Which Tier Next Year?

Professional networks are buzzing at this time of year. It is prime recruiting season, after all. Educators worldwide are reaching out to one another via social media, seeking information and insight into schools, open positions, and hiring strategies.

One question frequently being asked is about the “tier” of a certain school, or what the “tier one” schools are in a particular city, country, or region. These questions intrigue me, because the answers vary greatly. And it’s no wonder, given the extremely subjective nature of the questions themselves.

The international circuit is comprised of teachers from all over the globe, and we all bring our unique values and non-negotiables to our job searches. Professional experiences vary, and a school’s reputation according to a tiered level is not a one-size-fits-all indicator of its success. Ultimately, the perceived quality of a school comes down to personal preference. Not everyone is seeking a “tier one” school, and what might be considered a first choice for one teacher might be a no-go for another. As educator Ashleigh McElrath explains, “Every teacher has their own set of experiences and expectations. Different people have varying perspectives of ‘ideal’. I think it’s quite hard to accurately categorize schools into tiers.”

When I first began my international career in 2004, I had never heard the word “tier” used to describe schools as being a certain level. Perhaps it’s a term that has come into use since that time, or perhaps ignorance is bliss. I was a happy twenty-something in my little school, which I’m sure would have been considered “tier three” or below–if a rung that low even exists on the hypothetical school ladder.

So, who makes the decision about what tier a school is, and why? I’ve read several blog posts on the subject, and many of them go so far as to create a list of “top tier” schools in each geographic region of the world. But who verifies these lists, and what are the criteria by which they’re compiled?

I reached out to teachers in one of my own professional networks in order to gather insight, and the replies were fascinating. Many consider “top tier” schools to be those that are student-centered, have a diverse student body, and a mission and vision that are evident on a daily basis. Transparency in decision-making and hiring practices was mentioned repeatedly as a factor in a school earning a “top tier” ranking. Other qualifications for holding a “top tier” reputation include a not-for-profit structure with an elected board, significant professional development opportunities for teachers, and a strong salary and benefits package.

Also mentioned among my colleagues was the drive to reach higher standards. For teachers seeking a position at a school with a “top tier” reputation, competition is fierce, which leads to increased demands on faculty. Teaching at schools with strong reputations “often comes with more work and higher expectations, but there is innovation, and a constant drive to find the best ways to educate the population of the school,” says teacher Dee Norman. Sometimes referred to as the “pressure cooker effect”, these schools place heavy demands on their faculty because they are constantly growing and stretching and evolving.

While many schools considered to be among the “top tier” are large, well-known schools with decades of history, lesser-known and smaller schools have some incredible advantages. When a school is newer or smaller–lacking set traditions and a large number of stakeholders–progress and innovation have the potential to occur more rapidly. This gives smaller schools the opportunity to break molds and implement new initiatives at a much faster pace than their larger, more established counterparts. One teacher, Elizabeth Zans, says, “A top school puts the students and teachers first by supporting both and nurturing academic success. There are many little gems out there that are not on the ‘top’ of many teachers’ lists. Maybe the language should be changed to ‘schools that promote excellence in both students and teachers’.”

When new administrators enter the scene, an entire school culture can change drastically–almost overnight. McElrath says, “A school can be absolutely amazing one year and then the next year, one key person leaves and it has a ripple effect on everything, suddenly making that school very difficult to work in. The reverse holds true as well…For me, people make schools.”

As I pondered this insight, that one word kept jumping out at me. People. Over and over again, it was mentioned that the people are what make any school great. Diana Pacheco, who considers her school a “hidden gem”, agrees that arbitrary tiers don’t paint a true picture. She says, “What makes [a school] stand out from the rest are the people…from admin to faculty to staff.”

Knowing how quickly the population of a school can change, it is no wonder that the “tier” of a school could potentially change with it. Perhaps we should stop referring to schools by an opinion-based system that compares them with one another. Instead, we should strive to be the people that make our schools stand out for our colleagues and students. Because any school can be great, if the people within it aspire to greatness.

Posted in Shannon Fehse | 7 Comments

Bike Stuff: Rest Days in Saigon

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

Our route only took us through a small section of Vietnam. We cycled from the Xa Mat border with Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh to catch a flight home for Christmas and then rode back into Cambodia at the Ha Tien border. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh a week too early for our flight so had plenty of rest days in this busy city. They say you should write what you know, so instead of a guide to bicycle touring in Vietnam- here’s a guide to rest days in Saigon.

Click here for an interactive map of this route.

