While academic studies are essential to a complete education, other elements can be just as important. Staying healthy and active, learning useful social skills, developing personal talents and preferences, gaining experience in planning and leadership, closing our laptops and following our other interests – these are all just as central to personal development as history, math or science.
IB schools such as International School Bangkok (ISB) have significant non-academic requirements precisely because they are so important for leading a balanced life. These requirements put community issues at the forefront, helping students to gain perspective by connecting in a meaningful way with the wider world around them. During the course of these activities, students get firsthand experience in positions of responsibility, where they learn to demonstrate ISB values such as care, integrity, commitment, respect, and courage.
Although often overlooked in many discussions about education and child development, these educational experiences are very often formative. They are also representative of a type of teaching approach that provides a necessary challenge for learners, which differs in a fundamental way from the standard tests that students receive in a classroom setting.
When detailing the differences between ordinary and expert teachers, Hattie makes a key point: “Expert teachers are more likely to set challenging rather than ‘do your best’ goals, they set challenging and not merely time consuming activities, they invite students to engage rather than copy, and they aim to encourage students to share commitment to these challenging goals.”
Such ambitious undertakings require skilled guidance, which is why ISB has teachers like Becky Hansberry – a highly experienced Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) and activity leader for our students. In these roles, she coordinates the high school clubs and service organizations, as well as the CAS program for 11th and 12th graders. When our high school students engage in original and inventive extracurricular activities, or participate in local community projects, chances are that Ms. Hansberry’s influence is closely involved.
Leadership outside the classroom
Ms. Hansberry has been with our Bangkok international school for six years, including three years as a high school science and chemistry teacher. Before arriving, she accumulated a great deal of teaching experience in the United States, Switzerland, Brazil, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.
Since coming to Thailand, she has become very familiar with the local community in Nonthaburi, where she now coordinates projects alongside representatives from service organizations around the school. As a form of experiential learning, service learning immerses students in the surrounding area, helping them understand local issues and participate in special projects that enrich the community.
Often these tasks are carried out by various high school clubs, whose value-driven goals Ms. Hansberry helps to shape and guide. As students become more involved with the local community and its issues, they soon develop a more conscious and humanitarian approach to their surroundings, letting them begin to take a globally-minded view of the world outside.
Through it all, Ms. Hansberry helps students conceptualize the issues that they will engage with, but ultimately it is the students who must learn to lead themselves forward. In such ways, the students learn key lessons about planning and organization through their own efforts (and occasional mistakes). It is important to recognize that every new experience provides an opportunity to learn, and the CAS program is one of ISB’s finest resources for helping students develop a self-managing approach to their own studies and activities.
In his influential study, John Hattie observed that – among other key qualities – expert teachers are able to inspire emotion, monitor student learning, and provide valuable feedback. By taking students out of their comfort zones and getting them involved in other people’s lives in the outside world, Ms. Hansberry’s approach to coordinating high school clubs and service learning projects seems designed for these exact priorities. She helps students develop big hearts and big perspectives, by sending them out into the real world and giving them the freedom to make mistakes.
In practice, students under her care frequently plan events, fundraisers, charity concerts, and service visits. These projects involve working with both adults and children from the community, organizing schedules and transportation, collaborating with theater staff, learning about marketing, fundraising and community outreach. Some of their ideas are so original that they have never been tried before, leading organizational challenges that put their problem-solving skills to the test.
Students at ISB take pride in these tasks because they have imagined them, chosen them, and planned them from the very beginning. This sense of ownership is valuable indeed, and fundamentally different from the relationship learners have with the material they find in their textbooks. Thanks to the encouragement and direction they receive from experienced leaders like Ms. Hansberry, high school students at ISB have a much easier time finding their way in the world – in their academic pursuits as well as their post-graduate lives.