Can There Be Too Much Success?
When I meet with politicians, leaders from other schools, and sometimes even parents, I often hear this question: How can you aim for a 100% success rate at MIS?
In many school systems, including in the German public school system, the schools see themselves as places where young people get judged, sorted, and labeled. Some graduates with the German Abitur are proud of their achievement not because they participated in an enriching and rewarding learning experience, but because they survived in a system that is designed to weed out the weak and test the strong. A politician with whom I recently spoke suggested that a 100% success rate at MIS (in most years nearly 100% of our graduating class achieves the full IB Diploma) is an indication that we are not setting the bar high enough. If the programme is demanding, he contended, then surely a significant proportion of students must fail.
In order to understand our mission to support all of our students to succeed, I think that these educators, leaders, and politicians would have to see education through a completely different lens. Our lens is one that intentionally seeks to help students identify their strengths and find success in learning. At MIS, our learning culture is focused on creating the conditions for each student to develop their talents and passions. We do this while simultaneously fostering their confidence and competencies in areas of learning that require more effort and emotional resilience to master. This looks different for every learner, but the result is the same: every learner at MIS can and will have the opportunity and the tools to achieve their personal best.
So how do we do that?
Rigorous, Relevant, and Emotionally Engaging
Our curriculum and teaching at MIS are increasingly effective because we ensure that they are rigorous, relevant, and emotionally engaging. There is significant research that suggests that school curricula that embody these three characteristics are highly motivating and lead to much higher levels of student success (Sheningen, Chptr 5). When the learning is rigorous (challenging and, for example, demanding thinking on the upper end of Bloom's Taxonomy), relevant (related to the child's interests and to the real world around them), and emotionally engaging (tied to issues and topics that matter and have importance to the students), then students are much more likely to apply themselves and find ways to succeed. They are much more likely to seek help from teachers, to collaborate with peers and near-peers, and to commit what they learn to their enduring repertoire of strategies and knowledge.
When learning experiences are rigorous, relevant, and emotionally engaging, they appeal to students' innate desire to learn. We truly believe that students WANT to be creative, to collaborate, to utilize technology to extend their learning, to connect with peers and with experts both near and far, to understand and make use of complex concepts and theories, and to solve real-world problems. Educating the leaders of our future means that we must break from the traditional model of schooling that values compliance and standardisation. We have the responsibility to model a new definition of success for young people; one that is personalised, untethered to conventional beliefs about achievement, and one that will prepare them for the unimaginable challenges and complexities that our shared future certainly holds.
From Pedagogy to Heutagogy
Today's more evolved vision for student learning is truly a new paradigm. We used to speak only of "pedagogy", which is a model in which a knowing teacher passes along his or her knowledge to an unknowing student. In a world in which knowledge used to be hard to find, that model was a relevant (to a degree) and acceptable format for schooling. In today's world, in which knowledge and information are ubiquitous, pedagogy is often no longer the most effective model for student-teacher interaction.
Heutagogy is a model in which teachers are facilitators of student exploration and research. In the heutagogical approach, teachers coach students and support them in applying a wide range of tools and approaches to investigate and research topics and concepts that are relevant, rooted in students' experiences, and likely to lead to more autonomous and self-directed learning in the future. At the heart of heutagogy are the so-called Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills from the IB. Heutagogical methods ensure that students understand how to learn effectively and how to apply research, experimentation, and critical thinking skills to contexts beyond the current topic of inquiry.
Every Child Can Learn and Succeed
Can MIS guarantee that every student at our school will achieve an IB Diploma? No, of course not. But what we can guarantee is that we will seek to employ rigor, relevance, and emotional engagement to support every one of our learners to achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves and for their future. We will seek to awaken their natural drive to learn and instill them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make the most of their innate talents and gifts. We have no expectation that even 1% of our students must fail. Much to the contrary, we rejoice when we can celebrate a 100% success rate. And beyond a very high proportion of students who achieve their desired educational qualification, we are thrilled when we can support each student to surpass any expectation that they, themselves, or others may have had for them. We celebrated in 2019 when over 20% of the MIS class of 2019 scored 40+ points in the IB Diploma, and when several of them gained admission to some of the world's most selective universities. But success looks different for each child. We are just as proud when we can nurture a student who has struggled in their educational journey to achieve 24 points and an IB Diploma that they thought was out-of-reach as we are when we challenge a highly-able student to complete a perfect 45-point Diploma. The MIS lens looks for strengths, seeks to capitalise on them, and helps students connect them to the real world, their interests, and their likely futures. Our job is not to find and reinforce the limits to students' learning. Our job is to help them overcome the limits that they might perceive.
So we will continue to pursue a 100% success rate at MIS. We have no interest in manufacturing failure so that our programmes will seem more demanding. The IB's programmes are highly demanding. They require students to operate at the highest levels of Bloom's taxonomy, and they fulfill the requirements of even the world's most discerning universities and government agencies. And our job at MIS is to nurture, challenge, and inspire every student through rigor, relevance, and emotional engagement. It is our commitment. And it is our business model.
Head of School
Sheningen, Eric. Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, 2nd Edition. International Center for Leadership in Education. Thousand Oaks, USA. Corwin Press, 2019. Print.