Some ideas of ways to spend your days off the bike in this city:


Make good use of your time and check out the craft beer scene. We were surprised by just how many craft breweries and bars there were here. Pasteur St Brewery (try the award-winning Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout,) Heart of Darkness (try the Kurtz’s Insane IPA) and Bia Craft were our favourites. These choices are based on rigorous and repeated tasting. 🙂

Bike service

After plenty of beer drinking, a sensible thing to do is to give your bike some TLC. For thorough, professional and fast servicing head to Saigon Bike Shop where Van the Man will see to your bicycle’s every need. He also stocks good quality parts, water bottles etc if you need to stock up.


Cyclists need plenty of fuel and these places certainly gave us that. Quan Ut Ut American Barbecue serves excellent meat with sides like corn bread, mac and cheese and buttered green beans. Not exactly healthy, but delicious. Heart of Darkness serves fancy pub food including burgers and tacos. They have great beer too -kill two birds with one stone! Q Mama Barbecue Buffet – get there early at 5pm. All-you-can-eat buffet with your own grill on the table. Includes cook-your-own crab and other seafood. All-you-can-drink beer, cider and soft drinks. Gets rowdy and competitive for food after about 7pm but you will have it almost all to yourself from 5-6pm. 199,000 dong per person (about 10 dollars).


Saigon is a big city so consider downloading the Uber app for cab rides. It’s cheaper than other taxis and walking is difficult in Ho Chi Minh. We stayed out in district 8 so we relied heavily on it. Prices vary at peak times but we generally paid about 5 dollars for a 40 minute ride.


We didn’t do a whole pile of sightseeing – they were “rest” days after all. A day trip to the Mekong Delta is worth a few hours but beware that it is very busy with other tourists. The Cu Chi Tunnels are set in a beautiful part of the countryside but have a dark history.

Some of the recommendations listed above are fairly pricey for a bike touring budget. We felt like rewarding ourselves for hitting 7000 km so we splashed out. There are plenty of cheaper options all over the city and the staples of iced sweet coffee and pho (noodle soup) are on every corner for a couple of dollars.

We definitely felt well rested, watered and fed by the time we got back on the bikes!

Bicycle touring Vietnam

Click here for an interactive map of this route.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

Posted in Matthew and Niamh | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Economist’s Take: Budgeting and Adventure

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

This post is not just for any would-be bike tourer. It considers an issue we could all think about.

We have seen all sorts on this trip so far, literally from feast to famine. The extreme wealth of the flashy supercar-driving Chinese high-fliers, to the maimed and forgotten street beggars in some parts of south-east Asia.

This trip is a real lesson about economic development for an Economics teacher.

For years I have taught middle school Humanities through to first year degree level Economics courses. I try to deliver the topics of Inequality and the Distribution of Wealth in a thoughtful and pragmatic way inside the classroom, but rarely is it ever effectively applied to real life. How can it be, when many of the young minds in the room belong to people from privileged backgrounds? I can share my experiences and things I’ve seen, and maybe even offer some thoughts about how it can be and whether a positive change will ever happen, but it is often the case that students listen but cannot yet hear. We do however excitedly apply lovely abstract formula devised by Lorenz and Kuznets to the reality of human tragedy and ecstasy.

So, I have come to appreciate that the position we are in of having some savings to spend whilst cycling around the world is not a common one, and there certainly is only one way our cash flows these days, and that’s out. We had to be prepared for that. Our reality is that we are in a small minority; to put things into context I always like some cold, hard, sober, emotionless numbers:

71% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day (Few Research Center, 2015)

39% of the world’s population does not a bank account (World Bank, 2015).

22% of Brits & Americans have no savings (Telegraph, 2012, MarketWatch, 2015)

64% of Brits & Americans have less than £1000/$1300 in savings accounts (TIM, 2014).

62 people have the same wealth as 50% of humanity (Washington Post, 2016)

It would be easy to say then, that being able to tour the world for two years means we are lucky and blessed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s either of these. We have worked hard to establish our careers, providing reassurance that when we need to earn again, we should be able to find work.

We didn’t do anything personally to affect it, but maybe we were ‘lucky’ to be born in UK and Ireland into caring middle class families. From then on, I think we make our own luck. Are we blessed? Well, this suggests some kind of divine intervention, which doesn’t compute with me. Who is the one that decides if we can or can’t do something that we dream of? Personally, I believe it is us – only us.  Sure it takes some forward planning and self-belief. I prefer brave (maybe a little bit crazy), self-assured and assertive as ways to describe ourselves.

