Welcome to Learning @ ISB!

Welcome to the learning at ISB blog! We’ve been pretty quiet the last 2 years, but we’re back and excited to continue sharing learning at its best at ISB.

At least twice per month, we’ll be publishing posts written by ISB educators sharing their thoughts & reflections on learning. Have an idea for a guest post? Let us know! Want to get inspiration delivered to your inbox? Enter your email on the right to subscribe! [Make sure to keep an eye on your ‘Other’ inbox tab for the emails!]

Have thoughts about something you read on this blog? We love comments! Feel free to leave your thoughts here or come chat with us in person.

As we relaunch this blog, we wanted to introduce Learning at its Best and our principles & approaches of learning. You probably have one of these posters up in your classroom or have seen them around the school. All of our blog posts will be written through these lenses. Want to dive deeper into one area? Check out the categories on the right to begin exploring!

Learning at its Best

ISB’s principles of learning provide a research-based foundation for how students learn best and insight into what makes our learning environments most effective. ISB’s Learning Principles are based on Tripod’s 7C framework of effective teaching: Care, Challenge, Confer, Clarify, Captivate, Consolidate, Collaborate, Classroom Management.

The approaches of learning are integral to how we design learning experiences at ISB, guiding our instructional practices.

Social-Emotional Learning – Research shows that explicitly teaching social and emotional skills increases student well-being, enhances positive behavior, reduces crises, and enhances academic achievement. A focus on social-emotional learning also creates a safe, positive school culture. At ISB, we prioritize building relationships and want every student to feel cared for every day. Our Social-Emotional Framework supports students in developing self-awareness, self-management, social and cultural competence, nurturing relationships, and taking purposeful action.

Personalized Learning – At ISB, we believe in a progressively learner-driven model of personalized learning to facilitate student ownership of the learning process and provide student voice and choice in their learning. We empower students to build strong relationships, leverage their interests, and assess their strengths and areas for growth to engage in deep, relevant learning.

Service Learning – Service Learning is infused into the curriculum and across the co-curricular program at ISB. It is a relevant learning journey that integrates meaningful action with instruction and reflection. We believe that Service Learning develops compassion and empathy, strengthens communities, and nurtures a global mindset.

C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework – The community at ISB is culturally & linguistically diverse, and we aim to serve our emergent bilingual and multilingual students so that they are able to access grade-level standards regardless of language proficiency. The C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework supports faculty in creating culturally responsive lessons that celebrate the diversity of our students.

Inquiry Pathway – At ISB, we empower students to ask questions, think critically, and reflect. Based on provocations and real-world phenomenon, students see & think, wonder & question, investigate & explore, make meaning & find patterns, and explain & construct arguments.

Design Process – Solutions to the problems of the world do not exist in silos and neither should learning. Students at ISB are given the opportunity to use design-thinking to create connections between traditional curricular areas and build empathy while solving real-world, authentic problems.

We hope you’re as excited as we are for this blog to be active again! Next week, keep your eyes open for a post from Angie (MS/HS Math Instructional Coach) with a focus on Challenge. Even better, get her post delivered to your email as soon as it’s published by subscribing on the right! After you subscribe, look in your email to confirm your subscription.

What Do We Value?

Welcome back, everyone!  It always feels like it takes forever for the kids to show up and it was so exciting to see them all with big smiles this morning as they arrived. I am nearing the end of week three back in Beijing. It has been a busy three weeks welcoming new teachers and getting ready for the start of school. There is always a bit of a lull for us at this time of year, we work hard to get things ready and support teaching and learning as you come back to school, but then once the kids are back…you are busy and we are always a bit at loose ends as we wait for things to settle down. 

As we welcomed new teachers back this year we made a shift in how we spoke about some of our work here at ISB. One thing that is always clear when we are working with new teachers is that ISB has a lot of systems and structures and acronyms…we love acronyms. This year in an effort to be less overwhelming, we thought…we have all these systems and structures to create alignment and consistency to our curriculum, but why? What are the core values that underpin the work we do in the Office of Learning to support student learning? Why do we have things like the curriculum review, common formative assessments, data meetings etc.  For us, it was easy to answer the question about why we have the systems and structures we do at ISB: equity, purpose and deep, relevant learning.  The goal is to bring clarity to what we do at ISB.
Equity is achieved by:

  • Consistent learning goals at grade-levels and in shared courses
  • Consistent level of challenge so that students have consistent expectation across grades and courses
  • Students with varying needs are provided what they need to succeed 
  • Experiences will vary from classroom to classroom, that is the art and craft of teaching and what you were hired for, and the quality fo the education you receive at ISB should not depend on who your teacher is.


  • Although we’re a highly mobile community, we don’t change our curriculum just because a particular teacher happened to leave—we make purposeful decisions about curricular change. 
  • We aim for purposeful increases in challenge from grade level to grade level. 
  • Our decisions are researched-based and intentional.  If we cannot answer why and back it up, we should not be doing it.

