There’s a quiet magic in our school’s hallways. As a start-up school, now six years old, I often find myself reminiscing about our beginnings, the dreams that filled our heads, and the challenges that filled our days. There was a time I held our initial teaching standards in my hands, pages brimming with checkboxes, often leaving me overwhelmed. Those lists, though comprehensive, failed to account for the soul of our diverse community, didn’t have checkboxes for the vibrant tapestry of cultures we host, and were silent regarding the aspirations we cradled for each student. Moving to the international school standards of practice was not merely about changing a system— it was our way of ensuring that our guidelines genuinely mirrored the essence of our teachers’ commitment to growth, the expanse of our students’ dreams, and the hopes of the parents who entrust us with their children.
It’s a common misconception that transformative ideas in education are born in closed door meetings with only senior leaders around the table. For us, the inspiration for teacher standards sprouted from every quarter: the bustling classrooms, the quiet corners in hallways during after-school meetings, and even during spirited discussions at our rooftop social gatherings.
I remember the day I stumbled upon the international school standards as a student at the Principals’ Training Center (PTC). It felt as if someone had articulated the very essence of our unique school environment. Unlike anything I had seen before, these standards resonated with our students’ learning experiences, some journeying across continents to join us, and others bringing in their own languages and cultures. Our classrooms, where stories from East to West intertwine, could finally be qualified by a known set of international teaching standards.
Change emerges from the collaboration of numerous contributors. Our transition wasn’t an isolated administrative decision. In its early stages of development, we presented to our faculty a seedling of an idea of shifting the way we look at professional supervision and moving toward the international school standards. Next, we welcomed self-nominated volunteers to a Think-Tank committee to explore and discuss the standards, refined indicators and created benchmarks that make sense for our setting. Our key players consisted of passionate educators, visionary administrators, enthusiastic students, and supportive parents. The unique perspectives of this diverse group transformed our decision-making process.
1. Consistency Across Classrooms:
We envisioned a school where every child, regardless of the classroom or teacher, benefited from the same high standard of education. Implementing the international teacher standards promoted a consistent teaching language in our school, bridging pedagogical differences and fostering a more uniform learning experience for our students.
Our drive for excellence brought certain challenges into sharp focus. Student feedback, insightful faculty discussions, and observations during a New England Commission of Higher Education (NEASC) visit highlighted various inconsistencies. These ranged from diverse assessment methodologies to a continuum between teacher-centered and student-centered lessons, as well as varying strategies for leveraging linguistic strengths in classrooms. While these nuances might seem minor in isolation, collectively they pointed to significant inconsistencies faced by our students. By adopting the international school standards, our goal was to establish a cohesive pedagogical language and a consistent set of expectations. Emphasizing Standard 4: Tapping into the linguistic and cultural assets and strengths of all learners was fundamental in ensuring that students felt recognized and cherished in their linguistic backgrounds, reinforcing classroom inclusivity.
2. Professional Growth Through Defined Standards:
“Effective teaching” transformed from an abstract idea into a distinct pathway. Clear standards offered milestones for celebrating achievements, identifying areas for improvement, and charting the course forward. These guidelines were more than mere benchmarks; they served as evolving guideposts propelling our educators towards continued professional excellence. Standard 8: Use the student assessment process to improve learning and teaching was pivotal, reiterating the importance of reflective practice and professional behavior. Our educators began to view their roles not just as deliverers of content but as lifelong learners themselves.
When we introduced the international school standards and our new approach to professional supervision with our teachers, the impact was evident. Their feedback painted a vivid picture of this change. Our “I used to think... now I think” board became a canvas of transformation. Teachers expressed revelations, from realizing the objective nature of evaluations to recognizing the standards’ universal applicability. A standout reflection revealed a teacher’s pivot from attempting to excel in every standard to choosing specific areas for deeper mastery. Most heartening was the shift in perception towards evaluations; what was once a dreaded procedure became an anticipated opportunity to document and present their professional journey. These responses validated our approach, proving that well-defined standards don’t just set the bar, they inspire teachers to reach and surpass it.
3. Improved Student Outcomes:
Our commitment has always been to the students. Empirical evidence and academic research consistently emphasize the positive influence of teaching standards on student outcomes, both in terms of grades and holistic development. It’s heartening to see the growing tangible positive shifts in their academic and holistic growth since our transition. By valuing Standard 6: Ensures that the teacher’s work results in acceptable and measurable student progress, we ensured consistent tracking of every student’s progress, ensuring that interventions and support were timely and effective.
Central to the international school standards is the emphasis on Standard 1: implementing up-to-date research-based strategies. A spotlight on student-centered learning focused our teachers. I recall one teacher who meticulously deconstructed his curriculum, carefully crafting opportunities to infuse student choice rooted in their cultural backgrounds and personal interests. This shift from a traditional teacher-centered approach to a more personalized, student-centric one made all the difference. Not only did students respond with heightened engagement, but also their academic performance and class participation improved tremendously.
4. Community Trust:
Standard 3: Collaborates positively with all members of the school community was the cornerstone. Parents felt the difference when educators collaborated positively, not only with their peers but with students and parents, forging a united community. For parents and the broader community, standards convey assurance of teaching quality. They extend a promise of commitment that teachers will embrace excellence, transparency, and growth.
One morning, an email from a parent caught my eye. She expressed surprise and gratitude for the detailed attention her child’s math teacher had given in his correspondence. The parent mentioned that seeing such warmth, care, patience, and understanding for students was rare in her previous experiences with schools in her home country. This observation affirmed her decision to choose our school for her children. She discussed her child’s struggles with test anxiety and perfectionism, emphasizing her trust in our team to address these challenges. It became evident that our implemented standards to foster student-centered learning were not just paper guidelines; they truly resonated with our community. The parent’s words served as a powerful reminder that our commitment to excellence was seen, felt, and deeply appreciated by our families.
The Preparation Phase
Embarking on such a transformative journey necessitated groundwork. Beyond the realm of ideals and visions, there was a practical world of curriculum mapping, training sessions, and feedback loops.
Every corner of our school reverberates with a singular belief: a high-quality teacher can transform lives. Parents share tales of their child’s newfound love for a subject, all thanks to a teacher’s passion and dedication. Students speak of moments when a lesson became a life-changing insight. Our belief isn’t just in academic excellence, but in the power of human connection, empathy, and guidance.
Our journey to adopt the international school standards of practice isn’t just about aligning with a framework. It’s a collection of stories—of shared aspirations, breakthroughs, and a community coming closer. It’s our collective testament to prioritizing holistic growth over checkboxes. As we move forward, we do so with a sense of pride, knowing that our journey has been authentic, collective, and rooted in our shared vision of nurturing future-ready, empathetic global learners.
Stay with us as we journey further in our upcoming articles. This six-part series promises to provide a holistic view, ensuring you’re right alongside us, learning and growing at every step.
Lianne Dominguez is the Secondary School Principal and founding member of Shattuck-St Mary’s Forest City International School in Malaysia.