Joann McPike, the founder of THINK Global School, graciously answered some questions which I posed about the school. ~ Rob Kennedy
Explain why you took the reins rather than find some institution which you could guide and shape according to your ideals and goals?
My husband and I love to travel, we have always taken our son Alexander with us whenever we went anywhere. We took his school work with us. It was Alexander's never ending questions and comments that started showing us the benefit of travel to opening the minds of youngsters.
We started looking at boarding schools all over the world for when he had to go to high school and although there are some amazing schools out there, we couldn't find one that would provide the different points of view that we felt were necessary to have a truly open mind.
As to why I didn't find an institution that we could guide and shape... I assume you mean an existing school? I guess I thought it would be more difficult to try to convince a school board to do something so out of the ordinary than to start a school from scratch. Most people feel safe in the status quo, then there are a few risk takers who want to shake things up a little. I guess I am one of those people who want to shake things up a little... as are the courageous parents who took a leap of faith and sent their children get a completely new kind of education.
A question a lot of people ask is what are you going to do when your son graduates, will the school stay open? Alexander was the catalyst. The school will run for as long as it needs to to show if it adds to the children's lives and education or not... it is an experiment, one that so far has had incredible results with the children who have attended.
Where do you find the high caliber of teachers you must need to accomplish all that you need and want them to do? What do you look for in teacher applicants?
Teaching at TGS is not your normal everyday teaching. A TGS teacher is on 24 hours a day. You have to be adaptable and enthusiastic. You have to think outside of the box when it comes to lesson planning and be able to collaborate well with your fellow teachers. You have to have patience and really love to travel. There is a lot of work involved in curriculum planning and we like to have our teachers input in every country we visit, their lessons have to be relevant.
I notice that the school is an IB school. Does that impose any constraints on your accomplishing your trips abroad? Given that IB has a distinct international flavor to it, it sounds like a good fit.
You are correct. IB does have an international flavor to it and its philosophy, mission and goals align very nicely with ours. It is all about creating a well rounded, global citizen who has the ability to see past what a certain branch of society says is correct and use their judgment to form their own opinions.
Have you had trouble 'selling' parents on the travel component? I ask this because you and I both know that travel has become so much more problematic and expensive in the last decade.
We have not had any trouble 'selling' the travel component. It is what the children sign up for. It is what the school is all about. The biggest response we get from parents, or any adult for that matter, is 'Why wasn't there a school like this around when I was at school?' A lot of the parents are completely happy to come and visit their children during the school year. The take the opportunity to travel themselves.
What kind of a discipline code do you have. How is it enforced?
We have a TGS discipline code. It is based on respect and trust. It is not a lot different from any regular boarding school. I can give you more details if you have any specific questions. It is enforced by our Head of School, teachers and Reslife staff.
Your approach sounds what I would characterize, for lack of a better description, as progressive. Can you expand on your philosophy and the educational anchors for that philosophy?
As I mentioned before, I think that we get stuck in the status quo, doing things a certain way because 'that is always the way it has been done'. It is safe. The educational system on the whole is scared, which doesn't mean there are not some amazing things going on in individual pockets. It is hard to change something so big and cumbersome, it is hard to know what to change to make that difference.
You have to start the change somewhere. That is what I am trying to do.
What really interests me is what do teenagers need to learn to survive in 'life' not just high school or university. Why makes a person truly happy and satisfied with their life? I think that is a question on a lot of people's minds.
We have at TGS what I like to call the 'quiet curriculum'. It is the life lessons that you can only get by living life doing something a little bit different. Being allowed to try things you would never think of, and maybe fail. Being in a situation where you have to draw on an inner courage to get you through, like communicating to a Hill Tribe that cannot understand a word you are saying. I want them to learn the value of empathy and humility. I want them to be proud of their curiosity and to never be afraid to ask questions. To really learn about something you have to 'FEEL' it. I think you know what I mean.
I want learning to be fun again, I want kids engaged and taking ownership of they are learning. I want them to understand WHY they have to learn certain things, why it matters.
I want to get to the point where I can share these lessons with the world. If I could show every teenager a little bit more of the world, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad I would. But I cannot so I hope at one point to be able to touch them through the use of technology. I want to give them hope, hope in their dreams not stress of having to perform a certain way society says you should.
I want them to have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. I want kids all over the world to understand it is OK to care.