Also, people make excuses far too easily and frequently about why they can’t do things they’ve “Always wanted to do”. Sometime it seems people say it just to exonerate themselves. I don’t understand that. That “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “should’ve” tense. I believe that where there is a will, there’s a way. If ultimately it doesn’t live up to your expectations, well I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret something that you have done, rather than always wonder about how it might have been.

There is never a bad time to go and explore. We have met retired couples touring, single 70 year olds, read of friends who ride the world with their two kids in tow, or their dogs. Those who are battling with sickness, those who just don’t know what they want to do in life, so go out for a ride. I don’t think that you particularly have to have a reason or a cause either. I found out how much I love touring by just giving it a go a few times and have discovered that there is a beguiling beauty to the rhythm and excitement it brings.

Six months into our two year ride now, we have become acutely aware of, and are grateful for:

Freedom of movement – Having EU passports (although for me not much longer) enables us to roam. Sure, visa applications are a hassle, but there are many people in the world we know and love who cannot whimsically cross borders.

Western Privilege – Not really sure what this means, but we certainly have a life of relative comfort back in our home countries. Services that are provided to us as a matter of course are to some, always out of reach.

Health – We should never take this one for granted. Staying fit, eating well, not taking too many risks. Enjoy every day you feel good, and battle when you don’t.

Age – Am I middle-aged? I guess I am, but they are just numbers. Are we always too young for things until we are too old? Rubbish. Don’t be held back thinking about your age. If you can’t help it, then get a younger partner, they’ll keep you young!

So what does all this suggest? ‘Carpe Diem’, would be the obvious thing to conclude, but that’s one hell of a cliché. Perhaps we should all live frivolously? No, that would be irresponsible.

Budget? Yes, but don’t let it suffocate you.



Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.



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What to Read in 2018

So yesterday I turned the beautiful age of 48, and with that came my yearly gift from my incredible wife…money for books! You see, we have this deal that I’ve written about before, whereby I get to order books each year on my birthday, and if I finish them all before my next birthday then I get more money to do it all again…awesome! Anyway, I finished my last book from 2017 just a few weeks ago, and I’ve spent the last month or so compiling my birthday list for 2018…I’ve pored over book reviews and on-line articles, I’ve combed through book stores, and I’ve asked around for recommendations from friends and colleagues from all around the world, and I now have a preliminary list of 15 books that I’m super excited to read…see below.

I’ll order these in the next week or so, and my goal of course is to finish them in the upcoming year. I’m encouraging all of you to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five, or ten) that resonate with you…or, do your own search and share those titles with me please so I can add them to my list. The suggestions below revolve around my favorite themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation, and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person for our world through a few small, simple, and powerful life changes. Happy reading in 2018 everyone, and let me know if you have a suggestion or two of your own so I can get them into my shopping cart. A good book can be transformative in so many ways as you know, so please take the time…I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…Happy reading!


Quote of the week…

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you!

– Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Great At Work – Morten T. Hansen

The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

When – Daniel H. Pink

Powerful – Patty McCord

The Vibrant Workplace – Dr. Paul White

Thinking in Bets – Annie Duke

When the Adults Change, Everything Changes – Paul Dix

The Innovation Code – Jeff DeGraff

Who Are You, Really? – Brian R. Little

Creativity Rules – Tina Seelig

The Power of Moments – Chip and Dan Heath

Radical Inclusion – Martin Dempsey

The Case Against Education – Bryan Caplan

Rethinking School – Susan Wise Bauer

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Published in 1969, still very relevant today however)

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

What is Pedalgogy?


Hello! We are Matthew and Niamh, two new bloggers for TIE.

Bicycle touring

Photo Credit: Erik Peterson Photography

Working hard in international schools definitely has its rewards. We are spending our savings on a life-long dream of combining a bicycle ride around the world with an education project. We are enjoying the daily physical challenge of pedalling across all kinds of terrain in all types of weather while raising awareness of Prader Willi Syndrome. The people that we meet and cultures that we learn about along the way give further meaning to this endeavour. Our desire to travel was fuelled by a shared interest in global citizenship. We have previously run a Global Citizens after-school club which enabled us to build the foundations of a story sharing website for children around the world. Our hope is to visit schools along our route to gather more stories and transform this website into a valuable, interactive resource for teachers. Lots more detail can be found at www.pedalgogy.net and www.tedweb.org.Ted Web

We will be blogging about a range of topics including:

1. Tales from the Road

2. Education Project

3. An Economists Take

4. Selected Ramblings

5. Beautiful Places and Moments

6. Lovely Mapping

7. Biking Stuff

8. Hacks and Recipes

9. The Reasons

Bicycle touring

Follow us on our Facebook page: Pedalgogy

Videos from our bicycle travels can be found on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsG7n5CjPz3zj-muSezAWuA

Looking forward to being part of the TIE community!

