How The International School of Prague Inspires, Engages & Empowers Learners

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Good schools inspire, engage, and empower learning—and the International School of Prague is a great example. A couple of virtual visits brought to life a coherent learning model around this mission.

Director of Learning R&D, Teresa Belisle, an international educator with experience in France, Thailand, and Mexico, as well as her home state of Minnesota, explained the three elements of the mission:

  • Inspire learners to lead healthy, fulfilling, and purposeful lives, preparing them to adapt and contribute responsibly to our changing world.

  • Engage a diverse community in an authentic global education, within a nurturing student-centered environment.

  • Empower learners to think critically and creatively, work cooperatively and independently, listen and communicate effectively, and act with compassion, integrity, respect, and intercultural understanding.

Belisle said the last five years of work have focused on five principles in the ISP2020 Objective: Unleash our Collective Potential so that our School is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts.

  • Change: we create change that’s bigger than we are.
  • Curiosity: drives what and how we learn. We promote professional curiosity and nurture student curiosity in our culture through voice and choice. This key mindset continues to grow and deepen in our culture.
  • Community: everyone in our community takes active steps to learn with and from each other.
  • Coherence: we’ve explicitly explained what we mean by learning, how great learning best happens, and the key competencies needed for academic and life success.
  • Relevance: individual progress and real-world experiences are at the heart of our learning. Through our feedback we make sure every learner knows where they’re at and how to move forward.

The key to more coherence was working together across levels on fewer strategies. “The way we approached strategy forced greater system coherence across the sections and helped us become more agile,” said Belisle.

The current focal point at ISP is a learner profile including priority skills: communicators, thinkers, team players and change makers.

Learning experiences are designed based on seven thoughtful shared principles (illustrated below):

“Learning is a transformative process that builds on what we know and can do, deepens what we understand, and changes who we are,” as stated in the ISP Definition of Learning.

Established shortly after World War II by the US Embassy, the 900 student P-12 English medium school is located just northwest of downtown Prague and next to Divoká Šárka, a nature reserve where ISP students explore, hike, and ride bicycles.

International School of Prague campus

Board members most appreciate the intentionally diverse student body with learners of 60 nationalities. They also appreciate a culture of care, thoughtful guidance, and rigorous academics.

For 13 years Dr. Arnie Bieber has led ISP, building a team that made it a leader in progressive education. This summer he’ll return home to New York City after teaching and leading in Prague as well as Germany, Romania, and Venezuela.

Respected innovator Dr. Chip Kimball, former superintendent of Lake Washington School District and Singapore American School (see case study and podcast), will take over leadership at ISP in July.

To develop change makers, ISP teachers help students apply their learning in diverse and challenging contexts. In a recent example, ISP staff and students supported Happy Caravan—two schools established to support Syrian refugee children in Greece. For their support of Happy Caravan, ISP was recently recognized with the International Impact Award.

ISP student with Happy Caravan students

“If given the space and pathways to explore, “problem find,” and seek guidance, young people can achieve remarkable things and schools can be places where learning is transformational in their lives,” said Bieber.

ISP is a great example of a progressive international school that engages diverse learners in work that matters. Its coherent learning framework is one that any school could learn from.

For more, see:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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