The Compassionate School
I felt a sense of incredible pride when The International School Yangon (ISY) opened its doors to students for the 2018-19 school year on 15 August. Last year, ISY worked closely with consultant John Littleford at redefining who we are as a school. I have to be honest and say I fully anticipated the process would result in a simple tweaking of the mission that was in place when the process began. I was pleasantly surprised when the process led us toward a rethinking of who we are as a school and what is important to us. A new mission emerged, one that I think is incredibly daring and bold and that gives thought to the kind of school we want to be and to what is important to us as a community. This year, for the first time, we started school with this new mission in place. I felt incredible pride in what we had accomplished and how we have defined ourselves.
I firmly believe the mission statement of a school is its promise. It is a statement of commitment to our families about what we do for students at our school and the kind of people we hope students will evolve into by spending time in our classrooms, interacting with our teachers, engaging with our curriculum, and exploring the opportunities we provide. The new ISY mission statement reads, The International School Yangon is a community of compassionate global citizens. It is very simple and to the point. Yet, I find the words to be rich in meaning. Several of the words stand out. For example, the word community speaks to the environment we share at ISY and how we are all a part of a common purpose and share certain beliefs. For me though, the word that stands out strongest is compassionate.
When we speak about what it means to be a compassionate school, we are talking about taking learning to a whole new level. Educational researchers Carol Ann Tomlinson and Michael Murphy state that, “compassion suggests we understand and care about what another person feels, but do not attempt to feel it ourselves. In that way, compassion…is more likely to lead to action…because it calls on us to be kind and to see the need for action rather than to simply experience the feelings of another.” This is at the heart of why I see our mission as being so bold. Our mission commits us to working with our students to go beyond simply having empathy for others, or raising funds because we feel sad for another’s situation. Instead, it commits us to strive to “understand others and to learn from them.” It is a call to make the world a better place for all.
Another bold part of our mission statement is the complete lack of terms like “lifelong learner,” or “academic excellence.” This is by design. As we explored what we want for our students, we realized we want them to be more than learners. We want the learning to be meaningful and purposeful. As we develop compassion we begin to see how our learning can make a difference and contribute to the world where we live as global citizens. In this sense, learning is the process that contributes to the outcome our mission commits us to.
I’m looking forward to the year ahead. As a school community, we will be exploring further what it means to be a compassionate school. We’ve designed a vision statement and strategic teams to support our mission as we strive to make this mission a live one. We want it to resonate for every member of our community so that it really is a guiding statement that drives everything we do.
Tomlinson, C. and Murphy, M. (2018). The empathetic school. Educational Leadership, 75(6), p.23.