The Round Square Discovery Framework – A Trojan Horse for Character Education

By Rachael Westgarth on 15/03/2017

I see it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion” – Kurt Hahn.

A visionary in his time, and the inspiration behind Round Square, Kurt Hahn regularly spoke of the need to educate for character and compassion above all else.

In Germany in the 1920s, Hahn’s views certainly weren’t mainstream, but today character education and the acquisition of “soft skills” are widely acknowledged to be essential in the development of well-rounded, active and informed global citizens.

That said, whilst it is now a rare thing to find a public statement on education that describes its main purpose in terms of students’ academic success alone, it is still the case that the vast-majority of time spent in the vast-majority of schools focuses primarily on this area.

Arguably driven by pressure to demonstrate academic ability for university entrance or employment, we’re stuck in a catch-22: So long as employers and university admissions focus on exam grades, many schools will continue to feel compelled to promote academic attainment as a singular exercise above all else. Whilst this continues in education, employers and universities will continue to feel compelled to set the first measure of potential by exam grades.

 It is always an interesting exercise to read the abundance of articles, on Social Media and in the mainstream press, on the topic of education and how we should be changing it. What is even more interesting is to see the hundreds and thousands of ‘likes’ on each of these, and yet very little seems to change.” says Craig Carolan, Headmaster of Stanford Lake College in South Africa in his recent article ‘Stretching Ourselves Beyond the Ordinary’.

Don’t get me wrong. When the end of year results come out I am the first one skimming through my school’s results to make sure we maintain our stellar record,” says Carolan, “but unfortunately this only serves to progress the current notion that an individual’s ability to contribute to a successful society can only be measured by how well they do in a set of standardised examinations.

This is a sentiment echoed across the Round Square network of schools, whose shared belief in the benefits of a values-based, experiential approach to learning led to the creation of the Round Square Discovery Framework.

Developed collaboratively by an international writing group of Heads, Teachers and Curriculum Directors from Round Square schools, the Round Square Discovery Framework captures and describes the spirit of a Round Square learner who develops and exhibits competencies and attitudes in relation to each of the six RS IDEALS (Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service).

The framework connects the spirit of the RS IDEALS with twelve Discoveries that students make 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). The framework is designed to support the integration of these Discoveries into curriculum programming, and signpost to ways in which they can be given tangible value in an academic context… It’s essentially a friendly Trojan Horse.

"Using the Round Square Discovery Framework, a growing number of schools are finding new ways to embed character education into the curriculum, focusing on values rather than activities; the 'being' rather than the 'doing'." Says Round Square Chairman, Rod Fraser "A simple example would be service learning. Traditionally cast as an extra-curricular activity, a school's community service programme might include volunteering, civic engagement, charity fundraising, perhaps an overseas service project. All are valuable learning experiences, but once you draw out the spirit of those activities, and look for inventiveness, empathy, compassion, the ability to solve problems, appreciation for diversity... it's easier then to see how you might build the development of those qualities into your curriculum programming."

Stanford Lake College implemented the Round Square Discovery Framework throughout Year 8, starting in 2016 as part of a global pilot programme. Initially they established a Curriculum Committee and invested time communicating and engaging with Faculty and the Parent Community. Lesson plans mapped to the RSDF followed, and a cycle of implementation and reflection. The June 2016 exam papers included RSDF focus questions which asked students to explain, with examples, scenarios in which they have developed and explored RSDF Discoveries such as problem solving, tenacity, courage, inventiveness.

This year, Stanford Lake has used the Discovery Framework to introduce a new Homework structure that aims to instil a growth mindset and broaden general knowledge. “After working with the RSDF, we have started to realise more and more that in our junior years, we need to move away from content and provide our pupils with more time to develop skills.” Says Sam Venter, Head of Teaching & Learning at Stanford Lake “We felt that turning homework into ‘prep’ whereby they prepare for classes the next day by reading or carrying out projects would be much more beneficial.”

As Carolan explains “Teachers design lesson plans with the ‘Discoveries’ at the heart of their lesson. Although the content delivered is still very similar and in most cases identical to what was done previously, it is the development of these ‘skills’ which is the priority. Over the two-year programme subject teachers aim to move a child along a continuum from less skilled to highly skilled in each of the 12 Discoveries. By doing so we believe that each child will develop higher levels of self-efficacy in each of these areas and that this self-efficacy will reap academic rewards across all the subjects they learn, as well as producing Ethical, Compassionate, Globally aware young people.”

Launched initially as a pilot in 2015, the Round Square Discovery Framework is gaining momentum. As schools test its capacity to make meaningful connections between academic, ethical, emotional and social development, the Framework is beginning to reveal its potential to bridge gaps and promote positive change.

"What the Round Square Discovery Framework made us do was to examine and re-evaluate how we provide Global Citizenship Education to all members of the IGS community" says Gerard Foley, Principal of Ivanhoe Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia. "Building on the Framework with our Global Citizenship Program we aim to provide an authentic learning experience that we believe will develop self-aware, inquisitive, compassionate, and innovative global citizens who are equipped to take action that will positively impact their local communities and the wider world."

Ivanhoe Grammar School began its journey with the RS Discovery Framework through a comprehensive audit, surveys, and the creation of staff action groups. "Faculty engagement is essential in embedding the framework successfully from the start," says Foley. "It builds ownership, and in our case created a sense of excitement that we were on to something new, something different and potentially game-changing." Ivanhoe is in the process of updating curriculum documents, mapping them to the Discoveries, and has tested the Framework's application through adapting existing initiatives such as the 'Night of the Notables' in which Year 8 Humanities students research and present on an individual that inspires them, now identifying which IDEALS Spirits from the framework are exemplified by their 'Notable'.

