Last year I contributed to the ASB Un-Plugged conference by sharing my research, based on data collected from over one hundred current Heads of Schools, to the question: What are the most important and relevant opportunities and challenges facing international schools?
Here, in no particular order (except for #1), are: The Top 10 Challenges:
- Instilling a desire, in our students, to ‘leverage’ their privilege on behalf of social justice.
- Protecting the culture, mission, and vision of our schools from the constant and increasingly transitory nature of the families and educators in our schools
- Creating the time and space (and having access to the personnel) for schools to seriously study the trends and research necessary to keep us relevant.
- Protecting the true essence of “international education” from the swelling global market of schools branding themselves as international.
- Aligning the crucial evolution of the ‘profile of a graduate’ (for 21st century schools) with what colleges and universities need to see in order to make decisions.
- Transforming today’s school calendar (typically a 180 day calendar based on US agrarian seasons) to meet the need of international families to access year-round educational opportunities.
- Maintaining our individual school identities while creating smooth and intentional global educational bridges, for our students, as they transition between schools.
- Crafting effective parent education and parent-school partnership programs; thus, leveraging the power of our parent communities towards student learning.
- Building data-collection systems, decision-making processes, decision-implementation models, and program-assessment strategies that are fast, flexible, and smart.
And now for number one! There was an overwhelming consensus, among respondents, that the #1 challenge facing international schools is: a shortage of highly effective 21st century teachers. And what exactly does that mean? Well, here’s my analysis of the data: Once upon a time, schools were places where students went to be taught ‘content’ from ‘content-experts.’ In this context, content means: the what, where, when and who of things. In other words, schools served a similar purpose to our now extinct Encyclopaedia Britannica. And once upon a time, that was a good thing. However, today’s landscape, of what students need to learn (not to mention ‘how’ they learnt), has completely transformed. And this transformation has resulted in a shortage of properly trained and appropriately equipped teachers. Literally, there is a ‘supply’ shortage of teachers that can effectively deliver on the ‘demand’ of what schools need to provide and what students need to learn.
According to one respondent, “The battle schools for the future are fighting is finding the right balance between content and skills.” I think we would all agree, that neither content nor skills are worth very much without the other. And, there is no doubt, that the incorrect emphasis of one over the other will leave students disadvantaged.
Obviously, there’s no singular, proven, fixed formula for schools to use to get the ‘content-skill’ balance correct; no silver bullet. And regardless of how a school balances the equation it will always be controversial, always debatable. Mostly because the target keeps moving, and it seems to be moving faster every day. FYI: Here’s a link to ASB’s 21st century skills.
One Head of School said, “When hiring teachers today we need to ensure that they have a mastery of their content, but also that they are highly capable of modelling, teaching, and assessing the right skills.” He went on to say, “For every ten teachers [in my current school or from the pool of candidates I have interviewed in the past few years] only two, in my opinion, could effectively design the right educational environment to facilitate deep skill-learning for their students.” In other words, there’s an 80% mismatch between supply and demand. Filling that gap is, in the opinion of 100 International School Heads, the most important challenge facing our schools as we head towards 2020!
I want to end today’s post by mentioning an article from a recent Harvard Business Review. In the simplest of terms the article stated (and I paraphrase): In the medical field, there is no ‘improvement of performance’ correlated to the ‘length of time on the job’ for general practitioners. However, there is a profound ‘improvement of performance’ correlated to ‘time on the job’ with surgeons. This conclusion about the medical field got me thinking about teachers and how this finding might translate into the field of education. I wondered to myself: Will the highest performing teachers in the 21st century be educational surgeons? Perhaps…and if so, what would that look like?