Given that schools broadly share a common purpose, it is not surprising that many school missions sound similar. They include many of the same words; problem-solving, collaboration, empowerment, confidence, and creativity. It is sometimes difficult to determine what sets a school apart. What ultimately makes each school unique is how the words in a mission or vision statement are brought to life.
The leadership of the American School of Madrid made two key determinations in developing the plans to make our mission a reality. First, we believe that academic excellence and student accomplishment rests upon a foundation of student well-being. Students need to feel safe, supported, and recognized in order to do the hard work that is necessary to achieve at the highest levels. Secondly, we believe that innovation is the key for students to unlock their futures. They need a mindset and skill set for the future. The world our students will step forward to meet when they graduate will not be the same world that either we or their parents encountered. A recent McKinsey and Company report stated that HR and executives alike consistently cited adaptability as the most desired employee skills. In order to meet the challenges, create the opportunities, and solve the problems in their futures, we need to ensure not only that they have the inquiry, innovation, collaboration, and critical-thinking skills but that they have the determination, perseverance, and optimism to use them to make the world a better place. They will need to adapt to changing circumstances, cope with new stressors, and repurpose systems, resources, and structures to achieve new results. For us, the ability to adapt is the ability to innovate. Where others see dead ends and blockades we want our students to see challenges and opportunities.
What is an Innovative School?
Innovation is not a class or a building. It is not a STEM or STEAM lab or a time in the schedule. Innovation is an approach towards both teaching and learning. Innovation cannot be purchased as a kit or a curriculum. Innovation requires a move away from one-size-fits-all education and a move toward projects, problem-solving, design, and collaboration for a purpose. An innovative school asks why and looks for experiences that will spark and inspire learning. But innovation is not the field trip to the CERN accelerator in IB physics, but the sense of wonder it inspired.
How has ASM built innovation into the fabric of teaching and learning?
At ASM, innovation is an art student in Grade 1 finger mixing oil pastels on the practice page of their art journal to make just the shade of gray they need. Innovation is the digital art student presenting his AI project to the class and explaining the iterative process of prompts that led to his final product and where the idea for a dog burrito had come from. At ASM, innovation takes place during recess as much as it does in the classroom. We have a purpose-designed space for innovative play and have provided professional learning for our recess play facilitators. Our Don Quijote Park is a 4,000-square-meter outdoor maker space with small parts, a messy kitchen, and a water pump to feed a system of lakes, rivers, and canals.
A project in Upper School math highlights how innovation can be built into the curriculum. In a trigonometry unit, ninth-grade students were immersed in a simulation of a real-life rescue mission that allowed them to demonstrate their understanding of trigonometry and how it can be used in real-life situations. Working as part of an American Red Cross emergency rescue team they were put in the situation of getting to an emergency scene, using their knowledge to assess the situation, deciding how to best support the individuals in need. All by using trigonometry to deploy personnel and resources.
To make innovation equally part of our teaching practice, we shifted our professional learning model towards growth. ASM faculty now set inquiry questions to discover how they can increase or improve learning in their classrooms. We have distributed our instructional coaches so that all faculty will go through at least one coaching cycle. Every classroom is now a learning lab and every teacher is engaged in collaborative action research to improve learning. At ASM, we have made innovation part of our teaching and learning DNA.