COMMUNITIES OF BELONGING

Teaching internationally sometimes is like being inside a cocoon.  School days typically in English. The comforts, routines, and rhythms in our new “homes” are similar; often little difference whether in Cairo, Shanghai, or Rio de Janeiro. Of course architecturally they may differ, yet our lives therein, not so changed.  In most cases, it would be a long shot to claim it is a hardship to teach in accredited international schools.  So comfortable, we may even have to go out of the way to feel vulnerable. Still, the fact remains that always outside the doors of home or school is “the different.”  Or more apt, the reflection that we are the “outsider.”   This possibly is the motivation behind our being abroad.

And we are lucky for this chance.

The fact being, we made the choice. We also have the option of how far we might “dive into” the host culture.  Fathoms deep, we may break the surface, challenging ourselves to begin learning the language.  Yet, regardless we will remain “the outsider.”  A feeling sometimes that could even be distressing.

Yet, we are lucky for this chance (refrain).

For the Times, They Are a Changing

How many people truly have the choice to navigate into and out of a dominant culture? Few I would argue.  Instead, so many are without this privilege. They simply nod their head, stand in line, and follow antiquated systems of organization and inequity.  Forced to play by what some may call, “the rules of the game.”

Singer Bob Dylan probably said it best,

And the present now will soon be the past

The order is rapidly fading

The first one now will later be last

For the times, they are a changing

The times are definitely changing.  So too are the “rules.”

International School Leadership Holds a Mirror Up to Themselves

Many of us were not aware, how during the spring of 2019, the Diversity Collaborative, a voluntary group of international educators, initiated a research study by partnering with ISC Research and George Mason University. “The goal was to survey the field of accredited international schools to establish a baseline of information in the international school sector about school leadership and diversity.”  2,676 accredited international schools received the survey and an informative three-and-a-half minute video summarized the results.

Mind you this is pre-pandemic and more than a year before the murder of George Floyd.  Even earlier, in 2017 The Diversity Collaborative was established, in effort to commit to creating and sustaining a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just international school community through our focus on leadership.

In an often myopic world bent on entropy, it is refreshing to have such good news.

Others Help Pave the Way

Within governmental agencies there is even a push for more diversity and inclusivity.  This is evident, regardless of the stir caused by the CIA’s recent recruitment campaign titled, “Humans of CIA.”  According to an article titled, “Unpacking the CIA’s cringey recruiting strategy,” the push for diversity is not new. “In 1994, then-CIA director R. James Woolsey said in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “the ability to understand a complex, diverse world—a world which is far from being all white male—is central to our mission.”

According to McKinsey & Co, companies spend $8 billion a year on diversity training.  Yet, this is just a start.  Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific’s global chief diversity officer says it best. “Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.”

Belonging.

And isn’t this paradox seemingly woven into the fabric of 21st century life?  Always connected but more disconnected than ever; an increasingly socially isolated world.  The belonging Gilmore speaks of is almost tribal, a systemic need. It remains even more paramount when power structures are left unchecked; fraternal in their decisions of who allowed in the “room where it happens.” Or, who ultimately belongs.

But, as we have heard, “The times are a changing.”

In the school where I teach, a recent DEIJ statement was crafted to be used on the school’s website, admissions application, handbooks, etc.  One part specifically attests to the importance of belongingness.

“Our community is actively engaged in reflection and action planning to ensure that our school is creating and maintaining an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong and where our students leave with the attitudes, values, and tools they need to enrich the world.”

The Survey

The data from the 2019 survey helped form a baseline for The Diversity Collaborative’s work.  This year another survey was launched (closing on May 30th) and is more detailed, requiring respondents to dig deeper into the roles of their leadership teams.  The initial question is a declaration of the region of the school. Following this, nationality and race/ethnicity are defined so there is shared understanding and clarity.  The survey then asks for the respondent to declare the gender, nationality based on passport, and ethnicity of the head of school. Then, questions are asked regarding the number, gender, and nationalities of members on the leadership team, as well as whether or not the leadership team has educators from the country where the school is located. The same questions are asked but this time about the school’s board members. Last, the 22-question survey repeats the questions but as they pertain to schools’ teachers.

Now What?

International schools are definitely interested in keeping pace and walking alongside the global communities they serve. Data gathering is but one small step.  Reflection, policies, professional development, partnerships, advocacy and action are all in process.  Ralph Waldo Emerson attested to the gravitas of action. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” The Diversity Collaborative shared in a recent presentation a very clear statement of action in this regard.

“We recognize that the changes described will take time and resources,  but that just adds to the urgency for all of us engaged with international schools to act without delay to start to dismantle the systems that have prevented some outstanding educators from becoming international  school leaders and to build a more equitable and inclusive international  school sector so that educators of all backgrounds thrive.”

Helpful Links for More Information
ISS Diversity Collaborative
2019 Infographic of the results
For any survey questions, please reach out to data@cois.org

###############################

ACCREDITATION IS ALL ABOUT BEING BETTER

Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development.  And it is available to us all.

“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.”  Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for  “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.

Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on.  The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement.  Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies.  Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.

Impact.   

After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation.  We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students.  An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.

Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical.  Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues.  A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken.  Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”

Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential.  This means:

~Leadership team (head of school and principals) ~Teachers
~Parents ~Support Staff
~Business Staff ~Building and Grounds
~Nursing Department ~Public Relations and Marketing
~Admissions ~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)

Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning.  Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning.  Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward.  “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.

SO WHAT?  

Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills.  People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development.  Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:

~Question development         ~Interview strategies              ~Formal writing

~Collaboration                         ~Presentation creation           ~Oral presentation

The visit I did was unique in several ways.  The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process.  One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.

