I recently attended the European Council of International Schools‘ annual teachers’ conference in my role as Chair of the ECIS Board of Trustees. This is a conference attended by over 1500 international educators from around the world. On the first day, I had the honor of making the opening address to conference participants and share some thoughts about school change, which I excerpt and elaborate on below.
The ECIS mission is to be the leading collaborative global network promoting and supporting the ideals and best practices of international education. But what is best practice in today’s world, and how has it changed based on current research?
Most schools have missions about preparing kids for the future and ensuring that they gain the skills to adapt to change. For example, the International School of Prague’s mission talks about engaging learners in an authentic global education and preparing students to adapt and contribute responsibly to our changing world. Educators often point to future focused or cutting edge companies like Google or Apple as the kind of companies which our students will encounter in their future. We also talk about how many of tomorrow’s professions don’t even exist today.
In this new millennium, the world of work and play has dramatically changed. For example professionals in companies such as IBM are expected to effectively collaborate and interact virtually with unknown colleagues from around the world.
IBM World Community Grid
It is therefore interesting to me that schools (even international schools) haven’t changed very much and are functioning and looking quite similar to schools our grand or great parents would easily recognize.
Isn’t it essentially the same kind of environment, with more gadgets – the smart board instead of the black board and laptops instead of notebooks? Don’t our schools function the way they always have, with students moving through the linear schedules from one discreet subject to the next and the teacher still the “sage on the stage?”
If we are to work towards a more relevant school model to meet the needs of Twenty First Century learners, when do educators in their busy schedules have time to reflect? It’s widely known that Google provides its employees with 20% of their work week to dream and think big. Apparently this approach has paid off with many innovations such as gmail emerging from this unstructured flex time.
How can our schools change if we don’t have the time to innovate? Is it possible in our busy schedules to make time for reflection, dialogue and innovation? I would argue that schools must find the time to empower teachers just as we wish to empower student learners. We teach kids that in order to learn, you have to take some risks. We also have to find ways for schools to take calculated risks in order to improve. If teachers are expected to work within the old model structures we provide without an opportunity to innovate, little will change and this in the long run is a disservice to our students.
At ISP we have allocated the time during our monthly all-faculty meetings for teachers to create Professional Focus Groups in which they can explore and collaborate to improve their practice and the school. This unique approach allows teachers to think out of the box, innovate and hopefully begin to help the school become a more meaningful twenty first century institution. While this is a small step, it is important to ensure that teachers are given the opportunity and the time to impact the future development or our schools.
1. IBM World Community Grid Presents FightAIDS@Home in Second Life for World AIDS DAY (http://www.flickr.com/photos/25095603@N07/4148407090/) / Robin Ashford (http://www.flickr.com/photos/25095603@N07/) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/)
2. Unidentified Rural Schoolhouse (http://www.flickr.com/photos/whsimages/4523888578/) / Wisconsin Historical Images (http://www.flickr.com/photos/whsimages/) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
3. Computer Class: Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works Workshop (http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtuallearningcenter/3619767620/) / Virtual Learning Center (http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtuallearningcenter/) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/)