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What Are International School Principals Talking About?

By Bambi Betts
What Are International School Principals Talking About?

Amidst the complex, ever-changing landscape they navigate daily, international school principals and curriculum leaders have been reaching out to each other in a big way recently. 

Over the past several weeks hundreds of school leaders on the PTCnet have engaged in an impressive number of topics and questions that have resulted in dozens of practical examples and models.

Here are just a few:

Parent “commitment:” This discussion is around “upping the commitment” of parents at the time of admission. Here is an example of what one school does:

At [school], we take great pride in having a dedicated and supportive school community that values, celebrates, and respects our rich diversity. This is only possible when all members of the community are working together to build positive, collaborative partnerships. In doing so, we agree to abide by the following community values that align with our mission and vision:

  1. Respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others
  2. Honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the community
  3. Accountability for personal behavior
  4. Advocacy for [school]

Failure to abide by the [school] Parent Commitment may result in removal from [school] Community. I have read and agree to abide by the [school] Parent Commitment.

Language on campus: Principals shared the shifting demographics in their schools, and the perspective of various stakeholders (parents, teachers, kids, community) on language of instruction, language of the “playground,” and the imperative to reexamine the very mission of the school. This is one of the central facets of the ongoing work to move toward greater equity and to keep the constructs of diversity and inclusion as key design principles in all we do in our schools.

Host country studies: How are schools approaching this sensitive issue? What design principles are driving content decisions and time spent? Principals shared multiple examples of how they approach these questions.

Time on campus survey: This thread asked participants to complete a survey to collect data on the number of hours students are on campus and the hours teachers are contractually obligated to work. Once the data is fully in, we will see what questions they raise, and whether there are any important correlations. In the meantime, we invite you to offer your thoughts.

Optimizing the school day in secondary: Despite decades of debate and research on this issue, it remains a critical and pressing one as it goes to the heart of what we do at schools. Essentially, we give kids access to learning.  All that we have learned about how each individual learns differently and at a different pace demands a relook into the notion of “optimizing” time. 

While the primary discussion on this thread was about time, I would suggest that the starting point for optimizing time is a thorough review of WHAT we want kids to learn.  Leaping to “time” assumes that we have carefully examined the curriculum and used our experience and professional judgment to decide which learning outcome are more challenging and critical to acquire. “Time” is not the goal, rather one of the variables for optimizing learning.

Residential trips: These are a frequent feature in many international schools. Pressing concerns about child protection and the added impact of COVID necessitate a much higher standard of care. These key questions that would drive their decisions around potential trips were shared:

1) Which risks can be identified in advance of the event?

2) What is the likelihood of these risks occurring?

3) What are the consequences if these risks occur?

4) How can the risks be minimized?

5) How will decisions regarding scheduling/canceling events be made? (Coordinators, Heads and/or Health and Safety Committee)

Innovation: The question invited principals to share what they are doing that they would consider “innovation” at their school. The following were some of the practices labeled “innovation” by the participants in the thread:

  1. Place-based learning
  2. Rethinking graduation requirements and traditional transcripts (specifically Mastery Transcript Consortium)
  3. Project Based Learning and/or interdisciplinary learning
  4. Flexible structures (scheduling, multidisciplinary planning time, spaces, etc.)

Learning Management Systems: This thread asked participants to offer their schoolwide models for tracking things like grades, counseling support, interventions, etc.  While most gave the names of the systems they were using, an offshoot discussion highlighted a critical facet of a system that professes to management learning. Can you really label a system “learning management” if it collapses learning into a single grade or mark?  Are we letting the system drive what we value?  Stay tuned. No doubt more to come on this one.

To be part of these conversations, and to access these models on learning and leading, ask your school to join as a PTC member school.  Separate conversation groups for counselors, teacher leaders, governance members, and admission personnel are also available with a PTC membership.


Bambi has been working in the international education world for over three decades. She is the director of the Principals’ Training Center for International School Leadership (PTC). She has served as director, principal, and teacher in international schools for over 30 years and been a consultant in over 150 international schools, conducting professional development sessions on a wide range of topics related to the effective international school, including assessment, curriculum leadership, teacher leader strategies, instructional strategies, faculty evaluation, and governance.

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