What aspect of CIS's vibrancy captures your attention?
Head of School's Welcome
I invite you to step into our warm, welcoming community of learners.
As our school song says in two languages, “We come from the East, we come from the West, we learn from each other, and that way is best. 我們來自東方，我們來自西方，互相學習，相得益彰.”
These words from our modest, but well-loved school song remind us on a daily basis that we are first and foremost a community of learners and that all learning at CIS is woven from cross-cultural and dual-language strands.
This was the vision put in place some thirty-five years ago by the three forward-looking women who founded CIS. In their vision, we continue to find the qualities of both stability and innovation that are the hallmarks of CIS:
- We take pride in our stable student and teacher body. One-third of each graduating cohort has in recent years been at CIS since the age of four, while the average tenure of teachers and support staff is nine years.
- We take pride in our ground-breaking dual-language curriculum, which in recent years we have enriched with Hangzhou CIS, Positive Education, CIS-MIT STEAM camp, a programme of financial aid, and a range of Connected Learning initiatives.
- We take pride in the generous support we are able to extend our staff, so that they may continually seek professional growth and in turn nurture students to strive for the lofty ideals expressed in CIS’s mission statement.
- We take pride in our alumni whose trajectories beyond CIS demonstrate again and again that CIS has prepared them to make a difference in the world. On a regular basis, they also return to school to share their wisdom with the latest generation of students.
I invite you to get to know our community and consider how you might join our ranks - whether as a student, parent, member of staff, volunteer or friend.
Head of School
- “What has Four Feet in the Morning…” (2019.03.08)
- A Community for Life (2019.02.22)
- The Empty Space (2019.03.01)
- “The Future is Bright!” (2019.02.15)
- “Practice Makes...Progress” (2019.01.25)
- “Raison d’Etre & A Second Video for 2019” (2019.01.18)
- “Team CIS: A Relay Race and a New Video for 2019!" (2019.01.11)
- “For the Good of Students: Our Annual Fund Flagship Initiative for 2018-19” (2018.12.07)
- “A Day, an Event and a Book” (2018.11.23)
- “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Revisited” (2018.11.16)
- "Beneath the Lion Rock" (2018.11.09)
- E = MC[IS]² (2018.11.02)
- “Anne Gardon & Christine Doleman are CIS” (2018.10.26)
- “Become Such as You Are, Having Discovered the Greater Good” (2018.10.12)
- “Ode to a Full Bucket” (2018.10.05)
- “From Strength to Strength” (2018.09.28)
- “From Florence to Hong Kong” (2018.09.21)
- “Arms Around the World” (2018.09.14)
- “Oh, the Place Where You Are” (2018.09.07)
- "Mistakes to Help Me Learn" (2018.08.31)
- "Plato Was Wrong!" (2018.08.24)
- Best Wishes for 2018-19 (2018.08.24)
Dear CIS community,
The new tradition started by Head of Primary Anne Gardon of inviting students to tell jokes and riddles on the Blue Stage reminds me of a path-breaking book about creative thinking which multiple generations of educators have long held sacrosanct: Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, first published some 50 years ago and followed by many other classic texts on the imaginative mind by the same author. De Bono, who has been on the faculties of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, argues that inventive problem-solving, while an innate trait in children, cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be deliberately modeled, encouraged and cultivated, like it clearly is in our elementary school.
Humor can certainly make the brain work. The lag between the second-to-last line of a joke and its punchline is a time of split-second anticipation, if not exactly mental calculation, about what is likely to come next, right before the laughter that ensues from putting two and two together and enjoying the discovery of a witty answer. And witty answers there have been galore at CIS, I can gleefully attest. Mr. Lynch, a Year 1 student asked me earlier this week, what’s my name? Peg*, I replied. Mr. Lynch, will you remember me in five years, she continued? Yes, I answered. Mr. Lynch, knock, knock, she went on? Who’s there, I responded? Really, Mr. Lynch, Peg chided: you’ve already forgotten my name!
Riddles have also been in great abundance of late, replete with the same playful tickle to our curiosity and the added dimension of more explicit problem-solving, the stuff of creativity par excellence. One Monday, a student posed the following query: what has four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three feet in the evening? On another occasion, we heard about the two mothers and two daughters who went into a bakery so that each one could buy a loaf of bread, which they then proceeded to do. Yet the women left the shop with just three loaves in hand? Why?
Moreover, the riddle rage seems to have spread far beyond the Blue Stage, touching all parts of our Primary campus and infusing the already inquisitive culture of the CIS elementary school with the joy and engagement of puzzles waiting to be puzzled through. Perhaps you, like me, have met the selection that follows? There were 17 birds in a cage; a terrible wind blew open the cage door and all but 9 escaped; how many were left? Or: say my name and I’ll disappear: what am I? Or, something I myself heard for the first time during the Lantern Festival: what is it that has been in existence for millions and millions of years and yet is no more than a month old?
In sum, Ms. Gardon and our superlative Primary team are instilling a virtuous cycle of jokes and riddles in our elementary school that is deepening and making ever more visible the CIS commitment to both well-being and creative thinking. Heartfelt gratitude to them all. Of course, the movement they have launched means we have to stay on our toes. At any moment, a Primary student is highly likely to bound out of nowhere in search of a new pun or puzzle and we had better be ready!
*A fictional name to safeguard our student’s privacy.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
My focus for today? Our glorious alumni!
There is so much to convey about that exceptional group of people, who, 35 years after the founding of CIS, now number in the thousands. I wish to pay special tribute to our extraordinary Alumni Board, for it has been building a community of lifelong learning, mutual support and collective impact for former CIS students the likes of which, I would dare say, have never before been seen in an educational institution as young as ours. Their remarkably pioneering and inspirational efforts will be the subject of a future message. For today, please allow me to share with you some of the notes I scribbled down yesterday evening, whilst moderating a riveting discussion among five illustrious alumni, organized as part of the wonderful Speakers Series CISPTA has been holding this year.
Our guests of honor last night were phenomenal, to say the least. Catrina Lam (Class of 1995), Derek Seto (Class of 1995), Michael Sit (Class of 2000), Bonnie Tong (Class of 2005) and Nicole Tanner (Class of 2013): we will forever be grateful to you for your outstanding generosity of time, spirit and ingenuity. Representing each of the decades in which CIS has seen graduating classes, you were so impressively wise, impassioned, articulate, witty and enthralling. Thank you!
What of my notes? Alas, they are not precise enough to be quotations and not complete enough to capture the full richness of our evening, jotted down, as they were, in the thick of the action, but kindly find them below.
First, marvelous story after marvelous story attests to the love of learning imbuing all aspects of the CIS experience.
A student aspiring to study medicine in Hong Kong; not feeling she is strong enough in mathematics to meet the entrance requirements; receiving so much support from one of our maths teachers that she is able to succeed (with a strength of character, I must add, that was palpable to everyone in attendance yesterday evening!).
A middle schooler so fascinated by the physics of water pouring from a faucet that a member of our science faculty connects him to an MIT professor; fuels a curiosity about how things work that has lasted until today.
An IB Diploma candidate disrupted by a panic attack on her first Higher Level IB examination; persists and flourishes over the course of her subsequent exams, following the sensitive intervention of a caring teacher who enables her to remember the passion for learning which lay within (and we could all feel last night, by the way!).
Second, the uniqueness of the bilingual, pluricultural lens through which CIS students come to see, appreciate and embrace life, their own and that of others.
Learning in English and Mandarin, and, more important still, drawing on the complementary knowledge, skills and dispositions which are unique to respectively Eastern and Western cultures, are experiences which provide vast reserves of humility (there’s never a single way, never just one truth), empathy (we come to open ourselves up, walk in the shoes of others, become attuned to people different from ourselves, bridge gaps when we see them) and creativity (stemming from our experience of diversity, which is like a palette on which we find an infinite range of colors).
