Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,
Looking back to 2015, it seems a long time ago now that we were starting out on our second year as a school. At that point we had just more than doubled in size, from around 300 students in our first year to about 650 in the second. Near the beginning of that second year, in the early fall of 2015, I wrote a paper for all my colleagues which I called “Challenges and Opportunities at Keystone Academy, Year 2”. I outlined 12 areas where I wished us to place particular focus in that year.
In the introduction to my short paper, I wrote this:
When thinking about the challenges and opportunities facing us at Keystone, I begin immediately with teaching. And so I start by asking a simple question: Why teach?
One reason we teach is that we know how rewarding it is to impact young lives in powerful and productive ways. As I grow older in my career, this becomes more and more obvious to me as the number of past students who reach out to me increases each year. Some contact me regularly. Their appreciation is most gratifying, the more so as it is often unexpected, and sometimes surprising.
Another is that teaching is, put simply, noble work. I quote, as illustration, from a reflective letter that I have just written to my two children, both of whom are setting out on their careers:
….teaching has been enjoyable, productive, rewarding, socially valuable, and sometimes inspiring work. Education is good labor, in so many senses of the word ‘good’.
I repeat these introductory remarks here because, as I continue every year to grow both in and into my profession, I still feel and take joy in that essential goodness of teaching. It is a rare privilege to be a teacher. We appreciate that especially strongly in China.
The 12 areas that I wrote about at that time ranged widely and included, for example, our two languages and bilingualism, accreditation by outside agencies, effective use of meetings, and professional review and growth. Here I wish to share with you in some detail just two from that list.
On Curriculum, I wrote this:
The development, growth, and documentation, of our curriculum is a huge challenge, and a most intriguing opportunity for our teachers and administrators this year. The opportunity stems from the choices that were made about three to four years ago, and that are now coming to fruition. We are combining unusual, perhaps unique, elements and this is demanding, but so exciting.
Before we opened a Beijing office, three substantial curriculum workshops were held in the USA. These were attended by internationally known educators and planners, from China, the USA and elsewhere (some of whom are here in this hall). At these, we decided after wide investigation to choose three international curriculum frameworks as the basic model for Keystone’s academic program. These are the IPC, the IB MYP, and the IB DP. They are all well respected, strong models that nevertheless give us the flexibility to build our own Keystone curriculum. I have been a strong advocate and supporter of the IPC, MYP, and DP from the outset.
Our three keystones all make powerful contributions to enhancing these curricular frameworks. Bilingual immersion brings its own complexities and richness to the classroom. Character and community in a residential setting work together magically, and we are already seeing our residential model, an import, being molded to this context. The Chinese Thread is catching the attention of many, and is becoming a most attractive cloth, quickly.
Add to these Chinese national and other standards, an experiential component, a substantial and varied focus on the arts and design, and it is apparent that we are attempting something big. As well as being big, our curriculum is not singular. The varied aspects that I have just listed make it plural. We are working towards integrating these into a coherent yet multi-faceted curriculum. This plurality inspires our academic work.
And on Pedagogies, I wrote this:
Just as we are developing a curriculum characterized by the plural, not the singular, so we should want to apply the same mode of operation to our teaching styles. I hope that we do not become so orthodox as to have one dominant Keystone ‘house style’ of teaching. It would be much more suitable to our goals, I think, to be able to deploy different pedagogical styles according to the appropriate context, as long as they generate our intended learning outcomes. In this way we can effectively accommodate our students and their differing learning styles.
We all come here with varied teaching experiences, in some cases built up over long and distinguished careers. By all means try here what has worked for you elsewhere. But be flexible enough to realize that it might not work as well here. Even if past strategies do work well here, try out new things. Let’s learn from each other, from the wealth of experience that we represent, and in ways that match the plurality of our curricular ideals.
Plurality is one hallmark of our curriculum and pedagogy or, I should say, our curricula and pedagogies. What we learn and how we teach are deliberately drawn from different traditions. We value different approaches. Our focus is not singular: we avoid the trap of ‘one way, my way’. The plurality we espouse is a cognitive and epistemological equivalent of flexibility and openness, just as singularity can sometimes be the opposite: an equivalent of rigidity and fundamentalism.
In a pandemic period that calls for even greater flexibility than usual, in so many spheres, it is good to remember these aspects of our school. As we all begin to sense new possibilities on the far side of the pandemic, it feels as if many aspects of our lives are in a kind of startup mode again. I felt that way at the start of last week when I saw and felt the joy and the delight of our returning students. What a blessing, and tonic, they are.
I feel strongly that it will be the institutions that maintain flexibility in their futures which will be those that thrive. We have built that spirit into our core.
With warm regards,
Head of School