A Unified Approach to Teaching in a Diverse International School

The ACS International School Campus, Cobham cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Howard - geograph.org.uk/p/3220022
Photo © David Howard (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Students come to ACS Cobham International School in England from all over the world. Some stay for their entire pre-collegiate school experience and others make a home there for just a few years before the next stop on their globe-trotting journey.

“There is a huge range of cultural expectations [among ACS families] about how schools should interact with and respond to students,” says Lacy Chapman, Lower School Principal. She needed to find a unified approach to teaching that was flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of all students while offering a consistent structure and vocabulary that students and teachers could count on. She found it in Responsive Classroom.

Several ACS teachers, including Lyn Taggart, had used Responsive Classroom at their previous schools. In 2014, Chapman sent a group of teachers to the annual RC Teachers conference to learn more. The Responsive Classroom teaching practices, she says, just made sense. “Interactive modeling, engaging academics, an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning—they were already part of our philosophy.”

Responsive Classroom helped to make that philosophy more cohesive across classrooms, she says, providing another layer of best practices like Morning Meeting, teacher language, and academic choice.

“We all thought we offered a lot of choice before,” says Taggart, “and then realized that we didn’t.”

True academic choice meant students needed to know how to transition smoothly between spaces and activities and how to work both independently and collaboratively. It meant teachers needed to know how to create and structure those choices and then support and foster the discovery that grew out of it. It meant teaching and learning both social and academic behaviors. So, they practiced.

“We practiced, the kids practiced,” Taggart says. “Now, it’s so fluid. The children know what to do. They know how to handle it.”

When they hit bumps along the way, students know how to handle that too. Taggart points to the communication and collaboration skills students develop in Morning Meeting as foundational in their success.

“Children are a lot more respectful in the way that they speak to each other because of Morning Meeting,” she says. “We focused so much on how to agree, disagree, greet each other, make eye contact, and how to grow ideas together respectfully.”

They also see those skills modeled among adults at ACS. When Chapman decided to go with a whole-school approach, teachers were eager to get started. Most even gave up personal time from holiday break for four-day trainings. “We were going at it in bits and pieces,” Taggart says, “and we all realized that in order for this to work, it needed to be a commitment from everybody.”

Now a few years into the approach, students, teachers, and families at ACS are on the same page. Expectations are clear, predictable, and consistent so that no matter where they have come from or where they are going next, ACS students have a sense of belonging.

ACS Cobham International School Demographics

Setting: International
Grades: Pre K–12 (Lower School: 1-4)
Number of students: 1500
Countries represented: 70+

Tags: Building Schoolwide Community

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