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Reimagining School Together with ISS CHALLENGES: What Practices Should Carry Forward from Online Lea

By John Burns, ISS Chief Innovation Officer

COVID-19 has forced schools to rethink how they operate, educators to re-imagine their practice, and students to adapt and learn in new ways. Although this pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for schools, it is also an opportunity that enables us to reimagine and reinvent schools in ways never seen before.

To scale these great practices, we recently opened our innovation management platform, ISS CHALLENGES, to educators around the globe. At its core, ISS CHALLENGES allows us to pose questions and then crowdsource ideas from the wider community. Our first external challenge asked educators around the globe to reflect on the question, “What new practices should schools keep or implement as a result of our experience with online learning?”

The response was tremendous. Not only did educators submit a plethora of fantastic ideas, but they also supported others in further developing their thinking. Many ideas were moved through the innovation pipeline to become scalable initiatives. In the end, seven winners were announced.

Perhaps even more interestingly, across the many entries, six broad themes emerged. Here are the six action items that all schools should continue to engage with going forward.

Parental engagement

Many schools reported a significant increase in parent engagement during this period due to accessible technology and efforts to create learning partnerships. Suggestions included:

  1. Giving parents the option of online or in person student led conferences

  2. Regularly inviting parents to virtually join the classroom as subject matter experts or learning support staff

Learner agency

Learning at home has shown the importance of making time for students to asynchronously work on projects of interest to them and for all members of the community to share their passions. Ideas included:

  1. Dedicating a significant block of time every week to a student passion project

  2. Providing an a-la-carte list of STEAM, SDG or other focused challenges for students to pick and choose from

Authentic learning

Online learning demonstrated the ease and power of using technology to bring the world into classes and open classes up to the world. Suggestions included:

  1. Participating in virtual field trips which are abundant and free online

  2. Using learning portfolios to showcase what students know and do and encourage discourse with the wider community

Low-tech, sustainable solutions

Not everything needs to be online. Educators discovered that some of the most meaningful learning happens off-line and beyond the formal curriculum and schools need to make room for that. Ideas included:

  1. Creating urban farms. These can spring up even in apartments and high rise living

  2. Introducing no-tech days to encourage physical activity and exploration of other learning opportunities

Student-centric design

There is a clear need for schools to be redesigned to reflect students’ needs, rather than have students accommodate the standard design of schools. Suggestions included:

  1. Providing more asynchronous opportunities; for example, shift school timetables to reflect the needs of different groups of learners

  2. Use social media more as a mechanism for both student engagement and also learning showcase and reflection

Faculty support

School closures have catalyzed incredible collaboration among faculty in schools and around the world. Ideas to keep up this positive momentum included:

  1. Snapshot professional learning experiences co-created by staff and shared with other schools worldwide

  2. Transfer faculty onboarding and orientation to an online mode. This can be a great pre-emptive strike before staff even join the team.

ISS will continue to launch new challenges for educators and students through 2020-21. Keep an eye on and #ISSedu on social media to get involved!

About International Schools Services (ISS)

ISS a leading nonprofit with more than 60 years of experience in international education. Whether it’s developing and managing world-class international schools, staffing schools, ordering equipment and supplies, performing accounting functions, or supporting best-in-class teaching and learning approaches, ISS provides the full range of services necessary for your school to thrive and deliver an outstanding global education to your students.

About John Burns, ISS Chief Innovation Officer

John focuses on sparking creativity and innovation across ISS learning communities. He has worked on founding and designing both LEVEL 5 China and LEVEL 5 Bahrain, agile spaces for design thinking in education. John has developed apps featured worldwide, and has also previously worked for Apple in assisting schools with organizational change.


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