NIS Whole-School Community Learning Days
2017-18 Day 1: Living the Mission Day and the Action Expo
(Oct. 4, 2017)
On October 4, the whole NIS community paused our normal academic program to join together and share in a day celebrating the NIS Mission and student-driven community initiatives. We called this day the “Living the Mission Day: the Action Expo”.
This event was one of two annual ‘Community Learning Days’, and was proposed and led by a grade 11 student Aileen C, who initiated the Action Expo after recognizing that many of the student-led clubs at NIS would benefit from increased exposure and the opportunity to recruit new members. Her vision was to organize a time for students from established clubs to be seen collectively by the whole NIS community. This idea soon snowballed into something bigger - something that would feature students from Primary through Secondary reflecting on their engagement with not only the school, but also our local and global communities, and identifying the issues that are important to them. Most importantly, it would hopefully spur action.
Whether by conscious design or not, students were engaged in the learning cycle encapsulated in our school motto - inquire, inspire, impact. During the preceding weeks, they had the opportunity to reflect and share their interests, and to isolate issues of concern. Students had began their inquiry. When undertaken using the framework of the IB ‘Approaches to Learning’, purposeful inquiry extends thinking, research and communication skills. Students formulated questions, acquired new knowledge, organized data, and employed communication strategies. Similarly, our community of inquirers scaled up their understanding of the IB Learner Profile attributes Knowledgeable, Thinker and Communicator while formulating persuasive arguments, next steps, and when developing networks with students sharing similar passions across classes and grade levels.
When walking around NIS during preparation times and during Living the Mission Day itself, you could feel a buzz in the air. Students had been ‘let off the leash’ to pursue their own agendas. Excitement fed inspiration and, while there was the expected chaos associated with student-led projects, an underlying feeling of purpose was apparent. Inspired students organized themselves, managed their time, respected others, accepted responsibility, made informed choices, resolved conflict, and took on different roles within their groups. More progress was made in terms of the IB ‘Approaches to Learning’. Likewise, student growth in the IB Learner Profile attributes Open-minded, Principled, and Risk-Taker was enabled. When you feel inspired, learning is natural, incidental and purposeful. It is fun.
In addition to the impact on student learning, there was also an immeasurable impact on community well-being that can be associated with Living the Mission Day and the Action Expo. All of our established High School Service clubs, such as the Global Issues Network, Second Harvest, Plan International, Junior Red Cross, NIS Home Builders, the Japan Service Dog Association support group and the reconstituted NIS Honor Society improved their profile and furthered their cause. Similarly, the Yearbook, the student publications Dolphin Wave and Canvas, and interest groups like the Dance Club were represented.
Even more significant however, several new middle school and high school clubs and Elementary student-led groups were born. Operation Wallacea and the International Children’s Action Network (Japan) are internationally recognized and being led by highly motivated and capable NIS’ers. The Blank Noise Action Heroes Project is being championed by an NIS staff member and a middle-schooler is advocating for Doctors without Borders. Students associated with Room to Read are bridged between the elementary and middle school, and Kidzuna is continuing to grow and involve more students in reaching out to the local Shidami community and up to tsunami devastated Tohoku. Several other middle school interest groups have sprouted, likely allowing for the establishment of a single, broad middle school service blanket committee.
It was particularly exciting to see projects coming out of elementary classrooms. While they improve their own transdisciplinary ‘Approaches to Learning’, elementary students are pushing the school community to have better approaches to recycling, energy and paper use, and becoming involved in an initiative to protect endangered fireflies in Shidami through the restoration of local wetlands. The ‘buy NIS eggs for solar power’ group remains active in Grade 5. As for the IB Learner Profile, the appearance of an art therapy initiative led by another passionate Grade 5 student has opened the way for thoughtful discussion on what it means to be Reflective, Balanced and Caring.
Our experience with Living the Mission Day and the Action Expo bodes well for the future of community engagement and learning through service at NIS. Our challenge as students and teachers in a shared learning community concerned with the world is to maintain the energy on display at the Action Expo. Next year, having continued on with our initiatives, and improved our ‘Approaches to Learning’ and IB Learner Profiles, Living the Mission Day and the Action Expo will be bigger and better. Perhaps we will even be able to invite outside school participation. Thank you for this legacy, Aileen!
(Next 'Whole School Community Learning Day' is April 18, 2018)