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Darlene Fisher on International Schools and the International Baccalaureate – PP70

The topic of the week is Darlene Fisher on International Schools and the International Baccalaureate.

After having a few technical problems which caused us to have a break in the podcast schedule last week, we returned to a conversation with Darlene Fisher who is Director of Education at the SKOLA group of International Schools. Darlene has 35 years of experience in education as a teacher and administrator. She has spent the last 6 years in Instanbul at an International Baccalaureate school. Darlene has been involved with the IB for a significant amount of time as a teacher and an examiner. Now she has started to work with SKOLA to set up a new school in the UK and is also continuing her own studies as a doctoral student studying international education.

Darlene sees some differences between learning in an international school and, for example, a ‘national’ school in the UK. International schools are all about a combination of local and international focus. The emphasis is on understanding the world as a whole. Local history and national cultures are valued as well, of course.

Multilingualism is very important in international schools – there is the expectation that, in order to live in a global world, you need to know someone else’s language to be able to communicate and understand the differences in culture.

In order to emphasise the importance of networking with others across the world, all students in international schools work with others in different countries.

The Multi-Surface Classroom – ‘5 Surfaces’

The new school Darlene is setting up is Newland College in Buckinghamshire. Part of its teaching approach is called 5 Surfaces.

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Darlene mentions research into what makes a difference to students’ learning and part of that is making learning visible. A simple example of this is where students write their answers on a pad and hold it up so the teacher can see immediately how many learners have the right answer. They can then adjust their teaching accordingly. This is one of the 5 surfaces.

Another surface is the large monitor on one wall of the classroom. This can show the internet or a class computer. Small screens are placed low down in a module in the middle of the oval where the children sit. They can access all sorts of different content on these screens but also keep the conversation going at the same time.

The table round which the children sit is also one of the surfaces – they can be moved around to enable group work or paired work but for the most part they are arranged in an oval to facilitate discussion. The final surface is a large whiteboard which is available for the students to use. They can make their ideas visible in what ever way they want to on this surface. Children move around a lot to develop their ideas because we know that the more actively involved the children are, the more chance they will have of understanding.

Paul points out that the same principles can be applied to any classroom where the furniture is set out in restrictive ways – like a ‘traditional’ ICT room.

How does the IB impact positively on children’s behaviour?

The IB does not just provide a particular syllabus – it is based around developing not just just knowledge but also understanding and the tools needed to deal with the curriculum itself. There are 6 content areas which all children cover and also:

  • A 4,000 word research project on an area of the earner’s choice
  • Creative activity like theatre or music etc.
  • Action – to be physically active
  • Service – giving back to the community and making the world a better place

It is a holistic curriculum which develops the whole child throughout the age range. This has a positive impact on their behaviour as they become aware of their impact in the community as well as aware of themselves, how to look after themselves and lead a healthy life.

How does a leader in a school help the staff to keep improving?

It’s to do with expectations and modelling. You can’t expect others to develop and explore new techniques and approaches if you don’t do this yourself. PD needs to be differentiated – you can’t have a single topic or workshop to which everyone goes – it needs to be on-going and explorative. An ongoing sense of growth where certain aspects of a topic are revisited and worked on in different ways by different people will work best.

It’s also important to give teachers opportunities to develop aspects which interest them and to have the expectation that staff will be talking about PD. Schools where teachers spend time talking about teaching have children who achieve the most.


Darlene believes that inspection is needed but where it becomes so bureaucratic that it takes time away from the education of the children, it is a problem.

High-stakes testing

Darlene is not in favour of high-stakes testing. Not all education is easily measured. How do you measure an amazing piece of theatre which reflects a deep understanding of a social issue or an individual’s contribution to that theatre? How do you measure collaborative ability or group work? These are essential skills.

Find out more about Darlene’s school, Newland College, and SKOLA.

Pivotal Podcast Pocketbooks

PEpocketbook-BUNDLE2Newly-created Pivotal Podcast Pocketbooks are now available from Amazon including one on Restorative Practice. There will be a huge range of Pocketbooks from Pivotal Education, starting with the edited transcripts of some of the most popular episodes of the podcast.

The idea of releasing written versions of episodes came from listeners who wanted to be able to make notes and use the content in different ways. If you would like a particular episode to be converted into an ebook, please let us know!

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –



What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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