How are CIS students different from local school students, or for that matter other international school students in Hong Kong? We’ve the best of all possibilities, while avoiding the limitations of hailing from just one place! Less capacity for memorization? Maybe. Greater aptitude for independent thinking, compassionate problem-solving, collaborative solution-finding? Likely.
Third, the indefatigable commitment CIS students have to setting their sights on ever higher peaks of accomplishment, measuring the ultimate value of those accomplishments in terms of the difference they make in the society around them. Is there more we can do? Yes, to help the young people in our care see even further beyond grades than they already do; to become even more engaged with life in Hong Kong outside of Braemar Hill than they already are.
I could go on, dear readers; however, my purpose with this message is simple: to celebrate the importance of CIS alumni for the future of school. One of our panelists from yesterday evening talked of our alumni community as being the architects of a virtuous circle, in which each generation of CIS students learns from the others, and together they bring about progress for all!
A gentle reminder: if you have not yet had a chance to make your contribution to the 10th CIS Annual Fund and our “For the Good of Students” campaign, you can do so by clicking here. Your gift will be immensely appreciated and allow us to continue innovating our educational program in ways which would otherwise be unimaginable!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
All the world’s a stage, one of our middle schoolers said to me a few days ago, quoting Shakespeare with passion. What do you mean? I asked. That we’re always performing? Not really performing, she replied; it’s more like we’re always creating, creating like we do in the theater.
Without a doubt, the most ardent conversations I have had with CIS students over the last seven months have been about the arts, whether it be music, painting, film, design or drama, the subject I will be broaching this week. And our exchanges have not been about concepts, but experiences. The experience of inhabiting a character; the experience of improvising; the experience of imagining a scene involving three people waiting for a boat.
Many of us will have been awed by a theatrical production we have attended at school, or stood mesmerized beneath the screen outside the drama studio in the Secondary tower watching audiovisual footage of our thespians in action, or come across students around campus engaged in memorizing lines, discussing staging arrangements and writing in their process journals. Like me, you are likely to have been impressed by the extraordinary focus and enthusiasm with which they appear to be approaching everything theater-related.
What is it exactly that makes you love drama so much, is a question I have happily been posing to our students this past week. Their responses have been myriad, though taken together they capture the intrinsic beauty of theater, while also evoking a veritable symphony of 21st century skills, so to speak, which might be hard to find as fully present in any other field of meaningful education, let alone the human adventure.
I’ve learned about communication, affirmed one. It’s the ensemble work, said another. I’m able to think on my feet, rejoined a third. With nothing, I heard from a fourth, I can now invent something, recalling the exquisite phrase British theater director, Peter Brook, once wrote in a book entitled The Empty Space: “A stage space has two rules: (1) anything can happen and (2) something must happen.”
My favorite answer? One that is particularly moving in our era of artificial intelligence, machine learning and technological innovation, when empathy is rightly considered to be the most valuable quality and competency a person can develop: drama has taught me to tell other people’s stories respectfully. Wow!
We can rest assured: as long as we nurture our students with theater, theater will nurture them with everything they need to thrive throughout their lives, and much, much more. Heartfelt gratitude to our flourishing thespians for embracing this path, as well as to our talented drama team for guiding them forward.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
First and foremost, xīnnián kuàilè! Gōngxǐ fācái! Shēntǐ jiànkāng! Xīnxiǎng shì chéng! Happy New Year! Good health! Happiness and prosperity! May all your wishes come true!
Please forgive my use of pinyin and kindly indulge the pride I feel in being able to understand, pronounce and even use in generally appropriate contexts each of the expressions above! No big deal for our plurilingual students, of course, whose language-related peregrinations are infinitely more enriching; yet a consequential accomplishment for me, for in learning more about one of the foundational languages of our community in situ during the past six months, I have discovered so very much about the extraordinary cultural underpinnings of CIS, not to mention the exceptional educational mission of our school.
What a uniquely enlightening experience it has been to be able to celebrate two New Years in such short succession, with one more inspirational than the other, I would hasten to add. Encountering the Spring Festival has quite simply transformed my horizons and provided insights into the beauty of the world which I could not have otherwise imagined. The blessings, the flowers, the cooking, the dances, the fireworks, the gatherings, the love for family...all exquisitely interwoven, all marvelously heartening, all amazingly necessary as fundamental expressions of the human spirit!
Experiencing two sets of New Year’s festivities rather than just one has also provoked some deep thinking on my part, most notably about the challenge we have taken up and I would dare say have invented at CIS, which is to anchor our learning, to borrow words from our beloved school song, in both the “East” and the “West.” In sum, I have found myself pondering the meaning of these stimulating concepts for the education we are providing on Braemar Hill and in Hangzhou.
Last weekend, my family and I had a chance to visit a fantastic exhibition at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, coincidentally entitled “Expedition to Asia: The Prominent Exchanges Between East and West in the 17th Century.” For the curators behind this remarkable show, “East” and “West” were clearly defined, respectively as the China of the Qing Empire and the Netherlands of the Dutch East India Company; and the “exchanges” which took place between them were primarily commercial, though profoundly enchanting to the imaginations of gifted artists from each, which leads me to the following series of questions, especially worth tackling at the start of a double New Year, it strikes me!
What do we mean by “East” and “West”, I ask myself? And how well are we harnessing the full promise of both for the lifelong benefit of our students? Is there anything more we can be doing to ensure that our outstanding dual language, dual culture program flourishes in the ways it should, scintillating at the heart of everything we do? Heady queries, I know, but deserving of our wholehearted attention, would you not agree?
Xuéxí jìnbù! Best wishes for the glorious learning which lies ahead, for one and all!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Warning: there is seriousness below!
Time being our most precious resource, I choose what I read with great care. However, it is most often luck that decides the book over which I end up poring, especially when, en route from A to B, I pick up whatever happens to be on top of the pile of purchases I am amassing for a rainy day. So it is, as I left to catch an airplane last weekend, that I packed the latest work by Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics, entitled Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life. Little did I know the thoughts it would inspire.
Consider his opening words: “There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. We are expected to be ambitious, to find everlasting love and to take good care of our health.” And while these stories, or “dominant social narratives” as Professor Dolan calls them, can certainly make us happy, they can also “cause more harm than good,” both for us and for those around us, becoming what Dolan describes as “narrative traps, which together form the myth of the perfect life” and in their ultimate unattainability undermine the very motivation on which we depend to search for happiness in the first place.
Take the case of the straight A student, for whom grades, for reasons beyond his or her control, can become an end unto themselves, the only outcome that matters, the threads of a narrative that posits perfection as the sole definition of excellence, and in so doing sap the joy of learning, the derring-do of curiosity, the passion for trial and error without which education loses meaning. If I don’t get an A, what’s the point? the mark-obsessed individual might ask, ignoring the inner voice that whispers disagreement. Or, oh...an A…, he or she might affirm: phewww...I am done with that topic now, but knowing deep down that our understanding of anything is never complete.
If reading Dolan’s book has made me think of grades, the reason is simple. About a fortnight ago, and for the first time since joining the CIS community this past August, I encountered a student with tears in his eyes, sobbing with chagrin in a way I will not forget. He was sitting on a bench in our Secondary school, being comforted by two friends. Rest assured, as I immediately determined, nothing tragic had occurred, but his sadness was real. Why was he crying? Assignment in hand, our student had just received an assessment which had fallen short of “perfect” and it was that “missing” point which appeared to have broken his heart.
And what kind of comments, I asked, did your teacher provide? They matter so much more than any mark, right? I went on. Reading those observations, as our student then did, was helpful indeed, for each and every one underscored the outstanding progress he had made. Wait, I inquired, aren’t those wonderful words to hear? Yes, they are, Mr. Lynch, our student replied. You’ve made huge improvements, your teacher insists, does he not? Yes, he does, our student agreed. So you’ve made lots of progress since September and will be making more ahead: is that true? I enthusiastically asked again. Yes, I have, and yes, I will, he answered, with what might even have been resolve!