NOW WHAT?  

At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged.  Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included.  The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails.  A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.

The whole accreditation process is value added for all.  Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself.  To reflect.  To be vulnerable.  To speak but also listen.  Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment.  Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement.  Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.

########################

Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links:

www.acswasc.org/

www.msa-ces.orga/

STUCK CONTAINER SHIP: A METAPHOR FOR THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?

What could be harder to turn around than a 220,000 ton ship measuring nearly a quarter of a mile long?  The education system. The Evergreen however served as a fantastic metaphor.

For six days, the colossal three year-old was stuck. In a stretch of water narrower (985 feet) than the length of the boat (1,312 feet).  Not even a 3-point Austin Powers maneuver back and forth was possible “baby.” 

 

Not What It May Seem

Though the word “Evergreen” is painted on the ship’s side, on its back and bow in smaller letters is its official name, “Ever Given.”  A Taiwanese company called Evergreen Marine is responsible for operating the vessel, though it is registered in Panama.  Further, it is managed by a German ship company, but owned by a Japanese billionaire.

Education, more than a fifth of the way through the 21st century, is also not what it might seem. 

 

Roots of Education and Where We Find Ourselves Today

For most of human existence children educated themselves simply through play and exploration. A scary concept for most today.  Agriculture and the eventual systems of servitude resultant of the Middle Ages may have been what led to the death of children’s free will to organically learn.  In its place, obedience and reverence for lords and masters. The Industrial Revolution further squelched the innate desire to learn, as children were used for labor.  Once industry began to become more automated children were no longer as needed as much and at the advent of the 20th century child reform efforts surfaced. Finally, in 1924 opponents of child labor in the United States sought a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to “limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.” However, “the conservative political climate of the 1920s, together with opposition from some church groups and farm organizations that feared a possible increase of federal power in areas related to children, prevented many states from ratifying it.”  Not until 1938 were child labor laws enacted.  

 

Mind you, this is but 83 years ago!

 

Until Jean Piaget (1896-1980), pedagogical theory envisioned children as merely “empty vessels.” To be kept in line and “filled up.”  A diametric opposite of the very meaning of education. Etymologically, the term “education” derived from the Latin word “educare,” meaning “to bring up, rise, or to nourish.” Or, even more fitting is to consider the Latin “educere,” and its meaning to “to draw out.”  

 

Nourishing and Drawing Out.  Are Schools Doing This Today?  

More aptly, are schools whole-heartedly bent on settling for nothing less than a child’s best and allow for personalization?  I would argue we still have many miles of road to pave.  However, traction continues to be gained as educational systems move from compliance to empowerment.  The narrow ideologies of the past may pervade, yet however steeped in “control” they may be, such views are being sabotaged by digitization and connectivity.  Now, a teacher in the virtual world likely contends with YouTube, chat rooms, and possibly even Netflix, for a student’s attention.  “Armed” with pre-determined and trite curriculum, it often feels like a losing battle.  Vying for students’ attention and dumping curriculum on them was not the impetus most teachers got into the profession.  

An alternative approach might instead based on respect and trust.  Where the knowledge, skills, and standards checklists become more invitation than imposition. Or, what about the powers of collaboration?  How many educators are trusted, willing, or daring enough to set out to build a sort of kinship with students, where curriculum might be co-created?  A return to a more master and apprentice style; exploration as opposed to inculcation. For an example of how one middle school teacher does this, take a look at the basic structure for a unit design in a post written by Allison Zmuda titled, “A Play-By-Play Strategy for Co-Creating Curriculum with Students.”

 

Damage Done

The Suez Canal, a slit carved between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, took 10 years to build.  An investment well spent because today it is the preferred path connecting east and west. Ten percent of the world’s trade purportedly flows through these waters. From the 23rd to the 29th of March, the world watched as more than 360 ships were forced to wait.  A behemoth blocked the way. According to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence organization, a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo was held back each day.  Not until April 3rd did the Suez Canal Authority declare the logjam over and that all waiting ships finally crossed through.  Then, on April 13th, the Evergreen was seized and “Egyptian authorities said they wouldn’t release the massive ship… until its owners agreed to pay up to $1 billion in compensation.”

 

Are today’s schools similarly being held for ransom?

 

What is it going to cost to free our brittle, antiquated, and traditional system of education?  Though there is a clinging on to a delivery of knowledge; something seemingly more ubiquitous than even clean water or air, I remind you how the duration of this model, is but a flash in time. A “new normal” if you will. Yet, cracks in the system, like the ones the pandemic is inducing, continue to create a sort of vacuum. The rays of light clear the space for teachers to be more daring and for learners to return to what is instinctual.  Learning which is constructed, not consumed. Actively uploading, as opposed to passively downloading.  

 

Nothing New or Particularly Earth-Shattering

The late Sir Ken Robinson was turning heads 14 years ago, claiming how schools actually squash creativity. Further, in a visit of over 200 schools, Ted Dintersmith shared his observations in a book called, “What Schools Could Be.” Further, for specific schools standing out in the field, you may want to take a look at Getting Smart’s list of “Middle and High Schools Worth Visiting.”  Here you will see project-based learning, personalization, purpose, and a variety of other “ingredients” necessary to “unstuck” education.   

The stuck container ship is in fact a fitting metaphor for the education system. A difficult system to turn. One that still is wedged.  However, I like to think progress is being made, even if  transformation has not freed the “ship.” Marketer and author Seth Godin says it best, “Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation.”  The idea is there! Allies and advocates alike, we are tugboats.  Please stay the course, because your pushing and pulling is critical.  

 

######################