Less than a decade old, New International School of Japan is a relative newcomer amongst Tokyo’s crop of top educational facilities for youngsters, but it is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the ones to watch. School director Steven Parr had 19 years of experience as an administrator and teacher at another international school in Tokyo when he decided to leave his job in order to establish a new school with an approach to education that is unlike that of anywhere else in the city.
When did you first come to Japan?
My first visit was in the summer of 1969, and I have been here practically ever since. I heard it said that if you are here for seven years, it may be forever. Well, I am long past that.
New International School was established in 2001, so why ‘new’?
‘New’ refers to the style, not the age. I felt it an absolute imperative to create a very different kind of school from the ones I had experienced, both as a child and as an adult, and somehow I had the energy and opportunity to actually do it, thanks to an invitation from Iwata Gakuen, our parent organization.
Who or what gives you inspiration?
I have always been inspired by the infinite potential of children, and by the fact that teachers will do everything they can on the children’s behalf. I wanted to create a school where the maximum engagement and excitement of both could be realized.
What sets New International School apart from other international schools in Japan?
We are a dual language school in English and Japanese, which in itself makes us unique. In our particular configuration, all homeroom classes have two homeroom teachers, who facilitate the children’s academic and social development in both languages, using a thematic approach, developmental continuums, and research-based guidelines for skill development, together with a combination of whole group, small group, individual, center, and project-based activities, presentations, performances, and field trips.
We are also ‘multi-age’ by design. The children spend three years in the same class with the same teachers, so they experience from being among the younger to being among the older students in the class, and there is no ceiling on their development, whatever their age. This makes it possible to be extremely innovative, provided that one has the resources (which we do, with over 23,000 books in our library, SmartBoards and computers in the classrooms, and an abundance of materials for active learning). It is amazing how much children can do when they are raised without being compared to others, in an atmosphere of love and trust.
Is team teaching tough to sustain in the current economic climate?
Yes, but collaboration is what modern life is about. What better way than to have it modeled by the teachers, and in two languages at that? I think it was Proust who said that the truest journey is not to see 100 places with the same pair of eyes, but the same place with 100 pairs of eyes. At our school, the children approach the same topic from different points of view, including those generated by the various academic disciplines and from personal, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. This kind of experiential base, combined with their academic skills, will make it possible for them to navigate their future lives with a positive spirit, and be good at it. I would like to think we are offering the children the best of all worlds: multilingual, integrative, collaborative, creative, active, and fun.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs here?
Don’t give up your integrity or your dreams. If you continue to pursue what you know is important, sooner or later you will find the support.
What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time? No, seriously, I try not to ‘work’ too much at home. I have an interest in some of the cable TV programs, in genealogical research, and in acrylic painting. The bird that symbolizes our school is one of my creations. But, truth to tell, people are often surprised at how quickly I answer email messages, day or night.
New International School of Japan