When Director Lisa Lyle arrived at ZIS in August 2019, she could not have predicted how momentous 2020 would turn out to be.
Throughout, Lisa has remained resolute in her commitment to “figure out ways to surface our collective yearning for the next evolution of what the school should become”.
In January, the Board-approved strategic plan was launched. It applies a laser-sharp focus on teaching and learning, advancing the ZIS Experience and setting out the vision for the future.
The plan is the result of almost 18 months of work, including broad community consultation and intense planning and feedback processes, and delivers three key ZIS priorities:
- To provide outstanding academic challenge and support for every student;
- To ensure a thriving school culture and community;
- And to empower learners with local impact and global reach.
State-of-the-art campus facilities (on two sites), a robust and sustainable financial model, and transparent, collaborative stakeholder communications will support educators as they deliver excellence, underpinned by ongoing teacher professional development.
“Children benefit most when parents and schools reinforce the same values and standards. Ensuring children develop a strong inner moral compass is vital, and that when things don’t go according to plan, they develop the ability to make sense of that, rebound and move forward”
The new plan also takes into account the fact that, today, ZIS operates in a changed environment – one that brings many benefits. “For instance, the Board decided to consolidate on two campuses going forward which will make us a more coherent community,” says Lisa. “It will enable us to find synergies and create a much more cohesive experience for all our students.”
So, what does this all mean in practice?
First, “academic challenge and support”. As a non-selective school, it is vital to give every student the platform they need to excel, and Lisa is confident that progress will be reflected in results. “As always, academic excellence is our number one focus, so the plan looks particularly closely at challenge and support for each individual student,” she explains. “We are using the full range of data we gather about every student to ensure that they can become their best self and reach their potential, whatever their interest or passion.”
There will also be a greater focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) skills for all students and at all ages – reflecting their vital importance in the modern world. “Real world challenges shape the student experience in and out of the classroom,” Lisa points out. “STEM subjects and skills are at the heart of ensuring our students can approach these problems with confidence and a sophisticated toolbox.”
The second focus is “a thriving school culture and community”. The ZIS character standards – open-mindedness, compassion, fairness, resilience, integrity, playfulness and reflectiveness – are a key element to this approach. Lisa says they will become even more strongly embodied in the school’s daily life.
As a mother of three children as well as an educator, she wants parents to be more involved in that conversation, too, whether informally or via parent education. “Children benefit the most when parents and schools work together and reinforce the same values and standards,” she says. “Ensuring that children develop a strong inner moral compass is vital – that they do what’s right. And that when things don’t go according to plan, we must ensure they develop the ability to make sense of that, rebound and move forward.”
This past year – like no other – has emphasized the need to put a greater focus on social emotional health, and that students need to be equipped with the resilience and flexibility they need to thrive. But Lisa says that even before the pandemic, it was always clear that character and wellbeing were a central element of the school’s ethos, and that every member of the community should feel known and valued.
The third pillar – “local impact and global reach” – puts emphasis on creating individuals who can be world citizens, while feeling at home in Switzerland. She points to the development of German language teaching across the school as a great practical example of ensuring students can integrate in the local community.
“I have a deep love of languages and know how important it is to integrate their learning and teaching. We are monitoring students so that we can ensure they make the progress that we – and they – expect. So, we are taking a new approach, starting in the Lower School by increasing integration of German into music and PE classes and a range of co-curricular activities, and ending with graduating students who can achieve a bilingual International Baccalaureate Diploma.”
ZIS is also preparing to launch a new bilingual programme, with the approval of the authorities, starting with Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten in August and growing to include Grade 6.
Lisa is also looking forward to exploring more opportunities for students both locally and globally, working with ZIS’s corporate partners, NGOs and universities, while also enhancing the school’s best-in-class co-curricular offerings. Parents want their children to grow as whole people, she points out, and not just because universities regard this favorably. Students need a deep understanding of core global issues and a responsible mindset with a focus on sustainability, equity and inclusion.
“As parents, we want our kids to be aware of the needs of people around them and to be compassionate,” she says. “We have a deep commitment to community, the appreciation of each individual child, and the safeguarding of the experience of being a child. Yet at the same time, we are committed to preparing that child to be a confident participant in the global community.”
The widespread consultation about the plan has also enabled all members of the ZIS community to share what they love about the school, and for parents, in particular, to articulate their most deeply held hopes and dreams for their children. For some, that may include Oxbridge or an Ivy League school. But it is important to remember, as Lisa notes, that ZIS parents’ aspirations are broad, not narrow. “The ZIS vision calls for all students to ‘join and strengthen a global community of citizens, determined to make a difference to the organizations and communities in which they work and live’ and to ‘develop the intellect, skills and character to become caring individuals and adaptable and independent thinkers’.”
“A strategic plan like this is a gift. It allows everyone – students, parents, the leadership team, employees, the Board and alumni – to engage in conversations, to talk about what they care about and what they love”
Indeed, ZIS plans to continue the ongoing community conversations, individual interviews and stakeholder surveys that have led to the launch of the plan. “I’m extremely grateful to the Board and the wider community for all their efforts to get us to this point, and I’m committed to measuring our success and feeding that back to everyone. That’s because a strategic plan like this is a gift. It allows everyone – students, parents, the leadership team, employees, the Board and alumni – to engage in conversations, to talk about what they care about and what they love,” she says.
“We have developed specific goals and key initiatives and will be implementing these over the next five years, and we will begin to see some immediate effects in the everyday life of the school. In addition, we will share progress regularly.”
The history of the school shows that it has always been at the forefront of educating students for an ever-changing world, and the strategy ensures it will continue with this tradition. Much of the time, parents, teachers and students want the same things, Lisa points out: her job is to find a way to achieve them. “We want children to have academic knowledge and skills, curiosity about and understanding of the world, and passion that will drive them to have a positive impact. The plan will support us in aligning our efforts to ensure that we get where we want to go, measuring our progress every step of the way.”
Academic challenge and support for each student
We will provide an education for tomorrow's opportunities. We pledge to deliver outstanding teaching, led by well-supported teachers. We will provide clearly-defined academic and co-curricular activities, with a strong focus on STEM. And we will draw from data and other insights to ensure that every student's education builds on their unique potential.
Thriving school culture and community
We will provide an education that builds on who they are, as well as what they know. We will ensure that every student understands the importance of good values, and the power they hold to make the world better. And we will ensure that ZIS supports every child's social, emotional and mental well-being throughout their journey with us.
Local impact and global reach
We will develop true global citizens, who recognize the value of their local community. ZIS students will be open to different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. They will understand the importance of inclusion and equity. And - through our excellent German pathways and our local connections - we will help students to develop a bond with their community, as well as a desire to support it.
Enabling the ZIS Experience:
A sustainable financial model
While we are a non-profit organzation, we will maintain a business mindset. We will ensure that ZIS manages its budget in a rigorous yet responsible way, with an approach to student enrolment, retention and staffing that sets the school up for growth and success.
Transparent, collaborative stakeholder communications
Our community plays a vital role in who we are. We will use all relevant channels to communicate, and welcome regular input from all constituents. We will also work to instil a sense of pride in being part of these discussions, with a particular focus on advocacy and philanthropy
Excellent campus facilities on two sites
A 21st-century education requires 21st-century facilities. The two-hub model, with the new Middle School a central feature, will enable us to deliver a more inspiring environment, and a more connected community.