Of course, with a finished copy of Happy Ever After in hand, I reflect on this meeting with a range of questions in mind. Might our student have been caught in a narrative snare of some sort? And if so, which one? That grades are everything, when in fact there is more? What tales of “success” prevail today in our school? And which ought to do so, in light of our mission? Hmmm, I wonder. “We need to look past our preconceived ideas about what a good life should look like and consider how those ideas play out in practice -- for ourselves and for those whose lives we influence,” Professor Dolan writes. “The crucial point is that there is no one-size-fits all prescription for how to live,” he continues, “our experiences are what matter, and not the stories we tell about them.”
Food for thought.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Raison d’être. Three French words that are both beautiful and challenging!
To quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Definition of raison d’être: reason or justification for existence. Examples of raison d’être in a sentence: Art is his raison d’être.”
How exquisite, this concept, conveying as it does a promise of purpose, of a life filled with meaning, of a vocation as clear as crystal in its clarity of conviction. And yet formidable, too, right? Because discovering and affirming and fulfilling one’s raison d’être is not necessarily simple.
Except for CIS, I would venture to say!
Were we to ask any member of our community to explain our raison d’être, I am quite sure our answers would all be the same. Our students: their learning, their growth, their sense of agency, their success in the world, their happiness...there is no end to the goodness we endeavor to provide them.
I am delighted, therefore, to be able to share with you today the uplifting video which CIS Director of Community Relations Catherine Han has just directed for families thinking about joining our school and wishing to know more about who we are. Please click here, or the image below, and enjoy an expression of raison d’être that is as compelling as it gets!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Best wishes to one and all for a Very Happy and Healthy 2019!
Welcome back from what I hope and trust was a restorative holiday for your families and you. We have missed our wonderful students over the past three weeks, but are delighted to know that they are once more among us, rested, radiant, and raring to learn!
My weekly message today is composed of two images, both of which convey the fabulous sense of togetherness that inhabits our school.
The extraordinary parent-student relay race which brought the Y5 and Y6 Sports Day to a close on Thursday afternoon. Picture a team of Y5 and Y6 parents, sufficiently daring to engage in a running competition with our Y5, Y6 and Y11 students, the latter being, well, especially fast. On your marks, get set, go...and they were off, with each parent running truly flat out, conveying to the 200 young(er) people in attendance a range of uplifting messages: that courage has a face; that determination is just as important as giftedness; and that teamwork means everything. Bravo and many thanks, dear Y5 and Y6 parents: your example was inspiring!
The video that you will find linked here and below. While we produced it with the purpose of recruiting new faculty to our school, we hope that you, too, will enjoy its loving depiction of that special spirit of community which so encapsulates CIS.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Was there ever a more enchanting, uplifting, inspiring picture of volunteering than our “35 Years Strong” Fair? I think not!
Yet the same generosity of spirit forges the bonds of community and conditions for brilliance at our school thanks to another initiative, too: our Annual Fund, currently celebrating its 10th year.
First, please allow me to express my deep gratitude to everyone who has already participated in this year’s Annual Fund campaign, officially launched on November 1. We are off to one of our fastest starts on record, with 39% of our parents having made a contribution and more than $10 million having been raised to date. For an overview of the CIS Annual Fund, see this link for the list of "Frequently Asked Questions" our Development Team has just composed. For more detailed information, we invite you to visit the school website and Moongate. And should you wish to make a contribution right now, all you have to do is click those links and complete a short form. Thank you very much in advance!
As the more veteran members of our community will know, each year approximately one-fifth of our total Annual Fund target is intended to champion a particularly important objective on which the school is focusing at that moment. What we call our “flagship” initiative, amounting in 2018-19 to $3 million out of an overall goal of $16 million, aims to make an especially significant difference in one vital area of our students’ education. This year, with input from many of our stakeholders, we have decided to entitle this priority, “For the Good of Students”, or “為學生謀福祉.”
Why, and what do we mean? Even as Anne Gardon, Christine Doleman and I take time to understand our new school, to earn the trust of the community and to envision with you the ambitious future we will be building together, we are also concentrating our immediate attention on what is arguably the most promising key for taking the CIS mission to ever higher levels of accomplishment. That key is student well-being, the sense our students have of flourishing across the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, creative, and other facets of their existences, present and imagined, but also, and perhaps above all, the conviction they have of being able to exercise agency in their own lives and to make a difference in the world around them, with evidence on which to found that conviction.
It is to highlight the importance of student well-being as a prerequisite for the academic excellence, lifelong learning, holistic growth and social responsibility our mission statement calls on us to foster that we have established a Student Well-Being Task Force this fall, the main purpose of which is to involve students, staff and parents in identifying and recommending principles, programs, policies and other tools by which CIS can continue to make progress in this crucial field. More details about such work will follow after the December break, including information on the Head of School Forum we will be organizing about this topic on the morning of Monday, January 16.
Thus, when the CIS leadership team was considering what our Annual Fund could best assist us in nurturing through its flagship initiative for 2018-19, a number of priorities connected to student well-being naturally came to mind, all of which are strengths of our school that deserve further development and all of which can be brought to life through your greatly appreciated philanthropy. They are as follows:
- STUDENT DREAM FUND - Our existing Student Dream Fund will be extended to encourage additional student-led projects that support students to be agents of their own lives and positive forces in the lives of others, on- and off-campus. Examples of past Student Dream Fund initiatives include XiaoHua Magazine, Second Strings, Code & Create, Drop in the Ocean and the Free Clinic. The sky must be the limit!
- EXPERTISE - Following on our work with Professor Lea Waters in the years 2012-14, our community’s learning from renowned experts in the area of social and emotional learning (SEL) will continue. Such learning may involve professional development conferences, school visits and outreach to leading specialists in both English and Chinese. Developing in-house trainers will be another focus, allowing seamless integration into our well-being approaches for the new students, staff and parents who join us every year.
- STAFF WELL-BEING - Given the direct correlation between staff well-being and student well-being, and beginning with a benchmark survey of all staff on this subject soon to be conducted, the school will fund initiatives aimed at creating the highest staff morale of any school in the region. These may range from wellness programs and community-building activities to leadership opportunities, research grants and more.
- RESOURCES - To help all students, staff and parents deepen their understanding of SEL, CIS will add to its collection of books, videos and other resources in this field.
To return to the thought with which I began this message: none of the remarkable success of the CIS Annual Fund over the past decade would have been conceivable, let alone feasible, without the parent volunteers who have so selflessly given of their time and energy to advocate for its impact. In this milestone 10th year, we are profoundly grateful to our extraordinarily dedicated and creative Annual Fund Co-Chairs, Yana Chung ’95 and Jane Overton, as well as to our 180 truly devoted and tireless Annual Fund Advocates. As they reach out to you over the next few weeks to tell you more about the CIS Annual Fund, I have no doubt you will enjoy talking with them. Our community is immensely privileged to have so many parents working so diligently each and every day to enhance the educational experience we are creating. Thank you very much once more for your meaningful participation in the Annual Fund. It is truly “for the Good of Students”, or “為學生謀福祉.”
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Ne’er a Friday has gone by when I have not wanted to devote this weekly letter to thanking you very, very much for everything you are and for everything you do on behalf of our students, but it is the fortuitous convergence of a special day, an extraordinary event and an interesting book which has inspired me to be doing so just now. Kindly let me explain!
