Jeff Paulson on...

Learning First

Read Voices Spring 2016 full edition

“I want our kids to feel that, when it comes to learning, there is nothing they can’t do.

I have always been very ambitious for our students. I take great pride in the fact that whether they go on to become engineers or artists, lawyers or musicians – or a bit of both – our students and alumni go out into the world and excel. For me, educational excellence is not just about what you learn, but how you learn. I want our kids to feel that, when it comes to learning, there is nothing they can’t do; that education is not something you just do passively, but becomes part of your very fiber and has the power to transform who you are. 

And it is that goal – to deliver an education and curriculum that has the flexibility to go above and beyond – that drives our move to a whole-school curriculum called the Learning First Framework (LFF), which will be formally introduced for 2016/17. 

So what will the changes mean for students? First off, the Lower School will transition away from the Primary Years Programme (PYP), but curriculum contents – what we actually teach – will remain the same, as today, under the direction of ZIS’s curriculum steering group. Where students will notice a change, however, is a consistency of language. Students transitioning from Lower to Middle School and from Middle to Upper School will find that teachers will talk about their learning – and their expectations – using the same standards. That means that right through the school we will be focused on how academic, social, emotional and physical development work in tandem to support the success of the whole child. 

Second, in line with our Learning First ethos, we will be able to increase the number of units devoted to core subjects in the Lower School, such as math and English, in response to students’ own interests and ability. Third, the new framework enables us to talk about learning in terms of competence, concept and - what is missing from the current PYP framework - character. That means as well as talking about results and content, we will be talking about how your character is key to becoming a successful learner. Every single one of our kids will be having conversations about their own development goals in terms that take in all the facets of learning. 

I am thrilled to say that yet again, our external exam results are, without exception, well above the world average and that the International Schools' Assessment put our results well above other international schools. However, excellence is not something you do once and forget about. Our leadership team, faculty and staff are constantly striving to do more and to do better: the LFF is one product of this ongoing process. 

So how has the new framework been developed? We have been working on LFF with partner international schools for a number of years, as members of the Common Ground Collaborative, a network of leading international schools. Naturally, as the oldest accredited school in Switzerland, the framework is supported by our accreditation agency, and is being delivered in tandem with other international schools. And should your child need to transfer to another international school, the framework is transferable. 

Teachers from other schools sometimes express surprise when I say that at ZIS we strive to ensure that every child is on their own learning pathway – they know the level of commitment and work that is required from staff to deliver on that ambition. But from this August, your child’s teachers will be having highly personalized conversations about their learning goals and what is expected of them. I can’t wait to speak to you about the results. 

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