Skillsets essential in today’s international school teachers: Mobilizing sustainability and environmental change beyond the school community; Managing cognitive load; Preparing parents for education innovation and change; Protecting system security beyond data protection; Reshaping pathway selection. These and many more questions were addressed at the Edruptors Conference which was hosted online by ISC Research in July.
The conference focused on key disruptors within education today and how international schools and education partners are transforming in response to them. Speakers included Peter Derby Crook of Dipont Education, Sal Gordon of Green School Bali, Sunny Thakral of Harrow Beijing, Vicky Chan of the University of Hong Kong, Kyra Kellawan of PilotEd, and many others including international school students sharing their hopes for the future of international school education.
Evidence informed leadership
In the opening keynote, Ernest Jenavs, CEO and Co-founder of Edurio which specialises in stakeholder feedback solutions, told educators and school leaders that in this time of accelerating change, no school or education partner can afford to stand still. “The pandemic will pass, but the pressures to change how we provide education will not go away,” he said. “The only way we can stay on top of the change is by looking further, and measuring the leading indicators while we can still take action on them.” His advice for school leaders was to create a culture of evidence-informed leadership built on transparency and collaboration.
More advice and practical solutions came from many different perspectives within the global international schools community.
Developing an ethos of sustainability
In the panel session that focused on sustainability, Sal Gordon, Head of Teaching and Learning at Green School in Bali explained to delegates that, within its lower school, sustainability focuses around forming a love and a relationship with nature which establishes an important foundation for students to actively engage in more critical action as they progress through the school. “Students are so informed, they want to make change,” he said. “Every student wants to make a positive impact on the environment and what they can do with their learning.” His advice to schools: “Think big, think small, don’t give up, because this is serious, let’s make education impactful.”
In the same panel discussion, Anthony Copeland, Head of Science at Fairgreen International School in Dubai suggested that educators can develop a greater focus on sustainability by understanding the landscape and communities available to their school. “What opportunities do you have? Is there something already happening within your community? And speak to your students about their passions,” he said.
Aliza Kabani a student from Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL) in Sweden agreed. She spoke about her school’s ethos around sustainability and how crucial that was for her to channel her own passion and activism. She described her participation in drafting a policy plan to transform the school into a fully sustainable green school by 2030. This was based on research of what other schools were doing around the world, as well as interviews with the school and wider community to ensure that all perspectives were considered. “By doing this, we were able to draft a very coherent and reachable plan for the school,” she said. “This could be something that every school can do if they haven’t already, enabling students to be part of the conversation of how to be sustainable,” she added, suggesting that teachers allow students to actively explore sustainability within their context. “It can get very overwhelming [for students] with all the talk about sustainability if there’s no concrete action around it. Empowerment and action comes from what you do, and the conversations you have in class,” she explained. Aliza urged teachers to create a platform and discussion around sustainability. “There’s an urgency for it to happen,” she reminded everyone.
A DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) panel session provided clear evidence of the critical thinkers and passionate social reformers who emerge from good international schools; three of the four panellists for this session were recent international school students.
Clara Reynolds, an international school alumnus who co-founded the Organisation to Decolonise International Schools (ODIS) highlighted the need for community collaboration in order to make positive change. “Give everybody a chance to share their voice because you can often listen to the loudest people in the room, which tends to be those with the most privilege,” she said. Clara suggested that in order to work successfully with the entire school community towards change, the school needs to be fully prepared and to support parents in their understanding of change: “Do your own internal work first so that you know what you’re talking about. It’s not always that parents are conflicting barriers, they just need to be brought in and listened to. It’s a community, collaborative work that needs to be done. Everyone needs to work together to make change.”
Polly Akhurst, another international school alumnus who is co-founder and an Executive Director of Amala an organisation that responds to education provision for young refugees, discussed how international schools can provide active voluntary support in ways that avoid white saviourism. She explained that there is often a desire by schools to be proactive and “put boots on the ground”, which can work in some instances, but hinder in others. “It’s important to really listen and find out the priorities and what support initiatives need,” she said. “It can sometimes be surprising what might be needed. Effective interventions ask people what they need, but many interventions do not, and are based on wider development goals and what people think is needed.” Polly suggested schools could consider how to use their position, power and skills responsibly to make a difference while understanding the mental health needs, challenges and priorities of recipients. “What is your relationship with the government? Can you support advocacy?” she said. “Awareness raising and advocacy can seem indirect, but it can also be really effective for letting people know there is an issue.”
Kotoha Kudo is a recent graduate of the International School of Brussels and co-founder of Reset Revolution, a platform to facilitate discussion and share content about the learning of social injustice globally. During the session, Kotoha urged international school leaders and teachers to listen to their students, both current and former students. “When a student comes to you for help, it means they entrust the educator to listen and take action,” she said. “Students are not illusioned by whatever moto the school is trying to present itself as. The students are the ones with the real and painful experiences. Schools must make sure they have a policy for listening and taking action for whatever is brought to them, however small.”
Kevin Simpson, founder of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) who was the fourth member of the panel noted that there have been many public statements made recently within the international school community calling out racism and discrimination. “But what does that now look like?” he asked. “People need space and time to reflect on change and to then act on the reflection. If you say you’re going to do something, what are you actually doing? It takes making sure we hold each other accountable. It takes feeling uncomfortable. It takes all of us to engage in these conversations consistently because they are things that are ever present; from teaching and curriculum, to leading and board policy. Whose voice should be the loudest? Make sure you are engaging current students, parents, staff, alumni - and you consider your black, indigenous, and people of colour voices are there. It takes everyone and being committed to learning; learning about each other, our identities, and what our next steps are, and how we are going to ensure our school is shifting and growing.”
Several other panel sessions addressed the state of wellbeing in international schools, edtech rigour, student assessment and exams, the online school market, and the opportunities and threats to education partners as a result of COVID-19. More key messages from the conference are available from ISC Research.
Latest market data and trends
ISC Research also shared with conference delegates international school market data and trends current to June 2021 and highlighted shifts in practice within the international schools market. Notable market shifts that were referenced included an increase in blended learning across many international schools, the exploration of new assessment techniques, a more strategic approach to the selection and application of education technology, an increase in tech-focused CPD, more schools embracing online subject solutions and a growth in online international schools, and student mobility between international schools. More resources and services providing details of these and other international school market shifts, data and intelligence are available at www.iscresearch.com.
Anne Keeling is the Communications Director at ISC Research