The day, of course, is what would be called Thanksgiving in the United States, arguably the most beloved of American celebrations. Why? It is a day when family and friends make every effort to come together, often around a delicious meal that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and much more. In my own home, this holiday provides an opportunity to tell REALLY goofy jokes, so goofy that even I might be too embarrassed to share them at any other time of the year. My favorites: if April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Answer: Pilgrims. Or…what do you get if you divide the circumference of a pumpkin by its diameter? Answer: pumpkin pi. Or…get ready: which side of the turkey has the most feathers? Answer: the outside. Most important, Thanksgiving is a time we cherish because it is a day on which we give thanks. Thus, as I pen this message on what would be the Thanksgiving holiday in New York City, please allow me to express my deep gratitude to each of you for breathing such uplifting life into the educational mission we have given ourselves at CIS.
The event I mentioned above might also be obvious, inasmuch as every one of us is looking forward to what will be taking place tomorrow on Braemar Hill, namely the CISPTA Annual Fair. Perhaps more than any other occasion on our calendar, this unique event captures the invigorating, fun-filled dynamism of our school. Designed, organized and led by an exceptionally enterprising, inventive, dedicated team of parents, wholeheartedly supported by our faculty and staff, and infused with meaning by remarkably vivacious, creative, civically minded students, this year’s “35 Years Strong” fair will be an unrivaled demonstration of how to draw on the strengths of our community to generate well-being, reinforce what we value most, and serve the greater good. In all of our names, I wish to extend infinite appreciation to our phenomenal CISPTA Annual Fair Committee. As you will soon see, they have proved that the sky is truly the limit to what we are able to achieve together. Many heartfelt thanks, too, to everyone who will be joining us for what we can promise will be a fantastic experience. (NB. Bring your own water bottles because we will be aiming for zero waste!)
Last, but not least, there is a book, the latest publication by acclaimed business thinker and writer Daniel H. Pink, entitled When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In short, Pink argues, there is a “hidden pattern in our daily lives,” whether as students, educators, parents or people in any capacity, which, if properly identified and understood, can shed light on the various times of day, week, month, year and existence per se which are optimal for engaging with the various dimensions of our lives. “Figure out your daily when,” this author contends, and you will be able to prioritize the different kinds of actions you would be best advised to take at different moments in time. Of what relevance to this missive, you might be asking? Not much, to be frank, though Pink does provide valuable insights into topics like school timetables and work schedules. It is simply that as I happen to be reading this book about perfect timing on Thanksgiving Day itself, and with the monumental CISPTA Annual Fair right around the corner, one thought keeps coming to mind: there is no “when”like the present to say thank you! So, thank you, thank you, thank you, dear readers, for everything you yourselves bring to the marvelous, distinguished community which is ours.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
The prospect of entering middle school is incredibly exciting for any rising Year 7 student, perhaps more than any other education-related event they can remember or anticipate at their age, but it can also be somewhat daunting, and for parents, too. Much of this trepidation is understandable, having to do with changes in the structure, content and expectations of learning that occur when young people move from primary to secondary, as well as with the evolution students experience in this same timeframe across the dimensions of mind, body and identity that will be shaping their lives forever more. Yet some of the apprehension may come from the playfully harrowing image of the middle years which young adult literature and movies often convey.
Take the case of the celebrated books by American author Jeff Kinney, involving the “diary of a wimpy kid” who happens to be absorbed in the various challenges which the transition to middle school evokes, particularly for boys. In the 2010 film based on these novels, one which Common Sense Media advises young people may watch from the age of nine onwards, there is a memorable scene in which the protagonist’s older brother gives him the following advice about Grades 6 to 8. “So, look,” Rodrick tells Greg. “It's real simple: don't talk to anyone, don't look at anyone, don't go anywhere, don't sit down, don't raise your hand, don't go to the bathroom, don't get noticed, don't choose the wrong locker, don't...” Yikes, I say!
But rest assured, dear readers. At Chinese International School, middle school is entirely different from this humorously unsettling depiction! For starters, we do everything possible to ensure that the young people in our charge do talk and play active roles in their own learning, do look up and build relationships with each other and the world around them that provide a veritable lifetime of encouragement and motivation, do travel and go many places, whether in intellectual and imaginative terms or through exploration and service in Hong Kong and beyond. What we undertake with a view to nurturing our middle schoolers’ strengths, interests and aspirations is boundless, to say the least.
The care, expertise and ingenuity with which we prepare them for middle school are equally exceptional, as I have been fortunate to witness during the two days I have just spent with our Year 6 classes, all of which have been taking part in a week-long trip to Taiwan. Organized with extraordinary thoughtfulness, creativity and passion by Cai Laoshi for the last 25 years, I have often heard about this beloved and treasured trip from older CIS students, but to experience it myself has been unusually heartening and insightful. First and foremost, I have been deeply moved by the phenomenal dedication of our Year 6 educational team, not to mention the unstinting support of the eight parents who have been chaperoning this excursion.
However, in addition to the profound debt of gratitude we owe the inspirational adults of our rising Year 7 learning community, it is the transformative nature of the “Taipei Cultural Trip” I wish to highlight in this message. On the one hand, the purpose of this five-day adventure is to offer our students a unique immersion in Mandarin and a first-hand sense of the beautiful place that is Taiwan; on the other hand, to borrow words from its remarkable architect, Martina Winderam, this trip also aims to reinforce their capacity for independence, observation, empathy, cooperation and leadership, among the other enduring values on which we hope our young people will build their futures.
Such was certainly the focus of the urban quest on which the CIS Class of 2026 embarked this past Wednesday, with me enthusiastically in tow. Placed in groups of six, accompanied by two chaperones, carrying a limited amount of money, given responsibility for charting a course to several important sites throughout the city and asked to engage with their surroundings to address a range of questions about Taipei, our marvelously inquisitive Year 6 students underwent a journey which in many ways was a microcosm of the broader voyage they are completing in our care. Little by little, as the day went on, our young people became increasingly adept at managing the freedom, trust and accountability they had received, were more and more attentive to the environment and people around them, became increasingly compassionate and effective as a team…the life-enriching lessons they learned through this hope-filled experience were absolutely foundational. Jeff Kinney, take note!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
A few weeks before moving to Braemar Hill last August, thousands of kilometers away in southern France, I happened to hear, as I was strolling through the streets of a town called Avignon, a wonderful song about the spirit of Hong Kong to which I have subsequently listened...oh, at least a thousand times. Which song? 獅子山下 or in English “Beneath the Lion Rock,” made famous in the late 1970s by one of the most popular Cantonese singers of all time, Roman Tam. From what I have been able to understand from the English translations of it that I have found on the internet, this song evokes the extraordinary spirit of solidarity, courage and resilience that so distinguishes the people of Hong Kong. “Dreams we will follow through,” goes one English-language version of the lyrics I have read; “together in the same boat, we commit to support each other... nothing to worry, nothing to fear. Together, living at the end of the land, in this corner of the sea, arm in arm, we smooth our paths. Hand in hand, we remind ourselves: determination and hardwork are the motto of Hong Kong.”
It is that special capacity to have far-reaching dreams for the future and then to achieve those dreams by dint of teamwork, purposefulness and grit which surely led to the establishment of Chinese International School 35 years ago and its constant flourishing ever since. The Lion Rock spirit is also what strikes me as providing one of the most unique and important sources of learning for our students, as they become “compassionate, ethical and responsible individuals, contributing to local and global communities, respectful of other views, beliefs and cultures, and concerned to make a difference in the world,” to quote our mission statement. The ways in which it does so are numerous, but there is one in particular I would like to highlight today: the remarkable number of non-profit organizations in Hong Kong dedicated to advancing social progress and the remarkable number of opportunities they provide for the personal growth and civic engagement of the young people in our care, especially when we are able to build meaningful, long-term partnerships with these champions of a better life for everyone.
