India and the United States of America have always shared an affable relationship. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first US President to visit India, to Donald Trump, both countries have shared an amicable alliance. Since long, many ex-pat families were seeking for a school in North India with an American curriculum to prepare students for American colleges and universities. Thus, inspired by the Indian Himalayan environment and America’s inclusive Christian tradition, Woodstock School was established in 1854.
Today, Woodstock serves a much more diverse international community, with more than 40 nationalities and missions to develop visionary, articulate, and ethical individuals equipped to achieve their full potential in leadership and life. Traditional cultural models have often been said to have an over-reliance on a rote learning approach to education, which is the antithesis of Woodstock’s pedagogical philosophy. The title of Woodstock School’s educational vision, ‘Eliciting Greatness’, is drawn from the Scottish statesman John Buchan’s admonition, ‘The task of leadership is not to put greatness in humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there. For us, a big part of this is enabling students to discover what inspires them, and then provide them with space and support to explore their passions.’ Woodstock understands that embracing interdisciplinary space is fundamental to equipping students with an innovative mindset. The school is quite aware of today’s social and environmental challenges that are too complex to be solved with a siloed approach. “We need complex analysis across disciplines to find solutions to 21st-century problems. Woodstock already has outstanding resources in this area, including the Centre for Imagination, Hanifl Centre (our hub for outdoors and environmental education) and Community Engagement, but creating space for developing interdisciplinary mindsets across the whole curriculum is a key area of focus for us,” says Dr. Craig Cook, Principal, Woodstock School.
Woodstock recently switched to the IB curriculum, granting them access to best practice in education and links to like-minded schools around the world. Besides, their academic team is always working to ensure that their curriculum remains relevant and current in terms of wider trends, our students’ needs, and our mission, vision, and values. Woodstock today offers boarding to students from grades 6-12, wherein the younger students are predominantly staff children. The dorms are situated within the protected forest in the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of more than 2000 meters (6500 feet). Woodstock provides the perfect setting for a range of outdoor learning and pursuits, which feature heavily in their residential program.
Woodstock understands that being a boarding school only amplifies the need for a comprehensive learning environment. “Schools risk failing their students if they don’t prepare them to thrive in a rapidly changing technological environment. Creating cutting-edge digital learning spaces is incredibly important for preparing our students for university and life beyond Woodstock. Complementing students’ education with virtual paces is already commonplace in higher education and can help expose our students to learning opportunities far broader than those we can provide solely within the confines of our campus. The world is increasingly interconnected, and our students are digital natives, with technology a thread that runs through their lives. Integrating the digital realm into their educational journey means we can take the best of what technology has to offer in this area,” says Dr. Craig Cook.
Woodstock’s Centre for Imagination is the result of the school’s collaborations with professionals, organizations, and educational institutions from around the world. This collaboration, which spans across a network of institutions, has the potential to release powerful creativity leading to meaningful innovation. Woodstock has a regular program of resident scholars visiting the school to work with students, enabling them to complete projects, pursue inquiries, and solve problems with leading experts globally. The Centre for Imagination transforms how Woodstock education is experienced in the 21st century – inspiring young people to discover that there is far more within them than they think, to discover their grand passion in life and to explore what it means to live from a strong sense of vocation. Since its foundation in October 2016, it has provided students with space and resources to explore their interests in practical ways across all areas of the curriculum as well as interdisciplinary projects. Woodstock’s Community Engagement program, on the other hand, gives students practical experience of managing projects and working collaboratively with the local community and NGOs. This is a hugely inspiring experience and the passions the students discover here will go on to shape their journey for life.
One example of student-led initiatives that are helping to reduce environmental impact is water conservation, where Woodstock student teams are working with NGOs, local community leaders, and the school facilities team, to try and reduce waste and use limited water supplies more efficiently, within the school and beyond. Another one is that the students are actively trying to turn Woodstock into a reusable water bottle campus. The school has access to some of the cleanest mountain spring water anywhere in the world, so stopping people buying water in single-use bottles is a no-brainer! Woodstock tends to attract educators, who love the great outdoors and are committed to developing the child as a whole. “As a relatively remote community, it’s important that we select the right people, and we put significant efforts into ensuring teachers are going to fit in and thrive here. We are committed to life-long learning for our whole community, and teachers, in particular, have access to regular t training and development, helping ensure they remain up-to-date with current trends and best practice,” comments the Principal. Last year Woodstock launched the Marie Bissell Prentice Award for Excellence in International Education, named after a former educator who taught both in India and in New York. It recognizes teachers who are being particularly innovative in their field and are at the forefront of improving life and learning at Woodstock, making it a great way of celebrating the efforts of teachers who are constantly looking to improve opportunities for students to grow.
Speaking of the school’s future plans, Dr. Craig says, “This year we will run two summer school programs for the first time, in June and July. Summer at Woodstock s a great way for students to get a taste of life at the school, whether they’re considering coming here or just want to spend a couple of weeks living and learning in the Himalayas.” Woodstock is also undertaking an ambitious project to renovate Woodstock’s learning spaces, improving both the physical surroundings and educational environment. Meanwhile, the Centre for Imagination building is currently under redevelopment, vastly increasing the space for innovative learning and interdisciplinary spaces. The next step for the school is to develop a new science building, including three multipurpose labs, exhibitions, and prep areas. “We begin a new strategic planning cycle in this academic year, and future plans will emerge from this collaborative process which involves all stakeholders,” concludes Dr. Craig.
Dr. Cook joined Woodstock in June 2019. He has a wealth of experience in educational leadership, having worked at schools and in higher education in the USA, the Philippines, and Indonesia. He has a Ph.D. in Sociology
from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, a BA degree in Intercultural Studies and an M.Div. in Theology, both from Biola University, California. He currently serves as President of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Sociology of the Body.