In our October 2015 issue we interviewed Kiran Bir Sethi, founder and director of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. Sethi is a pioneer in implementing Dr. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory, which suggests that there are eight different kinds of intelligence: musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. We explained Sethi’s “I can” teaching model, based on the Design for Change movement, which empowers students to “be the change they wish to see in the world”, with step by step instructions on how to develop the “I can” attitude in your kids.
Ivy Academy invited Sethi to Beijing as a part of their Ivy Distinguished Speaker Series, to determine how her Design for Change movement and MI applications could be implemented in Ivy Education Group’s culture, and to train Ivy staff on the “I can” teaching methodology. Ivy hosted several training sessions in Beijing after having translated all the teaching and training materials to Chinese. Then, in January 2016, Ivy sent faculty over to Riverside School to observe the Design for Change theory in practice—an experience they found so fruitful that another trip has been planned for this July for a different set of staff to experience.
This year, we followed up with Ja Wuttithamrong from Daystar Academy, part of Ivy Education Group, who visited Riverside School with her colleagues: Ryan Cardwell, Suzy Wang, and He Lixing, to see how their cooperation has progressed, what Ivy has learned from their experience, and how Ivy sees the Design for Change Movement influencing Beijing’s international education community.
Students and teachers are placed on equal ground, and parents and administrators are asked to step back from the picture
A good role model
Ivy Education Group’s purpose in visiting the Riverside School is to understand how the theory of MI and “I can” are implemented in a K-12 school environment, and how it is applied to all channels of communication: between teachers and students, teachers and parents, parents and students. As the Riverside School has been established since 2001, the “I can” attitude is deeply ingrained in the culture of the school. It is included in the pedagogy, visible from the slogans on the walls, and the problem solving attitudes of all students, from the youngest to the eldest. Ivy staff were especially impressed with how the teachers had completely internalized the dialogue, using the Design for Change language even amongst themselves, and how students, regardless of age, also kept to the same language and discipline.
Ivy staff members attribute Riverside School’s success to their “people first” mentality, where firstly students and teachers are placed on equal ground, and secondly, parents and administration are asked to step back from the picture. The importance of having students and teachers on an equal standing becomes apparent when you observe the manner in which teachers speak to their students, how the class is involved in the planning of their day or week, allowing them to critically think about why they need to have certain classes, why certain topics need to be covered in a period of time, and when, if not now, the time can be made up. This type of open conversation breeds independence, develops critical thinking skills, and instills time and organizational skills in students from a young age, which they can further develop into the life skills children need in order to succeed in adulthood.
Administration and parents have to take a backseat at the Riverside School, not because their opinions are not valued, but because the school recognizes that only teachers and students truly know what the class needs to best proceed. Even if parents would like to be more involved, they are requested to abide by the “I can” language in order to foster a better home environment—and who are parents to argue when the school has been awarded numerous awards and their students are outperforming traditional schools academically? No one is complaining at the Riverside School.
Imitation and adaptation in Beijing
Part of what Ivy Education Group plan on mimicking, and have already begun planting the seeds for, are the simple terminology and language utilized in the Design for Change movement, whereby Sethi has used her design background to create user friendly diagrams and learning modules with no traditional academic jargon. This simple terminology is easy to remember, to teach, to model, and to use—which is probably why it can be so easily spread in the Riverside School. An example phrase would be “glad, mad, sad”, wherein children would label their emotions with simple language instead of trying to define the shades of gray in how they feel: do I feel glad, mad, or sad? By identifying their emotions, children are then encouraged to try solving the problem on their own, working out their conflict resolution skills while exploring possible unintended consequences.
“Closing the loop” was a phrase that is heard often at Riverside School, used by students and faculty alike. The phrase is a simplification of the idea of “finishing what you have started”, and can be applied in all aspects. Teachers use it to remind students why they have begun an activity, as a kind of “debrief”, and also as a tool to coax students to finish boring tasks or less-than-exciting projects. Students are also encouraged to “close the loop” in their conversations, to hold up their promises, and to review what they have learned from each experience. “Closing the loop” is an important phrase that soon all Ivy School staff will also find themselves repeating.
Challenges in implementation
Yet of course there are challenges in implementing the Design for Change theory to Ivy Education Group, and in copying Riverside School’s successful culture. To start with, Riverside School is a K-12 private school with English as its main language of instruction, while Ivy Schools are bilingual and tend to follow a half-half schedule, meaning teachers only have half the instruction time of traditional schools. The materials have been translated into Chinese, and both English and Chinese faculty members have begun their training into the program, but the language barrier is only half the challenge when the cultural differences of trainers and teachers surface.
In addition, while Riverside School is a K-12 academy, Ivy Education Group’s schools, including Daystar Academy, only have younger children at present. Perhaps surprisingly though, older students encounter more road blocks in the process compared with younger students who happily adopt the methodology with open minds.
Some Ivy School Kindergartens have already successfully carried out their own “I can” projects, such as the water conservation project headed by Ivy Academy East Lake second graders, or the four year olds who ran a bakery fundraiser, or the students who made and sold soap to promote autism awareness. In each project, students were asked to identify a problem that they would like to solve, to vote on it democratically, and then form an action plan with adult guidance. Each Ivy School class is encouraged to find their own “cause” and project, with the emphasis on organic development, wherein educators foster the natural compassion and empathy children have for each other, others, animals, and the planet earth.
Designing a better future in education
Ivy Education Group has schools in multiple locations, but has begun their Design for Change implementation in their Beijing schools first. Once the “culture” has been successfully tested and adapted in their Beijing school, it can be modeled for other locations. In the meantime, Ivy Schools wishes to serve as a pioneer in the adaptation of a modern, scientifically-backed approach to learning that focuses on student wellbeing—one school at a time.
This article originally appeared on page 32-33 of the 2016 June-July Issue of beijingkids magazine. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Ivy Education Group