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Explore Opportunities within a Family at Surabaya Intercultural School

Josh Bishop, Management Advisor at Surabaya Intercultural School (SIS).
Josh Bishop, Management Advisor at Surabaya Intercultural School (SIS).

“I have always viewed schools as an extension of the family.  For at least a decade now, I routinely address our parents and students as members of the SIS Family.

The reality is that our students spend a significant amount of time with us, and the school and family need to be on the same page as far as academics, expectations and even accountability,” enthused Josh Bishop, Management Advisor at Surabaya Intercultural School (SIS).

“We need to openly communicate with each other so that our students are hearing the same message. We also host weekly activities, in partnership with our PTO (Parent Teacher Organisation) for parents. These include things like yoga, zumba, archery classes, arts and crafts, and book clubs.”

SIS empowers students in terms of family and education by offering a lot of choices for students to explore. Historically, and to some extent, many current traditional schools offer the basics for decades, meanwhile, the world is evolving and students need to be prepared for the future, Bishop shared. 

“While I believe that content is important, I would argue that skills are more important.  In the age of technology, you can find the answer to anything. Once you have that information, you will need skills like communication, analysis, critical thinking, creativity, etc. to make the most of that information. At SIS, we are empowering students with those skills and the opportunity to practice and assess them,” he added. 

Who is Josh Bishop? 

I have been in education for over 25 years and have held leadership positions in the United States, India, China, and now Indonesia. My role is to work with the Board of Patrons to ensure the successful implementation of both the educational and operational side of the school.

In China, I was responsible for building a new school and worked with architects and contractors, hired all the staff, wrote the curriculum, and developed all the school and board policies.

My family and I love Indonesia. My wife Rachel and I have two children named Peyton (age 14) and Ava (age 13) who attend SIS. We intend to see Ava, our youngest graduate from SIS.

What drove you to become a management advisor?

I have always enjoyed working with students. I started as a classroom teacher and quickly transitioned into school leadership roles. I have enjoyed leading schools through times of transition and moving them from good to great schools.

In my time in China, I worked for an organisation that supported schools throughout the world. Our focus was Asia and I had the opportunity to train thousands of teachers and school leaders. I like connecting with teachers, students and families to build a new vision. 

Schools need to be evolving and we, as school leaders, need to have our focus on the best educational research. The ability to have a potential impact on the future is exciting and I have already seen many alumni who have done just that.

Briefly tell us about Surabaya Intercultural School.

Surabaya Intercultural School is the oldest and first international school in Surabaya. This is our 52nd year of operation. We are a non-profit school run by a board of directors who are parents of the school. What separates us from other international schools is that we do not have an owner, which allows us to make decisions based on educational research about what is best for students and not just about profit.  Additionally, we’re a truly diverse school with nearly 30 nationalities represented in our student population and an equally diverse teaching staff.

SIS was hit hard by the pandemic. Since my arrival in August 2021, our school has seen an increase in the student population of nearly 65 percent and we’re on track to see an increase of nearly 75 percent by the end of the year as we admit students at all times of the year. We do not offer the traditional school open houses, instead, we welcome students and parents to visit at any time and they’re welcome to do class trials at their convenience.

‘Finally, I would like to reiterate that our decisions are made on best practices and/or current educational research. We partner with and provide staff training from some of the educational world’s best minds, which allows us to be relevant and future-focused.  

In my first year, our focus was on #YearOfGrowth, last year we focused on #YearOfInnovation, and this year we are focused on #Teaching&Learning. Having a bold vision for the school has enabled us to grow and be more strategic in preparing our students for the future. Many traditional curriculum programs are routinely offered that have recently been criticised as failing to prepare students for the future because they are traditional.

Our curriculum prepares students for the future. At the primary level, we offer the IBPYP framework (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program) and at the secondary level, we offer the Advanced Placement courses (AP), which are college-level courses. This rigorous curriculum allows our students to gain entry to universities all over the world including the US, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, and Australia. Nearly 40 percent of our students gain entry into the top 10 percent of the world’s most elite universities – something we’re very proud of.

Please complete this sentence: Students at Surabaya Intercultural School experience the uniqueness of…..

… a truly diverse school.

Lots of schools consider themselves to be international because they offer an international curriculum. At SIS, we’re truly an international school in that we have a diverse population of students and teachers. We also collaborate and train with educational experts and other schools throughout the world. This gives our students the best opportunity to be prepared for university admissions throughout the world.

Students have access to an Olympic size pool (the only pool of its size in Surabaya), AP courses, Model United Nations, World Scholars, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, 55,000 square metres of space, and we recently installed stadium lighting on our soccer field, which is another first for a school in Surabaya. Last year, we offered the World Peace Games, which was a first for any school in Indonesia. What we offer is impressive when you consider the size of our school.

SIS practices DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) to set the norms of acceptance and open-mindedness. Why is it vital?