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Clean Slates

So we’re already two weeks into 2018 and I have to say, it’s really fun to be back with the kids. The holiday break was fantastic for sure, and like many of you I feel rested and ready to tackle the second semester, with the palpable excitement of building on the first half of the year. I love this time of the year honestly because we’re so set up now to make a real impact in the lives of our students, and if we get it right, the next few months will be arguably the most important ones of the year for learning. You see, after 5 months we now truly know our kids, we know each other, we’ve settled into our school imperatives, and we’ve reflected on our practice leading up to this point. January always feels like a clean slate for me, and the month that can absolutely influence the year in incredibly powerful ways.

I’ve written before about the idea of New Year’s “reflections” instead of New year’s resolutions, and my feeling is that if we look back critically at how we ended the year (first semester) it can help authentically shape the realistic ways that we can best move forward. In my opinion, there is nothing harder than changing either professional practice or personal habit, and there is nothing easier than letting a New Year’s resolution go unfulfilled. To really make a difference in our lives, and in the lives of our kids, it’s going to take some honest reflections and some discipline. We can either make the changes in our lives that we want, and that are needed, or we can fall into the trap of complacency and routine. That’s the opportunity that we have as we begin the new semester, and what an opportunity it is.

I spent a good portion of my holiday reflecting (and eating), and I’ve identified some areas in my life and in my professional practice that could use some attention. I’ve set some second semester goals for myself and I’ve talked about these openly and I’ve written them down. Of course, it’s one thing to talk about them and a very different thing to actually put them into action. I want to start communicating more effectively, I want to start giving more to others in need, I want to do better for our environment, I want to stop worrying so much about my first world problems, and I want to find more courage to help make the changes in our school that are needed to drive our imperatives forward…this is the month to start, and this is the time to start decorating that clean slate.

I want to challenge all of you over the next couple of weeks to take some time to reflect (if you haven’t already) on the first semester, and to identify some areas that can make you better versions of yourselves. Identify them, talk to someone about them, write them down and find the discipline to make them a reality. January is a busy month in schools and it’s no different for us, so use the upcoming professional development conversations to jump start your year, and set you on the path to change. Take advantage of this opportunity everyone…this clean slate month of January, and make 2018 your best year to date. Happy New Year and happy decorating…bring those clean slates to life! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Here’s my favorite New year’s poem for you to contemplate…


Life I am the New Year.

I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about a life of reflection and giving.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out with more determination.
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve
is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will,
All the faith that you claimed but did not have —
these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened
by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am your opportunity
to renew your allegiance to a life fulfilled
I am the New Year.

— Author Unknown

Quote of the Week…

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice

– T.S Eliot


Related Articles –

An Academic’s New Year’s Resolutions

My New Year’s Resolutions

Education Post – New Year

The Global Search for Education

New Year, New You


Inspiring Videos to begin the New Year –

Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech

A 27 Year Old’s Advice to the World

An Incredible Gift

Against Discrimination 

Knowing Our Kids (A Goal of Mine)

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Mobile Phone Shutdown

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

During the first few weeks before my new campus opened, many people wanted to know what the mobile phone policy would be for students, especially those students living on-campus.

A decision was made to allow teachers to set their classroom norms, and to give the students an opportunity to use technology responsibly. This very open policy would be applied, and results would be evaluated.

The first month of school yielded some very interesting results, and eventually lead to a big change not only in policy, but also in campus culture.

The Real Issue

The assumption most adults and educators make is that students will waste time while using their devices in class.

The truth is that students using mobile phones outside of the classroom, is in fact a severe waste of time compared to the time lost in the classroom. Policies focusing on controlling students and preventing them from enjoying some form of entertainment while in class, are missing the core issue(s).

The real issue with students who are engaged in very high levels of screen-time, is that the engagement negates their time to socialize. The device, ironically, pushes them further apart from one another, even if they are using the device to communicate.

Classroom use of devices can be very beneficial. Teachers can task students and keep them working and interacting, while socializing.

During the first month of observation, when left to their own prerogative, students in social situations would default to the use of social media apps and free or freemium games instead of talking to one another.

