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Book Review: A Guide to Establishing & Maintaining Quality International Schools

Chronicling his vast experiences in international education, Michael Thompson shares his passion for excellence.
By Leila Holmyard
Book Review: A Guide to Establishing & Maintaining Quality International Schools

A Guide to Establishing and Maintaining Quality International Schools opens with a startling statistic. According to ISC Research 2017, the number of international schools has grown by 335 percent since 2000. Many of these new schools are operated on a for-profit basis and cater to local wealthy families, challenging the traditional model of international schools as not-for-profit institutions providing an education for globally mobile families. This rapid increase in diversity and shift towards commercialization raises a challenging question for the international school community: What defines an international school? Is it having an international mindset? Or, an international curriculum? Is it the presence of students or teachers of varied nationalities, or simply having a language of instruction different from that of the host country? Thompson’s book draws from his own experiences in a variety of international schools. From culture to curriculum, it sets international schools in their historical context and effectively creates a schema for the “international school.” For those new to international education—whether as a teacher, school owner, board member, or administrator—this book is an induction to the community. It is also an introduction to international education terminology and institutions. Acronyms are illuminated, and the major curricula and accrediting bodies are described. The reader is pointed towards organizations that support internationals schools, including the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) for curriculum planning, the New Frontiers Initiative (NFI) for inclusive learning, and Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) Governance Foundations for guiding school boards. Thompson highlights the unique challenges faced by international schools and offers solutions based upon his own experiences as a school head in Tanzania, The Netherlands, Ethiopia, and India; as accreditation team leader; and as long-serving member of the Academy of International School Heads (AISH). He also provides many anecdotes and examples of best practice from established international schools around the globe. On the topic of school philosophy, Thompson first articulates why it is essential for schools to have a well-established mission and vision. He then points the reader in the direction of the International School of Prague and Western Academy of Beijing as examples of schools with simple guiding statements accessible to the whole school community. Finally, Thompson outlines a process for reviewing a school’s mission statement that involves all stakeholders. The author takes a similar approach to other pertinent issues faced by international schools, including cultural and linguistic challenges, student transition between international schools, and the role of parents. In this way, he provides a heads up to those new to the international school community of the challenges coming their way and outlines a set of innovative solutions to old problems for experienced school administrators and board members. The highly topical and problematic issue of child protection in the international school context is addressed primarily in the Staffing chapter, where Thompson emphasizes the need for verbal reference checks, police clearance certificates, and a clear child protection policy. Safeguarding is also mentioned indirectly, for example with regard to social media contact between teachers and students, although further explicit examples throughout the book would have been useful. Accessible, engaging, and concise, A Guide to Establishing and Maintaining Quality International Schools is the ideal summer read for school owners, board members, and educators new to the international school community. And it is a valuable addition to any professional library. Leila is an education consultant and freelance education writer based in Frankfurt, Germany.

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