To Believe Is to Fly

“The dream must be kept alive in our children, and in good schools this can be felt higher up the age ranges as well as among the youngsters.”

All children who enter primary school have this imagination, this love of discovery – the thrill of being praised following a success that stems from their own natural creativity being given an opportunity to be demonstrated. Later, this creativity, often driven through the changes into adolescence, becomes challenged, diminished and even seemingly ‘lost.’ The cause of this may well be academically driven routines that are essentially uncreative and restrictive.

The dream must be kept alive in our children, and in good schools this can be felt higher up the age ranges as well as among the youngsters. Freedom to take risks, to make mistakes, to innovate and reimagine are the natural freedoms children want as they explore their learning styles and preferences, tinker with their many talents and begin to set their own life goals.

If you believe you can fly, you believe in yourself and have that essential ingredient for school and life success: self-confidence.

How can a school in Saigon provide your children with the very things they need to be able to make their mark in Vietnam and beyond? Take a look around as many schools as you can and look for evidence that learner empowerment is actually ingrained within the school’s ethos.

For a child to become justifiably self-confident is ultimately the single most essential quality a parent can wish to see in their child. To have peace of mind that they will be able to shine when they are ‘out there’ in the big wide world and building a life that allows them to stand on their own two feet.

How can a parent or school guide a learning journey that results in self-confidence brimming from each child, yet not overflowing either? This question begs an immediate answer: that parents need to find a school they feel they can work with in partnership.

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This time of year many parents are making these choices, and the long-term implications of such decisions will ultimately have an impact on those confidence levels at ages 16 to 18 and beyond. So what to consider when looking for a new school? What to prioritize when making your decision? What do you look for that will, one day, see you looking into the eyes of your youngster and seeing a confident young man or woman reflected back at you?

Given that there are now many international schools in this great city, clues can be found from vision and mission statements (websites) handbooks, discussions, feel, ambiance and environment. Is there a Parent Teacher Association? The happiness and general mood of the pupils themselves are great indicators of a school’s internal culture. Wall displays and classroom space should be noted, teacher pupil ratios will give a measure of expected academic success. The academic success track record of a school will, to a degree, also help to complete this aspect of the choice being made. If the school is selective then a closer look may be needed, after all in real life we are not so free to choose those we engage and work with. Look at the breadth and balance of the curriculum, how the academic program is complemented by the extra-curricular activities. Balance then is a key ingredient of the mix, and, academically, breadth of skills via a broad range of subjects studied has been reported from commerce and industry as being desirable for the rapidly changing 21st century workplace.

How am I unique? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How do I like or prefer to learn? Will I be challenged beyond my preferences too?

To dig deeper requires some longer-term focus. How closely can a school mirror and prepare children for the skills that are transferable for life – into the workplace or into the entrepreneurial pursuits of those inclined to go their own way? If a school has a skills focus, this will be apparent to parents by asking about the types of assessment the school uses. If the focus is on heavy end-of-year exams, then the focus is on knowledge retention. More frequent formative type assessments are far more skills-based. These facilitate learner empowerment and build self- confidence through self-awareness and self-direction through a learning journey that is meaningful. A good school will still feature end-of-year summative assessments, of course, but the emphasis upon these will be balanced by what has actually gone on through the year, and will be apparent from the dialogue between the teacher and learner.

Ask: “How often will I receive feedback regarding my son/daughter’s achievement and attainment and understanding of Assessment for Learning?”

If the learner does not have the language of self-awareness, then the dialogue between teacher and learner cannot develop to a deeper level. Walk into any large bookstore and there will be a self-improvement section for those who possibly never had any personal reflection guidance at school. To know who you really are is now big business for publishers, who aim their guides at practically anyone of working age. The books sell because people have never looked inwardly or else need a reminder about such things or may have simply forgotten techniques that may have worked for them previously.

Within educational circles there has been much progress in the area of mindfulness and self-awareness in recent years. Learning has been opened up to systematic approaches due to the recent discoveries in neuroscience. The idea of neuroplasticity proves what many of us knew all along – that intelligence is not fixed. With the right plan you really can learn anything new at any time in your life.

Whatever your goal, the starting point is confirmed by the other great educational discovery of recent times – that of emotional intelligence. The starting point again is self-awareness. A child can develop mindful questions: “How am I unique? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How do I like or prefer to learn? Will I be challenged beyond my preferences too?”

And finally for parents, concerning this new school you are considering: will it provide your children with opportunities within a respectful international community? The opportunity to meet both like-minded and different but responsible learners and caring teachers; the opportunity to identify not only with the content of the lesson but with actual skills and concepts. Done right, this delivers personal motivation, elevating self-belief, recognition of capabilities and promoting lifelong learners brimful of self-confidence.

Thankfully there are good and great options in this city, and the right school, where individuals can find the perfect fit for a flight of confidence, may just be the next one you take a look at.

Bio: Gavin Nattrass is the Assistant Head Teacher at Renaissance International School Saigon.

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