Celebrating teaching and learning in international schools
By Helen Wright

One of the joys of being a judge at the International School Awards is seeing the sheer breadth and quality of the teaching and learning initiatives submitted each year for scrutiny by the judging panel. The submissions made in other categories are, of course, equally exciting and interesting, and are a testimony to the amazing work that is going on in international schools across the world. But there is something very special about the teaching and learning initiatives that speaks to the soul of the educator. Most probably this is because teaching and learning sits at the heart of all great schools, and on the evidence of the range of this year’s entries, international schools can justifiably claim to be at the vanguard of educational development worldwide.


Initiatives that stand apart

This year’s shortlisted schools demonstrated clearly a wide range of teaching and learning initiatives. The Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill described the development of a robust remote learning and teaching platform to support student learning when the school facilities were unavailable. GEMS Wellington International School, meanwhile, wrote passionately about the development of a student-led mentorship programme, Experience2Develop, initiated and run by Year 12 students to help their peers in Year 11 prepare effectively for their public examinations. And Horizon English School explored how they had used an existing system in the school – the coaching and mentoring system – more actively and agilely, to identify and respond to a change (a move towards interdisciplinary study) that had been highlighted and requested by the students themselves. Another very good initiative from the Canadian International School Singapore set out the steps they had taken to affect a whole school restructure of English language learning to include bilingual and multilingual practices, and a move away from an ‘English deficit’ model, which they felt did not embrace what true language learning was for.


This year’s winner, Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, outlined an ambitious approach to project-based learning to which several hours a week were devoted, which was led by students outside the classroom, with a range of partners, tackling real-life problems very relevant to Qatar. It was inspiring.

Celebrating and sharing innovative practice

From student-led to teacher-inspired projects, from small schools to large, from East to West, and from early years to pre-university, the scope of the submissions for this category of the awards over the past couple of years has been breathtaking – and rightly so. Schools can and should be hotbeds of innovation, and if one of the primary goals of the awards – to share and inspire great practice in international schools – is to be fulfilled, then schools need to be prepared to identify and then celebrate their own innovative practice.


All too often, schools take for granted what they do, or assume that every other school does the same; in truth, every school is unique, with particular and individual circumstances, and carefully crafted solutions to everyday issues. An initiative highlighted by one school may not fit precisely the needs of another, but what it will do is stimulate thought, embolden ideas, and sometimes even demonstrate that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible, if only enough educators set their mind to it.


Towards success

So… a New Year’s resolution that is worth setting (and keeping) in school this year is to consider carefully what is happening in school to advance teaching and learning, and to prepare a submission for the International School Awards for 2021. To help you, reflect on these key guidelines that have been suggested by the judges:


  • What makes your teaching and learning initiative creative and original? Reflect on this and work out why. What were the unique circumstances that you are addressing through this initiative?

  • What impact has the initiative had? This is really important, as the judges – and other schools – will want to see that it has worked, and the more data or evidence you can provide, the better.

  • What do your students think about the teaching and learning initiative? Incorporate student voices into the creation of, and feedback on, your initiative, and you are far more likely to ensure that it is effective. 

  • How sustainable is the initiative? How embedded has it become in the curriculum or programmes of the school? Let us know that you know that it will last.


Finally, telling the story of the initiative – how it came about and why – is important because it takes readers of the submission through the process that you went through when you created it. This is important for judges, of course, but even more important for other schools, so they can understand, appreciate and relate to your journey as they seek to apply the initiative themselves.


Great schools have a responsibility to share with others. Together, we all win; make 2020 the year when you share, too.

Dr Helen Wright is one of the judges at the International School Awards. A former head, she now works predominantly in international education as a board director, adviser and executive coach to senior leaders. She is the author of The Globally Competent School: a manual. Connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drhelenwright/

©2020 International School Leader