The students were not engaged in deep discussions, academic information exchange, or even conversations about making plans for their weekends. They were just engaged in activities that had a short and very shallow feedback loop.

My personal observations were combined with others, and everyone agreed that we did not want a campus culture that encouraged students to not socialize; to sit alone and stare at a screen; and that seemed to push curiosity to the floor.

The Policy and Procedure 

Writing a policy to ban devices is not easy. The task seems easy, but if the policy is to be enforceable, then it has to be well thought out. Whenever anything is taken away, a negative impact occurs somewhere else.

The policy itself is simple, “No use of mobile phones on campus during academic hours.”

The policy must be simple. I often fall into the trap of making options, but options are difficult to manage. Options are difficult to explain. Options are difficult to translate to students if they are not native English language speakers.

The policy should be followed by a positive exception. In other words, “When and where can students use their devices ? ” This was clearly defined, so that students and parents could plan on a regular communication pattern after academic hours, but before study hall (remember most of these are boarding students).

Finally, the consequences have to be mapped out clearly. With any set of consequences a negative impact can occur to someone, or some place, if policies are planned haphazardly.

The school found two locations with staff who were already managing student discipline. This created a distributed and nominal impact on those people working in the offices. There was no additional staff or equipment required to implement the policy.

The consequences created by the policy writing team were clear and strict:

  • For the 1st offense, your phone will be confiscated and withheld until the conclusion of the following academic day. This will be logged on PowerSchool for your parents and advisor to see.
  • For the 2nd offense, your phone will be confiscated for 3 days, a call will go home to your parents, and the incident will be logged into PowerSchool.
  • For a 3rd offense, your phone will be taken for an entire week, your parents will be called, and the phone will need to be picked up and collected by your parents in person.

The Aftermath

So far nothing. I wanted to have some type of amazing story to tell, but nothing bad has happened. I have asked around 60 students how they are doing without their devices.

They have all said that it is not a big deal for them, they have a time to use them, and they do not want any instances logged into PowerSchool for their parents to read.

In addition, the number of devices confiscated is actually lower than it was before the policy. We still have some classes using mobile phones as cameras everyday, but outside of those classes, I have not see any students breaking the rules.

Of course, they are breaking the rules sometimes, but not lunch. Not at assembly. And not during those other daily opportunities where students meet in groups and socialize.

A week ago I walked into assembly, and students were playing music, laughing, and talking. It was loud, and I was extremely pleased.

Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

5 Concrete Ways to Address #metoo and #timesup in International Schools

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement

Everybody’s talking about it. #metoo and #timesup are trending hashtags and campaigns that represent an age-old issue: sexual harassment. This is a global phenomenon, and certainly – unfortunately– present in international schools. Whether you’re inspired by Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, or moved by the flood of #metoo’s on your social media feed, or simply realize that you are in a position to make your school a better, safer place for working and learning, here are five concrete ways to start:

  1. Establish a rock-solid policy/plan on sexual harassment. I had the honour of serving on the committee which revised Hong Kong International School’s sexual harassment policy, and I can tell you that crafting an effective one requires a lot of thoughtful effort. Take stock of resources in your locality, read plans from other schools, and write it up in painstaking detail. Don’t assume that everybody agrees on things like the definition of ‘sexual harassment’. Remember to consider what to do if an accused harasser lives on campus or in school housing, a common arrangement in international schools. Waiting until you’ve got a crisis on campus is not the time to think about how to manage it.
  2. Publish your plan everywhere. Your plan will only be useful if people understand how it works, and trust that it will be followed. If students/staff do not know who to go to when they’ve been harassed, or don’t believe that the policy will be enforced, it is useless. Make your policy and plan visible to everyone. Tell families and students about it. Talk about it at staff meetings. Do this routinely, or at least once a year.
  3. Listen to reports of sexual harassment. Believe the reporters. Put your policy/plan into action as soon as someone reports.
  4. Reframe reports of sexual harassment as an opportunity. Nobody looks forward to the HR/PR issues that can come up when sexual harassment takes place within a school community, and there can be a temptation to see reports as a nuisance. Instead, consider that the sexual harassment has already happened, and the school now has a chance to improve the safety of everybody in their community, thanks to the reports. Express gratitude to reporters for their bravery and willingness to help make the school a better place for all.
  5. Turn this into a teachable moment. Children need to be taught the knowledge and skills to deal with sexual harassment, starting from a young age. Leverage this current conversation (or use it as inspiration) to reinforce your school’s curriculum on the topic.

