Putting students in the driving seat of achievement

Barnaby Sandow, principal of Jerudong International School, outlines how his school encourages students to take responsibility for their own progress

It’s a competitive world that we live in and to prepare students to thrive in the future, schools are constantly finding ways to raise the bar of achievement. But when students are already working hard, completing their homework and securing good grades, how can schools inspire them to really reach for the stars?

I think the key is to put the students in control of their achievement.

Knowing your strengths

It may seem an unusual approach, but it is one that is working for us here at Jerudong International School (JIS).

We wanted our motto – Achieving Excellence – to be more than simply words on a crest, so we embedded this ethos throughout the school by introducing self-assessment for the students. The children decide which level of learning is right for them, and which goals they should aim for – and their accuracy on what is appropriate for them has been remarkable.

I saw this in action only the other day, in a badminton lesson, where students selected which court they played on according to their ability in the sport. The students had a clear understanding of which level they had reached, and what they should be aiming for to improve their game.

‘Even for schools with a strong culture of academic attainment, there is much that can be done to help students drive their own achievement.’

Breaking down barriers

Looking around me at our beautiful campus here on the lush island of Borneo, where students from 55 different nationalities learn happily together, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to experience such diversity of culture, tradition and language.

However, one of the key roles for a school like ours is to ensure that language and cultural barriers do not stand in the way of a student achieving their full potential.

We have students who join us with a vast range of language abilities, and English could be their fourth or even fifth language, which can mean that they are initially quiet in class. Similarly, respect is very important to the Asian culture, and some children are reluctant to participate in discussions for fear of contradicting their teacher or classmates.

One way schools can address this is by encouraging students’ engagement and critical thinking by choosing different ways of developing these skills. I witnessed a debate on the question ‘is Batman a superhero?’ with some of our younger students and, as there was no right or wrong answer to the question, I could see that the children’s desire to share their thoughts transcended any worries about their English proficiency or other concerns.

Taking the initiative

Naturally, to encourage each child to reach their goals, schools need an effective way to track individual achievement, and to share this with students. In our case we monitor achievement using our SIMS management information system, which also helps us manage our exciting rewards programme.

It’s so often the case that once children reach Year 8, they start to lose interest in earning merits. But if you put the school’s reward system in the hands of the students, you may be surprised at how innovative they can be.

This happened with us, when our sixth formers proposed a new initiative called polio points. Each time a student performs well at school, they earn a merit in line with one of our school aims. When a full set of each of the six school aims is achieved, students are given a US dollar which goes towards vaccinating a child in the developing world against polio.

Announcing to the students at the end of the year that, as a result of their efforts, they have helped vaccinate 4,600 children against polio, was a proud moment.

Even for schools with a strong culture of academic attainment, there is much that can be done to help students drive their own achievement, and to prepare them for a successful and fulfilling future.

Jerudong School uses the management information system from SIMS Independent to help them drive achievement.

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