Should students take the lead in planning a school's strategy? This Austrian school says yes
What is the purpose of schooling? For many, it’s the imparting of the specific knowledge that will allow young people to navigate adult life.
However, for a growing number of families, it is also about empowerment – giving young people the real-life skills and experiences that will help them achieve sustained success in later life, no matter their chosen career path.
Together with the American International School of Vienna (AISV), we look at how one school is taking an innovative, leading role both in involving students in envisioning its future growth and empowering them to make long-term, impactful decisions.
Developing the school of the future
In order to plan for their continued success, a school needs to create a strategic plan that outlines how it plans to grow and develop in the years ahead.
This is especially important in challenging and turbulent times as these, when more than ever, global challenges play a role in the daily lives of students.
When it came time for AIS Vienna to develop their new five-year Strategic Plan 2021-2026, involving student voices was a key concern.
As High School student Hannah Fidelia Hurtig, who was involved in the planning process, says: “A lot of the time grown-ups can recognise and see what is good for students in the long run, but I think it is important to also realise what the students need right now, and that is where student input becomes especially important.”
Together with Hurtig’s input, ideas from staff, parents, students, and other stakeholders were funneled into four distinct pillars for discussion: Teaching & Learning, Character & Community, Facilities and Finance. Each of these areas was then the focus of planning that could be later judged through clear outcomes.
“I believe that students will specifically benefit from the Teaching and Learning priority," Hurtig tells us. "One of the goals is to create an environment where students are provided with the necessary tools and space for purposeful learning, which is then further supported by the teachers around them.
“I also believe that students will benefit from the Character and Community priority, as AIS is focusing on what it means to be a member of the AIS community, fostering diversity and inclusion. I think through this priority AIS will become an even more welcoming place, in which everyone feels motivated.”
For Hurtig, her experience in developing the new AIS Vienna Strategic Plan was one that made her more confident, giving her the skills that will allow her to engage in similar projects in the future.
She says: “I felt like my voice was heard and everything I said was carefully considered. I especially enjoyed discussions in which ideas would float around and we would come to a conclusion together.”
Building on the plan
As great as a Strategic Plan can be in developing a roadmap for the future, it’s nothing without concrete action.
This past school year, AIS Vienna fundraised over €225,000, a significant portion of which was used to furnish a new, cutting-edge Elementary School Science and Innovation Lab that now allows students to collaborate in a dedicated space and engage with tools in ways that simply weren’t possible before.
In the previous school year, extensions were made to both the Elementary and High Schools, allowing students more space and learning opportunities outside a traditional classroom environment.
Additionally, in line with recommendations that would later become part of the new Strategic Plan, the school’s network infrastructure and online learning environments were overhauled. This would become especially crucial when the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March of last year.
Bringing together the voices of parents, teachers, supporters and – most crucially – students, AIS Vienna has developed a Strategic Plan that will allow it to continually lead as a centre of educational excellence in not only the Austrian capital, but across the entire country and region.
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