A case in point: the path-breaking, life-changing Crossroads Foundation, located in Tuen Mun, a non-profit organization that strives “to link those who are in need with those who can provide help,” most notably by collecting and distributing goods and services to underserved and often destitute people in Hong Kong and elsewhere around the globe, as well as by designing and implementing experiential simulations about such topics as forced migration, extreme poverty, human development, and public health. I first learned about this exemplary organization when I was still living in New York, after one of the parents in my previous school had returned from Davos raving about a refugee-focused simulation Crossroads had created for the economic, political and other leaders attending the World Economic Forum. When you get to Hong Kong, he had emphatically advised me, be sure to contact this foundation. Well, I never had to do so because Crossroads reached out to me first, months before my arrival in Hong Kong, asking if Li Bin and I would like to participate in the 24-hour Global Survivor Experience it was planning for early November, to which we immediately replied in the affirmative, which in turn led to the indelibly moving time we spent with this non-profit last weekend, between 5 pm on Friday and 5 pm on Saturday.
Yet what is most relevant to the message I am hoping to convey is not our participation, but the insights it has afforded into the profound devotion to social responsibility that characterizes our community as a whole, not to mention the deep integration of CIS into the fabric of change-making of the city we are so fortunate to inhabit. Upon hearing that Li Bin and I would be taking part in the simulation I mentioned above, one of our parents kindly forwarded an interview her CIS daughter had conducted with her and published in a Singaporean newspaper two years ago recounting her own story of completing this 24-hour experience. I also discovered that this person and her family have long been regular volunteers at Crossroads. Upon asking colleagues about other connections CIS might have with this foundation, I learned that there were many and that most had been in existence for ages.
Our Primary Head of Student Life and Administrative Services, Ms. Tracy Haye-Williams, reported that “Year 4 has been associated with Crossroads [each year]...as part of an IS unit called ‘A Life Like Mine,’ which looks at the the lives of children around the world through the lens of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. [Our students] visit [Tuen Mun] at the beginning of the unit and take part in the water simulation, as well as get a tour of the warehouses and an explanation as to how donations are collected and redistributed. Each Year 4 student then puts together a stationery pack...donated to Crossroads.” Year 4 teacher Ms. Jeanne Xu added that our partnership with this non-profit serves our “main teaching goal,” which “is to show empathy for people around us and to think of a small step we can take” that will make a positive, lasting difference for those less privileged than ourselves.
Such meaningful collaboration is just as strong in Secondary, where our partnership is anchored in Year 9. Again on an annual basis, students travel to Tuen Mun to take part in a global issue simulation, and a member of the Crossroads team, Mr. David Begbie, visits Braemar Hill to speak about the power of civic engagement. For Secondary Director of Student Affairs Brian Mulcahy, Mr. Begbie “invariably has a profound and inspirational impact” on the young people in our care, again in terms of the empathy they are able to develop as a result of their encounter. Is there more that CIS can and will do to join with this organization and other local non-profits to improve the world around us? Yes. How could the answer be anything different. After all, we are in, of and for Hong Kong. Or to echo Roman Tam, albeit, in my case, without his marvelous voice, “we as one can overcome all hardships.”
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
My Mandarin is coming along, but certainly not fast enough for me to be able to enjoy a good novel in Chinese, as I am hoping to do one day! It was therefore to an English-language bookstore that I turned with a recent craving for reading. There were definitely some Chinese classics in translation among my purchases, like Dream of the Red Chamber which I have been advised would be a fitting complement to another epic I am finishing, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, I could not resist the temptation to buy the latest Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, and did so because of two CIS students.
First, in a conversation last week about favorite movies, one of our upper schoolers had mentioned to me that she had greatly enjoyed the 2014 film about the English theoretical physicist entitled “The Theory of Everything.” Not having seen this movie myself, but motivated to do so by her description of it as a “love story for the ages,” “love in a family” and “love for physics,” I have had Stephen Hawking on my mind ever since, with a Lynch screening currently in the works! (NB. If you have not yet seen this film and would be interested in watching it in your own homes, Common Sense Media recommends the age of 14 and older.)
Second, and more memorably still, as I was reading the reviews of the late Cambridge professor’s posthumously published book and contemplating whether or not to buy a copy of it for myself, I thought immediately of one of our Year 6 students, someone with whom I have been engaged in a running dialogue about the science of time travel ever since classes resumed last August. Indeed, one morning, just a few days into the new school year, I had come across him in our hallways talking passionately with a fellow student, while gesturing vigorously at the densely covered piece of paper he was holding in his hand.
“What do you have there,” I asked? “Some calculations I have been working that will make it possible to travel through time,” came his answer. “Have you finished them,” I inquired? “No,” he replied, “but I’m very close.” Then, about a fortnight later, our Year 6 student took it upon himself to visit my office, scientific proofs in hand. In less than 15 minutes, and through a perfectly interwoven combination of formulae, graphs and a written definition of Hawking Radiation, he explained to me exactly how his newly invented time-traveling machine would work. And I understood!
There is much more to these fascinating conversations which I would happily share. However, my message today is simple: rare is the school where random dialogue with two different students would so spontaneously and naturally turn around one of the great physicists of our time. Yes, I have also had many a delightful exchange about the football genius called Kylian Mbappé, but it is the intellectual openness, wonderment and inquisitiveness of our students which strike me as being so marvelously unique to Chinese International School.
Whence such virtues? From our students themselves, of course, and the remarkably caring and encouraging families from whom they come. Yet as both of our physics-enamored students told me, teachers are especially important to the flourishing of their interests. To quote Stephen Hawking in Brief Answers to the Big Questions, “The human mind is an incredible thing. It can conceive of the magnificence of the heavens and the intricacies of the basic components of matter. Yet for each mind to achieve its full potential, it needs a spark...Often that spark comes from a teacher...If you look behind every exceptional person there is an exceptional teacher.” At CIS, we have tested that hypothesis and found it to be true!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you back after what I hope was a wonderful autumn break. We are thrilled to have our students among us again on Braemar Hill and to know that those in Year 10 will soon be returning to Hangzhou. To celebrate this heartwarming occasion, I am delighted to share with you two especially uplifting videos, one about Anne Gardon and another about Christine Doleman, respectively our new Heads of Primary and Secondary.
The latest instalments in the fantastic series entitled “I am CIS” which Director of Community Relations Catherine Han brilliantly initiated last year and which Alex Gibbs from South Central Media has been artfully producing under her guidance ever since, these short films capture the remarkably inspirational values, beliefs and outlooks that these new members of the Chinese International School leadership team bring to bear on their roles and responsibilities.
We are immensely fortunate to have them in our community. Happy viewing to one and all!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Picture this scene. A dozen Year 7 students are waiting at the foot of a boulder, say 30 meters high, somewhere in Chung Hom Kok Park. Their teachers are standing beside them, as a rock-climbing instructor explains what everyone is about to do. “How many of you have climbed before?” he asks. A third of the students raise their hands and the guide goes on to explain what they are poised to brave, underlining the safety precautions and giving them some sense of what they would soon be encountering, including the possibility of a passing bee or two. “But I don’t want to tell you everything,” our guide continues, “I want you to discover the experience yourself.” 20 minutes later, grouped in pairs, with the roles and responsibilities of each alternating between climbing and belaying, our first four students start up the mountain.
“I’m nervous, Mr. Lynch. I’m afraid of heights,” whispers one Year 7 student. “Would you rather sit this one out” I inquire? “No, I’ll do my best,” she replies. “Have you set yourself a goal for this activity,” I ask? “Yes, getting to the halfway point,” comes her answer. When it is her turn to climb, she takes off with impressive agility and in no time makes it to the top of the boulder. “Take a moment to look around around you,” booms one of the instructors from below. “I don’t really want to do that because I’m afraid of heights,” she responds, adding a few playful words for the Year 7 student belaying on her behalf: “Don’t you dare drop me.” Then, as she heads back down the rock face, come my favorite words of all. Calling her climbing partner by name, she says: “If it’s a little tiring for you, don’t worry, I can find another pathway down.”
