The Philosophical Model
The educational philosophy of the British International School is uniquely founded upon the model of a Triple Helix, where each of the three strands is identified as being interdependent and essential components of a balanced and productive life.
Understanding the Triple Helix
- The ‘Triple Helix’ is an attempt to understand and to make tangible the innate ‘quality’ of a BISP education, and provide the conceptual vocabulary to understand and interpret the ‘holistic’ nature of learning. The end result of this approach has to be greater than the sum of its component parts, even if these component parts do not readily lend themselves to measurement.
- The Triple Helix has the following characteristics:
- It is a reflection of what we do holistically, and what we do well, and what we wish to do better;
- It is a model to define and inform our approach to the education of the young people in our care;
- It provides us with a common vocabulary and acts as a basis for understanding within our community;
- It is an attempt to identify the features of effective learning in schools and as such provides a framework for development and improvement;
- It provides the school community with signposts for the journey ‘into the heart’.
The Triple Helix Unpicked - Learning
In the framework of a school, this is commonly understood to concern those subjects that are reflected in the formal timetable. Even then, there is a tacit belief that only classroom-based subjects constitute ‘academics’, and that other school-based activities or pursuits are less ‘academically’ important, or even not ‘academic’ at all.
If the term ‘academic, however, is replaced by the term ‘learning’ the importance of all aspects of a school curriculum becomes apparent. All activities, including time socialising in school, reflect the curriculum; teachers are a part of the curriculum, as are the organisational features of the day and relationships that evolve as a result of the organization; all interactions are reflections of the learning that is taking on a daily basis within the school environment.
Human beings never really stop learning at any time unless the brain degrades or physiologically begins to shut down. It is in this holistic sense that the term ‘Learning’ applies to the Triple Helix. It is what we do as humans. While schools deliver formally constructed systems of knowledge it is not possible to limit learning within the walls of any particular classroom or within the boundaries of any particular ‘subject’. There is no such thing as a closed mind; human beings cannot shut down – they merely divert capacity.
As teachers, we must be constantly aware that our role applies to everything we do in our daily interactions with the students, and, equally importantly, in our relationships with each other and our immediate environment.
The Triple Helix Unpicked - Wellbeing
The relationship between a healthy mind and healthy body is becoming much better understood, and it is important that schools not only acknowledge this, but also take steps to help young people to develop this relationship to their greatest possible advantage. The role of diet and exercise for a healthy body is well documented, but the greater understanding of the physiology and working of the human brain should become an integral part of the experience of every student.
Incorporating strategies for a healthy mind should now feature as predominantly as strategies for developing physical health. Such strategies should be constructed upon a clear understanding of what constitutes a healthy brain and what can inhibit or compromise the capacity for clear thinking and healthy maintenance.
The root of all learning lies in the limbic structure of the brain, where all sensory input is first processed and which prompts electro-chemical reactions throughout the body and brain. These triggered responses manifest as emotions and it is in this sense that all learning – all response to the environment – has an emotional basis, which in turn promotes behaviours – the individual’s physical and cognitive response to the sensory input.
Our responsibility as educators must extend to ‘wellbeing’ as a totality. Identifying and educating young people concerning those aspects of modern living that have a capacity for good and for harm has never been so critical because there is a potential for both intrinsic good and intrinsic harm in so many aspects of modern life. Great benefit and great damage are frequently located somewhere on the same continuum – exactly where these are found will depend upon the unique characteristics and discernment of each individual; for every person it will be different. It is our role as educators to draw attention to the personal responsibility required when making choices to navigate life, and to help each student to be positively self-aware as well as being aware of the implications of their choices upon others and for the environment.
In the Secondary Section the school directs attention to ‘wellbeing’ through a well defined and delivered programme founded upon the three concepts of ‘Engage’, ‘Relate’ and ‘Shine’. These important ‘hooks’ are the basis for academic staff and student participation.
In the Primary Section, the two driving concepts of ‘respect’ and ‘kindness’ are used as a basis for all relationships and interactions.
The Triple Helix Unpicked - Passion
The most common definition of passion may link it to a burning desire to succeed at something, whether academic, sporting or artistic. The problem with interpreting ‘passion’ in this way is that it is limiting. While it is important to harness or to direct such passion, and possibly find a fulfilling outlet for each student, there is a real danger in viewing this aspect of the Triple Helix as being devoted to a single purpose or to become over-focused along a very narrow path. Viewed holistically, however, ‘passion’ can be defined in terms of an individual’s capacity to embrace life itself, even though this might manifest itself in a singular pursuit. It is what drives people; motivates; gives purpose; fuels life. If BISP is able to unleash passion in the students, then it will have done far more than merely enhance learning.
For the majority, if not all people, pure happiness is a fleeting condition. Life is about having to make choices, at every level, age and whatever socio-economic group. It is about negotiating the psychological, social and economic minefields that litter our path to the future. It is about recognizing the world for what it is, and learning to embrace the challenges and not be defeated by setbacks. If we fail to prepare young people for this, then we fail in our duty as educators.