Re-discovering Round Square

Posted: 06 August 2018

By: Rod Fraser AM, Chairman, Round Square

After more than 40 years in education you don’t expect to encounter a teaching and learning initiative that is genuinely new, surprising and exciting. As with cover-versions of our favourite songs, every generation of educators learns that it all comes around again… eventually.

Of those 40 years, I’ve been involved with Round Square for more than 20, both as a School Principal and also as a Member – more recently Chairman – of the Board of Trustees.

In all that time, there has never been a more exciting, far-reaching and transformational initiative than the Round Square Discovery Framework.

Both in the context of Round Square, and in the wider educational landscape, with its many holistic approaches to fostering and supporting character development, there has never been anything quite like it.

Created collaboratively with 160 schools involved and a writing team that spanned six continents, the RS Discovery Framework offers a structure for teaching and learning, both inside and beyond the curriculum, that connects the Spirit inherent in each of the Round Square IDEALS (International Understanding, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership and Service) with twelve Discoveries that students explore on their learning journey: inquisitiveness, tenacity, courage, compassion, inventiveness, ability to solve problems, self-awareness, sense of responsibility, appreciation for diversity, commitment to sustainability, communication and team-working skills.

Within this Framework, Students and Faculty in RS Member Schools are encouraged to discover and develop their own capabilities through a range of experiences, activities, taught lessons, collaborative projects and challenges.

One of the many factors that sets the RS Discovery Framework apart is that it is rooted in genuinely global, multi-curricula practical implementation. It describes, rather than dictates; is examples-led, not theoretical; and whilst it was conceived through a gradual meeting-of-minds between Round Square Heads of School over a number of years, it is inspired and empowered by student voice.

In a recent study of Round Square schools, students demonstrated a sophisticated, yet at the same time refreshingly simple, interpretation of the RS IDEALS in the context of BEING rather than DOING.

To take an example, on the subject of International Understanding, one student comments “I think it is the ability to accept difference and not to discriminate: To be aware and not only know that the difference is there but enjoy the fact that it’s there”. Another adds “I think it’s living in harmony with other nations, working with others, having to learn about their culture, and they learn about us too, so we know about more people, we create friendships”. A third student comments “for me, it is based on two concepts: open mindedness and being a global citizen. I think it is about being open, and aware that we are part of a global community rather than just our country.”

On the subject of Adventure, one student talks about “the ability to accept and take challenges… to explore more opportunities”, another “to be able to step out of your comfort zone and be ready to take risks” and “to be optimistic and not be afraid of taking new challenges regardless of the consequences: Being in the moment”. In this context, the Round Square Discovery Framework separates the activities (e.g. outdoor education, sports, expeditions, camping trips) from a Spirit of Adventure, which draws out e.g. courage, tenacity, risk-taking, self-discipline, embracing uncertainty and overcoming failure.

This default to the IDEALS as a series of values, attributes, skills and competencies is replicated across the student body of the majority of RS Member schools. As these examples illustrate, unencumbered as they are by the practicalities of “how?” students’ immediate response is about “what?” and “why?”

Whilst the school leadership and faculty of Round Square schools envisioned a powerful means of engaging a greater number of students with the Round Square IDEALS than was previously possible (when limited to exposing a small number to service project, exchange or conference experience), it has been their students that have inspired the development of that vision into a reality.

Since the very early days of Round Square, more than 50 years ago, the schools in our network have long-understood the power of immersion activities when it comes to developing a young person’s character through real-world experience. International service projects, global conferences and student exchange are just some of the activities that over the years have traditionally characterised the Round Square approach. But by their very nature, in most schools these activities are only ever for the few, and are often accessible only to those that can afford it.

The Round Square Discovery Framework tackles this by separating the personal attributes inherent in those activities from the activities themselves. For example, instead of service-learning being solely about learning through participating in community service activity, it becomes about the spirit of service that can be found in those activities (e.g. compassion, appreciation for diversity; empathy, problem solving, inventiveness, communication skills, cultural sensitivity, commitment to sustainability and team working).

What the Round Square Discovery Framework does is capture this spirit, and these attributes, into a structure that schools can use to embed the Round Square IDEALS for the many: with all age groups and across multiple curricula.

Why is this important?

Ask any good teacher why they teach, and invariably, along with a passion for their subject, they will convey a commitment to developing in their students’ positive attitudes, qualities and skills for active and engaged citizenship, for the betterment of our world both now and in the future.

That’s why I invested the first 40 years of my career in teaching and leading schools.

And that brings me to the second point.

My career so far in education has simply been my first 40 years of what will ultimately be 50 years or more in the world of work. Can we predict for today’s teenagers what the world will be like in 40 or 50, even 60 years?

By then, most will have embarked on four or five different careers, or more, some of which they will create themselves, and most of which probably don’t even exist yet.

To succeed they will need to be entrepreneurial, creative, confident, adaptable, a changemaker, a critical thinker, and a problem solver. They will have to be tenacious, resilient, self-managing, internationally-minded and able to work in multicultural teams. And in order to get there, many will first need to navigate entrance to, and success in their chosen field, within a University environment, which requires an approach to learning that is built around a greater level of self-efficacy than is developed in most traditional school environments.

