Accompanying young people as they fulfil their highest potential

Posted on 22nd Sep 2020 in School News, Austria

Jeremy House, Head of School at AMADEUS International School Vienna, explains how students’ high performance is underpinned

When we consider what it is that we want for young people it is not uncommon to hear replies such as; I want them to be happy, I want them to get a good education, I want them to have a comfortable life, I want them to find their passion, I want them to have many possibilities. This is the nice life. The problem with these ideas is they are all threshold concepts. That is, they rely on a particular thing being deemed just enough of that thing. For example, good enough education, happy enough, enough possibilities, at least one thing they are passionate about. The reason for this small but important limiting distinction is that we are acutely aware of not overburdening young people. We should not, by any means, advocate for a childhood or adolescent culture which pressures students, drives them beyond their capabilities, or otherwise exposes them to a mental strain or decreased wellbeing. However, nor do we wish to end up ordinary and self-forgiving.

Aristotle believed that to live ‘the good life’ was to fulfil one’s highest potential. He also held that a part of what makes humans unique among the other creatures in the animal kingdom is the capacity for moral reasoning. Therefore, a particularly important potential one must fulfil in order to live a good life, is to perfect the exercise of virtue in thinking and behaviour. Aristotle operationalized this with the meta-virtue he called Phronesis, which is the application of practical wisdom in respect to one’s context. In his view, a person who, over the course of a lifetime, has actualised one’s highest potential, and who has done so within moral excellence, could be considered ‘flourishing’.

We can educate young people to aim beyond threshold levels and advocate the responsibility for fulfilment of one’s highest potential. The error committed in many cases is the assumption that fulfilment of one’s highest potential is a burden. It is precisely the opposite, it is a gift, and the very fact that we (most of us in international education) have the possibility to think about reaching our fullest potential is supreme good fortune. This is our telos (purpose) and something that should be attended to with a joyful curiosity, and deep commitment over a lifetime. This is the good life.

This conceptualisation offers a necessary extension to the hopes and dreams many of us hold for young people in contemporary society, by a) requiring the fullest expression and development of one’s capabilities, and b) requiring ethical integrity.

Many international schools and school systems across the world are facing an existential crisis, they identify with this or that system, but forget that we are humans in an ecosystem. In the past few years, we have seen rapid expansion in international schools around the world as people recognize the importance of global citizenship for the future, yet to realise the fullest potential of this cooperation, schools must first be able to anchor themselves in a theory of human flourishing and high performance that raises our expectations.

At AMADEUS International School we are acutely aware of this and have committed it in our mission ‘to accompany young people as they fulfil their highest potential’. Our vision of ‘educational distinction’ is the real ergon (work) of schools. To achieve this, we rely on seven pillars which inspire our students’ high-performance.

First and foremost, is Intellect. This relates to our academic potential and capacity for critical thinking and reasoning. Virtue is the second pillar, through which our students explore the concept of phronesis and ethical living required to attain flourishing. Many schools shy away from their responsibility to attend to this piece for fear of being seen as overly paternalistic. However, set firmly within a philosophical frame of capability development and human flourishing, the contemplation of virtue (at the right level for each age) becomes highly rewarding. Related to this is Inclusivity, which nurtures the global mindsets and international perspectives in our students. Linked to this, Languages, is another pillar of our international education in which our students thrive and seek to develop to their fullest capacity for multilingual communication. As our name (AMADEUS) suggests, Music and Aesthetic are our key strengths and ensure our students explore their fullest artistic and musical potential and creativity. We believe as Plato did, that music and arts education is the ‘most potent instrument’ in supporting the growth in young people. Whilst our final pillar, Vitality relates to the fullest expression of health, energy, and being in the world.

In short, whilst all schools will continue to offer education in reading, writing, arithmetic, natural, and social sciences, the most impactful in the final determination of whether one can be considered truly educated or truly flourishing is the individual commitment to excellence. This must be nurtured in a community of excellence and aligned with a vision of the good life, without limitations.

This article first appeared in John Catt's Guide to International Schools 2020/21, which you can view in full here: