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Standards Are Not Just for Kids
By Bambi Betts 19-Dec-18
International school leaders are ever earnestly in search of tools and processes that will keep the school focused on student learning. This is a tough assignment when traditional tools—from recruitment to teacher evaluation to student assessment—perpetually compete for our attention. So where do we look, and how will we know which of those resources will make the most difference to learning? A promising place to start Educational research across the board points to quality of teaching as the number one school-based factor contributing to learning. When school leaders set high standards for teachers then monitor progress toward achieving them, more and better learning happens. In so doing, they reaffirm that teaching is a profession. Because that’s what professions do, after all—they set standards, raise them as new knowledge and understandings emerge from research and practice, and hold themselves to those standards through genuine, systematic processes. While individual countries impose standards for teachers, the premises subtending the practice vary widely, as do the ways in which the data is used. The notion of establishing standards for international teachers has been gathering momentum for close to two decades now, with the guidance and initiative of researchers such as James Stronge and collaborators such as the Academy for International School Heads (AISH), the Principals’ Training Center (PTC), and The International Educator (TIE) itself. Support for standards among these organizations is now well-established, as is visible on all of their websites. International teacher standards reflect not only the research-based generic standards but additionally include modifiers unique to the international school context, such as: • Model the skills and attitudes of a global citizen, including: cultural sensitivity, positive attitude, and a focus on others. • Support learning in a culture of transition and mobility. • Meet the learning needs of non-native speakers of English in the mainstream classroom. Teacher standards describe what an effective teacher who is routinely “causing learning” should aspire to embody. Enlightened school leaders will understand these standards not as end points but rather as growth pathways. But standards on their own, disconnected from key processes and protocols in the school, run the risk of becoming shelved expectations. It is only when we see and use these measures as essential drivers for improved practice that we begin to harness their power as catalysts for learning. What does it look like when standards serve as drivers? TIE’s new recruitment services model provides a strong example. Every candidate will be able to create a portfolio-based resume, designed to allow teachers to respond in writing and by providing evidence of work they have done towards achieving established standards. The confidential statement of recommendation by a supervisor is also configured using the same standards-based approach. This alignment of key recruitment tools serves to keep both the job seeker and the recruiter focused on the practices that we know will make a difference to learning. We are beginning to see other signs related to the positive use and effect of teacher standards. Principals and teacher leaders involved in supervision and appraisal processes report that “hard conversations” become far more productive when the dialogue can emanate from a standards-based question—i.e., “Lets’ talk about standard two and the progress you are making on that front”—rather than being prompted by a regrettable episode. Teachers themselves are finding it far more growth-inducing to reflect on the concrete evidence of their advancement toward meeting each standard, and to focus on those that tend to have the most impact on learning. Standards for teachers is not a new idea. What is new? Truly using them as drivers for learning by fully aligning these measures will all the tools in the box for finding and keeping an outstanding teacher in every classroom every day.
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