How does your school ensure that community members know what to do in cases of sexual harassment?

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Photo JM

Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland.

As the first days of 2018 arrive, any reflections on last year seem to contain an uncomfortable rawness because of the events continuously populating our devices – the immediacy, brutality and complexity of a world fueled by- FakeNews?”, each one of us trying to construct a context in the “Filter Bubble” choreographed by algorithms from which we build a sense of the world we live in.

As International School educators, we straddle between the walled garden of “school” and the outside “world”. The reality is that we are surrounded by constant change and ambiguity. But there is a gap between the accelerated rate of change and our capacity to adapt to it. For some, the gap is wide. For others, the gap stays the same, and for a few, the gap is narrowing. How we interpret and engage with the gap and our own capacity to keep up influences many of our feelings and emotions. These in turn fuel the perceptions, opinions and behaviors with which we express ourselves.

International Schools have to juggle the fine line between ensuring students and parents are pleased and ensuring that they feel safe, challenged and cared for. In the unique world of International Schools, a percentage of parents come from a comfortable socio- economic environment. Often times, their education is a contributing factor to their current positions. This education provided the opportunities for their successes and their economic prosperity. Living with this becomes a strong marker in what International School parents believe their children should get from an education and an International School. This pedagogic reference point in many cases 25+ years old. The world was a very very different place then. However we try as schools to innovate, change and adapt, we do this with a level of caution and reservation. At the end of the day, the invisible mandate between parents and international schools, is “provide my child with stability, continuity, what I remember from my school days and more certainty then I have in my life today“.

As educators, we fall into a similar narrative. We have a desire for of stability, continuity, and more certainty than in the outside world we interact with. We do innovate and change in our schools, but the presence of the invisible mandate between our parents and schools influences the level by which we break the status quo.

Photo JM

St. Cergue Switzerland

Today the level of stability, continuity, and certainty that we were once used to has eroded. Uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are an unavoidable part of the day. The complexity of this change permeates into everyone’s lives, and often not by choice.

2018, is an opportunity to embrace the world’s uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility, not as something eroding our past and challenging our present, but as an opportunity to re-frame the possibilities in front of us as a unique and rich learning journey. We have a responsibility to take this on in our roles as mentors, facilitators and educators. We bring a wisdom, resilience and care that has served us well and can continue to serve us today. Many of our students will one day be International School parents or educators who look back at their education as a point of reference for their own success. The measures will be different. We live in a world where uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are part of our lives. We should not depend on reference points from our past to give us stability, continuity and certainty. The gap for many will still get bigger and more uncomfortable. But hopefully, in 2018, we can work to bridge that gap as well.

John Mikton @beyonddigital.org

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Just wondering about open reference letters.

With the new year upon us, and the recruiting season that is kicking off again after the December break, I feel the need to touch upon the topic of reference letters, which can be delicate.

All of us have asked our Heads of Schools and Principals to write open reference letters. Also, as school leaders, we often receive such requests from faculty members. Sometimes, schools even list open reference letters as part of the application package. Writing such letters have become a typical step or even a ritual in the recruitment process, but it is legitimate to question the value of those letters.

In the meantime, when an educator opens or reactivates a file with a recruitment agency, they are asked for several referees who will then complete confidential references. The educator will be notified when the referees have completed their confidential references, but they will not be able to access them through their own account. Prospective recruiters, however, will be able to read those references to get an idea of what previous leaders thought about this candidate.

So, are actually doing the same thing twice? In this very busy world of international education, do we really have time to write open and confidential reference letters? As I was preparing this post, I connected with several respected international school leaders about that topic. There is a general agreement out there that open reference letters are not really useful. Some leaders say that they do not read them at all, but they go straight to the confidential ones. All of them have also mentioned how important it is to talk directly to the referees. Many schools have a defined process to check on references about several aspects of the educator’s practice including strengths, areas for growth, relationships with different members of the school community and child safeguarding. Other leaders actually do not write those open reference letters anymore but offer to call the prospective Heads of Schools or to send them a reference letter directly.

It might be time to evaluate this tradition since it seems to have minimal to no impact in hiring nowadays. Of course, there are always going to be some exceptions or even some national employment laws and legislations that will still require employees to be able to read what has been written about them. In the grand scheme of things, however, I propose that, when possible, we refrain from writing those open reference letters, we talk directly to the referees, Principals and Heads of Schools and we educate our faculty why this is simply more efficient for everyone.

For what it’s worth…

Posted in Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle | 10 Comments