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International Standards for Teachers: Making a Difference to Learning

By Bambi Betts
International Standards for Teachers: Making a Difference to Learning

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 teaching and rigorously monitor progress toward achieving them, more and better learning happens. And an additional huge benefit? They reaffirm that teaching is a profession, a concept that is sometimes on shaky ground. Because that’s what professions do—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.

Uniquely international standards

The notion of professional standards is clearly not new. Individual countries and school systems do set expectations and collect and use data on them in a variety of ways. But what about international schools?

Do their specific context and circumstances warrant a close look? The consensus is a resounding ‘yes’.

The notion of establishing standards for international educators 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 universal standards that define the profession but additionally include lenses unique to the international school context, such as:

  • Model the skills and attitudes of global citizenship, antiracism, and intercultural sensitivity and proactivity.
  • Support learning in a culture of transition and mobility.
  • Meet the learning needs of learners with diverse language backgrounds in the mainstream classroom.

What does it look like when standards serve as drivers?

Standards for teaching describe what an effective teacher who is routinely “causing learning” should aspire to embody; the international lenses refine and enhance what “effective” looks like in international schools.

Enlightened school leaders will understand these standards, however, not as end points but rather as growth pathways. Standards on their own, disconnected from key processes and protocols in the school, run the risk of becoming shelved expectations. It is only when they form the foundation for all facets of ensuring teacher quality—recruitment, professional learning, appraisal, coaching—that we begin to harness their power as catalysts for impact on learning.


We are beginning to see encouraging signs related to the positive use and effect of international teacher standards in the international school context.

  • TIE’s new recruitment services model provides a strong example. Rather than the traditional resume, the job-seeker creates a portfolio-based resume based on the international teacher standards, uploading evidence of how they have achieved each standard. The confidential statement of recommendation by a supervisor uses 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.
  • 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.
  • Increasingly, decisions about professional learning are personalized and tailored, starting with the standards.
  • Teachers themselves report 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. Standards for teachers reflecting the unique international needs? Gathering steam. What is new? Truly using them as drivers for learning by fully aligning these measures with all the tools in the professional toolbox for finding and keeping an outstanding teacher in every classroom every day.

Information on international school standards and the new TIE standards-based resume can be found here.

Bambi Betts is Director of The Principals' Training Center.

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