AmCham Macedonia Winter 2018 (Issue 56) - Page 21

Winter 2018 / Issue 56 During an admission visit to one such school you might hear a well-re- hearsed student guide say – ‘we are a coeducational day school deeply rooted in the liberal arts philosophies, and we nurture experiential learning through constructivist hands-on activities designed to develop the whole child’. Indeed, many schools are quick to point out their prevalent educational beliefs, impressing an instant iden- tity. Does this distinct identity breed homogeneity of educational out- comes over time? In order words, will students and faculty of this particular school self-select and be inculcated in a dominant educational philoso- phy? And if so, is this homogeneity important or even helpful to thriving, increasingly diverse societies? NOVA has existed for some short 20 years, and while premised on many US educational practices, it has enabled very diverse interpretations of what constitutes learning, personal growth, social and emotional wellbe- ing and civic responsibility. The opposite of a school commu- nity which subscribes and maintains a set of distinct educational values, is a school community that over time yields to the majority expecta- tions held by its members, creating an unintended yet equally succinct identity for itself. Until a decade ago, local Mace- donian families were the majority at NOVA. The majoritarian expecta- tions of this demographic oftentimes clashed with the educational prac- tices of many international schools. NOVA was and is resolute in keeping to the broader inter-cultural educa- tion values, above any majoritarian local expectations. And we purposefully nurtured our heterogeneity. We used our com- munity’s diversity, not only diverse in demographics but also diverse in educational expectations, to fos- ter our discourse, and to shape our identity, not as a local or even an international school, but rather as an inter-cultural school, a place of understanding and respect for our similarities and differences. And we have found a way forward without defaulting to any majori- tarian educational beliefs, or even Analysis subscribing to any pre-set pedagogical values. It is quite incredible that many renowned programs such as the International Baccalau- reate, the Advanced Placement, the International Curriculum, and the Common Core can all quite successfully coexist at NOVA to the benefit of our learners. How to decide if your school is a good fit? Many prospective families wonder how to weigh their educational options, without experience or insight into choices that never existed when they were growing up. Luckily, every parent is bestowed a genetically-enabled ability to understand offspring behaviors, easily attesting to one’s own happy and thriving child. The opposite, and not so fortunately is also true, that a parent can quite wrongly attri- bute a number of child struggles to systemic failures. What some effective education systems have done, in the likes of the highly coveted Finnish PK12 system, is to value above all the preconditions of learning, which is essentially the axiom of the happy, healthy and balanced child. If schools are well organized to meet these preconditions, then they are also allowed to design the learn- ing their way, without a prescription by a central authority. It was a common misconception some years ago, during the age of the highly centralized and prescribed educational system in Macedonia, that a learning community which is very nurturing and understanding cannot possibly hold high expectations of its stu- dents. Indeed, exactly the opposite turned out to be true: to rigor- ously demand from students that they take educational risks, you first need them to feel safe and comfortable, to feel welcomed in a place of belonging, and to feel supported. Should these social-emotional conditions be met, then an edu- cation professional can take the learner from this safe zone to the so-called stretch zone of learning, a bit of a grayish and slightly uncomfortable area of learning. This stretch zone is present every time you have a conversation with a group in their own language, a language you haven’t mastered yet; every time you are playing a full- side soccer tournament with more skilled teammates who depend on you; when you give a rehearsed speech in front of an exception- ally large audience; or when you are taking a high stakes math test as the only way to enter your dream school. So yes, not a very com- fortable place, requiring some risky, brave, vulnerable, reflective and critically rich behaviors, but a zone of tremendous learning. Going there is a leap of trust and faith, one which the educator must skillfully develop with the learner. Easier said than done! It is easier to let a child into this stretch zone, but much harder to support the m in finding a coping mech- anism (occasionally needed for both child and parent) and a way out. Holding the learner’s hand might prove a futile exercise in resil- ience; letting them lose may get them terminally discouraged and shut out. A teacher has to lead the learner across this minefield, to be highly aware of the wellbeing of the child, while mindfully plotting bold next steps, coping mechanisms and interventions, and with minimal visibility. Alas, if the teacher exhibits these behaviors, or strives for them, you need not worry about your child, or wonder about the qual- ity of education the school is providing, or its dominant educational philosophy. A school that nurtures in its members such a growth mindset and enables such practices, will be a good fit for anyone’s educational expectation, including yours. The hope is that all parents will ultimately be able to have access to such a place for their family and child. AmCham Macedonia Magazine 21