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Curriculum Collaborations and Caring Connections

By Laura Benson, ISS Director of Curriculum and Professional Development

Relationships inform and fuel my work. Throughout each school year in my role, I am blessed to collaborate with ISS school colleagues. These connections have never been more vital, more urgent, and more sacred to me than the last year faced with the daunting challenges of the pandemic. There are so many on the ISS team who are generously reaching out to colleagues and, in fact, the entire international education community with a myriad of professional learning events and resources.

Normally, I am in our schools providing onsite services and support: teaching demonstration lessons, joining teachers to collaboratively design curriculum, engaging in parent education workshops, leading professional learning conversations and studies, developing formative assessments with student voices, and offering teaching assistants professional growth opportunities.

However, the current and previous school year have had to look very different — as I know they have for all of you too. To share some of our support, what follows are a few ways I am working with the ISS school community. I also share the thousands of ways each school and every educator inspires me with their infinite dedication and unconditional caring for their students, their families, and for all of us as colleagues.

Learning, teaching, and bridges

ISS has seen the incredible care of international educators, the way everyone — from teachers to teaching assistants, administrators to parents — rolled up their sleeves to support student learning in the face of unprecedented challenge. We've seen them innovate their teaching, witnessed the devotion to helping each other as colleagues by sharing solutions and problem-solving difficulties. Every observation and exchange of these communities' efforts fuels hope.

Like you, we sought to support our students’ learning in online contexts through times of fear and uncertainty, seeking to sustain feelings of community and trust with students and parents, often with very little notice. So, with the challenges of the pandemic demanding shifts in our teaching – location, vehicles, timing – staying connected and working from a bridge spirit are ever more essential.

Bridges to take us to the other side of understanding, all to serve students with compassionate, responsive, and uplifting instruction. To support ISS schools, I am working to create expansive bridges and connected channels of communication, sharing, and crowdsourcing. To counter isolation and strengthen the relationships between our schools, we are building ISS school communities such as:

  • The ISS Curriculum Community — This network connects our school curriculum leaders and crowdsources our curriculum work.

  • Monthly sharing conversations with Common Ground Collaborative (CGC)and Kevin Bartlett (Founding Director of the CGC) — These sessions work from a shared definition of learning, nurture each school’s learning ecosystem, and develop curriculum to grow each child’s conceptual learning, competency learning, and character learning.

  • ISS IB Think Tank — This space invites ideas about building community and nurturing student voice through inquiry and choice, within the International Baccalaureate program's requirements and expectations.

  • ISS Padlets — I expanded my use of Padlets to exchange learning and teaching ideas and practices with the entire ISS school community. These offer swift and agile ways to generate communication, helping make our virtual and hybrid teaching work more visible and tangible for one another. Over time, these Padlets have become wonderful crowdsourcing libraries of solutions as we continue to share effective pedagogy and tools.

  • ISS Curriculum Development Task Force — I convened this Task Force to collaboratively create systems and resources that will support our new ISS start-up schools. The team draws from a variety of ISS departments, honoring each person’s perspectives and their vast, dynamic experiences as international educators. We will share thinking and resources with our current schools to support the dynamic and ever changing nature of curriculum.

My customized professional learning and leadership support for and with our school communities continues, even in an online environment. These services for individual school efforts include the following:

  • Clarifying school identity and mission

  • Developing curriculum and discerning effective archiving platforms and systems

  • Supporting accreditation tasks and reflections

  • Learning how to apply the workshop model in online contexts

  • Studying best-practice formative-assessment pedagogy.

Key efforts of my support to ISS schools also include wellness checks to each school, to offer compassionate professional friendship in challenging days of dynamic and sometimes abrupt changes.

As Matt Glover wisely says, curriculum is a projection, never really a plan. What our students bring to the learning table, what they wonder, what they need – all of these demand that our curriculum toolboxes be deep and rich so that we can customize children’s learning, honoring their curiosities and passions.

With thanks and hope

I am so looking forward to being back in-person with my ISS school colleagues and back in classrooms with our students. Still, we are continuing to generate edifying and meaningful ways to collaborate and grow our students’ learning. For me in this bewildering time of COVID-19, these professional collaborations continue to be a constant lifeline of delight, intellectual stimulation, and hope. Educators making a difference throughout the world, I salute you most sincerely and most gratefully!


This article originally published in the January 2021 ISS NewsLinks. Learn more about ISS Professional Development initiatives here.

About Laura Benson

ISS Director of Curriculum and Professional Development, @lbopenbook.

Laura helps ISS school educators develop and refine their curriculum and engage in deeper understandings of best-practice pedagogy. A well-cited scholar and researcher, Laura has published numerous articles in professional journals and is the co-author of Standards and Assessment: The Core of Quality Instruction and Bearing Witness. Laura earned degrees from Trinity University and University of Denver, and furthered her studies at Harvard University, Columbia University Teachers College, and Cambridge University. A third culture child herself, international schools fostered Laura’s passion for studying language-learning, honoring all cultures, and fighting for children’s educational opportunities around the world.

About International Schools Services (ISS)

ISS a leading nonprofit with more than 60 years of experience in international education. Whether it’s developing and managing world-class international schools, staffing schools, ordering equipment and supplies, performing accounting functions, or supporting best-in-class teaching and learning approaches, ISS provides the full range of services necessary for your school to thrive and deliver an outstanding global education to your students.

Follow Laura at @LBopenbook


ISS has been a valuable partner and a VIP Sponsor to CEESA.

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