Interview with Deputy Director Colleen Broderick
Two students doing a science experiment

Re-accreditation with the Council of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate is a rigorous process - but an invigorating one too, as ISZL takes stock of its strengths and plans for the future. Our Deputy Director Colleen Broderick reflects on what we have learned.

Q: As we approached reaccreditation, I think it would be easy to assume that for ISZL this process was a formality – but there’s actually enormous depth to it. The word used by the accrediting bodies themselves is a self-study – and that’s exactly what the school has done…
CB: Yes – it’s helpful to understand that accreditation is an on-going process and the last year was an important phase in that cycle. We are always reporting back to the IB (International Baccalaureate), the Council for International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) to discuss our progress in relation to our strategic goals. However, at this point in the five-year cycle we take a step back and do a deeper reflection on where we are in relation to specific standards and then identify areas where we want to focus next. The external team helps confirm our thinking based on the evidence we collect. It’s an important partnership for us.
Q: Could you give an idea of the kind of depth - and the sort of thing - these three accrediting bodies are looking for? 
The Council for International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) work in collaboration together. Between them, they look at all aspects of the school – everything from our guiding statements, to the school curriculum, to student wellbeing, to the financial health of the organisation. Parents may remember that they engaged with the process as well – one of the things the accreditors were examining was the partnership between parents and schools. It’s a very broad view of things.

The IB, on the other hand, looks more specifically at the teaching and learning in our learning programmes.

Students running in field

This work really empowers us to evaluate the quality of our school. Sometimes, when you self-assess you're more harsh than someone else might be, so a big piece of the self-reflection was gathering evidence. We used surveys from parents and students and other artefacts including policies and curriculum maps. As part of this process, we self-evaluate, deciding whether standards have been met or exceeded. Then the accreditors give their view on our stance. The good news is there weren’t really any surprises - they very much were in alignment. It was actually a very positive experience for everyone at the school.
There's so much to celebrate – this is a moment to step back and just reflect on where we are now. It’s the moment to consider - are we at a place that we're satisfied with? What is that next thing we want to create, both for the ISZL learning experience and the families that we partner with? I always find it a really amazingly powerful experience, because not only do the external teams help us zoom in on areas we want to improve, but it helps us to identify the places we should celebrate and potentially build on. For example, they found that we really hold the wellbeing of our whole community at the centre of what we're doing. But they don’t just say “hey, this is great, keep going” but instead really offer up the question – what’s in place here that you want to build on – is there something here you have done for families and teachers that you could now do for kids? It's a lens of appreciative inquiry - where do you grow? It’s about considering where the power already exists.
Q: One of the pieces that I most enjoyed reading in the reports was the part where it talks about students shaping their own curriculum, for example Service Learning and Youth Forum Switzerland, and also the inclusion work surrounding We Are All ISZL.

Two children planting in a garden

CB: Yes this is an area we feel really confident in - we felt there was really something to show off here! We work on this way of elevating our students - of providing them with an opportunity to shape their learning and to have impact quite early on. It begins with the Grade 5 exhibition. It is a really key part of the IB curriculum - to equip kids with the skills and the opportunity to truly make their world a better place. Alongside that, you have students beginning to build a capacity to begin to scan for where they can contribute through our service learning as well as the HS innovation classes.
I think Youth Forum Switzerland has become almost a lightning rod in some respects. It started with a student at the Davos Open Forum recognising that her voice was missing in that space – although they were discussing the future, there were no young people there. From that point, there was the willingness of teachers to provide that channel, allowing students to explore how they can gain that voice. From there, the students were asking, “why can't this be part of our curriculum?” and then building that into the Global Changemakers Project. It is probably one of the pieces that inspires me most when we find those moments where it’s our job to get out of the way when kids are doing such great work. I think there is something unique about ISZL in terms of our ability to respond and bend to create space for kids to do really amazing things

Q: One of the things that came out of the CIS report was connecting with your local culture and your local community. I know that that's something that's been a real priority for the school this year. How do you think we're doing on that?

Our first job was to do an audit of all those partnerships and touchpoints within our school community, so we mapped out all those connections. As we did this work, we realised there were more connections than we realised. Not all our local connections are as visible as they could be, so one area we can improve on is telling our own story better. For example, in one of our science innovations courses, our kids are studying biomimicry and they've connected with Swiss experts to work out how they can improve their project. We're embedded into the community in ways that are really authentic.
A: What does your To Do List look like as you start to plan the ongoing phase of a reaccreditation again – since as you say it’s a continuous process?
I certainly have a set of priorities that I'd like to support the school in growing. Certainly one of those is advancing international-mindedness and our role as global citizens. It’s important to celebrate the cultural richness that we have at ISZL. The other piece is around inquiry - it's in our mission statement, it's at the core of the IB. How do we ensure that we're continually building the skills for students to learn how to learn and take on greater ownership of their learning?  We’re also excited to re-engage with our community. I believe that in partnership with our parents and with our teachers and our students, we can produce something that's especially impactful for our learners, our community and our world.

Colleen Broderick