The International Baccalaureate Organisation’s (IBO) Mission Statement for all schools reads: “The International Baccalaureate Organisation aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” This Mission Statement should underpin all daily actions at the International School of Augsburg (ISA), Germany. Preparing, then, for a Unit of Inquiry on WW1, certain elements of the Mission Statement, i.e. “caring”, “more peaceful world” and “intercultural understanding”, seemed especially relevant. It was an interesting concept to challenge students to be “caring” and understanding of people that they had never met, who had lived and died long before they were born. The purpose of this study shifted from being simply a factual study of WW1, to fostering empathy in students for others regardless of space and time. These aims aligned neatly with ongoing attempts to guide children towards the upper echelons of what Maslow (2011) defines as “self-actualisation”:
It is an overcast Friday morning and 30 Grade 8 students sit cross-legged in a circle in the corridor outside of their Humanities room. Inside, Elisabeth Feist, a talented hobby artist and mother of one of the students, is being assisted by Melanie Thalhofer and Catharina Brecht, also mothers. They have transformed the room. It is no longer a classroom but a theatre for action. Outside, there is a focused silence. The students must place themselves in the trenches of WW1. They have assessed the facts, now they must articulate empathy. The door opens and students enter in small groups. They take their places beside large foam canvases that will, by the end of the day, be fixed together in a large mural that will tell the story of war and those who experienced it. Elisabeth explains that they must move beyond symbols, from simply seeing a gun, to seeing the damage done by a gun: a son lost, a father lost, a future doctor, artist, leader gone. This is not art nor is it history; it is empathy and something special is about to occur.
When a school writes a Mission Statement, it is defining the characteristics that students of that school will carry with them into the world outside of the school gate. In order for a Mission Statement to be meaningful, it is essential that there is a connection between theory and practice and that the Values a school believes in are explicitly taught in the classroom with just as much emphasis as Skill and Knowledge.