatives Action Grant has sparked some incredibly innovative ideas from ISB faculty members, including proposals to expand robotics learning experiences; to film a documentary in Africa; and to involve students in restoring the ISB greenhouse and garden area as a place of learning, exploration, and problem solving.
The ISB community is not only excited about the future, but is investing in innovation to order to meet it.

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