A new pastoral program in the Senior Years has been launched, with each student in Y10-12 now supported by a Futures Mentor, closely involved in guiding their personal, academic, and future planning with students reflecting on their journey with each of the discoveries. A new co-ordinated sequence and scope has been developed for Ivanhoe's Wellbeing program with Pastoral, HPE, FEA (faith, ethics attitude) departments. Most recently, Ivanhoe has introduced RSDF Ambassadors in years 7 and 8.

"The impact so far has been hugely positive." says Foley "The Round Square Discovery Framework provides a great structure within which to reassess, reorganise and give tangible value to the range of great initiatives and activities that exist in a school. It really supports the creation of a cohesive programme, but with the flexibility to ensure that the school's ethos, approach and practices continue to be infused throughout."

At Appleby College in Canada, work has begun to re-frame the school’s residential life curriculum around the 12 Discoveries. “As we began integrating the framework into the school, it’s become clear that it fits in very well with our values” says Matthew Rudisi, “It was immediately clear that our current program and the RS Discovery Framework were highly compatible, which added value by clearly structuring the outcomes we were looking for in our boarders,” says Matt. “It also allowed for consistent vocabulary with other programming areas that we are developing using the framework such as our 8th grade Presentations of Learning (POL) initiative.” Appleby’s POL is an academic initiative in which 8th grade students prepare and deliver a presentation on their preparedness for 9th grade and how their learning has impacted their lives. This June, in making their presentations, the students will blend three of Appleby’s pillars of strength with two of the Round Square Discoveries. “Not only has this begun making students aware of the framework,” says Matt, “but it has offered a fantastic way to get students thinking about skills and qualities that they are developing.  We have high expectations that the framework will bring an added depth to these presentations of learning.”              

The Amman Baccalaureate School in Jordan is piloting the new CIS Accreditation 2016, and will be the first school world-wide to host a synchronized visit with the IB for this protocol. Work has begun to integrate the RS Discovery Framework fully into all that ABS does at the school and, in particular, map it against their "Al Tarbiyeh" acronym, which represents their Guiding Statements, the IB Learner Profile and the requirements of the new CIS 2016 International Accreditation protocol.

It’s an interesting experiment for us, and whilst it’s still early days, we are finding the Round Square Discovery Framework to be really useful in helping us to consider how we combine the variety of approaches required” says Stuart Bryan, Principal of ABS Jordan. “It’s important to us as a school that we have a clearly defined, unified, sequential and transparent approach to teaching and learning, and the Framework is a great support and guide to us creating that.

Across the Round Square network the Discovery Framework is being used in conjunction with a wide variety of Curricula, including in-country national, the IB, and curricula applied internationally from leading education jurisdictions such as England and Wales, Australia and the USA. In many cases the Round Square Discovery Framework is being used to create an overarching structure that links and makes sense of previously contrasting learner profiles, providing a structure within which a single teaching and learning approach can fulfill the needs of a variety of different curricula.

The outcomes of being a Round Square school extend beyond memorable experiences and into the creation of a deeper awareness and a way of being.” Says Stuart Walls, Deputy Head of Middle School at Scotch Oakburn College in Tasmania, where the Round Square Discovery Framework has this year provided a learning framework for the school’s Year 6 Future Explorers programme “The framework provides an opportunity to blend character education into any curriculum.

At The British School New Delhi, students in Years 7-9 are offered an adapted version of the National Curriculum of England, leading to IGCSE exams with CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) in years 10-11 and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme in years 12-13. The Round Square Discovery Framework has been woven in to the school’s Learner Profile, with the 12 Discoveries forming the component elements of a rounded character education, and is now being used to draw out transferrable learning applicable to its multiple curricula from active experiences such as residential visits.

The RS Discovery Framework is a great enabler in capturing and transferring back into the classroom the invaluable benefits of active learning” says Pallavi Jha, a Geography Teacher and Round Square Rep at the British School, New Delhi.

When combined with a residential experience the effective benefits and improvements in social skills reinforce cognitive learning, providing a bridge to higher order learning and critical thinking” She says. “As educators we know that these experiences develop an appreciation, respect and sensitivity to a wide range of different environments, they enable students to develop their understanding of different perspectives on social, political or ecological issues and they help students to clarify and justify their own values whilst learning to acknowledge and respect other people’s values. The challenge is to capture this learning and transfer it back into the classroom in a meaningful way, and this is where the RS Discovery Framework can really help.”

In embracing the Framework, a growing number of Round Square schools are discovering their own innovative and creative ways to blend character education with academic achievement, whether through embedding “soft skills” into the harder lines of curriculum planning or drawing out the learning from extra-curricular endeavour and bringing it into the classroom.

Next month in Hong Kong, representatives from Round Square schools will come together for the first of two workshops on the RS Discovery Framework. The second will be held in June in the UK. Featuring in-depth and snapshot presentations from Gerard Foley, Craig Carolan, Pallavi Jha, Stuart Walls, Stuart Bryan, Rod Fraser, and many others, the workshops will share experiences of the Framework in practice. Delegates will be invited to collaborate in co-creating approaches, content and activities that can be implemented in their own schools.

Round Square schools that have not yet registered can do so here.


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