We live in a very diverse world and like SIS, our student population is equally diverse.  Students have a strategic advantage when they have direct opportunities to understand people from different cultures, races, religions, etc. Having that type of understanding and/or empathy allows students, and adults, to see through different lenses. The ability to view things through different lenses gives students stronger ideas, and the ability to collaborate, and allows for a deeper understanding.  All of these are and will continue to be necessary skills. We want our students to find solutions and have the ability to remove barriers that may be preventing growth in other sectors.

Author Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles puts “WHY” at the centre of all decisions. By allowing and guiding students through DEIJ, we enable them to better understand people’s “why”. That in turn allows for a place of mutual understanding and a beginning to stronger conversations. It’s this understanding and skill set that will give SIS students an advantage in the future workspace.

SIS practices DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) to set the norms of acceptance and open-mindedness
SIS Practices DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) to Set the Norms of Acceptance and Open-mindedness
What is the common denominator to ensure students and staff are reaching their full potential and skills for the future? How does SIS apply this?

Educational research has shown that appropriate assessments are what allow students the opportunity to grow and reach their potential. We follow and practice current researchers like Ken O’Connor, Tom Guskey, and Rick Wormeli, as well as utilise formative and summative assessments and use that data to inform our instruction and student learning. We offer students the opportunity to demonstrate that learning through a variety of methods and over time.

Educational research is very clear in this area but many schools use a traditional “once and done” approach to tests. If a student fails to grasp a concept initially but over time that concept is demonstrated consistently, why wouldn’t we use that data as their final grade? As educators, we know that every student gains understanding at different rates.  It’s our responsibility to ensure that ALL students achieve understanding. When we shift the focus from testing to learning, students gain deeper and more meaningful content.

We also look at emerging data from futurists,, Gallup and even the World Economic Forum. At SIS, our focus is on content and skills.

A quote from Creativity in Learning by Gallup states, “Amidst ongoing pressure to meet established standards, U.S. schools have embraced traditional forms of instruction that too often lack the personalization students need to learn and grow. In an increasingly complex world and workforce, today’s students must master essential problem-solving and critical thinking skills to be successful in the future despite likely economic disruption. Future jobs — many of which have not even been imagined yet — will require individuals who can develop new, creative ways to address problems. This creation process will not be the result of rote memorization or repetition, which is today’s dominant teaching method, but instead is fostered through creativity in learning.”

Internationally, we tend to see the same focus on rote learning and memorisation. SIS encourages students to be critical thinkers. A lot of great thinking comes from experimentation and failure. In schools, many students are afraid to fail because it negatively affects their grades, GPAs, and college admissions. Instead of focusing on the product of learning (grades) we need to shift to the process of learning where our students are empowered to be creative and critical thinkers knowing that their grade will be reflective of their learning over time and not just arbitrary test dates.

With decades of experience in the education field, adaptation plays a significant role but how do you overcome such challenges that surface?

Many schools tend to be tied to tradition and traditional curriculum.  We ask our teachers to explore and learn new systems, technology, practices, etc.  Adaptation is critical to growth. What we saw during COVID was that schools and industries that could pivot and adapt were the most successful.

As a school, we’re embracing many of the adaptations that we have seen recently. We encourage our students to use AI (ChatGPT).  It’s a tool and needs to be learned. We tell our students to use AI, fact-check it, and be sure to cite that you are using it.

A recent quote from Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani said, “AI won’t replace humans – but humans with AI will replace humans without AI.” As educators, our job is to prepare our students for the future. We need to give them the skills and tools and expose them to leading adaptations.

Based on your observation, what can expat families expect by living in Surabaya?

Surabaya is a great city.  Having lived in Mumbai, India; Shenzhen, China; and now Surabaya, my family and I are enjoying the community. The people are very friendly, our PTO immediately connects with new families to connect and support their transition, and you can find just about everything you need…the rest you just order online. There is a strong expat community in Surabaya and all are willing to assist.  We don’t have issues with traffic and air pollution, so spending time with family outdoors is often an option. We really like this community and plan to make this home for many years to come.

Josh, what’s next for you and SIS?

SIS has focused energy on marketing and preparing our students for the future. We’ve just finished our accreditations with the International Baccalaureate and WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and have had very positive feedback from both. Going through the accreditation process ensures that our students are eligible for universities and ensures that our teaching meets a high standard. 

We spend a considerable amount of time and resources providing ongoing training for our staff so that they are leaders within the educational community. Without going into some specifics, we’re looking forward to a potential partnership that would put SIS in a very elite group of schools focused on innovation for the last two years and are excited about the prospect.

I want to continue to see our school grow in a way that retains the “small” school feel and yet prepares our students for the future.  Our principal, athletic director and I greet each student every morning at the drop-off and say goodbye to each of them at the end of the day. It means a lot to our students and our families to have a personal connection. As I stated in the beginning, we are a family and we continue to grow and welcome new members into our family.

How can our readers get in touch?

Our school website is a place where families can learn more about our school and our programs. You can also find us on TikTok and Instagram Parents can also contact me directly at [email protected].

As I stated earlier, families are always welcome to drop by the school for a tour or to schedule a demo class. We’re always available for families to see the great programs Surabaya International School has to offer.

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