Such moments are the stuff of great education, education for life, that is, and education that is very hard to achieve in a classroom. And it is this dimension of learning, wherein a spirit of adventure becomes a capacity for courage, resilience, imagination, and collaboration, which CIS students in Years 7 through 12 have been exploring this past week. Indeed, everyone in Years 7-9 has been taking part in a five-day outdoor adventure camp located in one wilderness area or another around Hong Kong, while students in Years 10-12 have been participating in week-long service-related projects in places as far-ranging as Morocco, Nepal, Australia and Japan. Thanks to the extraordinary skillfulness, dedication and care of our educational teams, particularly our Heads of Year for Years 7-9 and our faculty project advisors for Years 10-12, our Secondary students have been engaging in truly outstanding experiential learning that “promote[s] the growth of the whole person,” to cite the CIS mission.*
For beyond academic excellence, but also building on as well as advancing it, we at Chinese International School are passionately committed to cultivating the full potentialities of each student in our charge. Before arriving in Hong Kong, I would have celebrated that commitment as serving the timeless exhortation of the Ancient Greek poet, Pindar, who once wrote something I have often quoted, given its relevance to educational programs which strive to be holistic: “Become such as you are,” Pindar urged, “ having discovered what that is.” Now, I realize what a distinctly western perspective that philosophy of education may well be conveying. Thinking of our formidable Year 7 climber, whose consideration for her teammate was palpable even as she needed to find and draw on her own internal strengths to overcome her fear of heights, I am reminded of something I recently read in a book about Ancient Chinese philosophers by Harvard Professor Michael Puett, entitled The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything.
According to Professor Puett: “Confucius’s disciples frequently asked him to define goodness. He would give each of them a different answer each time, depending on the situation. That’s because Confucian goodness is not something you can define in the abstract. It’s the ability to respond well to others; the development of a sensibility that enables you to behave in ways that are good for those around you and to draw out their own better sides.” Clearly, our young climber, with personalized guidance from CIS educators along the way, is embarked on a journey that is not just about “the self,” but focuses on “the other,” too. By facilitating the very experience of teamwork, we are helping to expand her understanding of what it means to lead a good life. As she reached the bottom of the boulder last Wednesday, her huge smile, beaming with satisfaction, spoke volumes. Her outstretched hand to her belaying classmate revealed even more!
*Please also allow me to thank all of our Senior Week organizers who stayed on Braemar Hill with our Y13 students to support them for a week of intense independent study.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
It is Thursday evening, and I have just finished preparing for what will be a major event tomorrow afternoon — for me, that is, not for everyone else who will be present and for whom what I will be doing is simply part and parcel of their marvelous young lives! I am referring to the 2:00pm rendezvous which I am most fortunate to have with a Year 1 class, where a courageous and gracious member of our faculty has invited me to read a story. How have I prepared? By reminding myself of the advice once given by Mem Fox, author of the best-selling children’s book Possum Magic and one the most beloved writers of children’s literature in the English language.
For Ms. Fox, there are 10 commandments we should endeavor to follow when reading aloud, and on the eve of all invitations to be a mystery reader in our classrooms, three of these pointers spring immediately to mind: “3. Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot. 4. Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners...8. Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.”
If I am nervous, which I am, it is because I know how passionately CIS students feel about reading and how genuinely they love books, literature, and languages of all kinds. Whenever asked about my early impressions of our school, I start by talking about what I see and hear our young people doing around campus, in our classrooms, corridors, playgrounds, studios or elsewhere on that vast, expansive landscape where they are actively engaged in learning. And without hesitation, I spontaneously evoke the image of a young person reading. He or she is often quietly seated in our extraordinary new library, but above all, given the genuine novelty of this particular picture in communities different from our own, I mention how many times I have seen one of our students patiently making his or her way through our crowded stairwells, between classes, on breaks, during lunch, without so much as a glance upwards from the page of the book in Chinese or English over which he or she happens to be poring.
It seems, indeed, that our students have developed a sixth sense for navigating spaces without EVER having to lift their eyes from the paragraph before them. When I annoyingly interrupt this incredible demonstration of navigational skills, to ask what it is that has so captivated their attention, it is clear that their ardor for reading emanates from a deeply personal affinity for books and everything that words bestow; it is equally clear that this remarkable relationship owes a great deal to the unusually careful nurturing of reading which our fantastic educational team and family environments provide. What has made you such a reader, I asked a middle years student earlier today, that you’re capable of zigzagging through a packed cafeteria with a tray of food in one hand and a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the other, without once looking up?
In answer to this query, and many variations on it, our students have been especially poignant, touching on the magnificence of language (“I love how beautiful Chinese is”), the power of words (“[I Am Malala] makes me want to stand up for girls’ rights”), the wonder of the human adventure (“I amthe very hungry caterpillar [from the story with the same name by Eric Carle]”), the importance of culture (“Scout [from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee] tells us a lot about the US”, the catalyst for curiosity (“I read a book on maps which made me want to read one on Hong Kong”) and countless other forms of enrichment which books so uniquely unlock.
Hopefully, you can now understand why I am on edge about the HUGE responsibilities involved in reading aloud tomorrow afternoon! Yet I shall find the courage, buoyed as I am by the phenomenal example of everyone else in our community, beginning with our students themselves. The story I have been asked to read in is How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, with illustrations by Maurie J. Manning. “Like everyone else, Anna has an invisible bucket,” the grandfather in this tale tells his grandson Felix, who is upset by what he considers to be unwanted interference on the part of his younger sister. “When it’s empty, she feels bad. But when it’s full, she feels great.” “Didn’t you ever notice your own bucket? The grandfather asks” young Felix. Since joining CIS, I certainly do, and can happily report: it is entirely full!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
This past weekend, while unpacking the last of the boxes that have accompanied my family from New York City, I came across the notes I had taken during my very first visit to Chinese International School in the spring of 2016. Jotted down in meetings with our students, parents, staff and governors, this personal record of queries posed and responses given is a trove of insights into what mattered and still matters to the CIS community. Among the multiple themes in my notebook, one stands out with special force, that of student well-being, both as an end in itself for young people in the midst of self-discovery, with all of the vulnerabilities that such a journey entails, and as a means for facilitating other objectives of importance to our school, like academic excellence.
What do you understand by the words “positive education,” was one question I fielded. What are your “character strengths” and why should you know them, came another, this time from a Primary student. What does having a “growth mindset” mean for teachers, and what should it look like at CIS, was a third. More thought-provoking still, and probably a trick question: is “a strengths-based approach to education” necessary in our upper Secondary, when students should be focusing their energy, time and attention on DP examinations and college admissions, I was asked?
Particularly for new members of our community, it behooves us to define such concepts and their place in a CIS education as exactly as possible, to provide continuous training for all of our stakeholders regarding the roles we must each play in advancing the cause of student well-being in a context of high aspirations for student achievement, and to review the effectiveness of our various policies, programs and practices in finding the complex balance we are seeking on a regular basis. Please stay tuned for more detail on these topics in subsequent messages. If I am evoking the broad subject of student well-being today, it is for two reasons: 1. to celebrate how well we are already doing in this dimension of school life; and 2. to solicit your ideas on how we might build on our strengths to be ever more effective champions of student well-being in the future.
As evidence of point number one, there can be no more compelling ambassadors for our commitment to positive education than our students themselves. My wife Molly and I can attest to this fact having now had a chance to meet informally with the whole of Year 13 over a series of breakfasts this month. After the last of these events sadly came to a close just yesterday morning, we turned to each other and exclaimed one simple word: wow! It is obvious to us that our seniors are being tried and tested during their final stretch of school. Yet they also struck us as being radiant with both optimism and resilience, the same qualities educational psychologist Lea Waters describes as the two most vital psychological tools young people need to navigate and flourish in a world of constant change, where the need for perpetual adaptation and self-improvement can often seem daunting.
