Avenor College joined hundreds of educators, managers and board members at the ECIS Leadership Conference in Brussels in April 2015, celebrating 50 years of ECI Schools.

Avenor College is part of a huge trend in international education and membership of ECIS and official status as a Cambridge International School links us with organisations from all continents. The term International school no longer just refers to schools for expats- it means both private and state schools worldwide who prefer an international model of education. We found ourselves amongst like-minded professionals at different points on their schools’ educational journeys.

Assessing what we value- not just valuing what we assess

We had the opportunity to further develop our school’s relationship with Cambridge International Examinations. CIE is experiencing exponential growth worldwide, with IGCSEs being the most popular qualification in the world. Importantly, although students use IGCSEs and A levels to access international universities, increasing numbers are using them to get into universities in their own countries. We can be confident that our choice of IGCSEs for our new High School is a good one. For our whole school approach, we found that our aim to incorporate transdisciplinarity alongside subject-based academic rigour was strongly advocated by the Director of Education at Cambridge International Examinations, Dr Tristram Stobie.

A nation of critical thinkers would be difficult to govern

Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers, and author of Learning {Re}-Imagined, posed this interesting question: How come children in the 19th Century were able to use all the technology available to them, when 21st Century students are not? We saw how technology is changing the lives and educational experiences of children in third world countries, whilst we debate whether or not to allow students to use tablet computers and smartphones in our schools. This linked with the inspirational work of Ushahidi in transforming the lives of Kenyans by developing the innovative Brik modem, presented to us by Juliana Rotich. We saw how it is not always appropriate to transplant practice from one part of the world to another, and how solutions and innovations work best when they are tailored to the specific needs of the country or city where a school is located.

Living a Larger Life

The idea that what works in one context may not work in another was further developed by Matthew Taylor, from RSA, in his challenging seminar Giving International Schools the Power to Create. Education is not engineering, he insisted; education is constructed in a social context.

By highlighting the role of teachers in enabling future generations to live lives which are fulfilling, happy and productive, he challenged us to reflect on what makes a good international school. The consensus was: more than one language present in the school; a curriculum based on one of the international models, wholly or partly; cultural sensitivity and teaching staff from more than one country.

Learning- the space/time continuum

Given that learning takes place in a physical environment, the International School of Brussels designed their 21st Century curriculum by starting with a new building. Felim Bolster, Head of High School at ISB, took us on a virtual tour of a school where the walls are transparent, and where the boundaries between teachers have truly become invisible. In a hands-on, practical session, we were invited to design a timetable based on the open spaces and flexible learning spaces. The development of a school is an evolutionary continuum with the following features:

Commonality: clarity and consensus in approaches to learning and teaching /Community: learning is social, that schools are communities, and that a sense of belonging is important /Collaboration: everyone needs time and space to work in individual ways and collaborative ways for different purposes /Visibility: de-privatising our practice; seeing learning happening all around us /Agility: flexible purpose-driven learning necessitates flexible, purpose-driven learning spaces/ Connections to nature: students benefit from being in close proximity to nature/Mobility: movement, both into new spaces and through the use of flexible, adjustable furniture increases oxygen flow and makes concentration easier/Sustainability: innovative producers, informed consumers and responsible conservers.

How to Change a School Culture

By reminding us to be kind, and challenging us to look at trust, forgiveness, integrity, hope, and compassion, John Hendry, and truly inspiration voice in Australian education, reminded us that our humanity is what defines us. As Director of Student Welfare in one of the biggest boarding schools in the southern hemisphere, John shared his views about forgiveness, mistake management and restorative justice. He has a message for all teachers: Don’t try to teach it if you don’t practice it. In everything you do, you are a role model.


As educators, we shared a few minutes of silent contemplation in memory of the students who died in their university in Kenya; we pondered the role of international schools as agents of peace throughout the world, and we were reminded that almost exactly 100 years ago, the region where we held this conference was ravaged by the horrors of war. It was apposite that this was not remembered by a documentary, or an official news report from the time, but by a poem: In Flanders Fields. Through creativity, we can speak to all of humanity, across all of time.

Creativity in Action

In addition to inspirational speaker from the world of education, we also got to listen to Jay Schuster, who works for Pixar, and has, amongst his many credits, the creation of Wall-E. He took us through the entire design process- four years! He reminded us that hard work and perseverance are the cornerstones of creative success. We saw him as a boy, and he shared some of his childhood artwork with us, reminding us that we have, in our schools, future designers, creators, thinkers and innovators.

Education is the key.