Living our mission statement through play

Jennifer Wong-Powell, Early Childhood Coordinator, International School of London Qatar

This article highlights how the primary students highlight and realize their school’s mission statement through play.

After an exciting journey of revising our school’s mission, we launched the 2016-2017 academic year by asking ourselves: How do we make our school’s mission statement visible to students, our parents and the wider community? In combination with acknowledging the recognition from our visiting team from the Council of International Schools, we aimed to continue our creative ways of illuminating who we are and what we aspire to achieve. Our school’s mission: Cultivating learners with the mental agility and confidence of spirit to become culturally proficient human beings. 

One of the ways in which we highlighted the realization of our school’s mission statement was through our participation in an international event: Global School Play Day.  As we are committed towards supporting children’s learning and development through play at our school, we wanted to emphasize how our students develop the dispositions we state in our school’s mission statement through play. 

An inquiry into what our mission statement means to us

Our work began with our primary students deconstructing what they thought to be the most important elements of the mission statement. In an example taken from our grade 5 class, the students identified the elements of 1) mental agility, 2) confidence of spirit and 3) cultural proficiency to be the essential parts worth further unpacking.

Deconstructing the mission statement necessitated an analysis into what each of the significant elements mean to our primary students. Our grade 4 students understand mental agility to encompass quick and deep thinking, confidence of spirit to mean believing in yourself and cultural proficiency to entail thinking about and trying to understand other people’s ideas and beliefs. In constructing their understanding of the different parts of the mission, one of our kindergarten classes used words including thinking, imagination and caring as well as phrases like “I can do it”, “trying and doing new things” and “sharing with others”. As our preschool students summarized, our school’s mission statement is about being friends with everyone.

After analyzing the elements of our mission statement, the primary students then brainstormed learning experiences that would show people how they develop the different dispositions identified through play. Some of our classes created mathematical games titled “Count up and back” as well as board games related to the IB learner profile attributes and the PYP attitudes. One classroom was used as a maker space filled with recycled materials where students worked collaboratively to create new things as well as explore and share resources. Our multipurpose room provided opportunities for students to engage with props and dress-up clothes to develop stories and perform their own plays. Open-ended toys were brought from home to support the development of complex scripts and multiple roles during imaginative play.

The successes of our Play Day

Leading up to the event, one of our grade 2 classes discussed what they wanted to gain from their experiences during Global School Play Day. The grade 2 students emphasized the importance of including all students.

Integrating the voices of students necessitated students to take the primary lead in planning and organizing their play. However, to ensure the success of the goal for inclusion, parameters for play were agreed upon. Guiding both teachers and students in their roles and interactions with each other, our agreements included:

The role of teachers

  • Take the lead from students and support their ideas and play
  • Ask questions to extend ideas
  • Help to set up toys and games
  • Facilitate safe movement among students within classrooms and spill out areas

The role of students

  • Respect school toys and what is being brought from home
  • Do not damage what others are making or have created
  • No toys with batteries, no screens and no devices please
  • Take a risk: try something new!

As the second graders reflected on the play of the primary students, the question of what evidence can be gathered to highlight the inclusion of all students during play was posed. First, the students observed in their own classrooms and in other rooms around the primary building that all students were engaged in different play scenarios. Second, the students perceived no one was left out as students were playing together and were friendly with each other. Lastly, the students’ perceived happiness among all the students throughout the event as everyone was smiling, laughing and sharing moments facilitated through play.

Taken from the voices of the primary students at our school, the reflections from the students on the realization of the school’s mission statement through play was:

Playing helps you to learn new things.

Playing helps bring out how much creativity you have inside yourself and what you can do with it. It enables us to keep calm, have fun and be happy. 

Playing allows us to be friends and includes all.

Jennifer Wong-Powell is an early childhood educator who has taught in international schools in Asia, Europe and presently in the Middle East. She has been awarded her PhD where her research focused on the biographical histories of early childhood teachers and how such diverse factors impact the implementation of children’s play in education. Jennifer is passionate about unearthing the complexities of play, focusing on play as a culturally defined and embedded concept.

 

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