Tim Kaiser Interview: How CDNIS Keeps Ahead

WhichSchoolAdvisor talks to Tim Kaiser, who is upper school principal at one of Hong Kong’s most innovative schools, the all-through Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS).
Tim Kaiser Interview: How CDNIS Keeps Ahead
By Carli Allan
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Canadian Tim Kaiser is principal of the upper school at Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS). During his 23 years at this popular all-through school, Kaiser has played a key role in driving a unique dual diploma programme, launching the Project Innovate framework for future-ready learning, and balancing innovation and technology across the curriculum.

Click here to read our review of CDNIS.

Kaiser talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com about how CDNIS’ innovative philosophy feeds across all subjects and areas of the school’s curriculum, and how education is changing to meet the needs of the next generation.

There’s certainly a strong Canadian spirit running through the corridors here. But what is it that puts the Canadian into CDNIS?

I’m Canadian and it’s part of the air I breathe, so I’m always happy when people say that. What makes us Canadian? Well, it’s very sensuous – you see the totem poles, you smell the cedar when you walk in, you see the flags, you see the maple leaf on the uniform. The heartbeat of the school is Canadian, and then we layer in the international elements of the IB programme.

CDNIS is the only school in Hong Kong to offer a dual-diploma programme, where your senior students take both the IBDP and the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). How do students cope with the extra workload?

I’m happy to say that it’s not double the work, it’s just a little extra work. There’s only one credit focusing on leadership and engagement with the community that Ontario requires that’s not part of the IB programme – and the students do that course online. We make sure that this extra work bridges with their Creativity, Action and Service work in the IB programme. We’ve been successful in melding and fusing the two programmes together.

Most schools would offer students a choice model whereby they choose the Ontario or the IB, but all our students do both. There’s such a strong overlap that our students can graduate with both diplomas, which is quite a rare thing in higher education.

CDNIS has a history of innovation, from becoming the first Apple Distinguished School in Hong Kong 10 years ago to being the first international school in Hong Kong to introduce a 1:1 laptop programme. How does Project Innovate continue this culture of innovation?

Project Innovate provides a comprehensive framework for future-ready learning. We’re not just trying to meet the needs of our students in the present, we’re trying to meet the needs of our students in the future. I know schools say that a lot, but we’ve tried to dig deep and look at what our students need.

We can’t ignore the core skills, and literacy and numeracy underpin future-ready learning. But what else will our students need along the way and how will they become the sought-after employees of the future?

Well, they need to be communicators, collaborative and creative – those are three key things. So, when we talk about future-ready learning at CDNIS, we’re not talking about gadgets and technology. It’s more about empowering students to think creatively, come up with a new way of thinking, and be able to adapt. Project Innovate isn’t about becoming the greatest coder of all time. For most of our students, it’s taking what they learn about coding and then applying it to music, to literature or history.

And how does your OneDoor facility, which is an impressive makerspace, support Project Innovate?

OneDoor was key for the evolution of the school. This one-stop location is equipped with facilities for robotics, app coding, laser cutting, 3D Printing, advanced film making and virtual reality – and the students are so excited by it. It’s a space where we can teach these basic fundamental skills in technology – and the MYP and our ECAs really lend themselves to that – but it doesn’t stop there.

Our philosophy has always been that it’s not about the shiny bells and whistles, it’s what we do with it. What sets us apart from other schools is that we’ve set aside money for teachers to train the teachers; tech leaders whose full-time job it is to help teachers be more effectively in the classroom. It’s not about ‘my computer doesn’t work’, it’s about ‘how can I teach algebra better using software?’. Technology can be just another fancy tool, but we want to show teachers how to use it as effectively as possible.

You presented at the IB Regional Conference 2017 in Singapore on care in innovation. How have you applied this to learning at CDNIS?

We feel that we can be innovative in things that are non-technological. For example, in the IBDP, we saw that there was a double cycle of stress. The students have their mock exams in January and then, when they’ve barely recovered from the stress of those, they have to sit the final exams in May. Why do we do this to the kids?

We looked at what we need to know from the mocks, which is how ready they are. So, in January we ran ‘practice in diagnosis’ sessions for a week instead of mocks. We took the value out of it, as it wasn’t worth anything, but we made sure the students took it seriously as we asked them to show us what they’re good at and where they need additional help.

During this week, the kids could also choose to take part in activities like watching a movie, visiting rescue dogs, and then drawing a mural with the lower school. All this happened during what was traditionally a stressful mock exam time of the academic year. We weren’t just telling the students to have fun, we were showing them how to deal with stress.

Although CDNIS has a reputation for being one of the most innovative schools in Hong Kong, do you still maintain a focus on the arts and sport as well?

Yes, absolutely. I feel we have a real balance here as students need an holistic well-roundedness. A typical student here will graduate having been in a band, a musical production and perhaps playing on a sports team. We even have an innovative definition of athletics as we have a dragon boating team, a trail-running team, and even a yoga team. In true Canadian style, everyone feels like they are part of something.

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