A question that has come up a few times over the past week has been 'what makes NIS unique'? To those who have been asking the question – thank you! After all, in many ways, a school is a school – we all teach roughly the same subjects, and we all hope to help learners be ready to be healthy, active, and contributing members of the adult world. What makes one school different from another? And why does it matter?
One of the things I do to support the international school community is to serve as the team lead on accreditation teams for the Council of International Schools (CIS). In this capacity, I've had the privilege to visit many schools worldwide to conduct their school evaluations. This process involves understanding their curriculum, policies, and procedures and speaking with stakeholders – board members, parents, students, and staff. It involves visiting classrooms and activities to understand what makes each school 'unique.' And I've found some incredible schools! There is a school in the middle east with an incredibly innovative science and arts program, a school in southeast Asia delivering a trilingual education to all its learners, and a school in northeast Asia which has found creative ways to embed the host culture firmly within every facet of the organization. Yet, as outstanding as these schools have been, none of them were like one another. Every school is unique, and NIS is no exception.
So what makes us unique? Of course, the mission is the driver of all we do – to encourage, innovate and support our learners as they inquire, inspire, and have impact on their world, all within the context of an inclusive environment. You see this all around us every day. Whether it be skillful inquiry in the classrooms (Inquire), students taking their passions forward in the PYP exhibition or MYP personal project (Inspire), or the many student action activities happening every day (Impact), these three Is' are in the DNA of our school. In just the past week, we've had the student Eco-Committee drafting a plan to be a carbon-neutral school, the 'Art for Advocacy' club fundraiser, and the Nagoya Action Heroes leadership of the Transgender Day of Remembrance – all three of these being the product of Inquire, Inspire, and Impact.
Yet, the mission itself is not the school. The school is the people who engage in the pursuit of that mission. To that extent, what makes NIS unique is you, our children, our staff – all of us. Holding more than 35 different passports and speaking more than 25 different languages, some of us are here for only a few years, others for the entirety of our childhoods. Or, in the case of staff, this could be the entirety of our professional careers. For some of us, Japan is, has always been, and will always be our home. For others, it is a new and exciting land as one stop along a journey. Each of us brings our story to the wider NIS narrative, and each of us shapes it. The concept of being 'inclusive' extends to our community through our Parent Partners program, which, although muted by COVID, is such a vital part of our community-driven school. The idea of being diverse extends to staff recruitment. In addition to using the top international agencies and sources to find our teachers, we also try very hard to build a staff that represents our community. This helps children see themselves not only within the curriculum but also within those adults who support their learning in it.
And this perhaps brings us to the third reason why we are unique: our history. NIS is almost 60 years old now - and the community that brings life to the mission today has evolved with each successive generation of graduating students. From the founding principles of the small group of committed parents and community members who established NIS in 1964, right up until today, the sense of 'who we are' and 'who we serve' has evolved, shaped, and matured. Some of this you can see visibly through the programs, facilities, and accreditations. But much of our history is less tangible. It is the things we've learned over the years and the connections we've nurtured. For example, one way that this can be seen is in the universities in Japan and overseas that support our learners in their lives beyond school and through major organizations that add value to our ability to serve. Most important of all is the history of the generations of NIS alumni who have gone out into the world to make an impact after NIS. While our very earliest graduates are enjoying their retirement by now, some of our youngest graduates are just starting out on their professional pathways with careers and ambitions in a diverse and impressive field. I am excited that soon we will be sharing some stories from our most recent alumni. These stories will help our current students and parents imagine life beyond NIS and reflect on NIS's impact on them.
Every school is unique; you will never find two the same. And there are many, many outstanding schools around the world, all doing things in their own way. What connects these schools is their commitment to their mission, and how they are shaped by – and shape - their community. It is also their history and legacy of impact on their learners and environment. And in that way, NIS is also quite unique.
- M. Parr, Head of School