Today I've been thinking about what gives those schools a good reputation? Obviously it's because their teachers are out there promoting all the good things about the school, it's because they are known for giving their teachers fantastic opportunities for professional development, it's because the schools are progressive and seen as being "cutting edge", it's because the salary and benefits package is extremely attractive, it's because teachers feel valued and it's because all students, regardless of ability, seem to thrive and do well there.
When I first moved into international education I was extremely lucky to end up at a school like that. It was already a good school when I arrived but it became known as a great school during the years that I worked there. When I reflected back on how this happened the thing that really struck me was that the school encouraged everyone to go out to conferences and present - and because there were so many presenters who came from ISA who were sharing what we were doing, we became known as a great and progressive school. And presenting had another benefit too - it allowed us to refine our own thinking about the learning journey we were on. In fact I would say that making the presentations ourselves and with our colleagues was also some of the best professional development we had.
In my years at the school, I was a presenter at 12 different conferences. The first conference I presented at was actually hosted at our school and was the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) Social Studies Conference. Despite the fact that this was only my second year in international education, I was asked, along with 2 colleagues from the ESL department, to present on how best to support ESL students in social studies classrooms. I found this quite a daunting experience, but I was given a lot of support and encouragement and the presentation was such a success that the school then asked the 3 of us to go the the main ECIS Conference the following November and make the presentation to a much larger audience. Following on from that I made further presentations to ECIS, sat on an ECIS Committee, presented at ELMLE (The European League of Middle Level Education), did a one-day pre-conference for the International Reading Association in San Diego and travelled to Peru to present at the Association of American Schools in South America. I think in my years in Amsterdam the school had at least one teacher presenting at every major conference there was. In addition the school sent me to fantastic workshops, conferences and courses as a participant too, most notably Harvard Project Zero.
Now obviously the school invested heavily in all this - both in terms of financial outlay and in terms of time off school (as for most of these conferences I wasn't yet on a flexible schedule so the school also had to provide me with a substitute teacher which in itself was costly). Yet the school had the reputation of being one of the best schools for professional development and amazing teachers queued up to go there. So the school gave a lot, but it got a lot back too in terms of top teachers wanting to work there (who then enhanced the reputation still further.)
In addition these top teachers and administrators were involved in curriculum development. ISA was one of the founding schools that implemented the IB Middle Years Programme, and two of the "founding fathers" of the IB Primary Years Programme were also Heads at ISA during my time there. As a result, ISA became the first school in the world to offer all 3 IB programmes, and its reputation was further enhanced by a constant stream of visitors who came to spend a day (or two, or three) getting a feel for what we were doing. Teachers from ISA also moved on to take top jobs in the IB in various regional offices.
Some of these visitors also offered us professional development at the school. We had Thomas Armstrong who taught us about multiple intelligences, Madeline Hunter who talked to us about motivation, Jane Goodall who introduced Roots and Shoots into the school and Helen Sharman the first Briton in space, to name just a few. The school also hosted many conferences and workshops which all teachers were invited to participate in.
My next international school, NIST, had a similar reputation. Again, within a couple of months of arriving I was out presenting at the TechEx conference, and again I was given marvellous opportunities for professional development. Even in my last few months at school, I was sent on professional development opportunities to Borneo and to Hong Kong as well as being given the chance to take days off to visit other schools. Fantastic presenters also came to NIST, for example the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Prof Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and Nobel Laureate for physics Prof Gerardus 't Hooft.
Today I read a fantastic post by Kim Cofino on Becoming an Educational Ambassador. Kim, who works at another school with a world-class reputation, writes about the YIS Ambassador Programme. This is a new type of professional leave so that teachers representing the school by presenting at workshops and conferences or acting as consultants are able to take 10 days of paid leave each year. In this post Kim acknowledges that not all schools are willing or able to support teachers, but that this is a lost opportunity for the school to move on and take advantage of new insights as well as a lost opportunity for the school to enhance its reputation. Kim lists the advantages of such an ambassador programme to schools:
- learning from the successes and challenges of other schools and bringing back new ideas
- getting a clear picture of where these schools are going and how they are getting there
- presenting - this allows us to refine our thinking
- collaborating and connecting with others to open up our schools to new opportunities and experiences.
Kim points out that "everyone knows the names of the schools where presenters are most frequently from. Having teachers from one school present at many conferences builds the profile of the school" and she highlights "the value we can gain from the experience, as an individual and as a school."
Photo Credit: Microphone by Grant