A boon of being an international educator is collaborating with other international educators. I think back to teaching in my home country whereby uniformity was the norm and educational discourse was broadly limited to in-country conversation. By working alongside teachers from many nationalities, we learn and share so much as different countries educate their educators in different ways to differently constructed standards. There is, however, a challenge of workplace culture, values, and norms based on the wide experiences of teachers. I have found this especially true of younger teachers and teachers who entered the profession via routes not involving the grueling yet highly rewarding and formative toil of teaching large classes all day long.
In the 2017-18 academic year, I was Vice Principal of The International School of Koje. The school was accelerating their focus on learning at a remarkable rate thanks to the efforts and energy of all the teachers and support staff, regardless of age or nationality. Everybody brought skills to the school; however, we were concerned that we had a group of around half a dozen younger teachers lacking rigor in standard teacher tasks such as detailed planning, marking, and assessment that we would expect to see as normal teacherly behavior. Such processes were not monitored or prescribed in a top-down manner as our teachers were treated as diligent professionals. The teachers that concerned us would focus a significant proportion of their time and energies on other pursuits such as running additional clubs or being social in the hallways for extended periods of time. They were also quick to leave each day while the more experienced teachers would not deem their day’s work complete until significantly later. While I am an advocate of work life balance, the fact remains that teachers need to do 100% of a professional’s work in around 80% of the time, due to the term and holiday nature of schools.
While not wishing to diminish the enthusiasm of these teachers, we needed to address that student learning was our number one aim and develop their professional responsibility to all pedagogical tasks. I teamed up with Colin Gear, our incoming middle school curriculum leader, and we immediately found ourselves discussing the teacher standards documents from our own initial training and early years in the classroom. I could quote the very detailed instructional English ones thanks to many years being appraised under them and he championed the more exploratory, socially liberal Scottish ones. We were not going to hold international teachers to the standards we were familiar with from when we were learning to write on whiteboards though, as we were at an international school.
We set about to do what I believe the Teacher Training Center for International Educators has now done in their Standards for Excellence in the International Teacher. We compiled a collection of teacher standards from around the world to dissect and discuss in a weekly group with the concerned teachers. I remember the interest we all had exploring the brevity of the Alaskan and Ontario ones, the lengthy dossier that were New Zealand ones with every page in English and Maori complete with extensive kowhaiwhai patterns, rather progressive Irish ones, and too many more to list here (I should note we were limited to the English-speaking world and could improve in that regard). They all contained broad themes but were organized in different ways. By the end of week two, the group was developing an understanding of the workload a teacher has and a few weeks later we had a solid sense of shared expectations. We discussed the categories of standards, pulled them apart, merged them in different ways, debated more only to pull them apart and rewrite again. We began to see the possibility of creating international school teacher standards. However, we never quite reached that point as the work needed in each classroom soon was prioritized over the meetings. After a few weeks of no meetings during the busy report writing time followed by the winter break, Colin and I decided not to reconvene as we had achieved the main goal of our meetings, supporting the development of professional responsibility for all things teaching and learning in our younger teachers.
A couple of years later the differing expectations of international educator life was in my mind again. I was researching about, among other things, the effectiveness of different recruitment methods for assessing teachers’ pedagogical quality as well as their effect on the culture and climate of the school in interpersonal ways. For example, how well can an interview find out how collaborative a person is? I encountered a growing body of research on the challenges faced by organizations as millennials and generation Z teachers enter the workforce. The research described what I learned in the situation described above. These generations are balanced, confident, and the most highly educated generation yet, and yet, are used to immediacy, convenience, and are unique in regard to their career aspirations and high expectations of life and swift career progression. While all of this is wonderful, there lies a challenge for schools in how to blend this effervescence into school structures led by school leaders from quite a different generation and to ensure the quality we have retains its rigor.
The answer arrived in my inbox this summer in the form of the Standards of Excellence for the International Teacher from the Teacher Training Center. At one point during the sessions in Koje, Colin, myself, and the young teachers looked at broad statements before finding ourselves going down the path of getting bogged in exhaustive details. Reading these new standards, everything a teacher needs to be able to do is contained, not in exhaustive detail but in such a way that will support professional growth within nine standards. The issues we faced in Koje can all be addressed through three of these:
Standard 5. Skillfully and positively contribute to the curriculum development and monitoring process.
Standard 6. Ensure this his/her work results in acceptable and measurable student progress.
Standard 7. Use the assessment process to improve teaching and learning.
Direct access to these standards enables international education leaders to quickly pinpoint areas for individual professional development to support teachers to realize their high aspirations in a thoroughly modern, professional, and international manner devoid of national bias. If set within professional learning communities or purposeful mentoring systems, these standards are rich in space for discussion, research, and reflection. For example, teachers may self-assess their proficiency of each standard and select one or two to be their appraisal targets. This will encourage them to hit the first standard automatically:
Standard 1. Effectively apply the most up-to-date, research-based strategies to address the needs of diverse learners.
Perhaps in standard one alone is an essence of what being an international educator is all about. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dan Slevin is Primary Deputy Principal and MEF International School in Istanbul.