Deep, Relevant Learning:

  • Students should spend their time inquiring, solving problems, analyzing, and creating, not only memorizing. 
  • Students have voice and choice in their learning as we seek to deepen our work and understanding around personalized learning.
  • We are working on integration because the world we live in does not present us problems in silos. They are complex and sticky, requiring a multi-disciplinary approach to understand them and think about solutions.
  • We have a focus on design because we feel this is a vehicle by which we can engage our students in these deeply relevant learning experiences

 As we work together this year, these values around our work and learning together will come up again and again.  We are excited for another year of collaboration and support and looking forward to seeing and learning form you as you deliver amazing learning experiences to your students. 
Let the year begin!

Data Doesn’t Have to Be Scary 

As we all know, data performs a significant role on improving teaching and student learning nowadays. However, data looks scary some of the time. There are always tons of data, and it takes brave of us to dive into it for figuring out what it can provide us on a higher level based on evidence on guiding our future work, so that it plays its role as what we think it is supposed to do!
How can we as a school uses data wisely? Actually, we are now in a collaborative process for using data in Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning, to pursue effective actions taken for improvement.
In order to make sure collaborative work being carried on positively and effectively, at the very beginning, we’d better set our norms, and besides, monitor our thinking process to maintain a relentless focus on evidence. In Data Wise introduced by Harvard University, assuming positive intentions, taking an inquiry stance and grounding statements in evidence can be good norms for team members for working together. And, something we’ve learned in our work is that human beings have a tendency to see patterns, make inferences and judgments, and draw conclusions quite quickly from just a small amount of data. This is an important skill but at the same time it can be dangerous for leading us to misinformed judgments when we are too quick to draw inferences from a small quantity of data. A mental model called “the Ladder of Inference” is especially useful in helping educators resist this tendency and stay focused on the evidence. The pattern is whenever I perceive something, I first select some data, then, I add some interpretation, draw conclusions, and finally take actions. The actions I take then influence what kind of data I collect next. Considering the loop, it can be very dangerous to go up the ladder too quickly. So it’s better for all of us to use this model to help each other maintain a relentless focus on evidence.
Holding the norms and the mental model when working and learning together, at ISB, we have organized for collaborative work, and we are working on building assessment literacy through several ways, for example, relevant books provided at OOL, staff training opportunity, outside specialist visiting, etc.. For a quick and better understanding of data, we have worked on to visualize our data as better as we can. We’ve prepared graphs and charts instead of large amount of data displayed in our meetings. Teachers are advised to answer questions like “what do I see, what do I notice, what do I wonder” to better understand, interpret data based on the evidence.
With the foundation laid, collaborative work organized and assessment literacy built, we are able to move on in our data driven process. Instructional team leaders choose a focus area for the coming semester or school year, some time, it has been declared from the top. The focus area tells team leaders which data sources on the data inventory should be paid attention first. They create a high level data overview that shows how students are doing in this focus area, for example, data from an annual performance assessment can be used here. In their meetings, they work together to see patterns, do analyzation and find the story behind the data. In their next meeting with the broad group of faculty, they’ve prepared the data being displayed by charts or graphs, so that it allows everyone to make sense to the data quickly. More importantly, opportunity is provided to teachers to find their own meaning about the data. However, this overview data will never tell how to improve learning and teaching, it brings curiosity among teachers about why the data looks like this, and teachers can then identify a priority question as the focus.
Although the overview data teachers looked at in the previous step may have given some hints about where students are struggling, it’s unlikely that it offered enough specific information to explain the reason for that struggle. So, another step, to dig into the student data, is important, because it makes sure that before jumping to conclusions about how to solve a problem, teacher and the whole team have a clear sense of exactly what that problem entails. Teachers examine a wide range of student data, then, come to a shared understanding of what student data show. At last, they identify a learner-centered problem, and are ready to examine instruction.
During this process, teachers examine a wide range of instructional data. They are all clear about the purpose of their observations in classrooms, which is not judging anyone, but finding out what happened! Then, they work together to gain a shared understanding. Through this whole process, teachers need to separate person from the practice, be reminded with the collaborative working norms themselves, and focus on practices itself not who is doing it, always stick to the fact, so that to identify a problem of practice. A problem of practice is directly related to the learner-centered problem based on evidence found when examining instruction, within teachers’ control. This problem of practice is a statement about practice, not a question. It is specific and small, so that it allows teachers to develop an action plan for addressing the problem of practice. There are some places to look for instructional strategies, such as rubrics for effective teaching, curriculum materials, external websites, and the expertise of instructional coaches who work in the school system.
Before jumping into action in the classroom, another step is needed. We’d better make a plan to assess progress. This is where we specify the evidence of student learning that we hope to see once the instructional strategy is in place. Our plan to assess progress will provide the information we need when we move on to the last step – Act and Assess. It’ll help us measure the extent to which our instructional strategy is working, or not working. We can choose assessments to measure progress and set student learning goals.
At last, we act and assess. We implement the action plan and the plan to assess progress. We also adjust the action plan, and what’s important, we celebrate the success! However, once we reach the last step, there’s still more to do. Noticing the shape of the Data Wise arrow, it points right back to step three “create data overview”. Each time we begin a new cycle of inquiry, teachers as a team bring the experience we gained from our previous efforts and use that to take on new and more challenging problems of practice with greater skill and insight.
Isn’t this something cool? When we work as a team, instead of looking scary, data does guide us on improving teaching and student learning when under design, carried out step by step!

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