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“School on a Mission Day” Reflects SAS Spirit and Values

September, 2012
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While the official start of school for students was August 15th, SAS teachers had by then been back at school for more than a week, planning and preparing classrooms for the new school year. They also spent one full day together – the entire faculty on one campus, braving the winds and rain of Typhoon Haikui – sharing their understanding of the school mission and learning how to make this bold and courageous vision a reality in the classroom. This dedicated day was called School on a Mission Day.

The SAS mission, approved last December by the School Board, has set the school on a striking new course for at least the next five years. It reads:

Shanghai American School inspires in all students:

A lifelong passion for learning

A commitment to act with integrity and compassion

The courage to live their dreams

sas-on-mission_kimbra-powerTraditionally, SAS has kicked off the year with a high-profile keynote speaker to inspire and set the tone for the school year. This year, the keynote speakers were the school’s very own SAS teachers. Nine courageous and inspirational teachers each delivered a short TED talk-style presentation, sharing professional and personal anecdotes and bringing the SAS mission vibrantly alive. The interpretations of the mission were personal, powerful and moving. Each speaker found a particular element of the mission that resonated with him or her.

Kimbra Power, Elementary School Librarian, SAS Pudong Campus, described her family’s experiences adopting a child and fostering another, and asked the question: “How can we teach our students about compassion without modeling it for them every single day?”

Tim Boyer, librarian at the Pudong Campus Secondary Library, encouraged his colleagues to teach their students to use the tools of the library to become life-long consumers of information. “The difference between true courage and foolhardiness,” he said, “is knowledge.”

Pudong Campus Academic Support Teacher Patty Winpenny described how her son, once stigmatized as a “special student” who could not learn the alphabet, became a successful beekeeper and businessman who loved reading. The key, she said, was never giving up, taking the time to work with all kids to draw out their strengths little by little, “like so many drops of honey.”

Mike Martin, a 5th grade teacher, SAS Pudong Campus, and a member of the Core Planning Team that wrote the original mission, shared the story of a former student who was terribly hampered by poor vision caused by tumors in her eyes, but who did not want her classmates to know of her disability for fear of rejection. With Martin’s help, she eventually did tell them, and went on to become a mature and confident student. “We don’t have to teach courage,” he said. “Just look for someone who needs encouragement.”

School Psychologist Sarah Pearlz, Puxi Campus, spoke of the need to help students find and use their strengths, so that they can approach the world as their best selves – confident, authentic, and positive. Children she said, “Feel courageous when we focus on their strengths.”

And finally, SAS Puxi Campus middle school teacher Craig Tafel shared the experience of the first SAS Microcampus in Yunnan province: a month-long learning project in which students used service learning and inquiry projects to learn in new and more self-directed ways. For students to really learn to think and reflect, Tafel said, “”we need to provide them space and time.”

To make the experience more interactive for all teachers, SAS used an online chat tool called Chatzy, which allowed the audience to make online comments in real time on each presentation, and even to share links and additional information. Comments were displayed on screens at the side of the stage, and captured the sense of inspiration and passion in the room. One new teacher wrote, “I am one of the newbies this year and WOW you guys are – just to touch the surface – truly amazing & inspiring! Can’t wait to meet everyone and hear more invigorating stories!’

As a “school on a mission” SAS teachers and staff were truly inspired to share our passion for learning, to work with integrity and compassion with the SAS students, and to inspire in all the courage to live their dreams.


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