Read an interview with ISB’s Director, Dr Vladimir Kuskovski, newly published in the International School Parent Magazine.
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in education?
Several things, though essentially I enjoy having opportunities to right some of the injustice in the world through the power of education. As part of my required military experiences, I witnessed what bad education could do to our young and decided to dedicate my life to make sure we deliver the “right “ kind of education, so our troubled world will eventually become a better place.
How do your own life/work experiences inform your approach to your work?
I am who I am now, as a result of various life experiences. Some directly connected to what I do, some not, but over the years all of those experiences formed me into who I am now and shaped my viewpoints of life, education, people and approaches to working with people. I value relationships the most, trust in people to do good, empathy for others is also critical in my world. I practice unconditional dedication to the success of all kids. Success can mean very different things for different children.
What have you learnt from your time as a headteacher of an international school?
That the inner world of a child is much more complex than that of an adult and we must value this. People will do their best if they are provided with a vision that they buy into, support to do the best they can in their work, and understanding of cultural differences. This includes the country we are in as well as one’s personal cultural background. We, as a family, lived in four countries on three continents. As a teacher I can add two more countries and one more continent—all of these experiences have shaped me, and are now helping me understand our students who move around and often don’t know where their home is. The same often goes for teachers. Third culture kids and adults are key in our business.
What characterizes the students graduating from your school?
I would like to think understanding of the world at large and their place in it.
A sense of social responsibility and compassion for the world and ALL of its people.
Generally, I would like to think they all come out as good people ready to enter the world and change it for the better. They are what we sometimes call global operators, people who can quickly and successfully assimilate to practically any new environment, who are fast learners, and capable leaders.
What would you say makes the learning environment extra special?
Student-centred learning environment is somewhat of a cliché phrase, but it is really special for the students if it is done right, not only with them in mind, but with their direct input. They need to own their learning; hence they need to own their learning environment and we, as teachers, need to adjust to their needs and wants.
Which features of the school do parents value the most?
Probably the facilities and the good education, as evidenced by results, a nurturing environment, support for families by families and by the school. We can do more to meet their needs—we can be more transparent and more responsive to their needs. After all, we are serving their needs by educating their most prized possessions, their children.
What are the main principles and philosophies you promote at the school?
As an IB school, the student is central to everything we plan and do. Our teaching is driven by students’ context, needs and future. Teaching must be meaningful and relevant and prepare young people for life after school. We value teachers’ on-going professional growth and learning, and ensure we allocate adequate resources and funds for individual and collective professional development. Our school offers IB programmes exclusively, which enables us to provide a philosophical coherence and approach to teaching and learning. At ISBasel, we are very proud of that.
How do you get children to do their best academically?
The school attracts excellent teachers who are both knowledgeable and experienced. Academic targets are developed with students. These are monitored and progress is shared with parents during parent/teacher/student conferences. A learning support team across the school provides additional help if needed. The curriculum is planned to ensure age appropriate progression and achievement. In the last year of IB MYP, students are offered a wide choice of subjects which meet their interests and needs and ensure academic engagement and success. Our college counselling team plans events and individual programmes to support students with their path beyond school.
Which other areas of education and extracurricular activities are you developing?
ISB students of all ages have regular opportunities to take part in carefully planned outings and field trips to local, regional and overseas sites. These experiences enrich the curriculum and enhance learning in the classroom. The school has an extensive Arts programme—students of all ages have opportunities to develop and demonstrate their creative, musical and performance talents. Our members of staff are also encouraged to show off their skills! Our students take part in a wide range of athletics and recreational activities and the School is an active participant in sports’ tournaments in and around Switzerland. We also organise an Extra-Curricular Programme for both spring and autumn. This programme offers a wide range of activities to students, as well as to parents and staff. Additionally, we are active in several service learning projects and charities. It is important to us that our students are encouraged to become and remain compassionate and caring citizens who continue their engagement beyond school.
How do you encourage understanding between cultures and nationalities?
Students, families and staff – our ISBasel community – come from many parts of the world. Typically, the people who work and study at our school represent approximately 60 different nationalities. This means that we are in an advantageous position to promote intercultural understanding and respect. However, we believe students should further be exposed to meaningful learning experiences in the classroom so that we can raise awareness about issues related to cultural difference. Our curriculum provides ample examples of this approach. For example: PYP students exploring the concept of family in different cultures; in MYP, studying different perspectives of an historical event; or DP students in TOK, understanding how maths and cultures intersect through the eyes of an ethnomathematician. ISBasel values local culture and we engage in projects to enhance the relationship with the local community in order to demonstrate to students its richness and diversity.
What is the best thing about leading an international school in Switzerland?
The Swiss are encouraged to be self-reliant and community-minded from an early age. For instance, young children walk or cycle to school and everyone uses public transport! It is a privilege to work in an environment where our students can be part of this culture, while at the same time they benefit from the global perspectives gained from being part of an international school community.
How do you make the most of everything Switzerland has to offer?
Outdoor pursuits, cultural heritage, the arts, sciences, technologies – we are fortunate to be in a country where young people have easy access to so many enriching experiences. Regular field trips, outings and sporting and recreational opportunities are therefore an essential part of every student’s experience at ISBasel.
How do you help international students settle in when they first arrive?
Moving to a new school in perhaps a new country, or even on a new continent, is a big deal—not just for students themselves, but for all members of the family. Staff members and parent groups within the school community all play a part in supporting newly arrived students and their families by organising welcoming events, giving practical advice and materials, hosting parent workshops, information sessions and social activities, and ensuring that there is effective communication between all parties to enable every new student to settle in to school life as quickly as possible.
What are the main trends in education that you are seeing at the moment?
Education as we knew it is ancient history. Education today means complete tech integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, project based learning, MOOCS,
practical experiences for the students, a focus on the concepts more than on the content. The teacher is no longer a sage on the stage, but a guide on the side. Traditional classrooms need to transform into learning spaces, often with no walls to allow for full collaboration. Creativity and critical thinking is taking a central stage in education across all subject areas and all ages.
What are the main challenges for education as a whole in the future?
We, the educators, need to be able to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of education. To use a quote from Alvin Toffler, an author and a futurist: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” That is the challenge.
How are you equipping your students for future success?
As it is impossible to teach them enough content in this day and age, we teach them the skills they need to survive in an ever-changing world. What these skills are now, and what they will need to be ten years from now, are two very different things. We need to stay abreast of the development of the world around us to be sure that we are teaching the right skill set using the right approach.
International School Parent Magazine, 28 October 2015