by Erin Defosse
One of the most powerful pillars of a Magellan education is “purposeful action.”
In my experience, when people talk about education the thoughts and ensuing conversations tend to be around learning of information or specific skills. The types of questions that result from these conversations generally sound like this:
- “What did Mary learn at school?”
- “How does that compare with what her friend Johnny at another school has learned?”
- “How well did he/she do on “the test”?”
- “Will he/she have the scores necessary to get into that next school they want to go to?”
However, in asking these questions I believe we miss one of the most important elements of an education: the ability to translate one’s learnings into directed, purposeful action to impact the world around us.
Imagine if the questions normally asked during these conversations were instead phrased as:
- “What was Mary able to do with what she learned at school?”
- “How has Johnny able to put his learnings into action?”
- “How effectively did they leverage their knowledge and skills to improve themselves, their community, and the world?”
- “Have their efforts inspired others and have these allowed them to take on and rally others towards even more ambitious ones?”
If in addition to focusing on education as a mechanism for learning information and skills we expanded that to include what we do, through purposeful action, with those learnings then I believe we could really capture the power of what education should and could be all about.
The notion of taking learnings and directing them towards Purposeful Action is embedded in Magellan’s motto: “Inspiring Creative Thinking, Passion, and Purposeful Action”. We coined this motto as part of the 2016-2019 school strategic plan development process that took place a few years ago. Each of the words in the motto had been part of the Magellan philosophy and culture from day one, yet we had not explicitly identified them. Up until then we relied on the IB Learner Profile to describe our values as a school.
However, as the school developed, we all knew that there was yet another set of dimensions that defined our school’s philosophy, culture, and purpose. We were able to crystallize them in writing during the strategic planning by reflecting on the Creative Thinking and Passion that we had seen in our students, faculty, staff, and broader school community from day one. However, we also realized that without Purposeful Action, none of that creative thinking and passion would have materialized nor could any of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile we instill every day in our students come to life in order to impact the world. The founding of the school itself is a reflection of this fact. Every aspect of its founding necessitated creative thinking and passion from all those involved, but it was ultimately taking purposeful action that allowed it to come into being.
Purposeful Action has been present in Magellan’s DNA from day one but is also something that has intentionally been embedded into every aspect of a Magellan education. At Magellan, the concept of Purposeful Action is instilled in kids all the way from Pre-Primary. One of the first examples of this occurred in 2010 after the Chilean mining accident that left several dozen miners trapped underground for months.
Ms. Alexandra, our PP4 (pre-primary 4) teacher at the time and a Chilean national herself, had been debating over if and how news of the accident, which was all over the broadcast news cycle, should make it into the classroom. The outcome was uncertain and it was all too possible that all 33 miners trapped in the mine could die. Deciding if and how to expose all of this to the young kids required careful deliberation other teachers, the staff, and parents.
The decision was ultimately made to tell the kids about it and turn this important event into a learning opportunity that could generate empathy and, ultimately, Purposeful Action from the kids. Ms. Alexandra led her class of youngsters in an exploration of the situation being faced by the miners and how they would have to cooperate and work together to survive. As they explored all this, the class decided to build a model of the mine, together with the now famous capsules that were eventually lowered into the mine to rescue them. The students had to discuss how they – playing the role of miners – would have to work together to survive and even had to learn math in the process in order to figure out how many helicopter flights would be needed to fly the miners back to safety. Most importantly, the kids and their teacher decided to take Purposeful Action and created a fundraiser to support the families of the miners. Everyone was so impressed that not only had the children and their teacher taken a big risk in creating a project around a potentially tragic situation, that they learned valuable skills and lessons along the way, and that they all banded together to do something about it by helping the families of the miners.
A few years later, in 2013, the school held its first ever 5th grade Exhibition. The Exhibition is the IB PYP program capstone project that is designed to showcase the attitudes, values, and knowledge that the kids have obtained throughout their formative years in primary school. It was during that IB PYP Exhibition that many of us became fully present to what Magellan was fomenting in our children. The Creative Thinking, Passion, and Purposeful Action that would later make it into our motto years later was on full display during that Exhibition. We were all particularly impressed by the the work of a young lady, Tilly, who only two years earlier had joined Magellan in third grade without any prior knowledge of Spanish.
Tilly was passionate about gardening and had decided to focus her Exhibition project on how people could grow their own food at home. She toiled away in her own home garden for months growing vegetables so that she could later showcase everything she had done at school. During that time Tilly had also learned that the City of Austin was embroiled in a legal tussle over whether low incomes families in East Austin would be allowed to participate in urban farming initiatives to help feed their community.
Tilly decided to go speak to the Austin City Council on behalf of all those families, most of them Hispanic, that needed to grow their food in order to feed their community. With the help of her exhibition advisor, Ms. Sayuri, Tilly booked herself a speaking slot in front of a meeting of the City Council and delivered an impassioned speech, in Spanish, in front of the Mayor and the other City Council members asking them to support the urban farming initiatives at the center of the issue. Let’s not forget that only a few years earlier Tilly had arrived at Magellan not speaking a word of Spanish and she was now speaking in Spanish in front of our City’s leadership on behalf of thousands of our fellow citizens. This to me was Purposeful Action personified.
It is those PP4 kids in 2010 helping the Chilean miners, Tilly speaking in front of the Austin City Council, and the countless other examples of Purposeful Action that I have and continue to see at the school that remind me that Magellan is indeed much more than a place for our children to learn knowledge and skills. It is a place where the teachers, staff, and broader school community work together every day to translate that knowledge, those skills, and the IB Learner Profile into actions that impact all of us. By doing so we are not only laying a foundation for a better future but also enabling our children to pursue a life full of creativity, passion, and the happiness that results from doing so. I can’t imagine a better gift to give our children, ourselves, and the entire world.
MIS Founder, Board Member and Parent
Erin Defosse is the founder of Magellan International School and serves on its Board of Directors. His son, Shehan, was a member of MIS’s inaugural 8th grade Class of 2016 and his daughter, Ariana, a member of the Class of 2019. When he is not working to change and inspire the world, Erin can be found at Aceable – an Austin-based technology firm providing innovative driver’s education online courses – as its Chief Strategy Officer.