Osaka YMCA
International School

How to Build a High School: A Tale of Collaboration at OYIS

high school students
Picture of Jamie Riddalls

Jamie Riddalls

Jamie Riddalls is the Diploma Programme Coordinator at Osaka YMCA International School. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, cycling, and traveling. If you see him on campus, you will most likely see him collaborating with someone on an important task.

Building a school free from established rules and structures can be a very exciting project if you have a great team of people who share a similar vision.

How to Build a High School: A Tale of Collaboration at OYIS

The challenge of building a high school is real. Three years ago, we had the task of building a high school from scratch. We had no finished building, no finished classrooms, no curriculum, few policies, and no IB Authorizations. Building a high school is a challenging task because you do not have the physical structures, the policies, the curriculum, and the history of established schools. You also do not have any established norms to fall back on. There are no rules established for this new school. The future classrooms for the new school are well worn with faded carpet on the floors and wallpaper is peeling off of the walls. The building needs a lot of work and there is no curriculum planned or written at all.

On top of this situation, you can add the added challenges of culture shock for new staff, a new language to learn, and a small campus with limited space for meeting. However, building a school free from established rules and structures can be a very exciting project if you have a great team of people who share a similar vision.

With all of these challenges in place, the solution to building a high school was obvious: we needed to collaborate with a wide range of school and community groups to overcome this situation and to meet the needs of our community.

Collaborate with administrators

The first step to building a high school is to collaborate with school administrators to articulate a mission and vision for the new school. This mission and vision for your school must reflect the values of the community and align with the educational philosophies of the school administrators. To develop a vision and mission statement for the school, OYIS administrators met with a wide range of community members and collaborated to draft the text. Once the mission and vision statement was drafted, it was shared with teachers and administrators for feedback before it was published on the school website.

With a mission and vision statement written, the next step was for administrators to collaborate to plan for the facilities for the new high school. Monique Palmer led the design team for choosing the furniture, the colors scheme for the floor, and organizing the construction schedule. She made sure to collaborate with a wide range of teachers and administrators to select the appropriate colors for each room and give the school a warm and community feeling. It was through collaboration and discussion that some ideas were scrapped while others were kept until our design plans were finalized and brought to life.

joy and students
chiakisan and student

Collaboration with teachers

A second important step to building a high school involves collaborating with teachers. A great high school also needs a great curriculum to engage students and inspire them to achieve higher. In order to write a great curriculum in each subject, teachers need to collaborate with programme coordinators to plan, draft, write, and edit excellent unit plans. This process of collaboration on curriculum writing began three years ago and it is still ongoing today. Through collaboration and reflection, OYIS teachers have been able to create a world class curriculum and school in a very short amount of time. After getting to know our students well, OYIS teachers then collaborated extensively to plan learning experiences and assessments which will develop a succession of Approach to Learning skills for our students.

Another important task which involved collaboration was the planning, drafting, editing, proofreading, and feedback gathering to write a range of policies for our secondary school. Spearheaded by our Vice-Principal and MYP Coordinator, Monique Palmer, with OYIS teacher policy leaders who led individual policy committees, our teachers collaborated weekly for over six months to produce school policies which reflect the philosophy of the International Baccalaureate and represent the needs and best interests of our learning community. In the space of less than a year, our school was able to write an Assessment Policy, an Inclusion Policy, a Language Policy, an Admissions Policy and an Academic Integrity Policy, among others. With these policies written and shared with the community, we were then able to actualize our mission and vision for the school with policy document which reflect these beliefs.

Collaboration with students

A third step to building a high school is to collaborate with students. No school is complete without students. A school is a quiet empty building without the buzz and intellectual energy that students bring with them. At OYIS, we have consciously collaborated with students to build a school for them to meet the academic, social, emotional and intellectual needs. We encourage our students to plan school events like school assemblies, talent shows, After School Activities. We also collaborate with our students to plan student-led conferences where they share their learning with their family members. Recently, we invited a group of OYIS students from grades 7 to 11 to interview three prospective secondary principal candidates and give school administration feedback on their prospective fit to our community. In May of this year, a group of our grade 11 students will collaborate with OYIS teachers to hold our first ever school prom to celebrate inclusion and academic achievement over the school year.

Collaborate with the community

A fourth step to building a high school is to collaborate with the community. The purpose of any school is to meet the needs of the community in which it is set. At OYIS, we made an effort to reach out to our parent community to listen to their hopes, dreams, and concerns about international schooling in downtown Osaka. Our parents informed us that they wanted to see their children supported throughout their schooling and they wanted their children to have access to excellent universities for their post-secondary education. After listening to our parent community, OYIS administrators and teachers worked hard to collaborate to make student support a priority for our teaching and learning. Administrators and teachers also collaborated to plan multiple graduation pathways for our students, all supported by our university counselor Amy.


In conclusion, building a high school is a community-driven project which requires the collaboration of all stakeholders to complete successfully. At OYIS, we continue to work hard and collaborate to build a school which our community can be proud of and one which helps our students access universities and colleges around the world which meet their academic interests. While we have done a lot of work to get to this point, we still have another year and a half before we graduate our first Diploma Programme cohort, the Class of 2023. In the coming year, we will continue to collaborate with all stakeholders to build a high school which the OYIS community can be proud of.

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