Molly and I have never encountered students all at once as intellectually curious, emotionally intelligent, socially responsible, and personally engaging as ours, despite the demands on mind and body which being in Year 13 so manifestly entails. Of course, the Class of 2019 will always hold a special place in our hearts, as the first cohort of students we will be accompanying to graduation next spring. Affection aside, however, it is clear to us that these young people are remarkable examples of how strengths-based teaching and learning can make an invaluable, enduring difference.
Is there more that we can and should be doing to advance student well-being at our school? Yes, and it is here that your thoughts by email or in person would be greatly appreciated, with all due respect for our admirable accomplishments thus far. To borrow a quotation from the most recent book by Professor Waters, The Strength Switch, replacing the word “child” with “school:” “A strong [school] is a [school] that can play to [its] strengths while simultaneously working on [its] weaknesses because [its] solid self-identity gives [it] the sturdy foundation necessary to acknowledge and address the areas [it] needs to improve.” From strength to strength, we will go. Our students deserve nothing less!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
It was only a matter of time before I wrote about Leonardo da Vinci in this weekly letter! As some among us will know, since I talked about him almost non-stop during my visit to CIS last April, having just finished the biography of this fascinating person by Walter Isaacson, da Vinci is the figure to whom I immediately refer whenever I am trying to describe our students to someone who has not yet had the privilege of meeting them. More recently, I have been evoking this genius from the 15th century with our students themselves, as if to hold up a mirror to their own extraordinary qualities.
Citing passages from the 7,200 pages of da Vinci’s notes and scribbles on which Isaacson based his book, quotations from which I carry around with me on my phone, I have regaled more than one of the young people in our care with the truly insatiable, all-encompassing curiosity that emanates from the Tuscan polymath’s daily to-do lists, my point being that the latter resemble very, very closely our students’ own limitless inquisitiveness. Consider the following, taken from some of the journals da Vinci filled from cover to cover in the 1490s, and you will certainly hear echoes of the inquiry-based education we are providing at CIS, where a similarly impassioned determination to understand absolutely everything in the world around us abounds and, to boot, does so through two remarkably complementary linguistic and cultural perspectives.
“Draw Milan,” jotted down da Vinci. “Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle… Ask Giannino the Bombardier about how the tower of Ferrara is walled… Ask Benedetto Protinari by what means they walk on ice in Flanders… Get a master of hydraulics to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner… Get the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese, the Frenchman...Observe the goose’s foot: if it were always open or always closed the creature would not be able to make any kind of movement...Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?...” For this marvelous human being, famed as much for the invention of the spiral staircase at the Chateau de Chambord as he is for the painting of the Mona Lisa, what he called “the infinite works of nature” were, to borrow words from Walter Isaacson this time, “woven together in a unity filled with marvelous patterns,” patterns to be uncovered, and, once uncovered, patterns to become the building blocks, the oil paints, the feather quills, and more, of human creativity.
However, da Vinci’s relevance to our students today is greater still, I would contend, as I did in a riveting conversation with a CIS upper schooler just yesterday morning. Florence, Milan, Venice and other capitals of the Renaissance were places of innovation across all dimensions of the human adventure the likes of which the planet had never before experienced and never experienced again...until...well, nowadays, I went on -- and what is happening in the region of the globe that stretches from Hong Kong to Hangzhou via Shenzhen, an area where human ingenuity is utterly transforming the economic, esthetic and other threads in the exquisite fabric of life in ways that are every bit as inspirational and impactful as those of the 15th century. You students make me think of da Vinci, I affirmed. What’s more, I added, 600 years from now, humanity is going to look back on the time and the space in which you’re growing up as having been every bit as significant for the progress of our world as the Renaissance was. So you really believe we’ll stay ahead of the robots, AI and the rest, my interlocutor then asked? As long as we keep up with your curiosity and keep nurturing your creativity, I answered, senza dubbio. For sure!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
“We come from the East. We come from the West. We learn from each other and that way is best” is the refrain I have been singing, or trying to sing, to many of the students with whom I have been talking this week, by way of introduction to a question I have been asking around campus. “Like all of us at CIS, I love these lyrics,” I would say, “but I’m really interested in knowing what you think about the ‘why’ of our ‘bestness.’ Why is it that coming from both the East and the West is so very, very special?” I will report on the full range of memorable responses I have received in a future weekly letter, but there is one answer I feel compelled to share with you immediately, for it captures the spirit behind a number of like-minded initiatives converging at our school over the last seven days and making particularly visible the educational mission that unites us all.
“Simple, Mr. Lynch. Because we’ll save the planet,” replied one of our students, a middle schooler who has been at CIS since Reception. In sum, she explained to me with pride, learning languages teaches us to care about people, and caring about people teaches us to be responsible for the world. “Brilliant, and perfectly convincing,” I applauded, and then proceeded to tell her about the many environment-related exchanges which happened to have been punctuating my experience of our school this past week. I pulled up an email from the student-led organization, “A Drop in the Ocean,” inviting me to support their vision of a plastic-free community: “We are a core group,” wrote a highly persuasive Year 12 sender, “of student leaders eager to make CIS a more green environment. Our central aim as a group this year is to significantly reduce the use of plastic amongst students. We want to achieve this by collaborating with Chartwells so our cafeteria, café, and catered events no longer provide plastic products or packaging at school.”
In turn, my young interlocutor pointed out that our newly elected Secondary Student Council, Team Phoenix, had run on a platform that vigorously highlighted the importance of greening CIS. “And there’s more,” I rejoined, telling her about the Primary school student who had just spent 10 minutes urging me to attend the inauguration of the CISPTA-sponsored community farm that was meant to take place tomorrow morning (and has now been postponed until Sunday, September 23, due to Typhoon Mangkhut). “Look what it says here,” I said, gesturing towards the flyer for this trailblazing project on my phone. “Students are encouraged to become part of the HK and global dialogue in environmental sustainability,” I read, “and participate in this movement as a global citizen.” In fact, so many CIS families were hoping to contribute, I informed our middle schooler, that we would need to find some way of accommodating the huge demand. “Is that what you mean about saving the planet,” I asked her?” “Yes, Mr. Lynch,” she replied, adding something else that I will never forget: “East and West are like arms around the world.” “Now, that’s organic food for thought,” I laughed and laughed.
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s books in the English language, but I have long hoped it would have an equally wonderful sibling, with a slightly different focus and a slightly different title, along the lines of Oh, the Place Where You Are. While we must, of course, equip our students for the future, should we not be just as committed to exploring life in the present, I have often asked myself? And to anchoring learning not only in the world of textbooks and classrooms, but within the broader landscapes of our locations, too?
These were my thoughts as I accompanied a group of CIS students through the streets of Hangzhou last Friday, en route to conduct interviews of local citizens at the silk market an hour away from our campus there. Immediate tasks: finding the bus terminal, determining which bus line to take, figuring out which bus stop was ours…the list of real-world responsibilities our Y10 pupils had to assume for themselves was long. Then, once we had arrived at our destination, the experiential learning went on, thanks to their burgeoning derring-do: building a lasting conversation with the people they approached, deciphering the organization of the shops they entered, shedding light on the motivations of the customers they encountered, and so on.
Increasingly engaged in the environment in which they found themselves, our students became researchers of exceptional caliber. When I joined another team embarked on a similar journey of discovery at Zhejiang University, I was similarly awed by the ever growing confidence, skillfulness and passion with which they threw themselves into one interview after another. The same was true for all of the Y10 students dispatched throughout the city that day, from Longjing village to the headquarters of Alibaba to the Grand Canal and elsewhere. The understanding they gained of the “place” around them, and more importantly of themselves within that place, was far more powerful than it would have been by any other path. To quote the philosopher of education John Dewey, “education is [best when it is] a process of living, and not a preparation for future living.” It was that singularly vivacious, authentic, meaningful “process” in which our students were so deeply immersed.
“Up there is heaven, down here is Suzhou and Hangzhou,” as the proverb says, somehow foreseeing the arrival of our first students in Zhejiang province more than five years ago! There is a great deal more about the remarkable Hangzhou CIS program I will happily be sharing with you down the road. For now, please allow me to express the profound admiration and gratitude we all feel for those, like former CIS Headmaster Ted Faunce and former Hangzhou CIS Director Richard Pratt, who have transformed a brilliant vision into a breathtaking reality, and for those, like incoming Hangzhou CIS Director Sally Zhang, incoming Hangzhou CIS Deputy Director Mitchell Grace and their outstanding staff, who will be taking us from strength to strength in the years to come. As you will see in the short anniversary video linked here, produced by South Central Media, with the wholehearted participation of the entire 2017-18 Hangzhou CIS community, our school’s mission is being brought alive in Zhejiang province with special creativity, giving our students extraordinary insights into the richness of their surroundings and, through the purposeful experience of those surroundings, into the beauty of community, the virtues of challenge and the treasures of character. Oh, the place where you are...is so much better close up than afar!
Head of School
Dear CIS community,
As families who attended our Year Three Open House will have already heard me say, I was truly amazed this past week to discover what one of our Y3 students had contributed to a display her teachers had organized just outside of her classroom. In response to the question of what she dreamed about accomplishing over the course of the year to come, our marvelous pupil had written: “I wish that I can make a lot of mistakes to help me learn.” Were more inspirational words everexpressed about school? I think not!
While there is much to appreciate about the beauty of this wish, one of its facets strikes me as being especially telling of the setting I have been discovering since my arrival in Hong Kong one month ago: what our student’s disposition towards learning reveals about the creativity being nurtured in our midst. And by creativity, I have in mind the definition provided by Sir Ken Robinson, a leading thinker about 21st century education from the United Kingdom: “developing original ideas that have value” or, put in more detailed terms, the quality of being able “to bring to mind things that are not present to our senses” and then to go one step further by “putting [that] imagination to work” and making something of worth with the resources at our disposal.
At CIS, it is clearly of the utmost importance that our students not only maintain, but cultivate to the fullest degree possible the innate creativity with which they are born. Indeed, there are arguably no more meaningful skills for the world of today and tomorrow than those of creative thinking and doing. Surely, a creative mindset and toolbox are what our young people need most to thrive in an era of constant change, one in which the careers they will later pursue still have to be invented, as the old adage goes, and one in which the challenges our planet is facing will require an unprecedented capacity for innovation, as well.
If I am profoundly optimistic about the future of creativity for our students, and I most enthusiastically am, one source for that confidence lies with the unusually devoted faculty to whom we have entrusted their care. Take last Sunday, for instance, when some 35 Primary and Secondary CIS educators came together for three hours of professional training around the visual programming language called Scratch, led by Mitchel Resnick, the distinguished MIT Professor who piloted its invention in 2003. As Professor Resnick insists in a brilliant book entitled Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play, and echoed in person on Braemar Hill, “to help kids develop as creative thinkers, we need to create environments where kids feel comfortable making mistakes -- and where they can learn from their mistakes.” Our teachers were delving into Scratch to understand an essential literacy of our times; yet they were there above all to explore anything and everything that might advance creative learning at our school. “Mistakes to help me learn” is their mantra, too!
Head of School
Dear CIS Community,
Over the past week, I have been constantly reminded of the wonderful quotation from Plato, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” This insight has long resonated with me, capturing the humility which to my mind lies at the heart of all learning and expressing the paradoxes that frequently enrich the marvel we call life. Yet these words have been particularly meaningful since our new school year began, given that two of the hardest AND most uplifting actions I can remember ever having taken both occurred in the last five days. The circumstances? Trying to address our opening Primary and Secondary student assemblies with some elements of Mandarin!
As many of you know, I have been doing my utmost to learn this beautiful language, originally because the independent school in New York City from which my family and I come asks all of its students to do so, and more recently because I would soon have the honor of joining CIS. However, there is a marked difference between a classroom in Manhattan and the Lower Secondary Gym on Braemar Hill, to say the least! Without going into detail, though I will happily look forward to sharing more with you in person, my objective was simple in each of these cases: to cite a Chinese thinker and writer whose works hold special significance for me and which might shed light on the journey of discovery that lies ahead for our students in 2018-19.
Well, I do not think that I have ever been quite as fretful as I was on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. After all, to speak in any language is in some sense to embrace the risk of revealing something about who one is, not necessarily in terms of a person’s mastery of diction, grammar, syntax and the like, but more palpably with regard to the sense of identity, harmony with the world, and imagination about what the human experience can be to which words give voice. What will they think, these young people of ours, when I mischoose, misuse and mispronounce a character, as I am bound to do?
Of course, I should have known better, for I had felt their warmth of heart and generosity of spirit in Hong Kong, and in Hangzhou, last year. Yet little could have prepared me for the kindness with which our students received my early forays into language. “I’ve been in your shoes, Mr. Lynch,” one young person declared, “and I am sure you’ll make progress as time goes on. Please keep it up!” Such is the rén at the core of our mission and such is the mission into which our students breathe life. Thank you to them for being the extraordinary young people they so inspirationally are. Plato was wrong, for that much I know!
Head of School
Dear CIS Community,
Heartfelt greetings from Braemar Hill, with special warmth for the 193 new students and 104 new families who will be joining us this fall!
I hope you have enjoyed a wonderful break and will be returning to school with that passion for learning which lies at the very heart of our mission. Nothing is quite as boundless as the reach of our imaginations at the beginning of a new academic calendar, and particularly so at CIS, where we strive continuously to build on our strengths and endeavor constantly to raise our sights towards new heights of personal fulfillment, educational excellence and social responsibility for our students. May the energy, boldness, determination and optimism of August be cardinal points on the compass with which we will be guiding ourselves during the year ahead!
The privilege of writing these brief words of welcome is something for which I have been waiting a long time, and I express them with the greatest possible enthusiasm, having assumed my responsibilities as our ninth Head of School a little more than two weeks ago, on August 1st. As I have shared with our staff, who have completed their vacations and with whom I have been working with delight over the past fortnight, I have often, since the announcement of my appointment in the summer of 2016, found fortitude in the wisdom of Lao Tzu, who once penned that “nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished!”
There is much to share about the year to come, and there will be ample opportunity for me to tell you more during the weeks ahead, but kindly allow me to start by mentioning the momentous event taking place on our Hong Kong campus next Friday, August 24th. It will be an honor for me to have the opportunity to celebrate our 35th anniversary together and to introduce you to an impressive team of newcomers to CIS, including Ms. Anne Gardon, Head of Primary, Ms. Christine Doleman, Head of Secondary and 30 other colleagues who will be integrating our school for the first time this autumn. Thanks to the exceptional work of Deputy Head of School Li Bin, to whom we will forever be grateful for her outstanding leadership last year, and to the tireless dedication of our experienced staff, whose unstinting commitment to our community is truly inspirational, we are ready for 2018-19 and eager to commence!
It is with immense excitement that I am looking forward to meeting you soon. Whenever and wherever we see one another, please introduce yourselves and I will happily do the same, perhaps even in Mandarin, which I am devoted to mastering. My immediate priorities are threefold:
- to know the names, strengths and interests of our students;
- to gain a thorough understanding of their learning in our care;
- and to engage them in dreaming big about the future, especially when those dreams relate to their own sense of wellness, purpose and agency at the school.
Vast topics, to be sure, but ones that matter to us all. Your support with each will be deeply appreciated!
With best wishes to everyone for a remarkable 2018-19, and kindest regards,
Head of School