For transformational change to occur in international schools, common understanding within the school is critical. Recently I reread a chapter from Stuart’s (2016) Global Perspectives. In this section, Singapore American School teacher Joshua Curnett highlights the challenges when international teacher cooperate. These obstacles come from a different perspective of how the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) model (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many, 2010) can operate in the international arena.
Curnett explained that international teachers differ those back home. In his previous schools in America, the environment was driven by student performance evaluated by standardized tests. Consequently US teachers operated under compliance. This is not the case for international teachers. International schools do not have a external body dictating their curriculum. Furthermore international teachers expect creativity and freedom in their practice. Perhaps this free-spirt comes from their willingness to leave home to teach in a foreign country. Finally international teachers are well-experienced because international schools will offer attractive packages to acquire the best staff.
Curnett also described the unique nature of international students. Admittance into colleges or universities is not a barrier for these students. Many have additional resources at home to support their schooling. They also have a broader perspective because most are well travelled. As a result, teaching looks different. Curnett gives the example of rethinking his lesson in Shakespeare when he discovered many of his international students have already experienced the authentic Globe Theatre. Thus, teaching to these students offers a different challenge.
When student achievement is not an issue and teachers are highly qualified; what is the point of running PLCs in an international school? I would propose that international schools do need PLCs in order to remain accountable yet student relevant. Let me explain.
Transient teachers and teacher independence hinders the sustainability of an international school’s curriculum. Thus, international administrators must ensure that their students’ education continues from grade to grade. In other words, these schools require a system for teaching a coherent curriculum. So teachers need to collaborate to understand these curriculum parameters. Therefore, ensuring such communication demands PLCs are embedded into the school system.
Next, we should have a different way to define student achievement. Current measurement based on university and college acceptance is already a common occurrence for international schools. So a different measurement that is more meaningful to international students ought to be explored. Such new metric can be soft skills such as the growth mindset needed for 21st century skills. Teachers would need to collaborate in order to better understand alternative metrics. In other words, PLCs would serve as the vehicle to these important professional conversations.
Let’s disrupt schools by having PLCs break international teaching away from individual practice. International school administrators should consider assessing the results of teacher collaboration as the school’s goal. International teachers should share their ownership of student achievement. Perhaps when accountability in international schools means how well their PLCs operate, school transformation will come naturally.
Curnett, J. D. (2016) Understanding the International School Teacher. In Stuart, T. S. (Ed.), Global perspectives: Professional learning communities in international schools [Kindle Edition]
Dufour, R., Dufour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at workTM (2nd ed.). Bloomington IN: Solution Tree Press.
Stuart, T. S. (Ed.). (2016). Global perspectives: Professional learning communities in international schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.