“Students on today’s tertiary institutions encounter a variety of complex situations for which they are often ill-prepared by experience or individual development” says Moses Lutta, Deputy Head at Brookhouse School in Kenya. “Education not only gives a platform to succeed, but also the knowledge of social conduct, strength, character and self-respect. Character education, as enshrined in the Round Square Discoveries, is an avenue that not only provides a profession, but also a purpose in life, to the student Explorers. Hence, it is high time to reconfigure education on the basis of values, since the present day’s system runs the risk of molding technocrats and individuals, rather than global citizens.”

The Center for Curriculum Redesign, based in Boston MA, recently sought to outline what students should learn for the 21st century through bringing together non-government organizations, jurisdictions, academic institutions and corporations. Founder and Chairman, Charles Fadel is Chair of the Education Committee of the Business and Industry Advisory Group to the OECD and a visiting practitioner at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education

A recent publication from the Center argues that given the last major changes to curriculum were effected in the late 1800’s, as a response to the sudden growth in societal and human capital needs, and given that the world of the 21st century bears little resemblance to that of the 19th century, education curricula needs to be deeply redesigned for what the Center describes as the four dimensions of Knowledge, Skill, Character and Meta-learning (“how we reflect and adapt”).

Under Knowledge (“What we know and understand”), they list Traditional e.g. Mathematics; Modern e.g. Entrepreneurship; and Themes e.g. Global Literacy. Under Skills (“How we use what we know”), they list the four C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration. in terms of Character (“How we behave and engage in the world”) the characteristics and literacies of Mindfulness, Curiosity, Courage, Resilience, Ethics and Leadership are captured.

This is the latest, and perhaps most decisive, foray into redefining global curricula, and it both mirrors and validates the thinking and approach taken by the Round Square schools’ network.

Further validation, albeit internal, came in the form of two Round Square Discovery Framework workshops run this year, the first in Hong Kong in April and the second hosted at the Round Square offices in Windsor, UK earlier this month. Bringing together practitioners from more than 60 Round Square schools throughout the world, these global gatherings offered delegates the opportunity to share in the ongoing development of the Framework and learn from the experiences of those schools that have begun to introduce, develop and give life to it through practical applications.

“The presentations highlighted the versatility and applicability of the Round Square Discovery Framework across age groups, disciplines, and settings” says Karina Baum, Director of Global Education at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Boston, who presented at the workshop. “Our preliminary data, as well as that of others, suggest that character education is a requirement for global competency and academic success. It is therefore a matter of time until all RS schools start implementing, expanding and customizing the RSDF to fit every student and school specific needs.”

Arti Chowdary, Managing Director of KC Public School in India also presented at the workshop in Windsor and said “The RSDF workshop was very inspiring. The 12 discoveries are the seeds which will enable the RS Schools to foster capable young successors, having firm and strong roots and providing them with wings to take the flight into the New Era of creating world peace and happiness. We at KC Public School are looking at the RSDF from this perspective.”

It was clear from the broad range of presentations that the Round Square Discovery Framework has created a sense of excitement, sparked innovation, and built energy and optimism in the Round Square community. As a catalyst for change it has the potential to fundamentally alter the way that we think about, structure, combine, integrate and deliver educational initiatives that promote positive values and develop character.

“At the Amman Baccalaureate School, we have implemented the Round Square Discovery Framework as a means to reinforce and bolster our commitment to the importance of holistic education and character education for all our students” says Principal, Stuart Bryan, “As such, we feel that the Framework provides an excellent support for our Guiding Statements, as summed up by our “Al Tarbiyeh” acronym, which means “quality upbringing”, the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile and the Council of International Schools (CIS) International Accreditation protocol 2016, with its enhanced commitment to the welfare and safeguarding of students.”

“An ABS education has always been much more than just about excellent examination results, no matter how important these may be. We are delighted that the Round Square Discovery Framework has provided us with a prestigious and externally validated set of indicators by which we can continue to emphasise the importance of educating compassionate and tolerant national and global citizens, who contribute back fully to both their local and international communities.”

Craig Carolan, Headmaster at Stanford Lake College in South Africa adds: “I consider that we have, in the RSDF, something that is going to transform our approach to teaching & learning. With character education becoming increasingly important in our current times I believe the RSDF formalises what so many of us are looking for in a programme: The opportunity to guide the character development of our students, as well as explicitly developing their ability to reflect on their thinking – two powerful tools in educating our future generations.”

And Craig Cetrulo, Dean of Faculty at Saint Andrew’s says “The Round Square Discovery Framework will provide a structure for Saint Andrew’s School to implement a comprehensive, values-based student-life curriculum, with particular emphasis on the experience of our boarding population.  We’re excited about the work inspired by our recent collaboration with Round Square.”

Within schools that adopt the Round Square Discovery Framework, flexing and adapting it to suit their own particular core values, ethos and curricula setting, its introduction will ensure that potentially all Students and all Staff are exposed to the IDEALS of Round Square, developing a common language that frames their teaching and learning approach in the context of those six themes.

In the future, perhaps the RS Discovery Framework has the potential to extend the reach of Round Square schools into their local communities and beyond. We are already exploring its potential to enable Member Schools to extend their outreach to other schools in their neighbourhood who might not choose, or be able, to become full Members of Round Square but that might benefit from exposure to this style of teaching and learning.

On a wider stage, the take-up of the RSDF continues to grow, and adoption by the majority of Schools in our Network looks set to become a reality. As a result, our collective voice is also growing, and with it our ability to contribute meaningfully to the global discussion on the importance and place of character education. Never has this been so important than now, in the face of a seemingly growing pressure to make “good education” about only those things that can be counted and measured by exam results. And never has Round Square been more prepared to enter into the debate.

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