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The Hidden Cost of Professional Development and an Industry’s Hypocrisy

By Robert van der Eyken
The Hidden Cost of Professional Development and an Industry’s Hypocrisy

Photo by Nathan Hobbs on Unsplash ______________________________ I began writing this article this past February with the intent of encouraging us all as international educators to do a little more gazing into the mirror, to consider how much our words for sustainability align with our actions. This was my Monday Morning Message on Feb. 17, 2020. Dear colleagues, I feel a bit disillusioned with the world of international education. Not the wonderful learning opportunities we experience from engaging with different cultures. That is priceless. Rather our impact on the planet. Flying back from the job fair I added yet another series of flights to the list compiled on my phone. To the best of my recollection this was about number 250. I am ashamed of how much impact this lifestyle has had on the planet. Of those flights, at least 50% were related to working as an international educator, flights like going to job fairs, IB Conferences, accreditation visits, chaperoning MUN and sports groups on distant trips. There are many tools to calculate one’s carbon footprint. According to a quick check, those work-related flights alone add up to about 9,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. I divided that by the number of years I have worked in international education. The result is approximately 360 tonnes of C02 per year or more than the annual production per capita in 33 of the world’s poorest countries, not taking into account my daily lifestyle. Although only rough estimates, it is clear, the international school educator lifestyle has a toll on the planet, something not calculated when looking for cheap deals on Skyscanner or Expedia. As we move forward as an industry, and yes international education is an industry employing thousands of teachers around the world, we must think not only of environmental awareness programs in schools such as recycling, but also how we do business in general. To put it in perspective, my flights add up to the CO2 produced in making 108 MILLION plastic water bottles! That is a lot of recycled PET bottles. Please consider local and on-line professional development opportunities. In addition, the best PD we have is right here in the school, from each other. There are literally thousands of combined years of experience and training right within our school to tap into and learn from. Over 80% of our colleagues have Masters Degrees Observing and collaborating with peers is the most effective professional development. In addition, some exciting opportunities here in Quito are happening and our supporting these will develop momentum for even more. Since sending that message in early February, the world has been confronted with another major repercussion of our globalized economy and lifestyle – COVID-19. Now the very foundations of our modern society are being questioned and tested. As educators, we ascribe to the ideal of being the change we want to see in the world. Now, as an industry, is our time to finally look in the mirror and question how we truly reflect this aspiration. We must recognize that our primary responsibility is to focus on our communities. To think internationally but act locally. We need to understand that a subsidiary industry involving workshops, hotels, and flights does not necessarily always align with that objective. The momentous shift to online learning, teleconferencing, teaching from home, etc. has set into motion agents of change that are impacting all sectors of the economy. It is as much an opportunity as a challenge for us to own this moment and change direction. Robert van der Eyken is Director of Academia Cotopaxi in Quito, Ecuador.

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04/28/2020 - Melanie James
Thank you for thinking about the impact of our travel on our world and for working out your carbon footprint, sometimes it is easier to see our impact in numbers. It is time we all begin to put this at the top of our priorities and realise that each one of us makes a difference.

As far as professional development, you are completely right, you can learn anything you want online, from degrees to IB workshops. Even more so now with Covid-19, as many of those online educational platforms offer their courses for free.

“The Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It” Robert Swan
04/14/2020 - Kathy
I’ve slowed down a lot, as I have looked at this issue. It is an area we don’t want to look at, it seems to me. Travel seems to actually be a measure of quality in a person who calls herself international. So, I think it’s pretty deep in many of our school cultures??
04/13/2020 - Thomas Quinn
Several years ago while in the Middle East I began using an online interview format to screen potential candidates before traveling to the various job fairs. I felt I could set up second interviews with promising candidates and eliminate those who didn’t measure up to our criteria. It helped screen out a lot of people whom we would have otherwise spent valuable time. Over the years, two comments have remained with me as a result of that experience. The first was from a fellow administrator. When I told him of our vetting process, he said “Well, how do you know what they are wearing below the table?” An interesting observation, but I responded quickly that it didn’t really matter if they showed up in class appropriately clothed. The other comment was a bit more revealing. In this instance, while setting up the interview via email, I planned on being available to fit a certain candidate’s time frame. The interview never happened. Later, I saw why. In an online forum that a candidate complained about the time difference of when I suggested the online interview format. Since taking on my new position in Eastern Asia, I have used online interviews exclusively. Our recruiting budget is small and online interviews for overseas candidates saves money. It has worked very well; we have hired excellent candidates over the years.



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