Discover Clarion School its vision, philosophy and learn why it plays an integral part in Dubai’s education sector
1 April 2019| Last updated on 16 April 2019
EW sits down with Lisa Ripperger, Principal of Clarion School for an exclusive interview
Clarion School is the leading progressive American School in the region and is on a mission to redefine what is meant by educational excellence. The school is challenging traditional assumptions of what good education should look like, for it to be considered relevant to the needs of tomorrow.
Only in its third year, Clarion was recently recognized as one of the top three American schools in the UAE.
Like most other American schools, Clarion follows the Common Core standards but that is where the similarities start to end. Clarion’s core belief is that for a child to be a successful and engaged member of society, learning should be understood to be a continual and never-ending journey. A person who stops learning will be quickly left behind by our rapidly evolving society.
In essence, Clarion sees itself as just one part of a child’s lifelong learning journey, and hence sees its role as a school in a different context.
Clarion follows 4 progressive layers that they view as necessary to supporting children.
At the very core, Clarion believes that all children should have a certain level of knowledge and be appropriately challenged. These high expected standards are defined by the Common Core standards which American schools are required to follow (the other being AERO standards).
However, having high standards is one thing. Children achieving these standards in a meaningful and deep way requires a large curricular tool box.
In that regard, Clarion utilizes powerful learning frameworks that appropriately challenge and scaffold a child to deeper levels of understanding. These highly researched and evidenced frameworks support learning from Literacy and Math to the Arts and Music.
Simultaneously, concurrent assessments are occurring to understand where a child is at and where they should be able to reach. Much of that day to day evidence of learning is reflected in the questions students ask, their portfolios of work and their learning journals. Framework embedded assessments and international benchmarking is also used to better understand each student and how to support them.
Character of Learners
This is where Clarion starts to see its progressive approach to education distinguish itself from others… an understanding that learning should be happening within a child and not within a school. Clarion focuses on developing the traits for children to be independent learners, where each child has an intrinsic joy for learning that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
However, it is not just about children being self-directed learners but to have the traits to use that learning in a positive manner and for the betterment of others. Values such as empathy, integrity and social justice are developed.
Likewise, children are also taught to be intellectual risk takers. To ask challenging questions and understand that there may be more than one right answer or none at all. Teachers are very conscious of this and their teaching strategies and assessments place great stock in the process of learning, one where failing forward is valued.
Application of Learning
Without context, children have limited understanding of what they are learning and why they are learning. Clarion places great emphasis on contextualizing learning, including the use of well-planned local field trips that provide experiential opportunities that are connected to the classroom learning. Likewise, an understanding of that learning is made more substantial when there is an application element.
This Application of Learning takes the form of Project Based Studies where children are given opportunities to synthesize their discrete areas of learning and apply it to solving a real-world challenge or concern.
These Studies give children great ownership of the learning journey and demonstrates an intrinsic value to what they are learning and learning in general. It is also a great opportunity for children to challenge and push themselves into unplanned areas so as to create their own new learnings.
Reflection on the learnings, process and the challenges faced are an integral part at the end of these Studies.
Culture of Learning
In Clarion’s progressive model of education, children are co-creators of learning with their teachers and each other. They ask meaningful questions, dig deeper, collaborate and critically think.
There is a lot of emphasis placed on giving children a voice and ownership in their learning. Teachers are required to be highly trained to understand where a child is at, their needs and strengths and to appropriately challenge them. They need to be able to work at the child’s level of understanding to know what hooks to use to get that child engaged in their learning.
This is a lot more difficult to achieve than would be in a more traditional setting. By moving away from a standardized, one size fits all approach, Clarion has had to focus heavily on the quality of its teachers as well as the professional development framework to support them.
That is why in every classroom there are two qualified educators. Nearly all Lead Teachers have an Advanced Degree and professional development sessions are held weekly at the school.
Other notable – Parents’ Involvement
Parent involvement is one of the strengths of Clarion’s progressive education. Parents form strong partnerships with the school, the teachers as well as each other.
They do this though both formal associations like the Clarion Parent Committee and the Parent Council as well through informal means. Many friendships have been formed at the Parent Café and it is not uncommon for parents to develop some very lasting friendships.
Parents are valued and respected as active participants in their child’s learning. They are welcome to engage directly with the teachers as well as the open-door policy supported by the School Principal.