HERE WE ARE at the end of our first year! I remember the intense curiosity I once felt wondering what it would feel like to write that line.
As the term wraps up, we can look back at so many wonderful explorations and experiences and say we lived deeply and learned much. We know a thing or two now about moving about the world; about buying our daily bread, whether it’s Swedish knäckebröd or Chinese bing; about holding a lesson in a brick-and-mortar classroom or eight metres under the Indian Ocean.
But of all we’ve seen and done in this jam-packed adventure in education, I am most excited by this: TGS has proven beyond any doubt that a school is not a place but a habit of mind.
Within 24 hours of arriving in Beijing, after all had dropped their luggage in their rooms of the Olympic Village, we had the students engaged in a complex workshop requiring them to work in small teams, producing and uploading to the web a series of screencasts explaining the mechanics of our learning management system. All it took to get them working was a simple invitation:
Let’s get to work.
They didn’t need to sit in desks, and they didn’t need a bell to get started. What they needed—and have been given since the first day in Stockholm—is a sense of worth, a group of adults who believe they are capable of doing great things, and especially, a strong sense of identity.
I knew before we opened our doors that the success of the school would depend on the degree to which we could foster a strong sense of camaraderie and trust between students and between faculty and students. As a mobile school shifting homes every three months, living and working far away from family and friends, we alone had to find ways around inevitable cultural frictions and the normal scratchiness that comes with living together 270 days a year. And we did.
Put TGS students in anyone else’s classroom, and you can pick them out, not by their ties or plaid skirts but the fearless way they speak out, ask questions, and pursue ideas.
That’s the TGS identity.
Whatever else we say worked well—or didn’t, as the case may be—as we reflect on our first year in operation, we must recognize our success in proving that learning doesn’t happen in the classroom; it happens in the person. Not only has this held TGS kids together through laughter and tears, it has shown the rest of the world of education that schools are not built of brick and mortar but of young people and great ideas.