Tue 11 Nov 2008 5 min read

#1 How do we grow students who are best for the world?

Kai Vacher

The world is facing substantial challenges and opportunities. They are growing daily in number, in scale and in complexity. We need our students to be smarter, more adaptable and better prepared than any that have gone before. How do we develop and nurture students who are best for this rapidly changing world; to help them develop the skills and attitudes they need to steer our world to a brighter future?

How do we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist?

I’ve heard this key question being posed many times over the last decade but rarely have I come across a convincing response. Should we rely on inspection frameworks, examination criteria, government directives, education gurus or business leaders to provide the answer? Or could schools, given the right support and inspiration, find a way to future proof our students so that they are “best for the world” ahead of them?

Searching for inspiration, I started to read “What kind of teaching for what kind of learning” (SSAT 2013) by Professors Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas. In this publication, the first in SSAT’s Redesigning Schooling series, Claxton and Lucas argue that every head teacher should consider the following four questions:

  1. What are, for your school, the desired outcomes for education (DOEs)?
  2. What kinds of learning, in your school, with your students, will deliver your DOEs?
  3. What kinds of teaching will lead to the kind of learning that is needed?
  4. What kind of leadership is required to create the kinds of teaching and learning which are desired, and so ensure that students leave your school with your DOE’s?

Inspired by Claxton and Lucas’s pamphlet and, with a certain amount of trepidation, I decided in 2014 that we needed to address these four questions at British School Muscat as a whole staff. I was fascinated to know where these questions would lead; we might find views so polarised they maybe irreconcilable. However, I firmly believed that, as professionals, we should drive the educational vision for the type of learners we needed to grow, learners who would leave British School Muscat “best for the world”.

Before trying to answer the first question, we considered what the world might be like in the early 2030s, when we expect our Foundation Stage (FS) children to enter the workplace. We studied a report written by Canadian futurologists who had carefully considered what jobs might exist in 2030 that don’t exist now. We learned about “Re-wilders” – scientists who will regenerate decimated ecosystems and “Man-Machine Teaming Managers” – combining the strengths of humans and robots within a team. How could we grow learners that were best for a world inhabited by Re-wilders and Man- Machine Team Managers ?

The discussion started in Spring 2014, gathered pace and energy and didn’t stop until the end of the summer term. “Is the desired outcome of education for our students happiness?” “What is happiness?” “What type of happiness?” “What about well-being?” “Engagement?” “Exams?” “How have other schools, systems and organisations answered this question?” “How about the International Baccalaureate’s Learner Profile?” These were just a few of the questions and lines of enquiry generated by my colleagues.

By the end of the summer term 2014 we had identified three key desired outcomes of education for our British School Muscat students:

  1. Secure Individuals
  2. Resourceful Learners
  3. Respectful Contributors

Under each of these three “headline” desired outcomes of education, there were further attitudes, values and attributes, or ways of behaving, that we had found consensus for amongst our staff.

And so the BSM Learning Ethos was born.

Growing learners who are best for the world

Secure Individuals: Confident, Risk takers, Responsible.

  • Feel safe, supported, valued and are proud of who they are.
  • Feel enabled to take risks and are confident to share their ideas and have these challenged.
  • Take responsibility for their actions and always strive to do better.

Resourceful Learners: Motivated, Curious, Creative, Resilient, Reflective.

  • Are motivated in doing the best that they can by embracing challenge and demonstrating curiosity in the questions they ask and the ideas they explore.
  • Understand that to succeed they must persevere, and to progress they must reflect, and that in doing so will grow from these experiences.

Respectful Contributors: Open minded, Collaborative, Community minded.

  • Value and appreciate the opinions of others, even if they are different from their own.
  • Willingly co-operate and work collaboratively in order to achieve more.
  • Appreciate the world around them and seek to make a positive contribution to their communities.

Since September 2014 the BSM Learning Ethos has been the foundation for all our work, throughout the school, on teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment. We changed our reward system with the BSM Learning Ethos Oryx (The Oryx is the national animal of Oman). We introduced the students to the language and meaning of the BSM Learning Ethos. We created a special version for our very youngest children. BSM Learning Ethos displays appeared all over our school, it became the rationale for our outdoor education programme and now it is driving the redesign of our curriculum and learning; students are exposed to the ethos as part of daily BSM life.

In our 2013 parent survey, pre BSM Learning Ethos, 80% of parents felt we prepared their children for the world ahead, now in 2018 this figure is 93%.

Towards the end of the 2014/15 school year one parent commented to me, “This BSM Learning Ethos is amazing; my child is coming home every evening and can’t stop talking about it.”

The following year I was hearing stories about students’ use of the BSM Learning Ethos in Drama lessons in Year 7:

Student A: “We can’t do this, it’s too difficult.”
Student B: “Of course we can, don't you remember, we are resilient at BSM.”

Every year we survey our staff. Since launching the learning Ethos we have gone from 83% to 99% of staff saying that they are proud to work at BSM and that they look forward to coming to work every day. I think that this is partly down to that fact that we are all clear about our purpose; we are clear about the desired outcomes for education in our school, for our students. And we are proud of our BSM Learning Ethos.

At conferences I still hear that “We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist” but now I feel confident that we, at BSM, have a considered response to this challenge.

Is your school preparing students for jobs that don’t exist? Are you clear about the desired outcomes for education in your school? If not, are you ready to start the conversation? It could be the start of a very exciting learning journey for you and your school community.

It could make a big difference to the lives of students.

Published in:

Teach Middle East Magazine (January 2020)
ECIS Global Insights magazine (April 2019)