Wow! What a difficult last 12 months and more! There is now hope as the vaccines roll out across the country. That said, slower than we would all really like, but it’s coming. To my mind, one of the most striking examples of people coping with the situation is all the children and teenagers who studied from home. I take my hat off to them all and the teachers. When I was at school if we had a day off, we would all be cheering. I imagine nowadays, when the kids were told they could actually go back to school, they all started cheering.
You cannot replace the group dynamic of the classroom. The interaction with the teachers and other students. They probably missed seeing their friends. After all, school is a very social place. This is something we wanted to look at more, so we asked Anne-Marie van Holst-Steenmeijer, the Director at the Optimist International School, for some insights on this very topic. Read on to see the Q+A.
What a great name for a school! Being an optimist is so important! Imagine if you went to a school and it was called, ‘School For Winners’. You would quite naturally adopt a winning mindset, having heard the name enough times. Surely then the Optimist International School is full of optimists? Let’s find out with our Q+A. So, Anne-Marie, thank you so much for your time answering our questions.
q1. Firstly, what a name for a school! Please tell us more about your school and if it is full of optimists.
Well, truly I believe that positive expectations, like visualizing an aim, can change your mindset and help you to get there. Within our school, we often refer to ourselves as ‘optimists’ or an optimistic team and community and this definitely makes us feel positive. There is an energetic vibe in our school. Also, being a start-up school requires some sort of ‘pioneers’ mentality and optimism. However, our school is actually named after the Optimist, a small, single-handed sailing dinghy (boat) intended for use by young children. You see them a lot in the Netherlands.
Our learning philosophy fits well with how young children learn to sail in an Optimist dinghy, in their own boat, supported and coached by an instructor in another boat The children learn to sail independently in a safe environment (a stable boat) by being active, exploring, being inquisitive, sailing in a group with other children so collaborating…
q2. Secondly, how does the team at the Optimist International School encourage a better learning experience for the children? Please tell us more about your philosophy of teaching.
Our motto is: “Bringing out your inner magic”. This reflects that we feel it’s exciting to grow by learning, which lies at the heart of all that we do. No one can properly predict the nature of work and life opportunities that will be available for today’s primary age children by the time they are adults.
Therefore we focus on a skills-based approach, developing inquiry-based and collaborative skills. This develops open-minded and globally-minded lifelong learners, prepared for the fast-changing world that is increasingly interconnected. Using a theme-based curriculum ‘International Primary Curriculum (IPC)’ supports this.
We feel students learn best with a theme-based curriculum in which we link academic subjects, personal and international learning. Students are so curious and love to explore, and we stimulate that inquisitive mindset and support them to use that as a learning strategy. We believe children develop best when they use imagination and creativity to explore our world, accept challenges and take risks. At OIS children can demonstrate their learning in varied ways, such as group work, art activities, role play, multimedia, projects and much more.
q3. I read about ‘The Dot’. That sounds interesting. What does it mean?
It’s important and helpful in life to have a growth mindset. The growth mindset believes that although you might not be able to do something now (yet), you will be able to do that in the near future with hard work, determination and support. “The dot” is a story (by Peter H. Reynolds) about a teacher who believes in a child and the miraculous things that happen when you have a mentor in your life backing you up and cheering you on. Our dot, to be found in our logo resembles our vision on learning, continuously, lifelong, a love of learning.
q4. I see a community spirit is very important in the school. Please tell us more about that.
Almost all 200 children at our school and their families have arrived in the Netherlands those past 3 years (when we started). As a school, we recognise the importance of having a great community, especially when you are new to the country. The school community is a place you can feel welcome and supported. Being an international school, we come from different countries and celebrate our identities. And, we value each other’s beliefs and cultures, customs, and multilingualism.
The school, parents and the community also play a vital role in working together to promote the health and wellbeing of the students and to develop a positive attitude towards learning and education – building their motivation and confidence and fostering their enjoyment of learning. That sense of partnership is important.
We encourage parents to participate in their child’s learning and in the life of the school and want to ensure that parents feel welcome in our school. We also have parents who are part of the Participation Council (PC) or the Activity Committee (AC). Furthermore, class representatives are a welcoming informal network of support and a source of assistance to the class teacher on all sorts of non-educational matters.
We currently are not able to invite parents in school, but we normally welcome them to use the school facilities including our coffee machine and our reception space to meet other parents and connect.
q5. It seems like the individual child gets to decide a lot of elements of their own learning. What is the thinking behind that?
Within thematic learning children can choose their own path which makes learning meaningful. We embrace each child’s continuous learning journey in which students learn how to take control of their learning. This happens by using self-assessment to help them understand their level of skills and knowledge.
In addition, our learning objectives are also described in the child’s rubrics. This means it’s clear to them what learning looks like in the different stages of learning: new to learning, beginning, developing and mastering. We discuss with them, where they are in their learning. We call that our ‘learning journey’. In classes, that’s visualised on the wall.
We guide children in strategies, how to get from the beginning to developing. For example, how they can practice, how they can ask for help from people around them. When they see their own development made visible, they experience the importance of being resilient, persevering, which are important personal qualities in life. We believe that those learning skills help them to be successful lifelong learners.
q6. Amsterdam is such a haven for international families. Please tell us more about multilingualism in your school.
As an international school, we have more than 40 nationalities in our school. We recently became an accredited Language Friendly School and all languages spoken by our students are welcome and valued. We are very much committed to promoting a multilingual approach.
In addition, for children who are non-native English speakers, we provide English as an Additional Language or EAL support. In our classes, we allow students to use the languages they feel most comfortable with. This shows their understanding and develops their skills. Meanwhile, we try to methodically use their languages to support the development in English too.
For this purpose, children can read, write and do research in their mother language. Meanwhile, EAL teachers assist them to create links between their languages and English for deeper and effective acquisition. This helps children communicate and access the learning while taking part in the same lessons as their classmates.
This ensures each child is equally challenged through the curriculum content despite the language barrier. The results in children’s academic and personal development are outstanding. This is because they can be themselves, they build self-esteem and confidence. At the same time, they navigate through their cultures and identities while being respectful and tolerant of others.
We realise that being new to a country, new to a language and being unable yet to express yourself can be challenging. Nothing is more important to see children smile, be confident and feeling included, respected, so we really believe that multilingualism is an asset for a school!
q7. The Optimist International School follows a path of sustainable development goals. What does that mean for the children?
International learning goals are embedded in our learning, encouraging and equipping our students to engage with global issues and the world around them as world citizens. Therefore, it’s a big part of our IPC curriculum. We connect actively with our environment and actual topics and topics of the future.
A nice example is our current unit in Milepost 3 (9-10 years old), called ‘What a wonderful world’. This unit is about natural forces that have been shaping our planet for many billions of years. Throughout this unit, students are learning about the physical processes that shape our planet – and the vital role that we play in safeguarding our planet and its resources for future generations.
Personal goals that are included are Adaptability, Communication, Enquiry, Thoughtfulness. Examples of research are forces and processes that shape our planet, e.g. soil erosion, the influence of weather on nature and extreme weather events. Also how they affect people and localities (hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, etc.), possible causes of climate change and its effects on our planet. For example, how man-made changes can alter/change our local environment or how the lives of people in one country or group are affected by the activities of other countries or groups and how people work together for mutual benefit. Students just started this unit and made impressive biomes.
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So there you have it. Some wonderful insights into the workings of the Optimist International School. Should you wish to learn more, please contact the school directly:
The School website
By phone: 023 303 5924
By email: email@example.com
Also, for more information about the Optimist International School, see more on our listing for the school.