One of the most challenging aspects that international school leaders face is uniting a community that is transient. This phenomenon has been observed by many international schools across the world. High student mobility, staff turnover, and cultural diversity are hinderances to international school stability (Stuart, 2016).
Human capital is an important factor to building school stability and overall effectiveness. That is, a school must maintain a high quality staff to ensure continual success. Some schools take the route of hiring young, flexible, inexpensive-to-train teachers to sustain their programs (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). These schools rely on the recruitment of talented individuals to ensure that a high quality program is delivered in their schools. However, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) would argue that this method for generating human capacity is deficient.
Instead Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) advocate school investment should be towards developing teacher talents through systematic changes in its social system. They posit that such talents cannot reside in the individual but must be transmitted through groups, teams, and communities. Frequent instructional-focused conversations between teachers build social capacity (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). Through these interactions, teachers develop the trust needed to share their professional knowledge to others.
One way international schools can begin building such social trust conversations is through the Critical Friends Group (CFG) framework (Mattoon & McKean, 2015). CFGs use structured protocols during conversation to direct teachers in collaborative professional inquiry. Frequently in the CFG framework , small communities of staff members initiate discussions helping individuals receive feedback about their teaching practice. Through a a systematic procedure for speaking, listening, and reflecting, equity is achieved in having teachers’ voices heard. This system nurtures trust in teacher conversations.
Furthermore engaging in CFG conversations help teachers learn to use collaborative language. Teachers are encouraged to used exploratory language such as starting with “I wonder” and “I’m curious about” when critiquing their peers’ ideas. At the same time, positive feedback is specific to teachers’ needs. This type of language reduces the vulnerability of teachers when sharing personal work to their peers. And as a result, a culture of trust and professional growth can be established in the schools.
Recently a few of our leaders met together to redesign a parent orientation experience for our school. Although we did not follow a specific CFG protocol, we applied some of the same principles used in CFG conversations. For instance, we structured our discussion with different functions based on the IDEO‘s design thinking process (empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and testing). We constrained ourselves with limits in the time we had for each activity. This restriction helped us respect our usage of time. We also made clear when the participants were self-reflecting, sharing, and listening. Most importantly, we adopted language that explored, clarified, and probed our thinking. In the end, we were able to start designing a prototype for what such parent orientation experience might look like. More importantly this design event has connected us in accomplishing a goal. And in turn, it has a powerful implication to uniting the school community and building human capacity.
Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital : transforming teaching in every school. Abingron [England] : Routledge.
Mattoon M. & McKean L. E. (Eds.). (2015), Critical friends group: Coaches handbook. Bloomington In: National School Reform Faculty, Harmony Education Center.
Stuart, T. S. (Ed.). (2016). Global perspectives: Professional learning communities in international schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press