School Voices: Making the World a Safer, More Empathetic Place
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Darren Nicholas
Head of School
British International School of Boston

This week’s School Voice belongs to Darren Nicholas, Head of School at the British International School of Boston. The BISB is a Nord Anglia Education School that enrolls 450 students from preschool to high school.

A happy child is more likely to be a productive child. We believe that children and young people should enjoy their education. By treating students with respect, we develop better relationships and thus enable better learning. By offering a nurturing environment, we help to ensure that every individual can make progress. 

Being a school of 450 students means that we get to know the students and parents exceptionally well. All of the teachers know all of the students, and we all know each other across grade levels. We have 82 different heritages in our school, but we are one body making the world a safer, more empathetic place to be. 

Personalizing Education

We say we have 450 curricula. We run a fundamental British curriculum, but we are able to incorporate the best of international curricula throughout to create an exceptional and bespoke education, with an IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) for the first two years of high school and an IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma for the last two. It is differentiated and personalized for each of our 450 students. Students work in pods or individually and do very different pieces of work based on their strengths and what they need to develop. I teach math and know the math curriculum throughout the whole school. If I have an 11-year-old who’s struggling, I can spiral back to the concepts they are struggling with. On the other hand, we have some math students who are in grade 6 and doing 8th-grade lessons upwards.  

All our lessons are built upon each other, interwoven. For example, the English department knows what the history department is teaching, and the history department knows what the English department is teaching, so we explicitly merge them. We do the same throughout all subjects, as we believe disciplines should not be mutually exclusive.  

The Correct College for the Individual

We start the process of explicitly preparing our students for college as early as grade 6, where we start focusing on the skills they will require to be successful in college. This ranges from the academic to the cooking, cleaning, and finances they will be undertaking. Everything our teachers deliver relates directly to skills young people need to be successful in adult life. We focus on the skills that we know our students require for the 21st-century world and spiral the acquisition of these skills from our youngest to our oldest grades. 

Our focus is very much on what is the correct college for the individual. For some, it is an Ivy League school, but for others, it could be a small liberal arts college. Our students attend a wide range of colleges and universities both in the US and internationally after they graduate. We measure our success by the fact that every student from BISB has successfully graduated from the college they first attended. We believe this to be a tremendous achievement.

Activities That Push Students Out of Their Comfort Zones

There is no limit to what a student can achieve. Every student can succeed if we provide the right opportunities through which they can achieve a sense of positive self-worth. We have a moral obligation to stand by and promote acceptable behavior and worthwhile activities. 

We try to give a broad opportunity for everyone to participate in extracurriculars. I’ve been at the school for four years now, and since I’ve come, we’ve really pushed Model UN, we’ve started working with Knovva around the Model G20 Summit, and we’ve started a debate club. What we’re looking for are those activities that take the students out of their comfort zones. We’re really trying to push those boundaries to get students outside of the classroom and honing the skills they’ve learned inside the classroom by putting them into practice. Creativity and challenge help us get better every day.      

What Education Should Be

Education has a competitive element, especially in America. And yet, in jobs now, there is a need for cooperation and collaboration. And that’s a hard change that requires a fundamental shift. To us, education needs to be holistic. At Model G20 last year, one of the most valuable skills students learned were soft skills. Model G20 pushes down boundaries around culture and race that should never have been there in the first place. It’s fantastic and it’s what education should be.

The students came from different places, yet they could communicate and become best friends the way teenagers often do . When I was young, it was a pen pal with a letter every four weeks. 

The reason I love working with Knovva is that the next stage is for students to understand why they are learning. We put them into real-life situations. We want our students to experience what future lives will be like. Model G20 is excellent because it creates a scenario in which they can understand how their skills are transferable not only between classes but in their careers as well. 

A Global Perspective 

Being part of Nord Anglia Education with 66 schools worldwide means that every day our students gain an international perspective. The Global Campus is an online platform for students to communicate, share ideas, and practice with Nord Anglia students anywhere in the world. The Global Campus is totally integrated into our schools, and the lessons follow a similar standard curriculum around the world. We can share our ideas about sustainability with someone in India, Indonesia, or Poland. It’s very exciting to be able to communicate worldwide. For example, yesterday I spoke with a colleague in Singapore who was working on something I wanted to learn more about.  

We do not have tokenistic attempts to look at important topics such as race. At Nord Anglia, we make these topics integral to the curriculum, and the Global Campus helps us keep a globalized perspective. We have a very clear focus on our responsibilities as citizens of the world. Our students understand how the transferable skills they are gaining are important wherever they may live. 

Please come along and see us in person when you’re in Boston. We are constantly striving to be the best school we can be, and part of this is being open to all feedback. We are ambitious for our students and our school.

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