Given the fast-changing needs of 21st century learners, teachers and school leaders find themselves under pressure to provide students with learning to support them in a future that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Despite the unclear future that students face, a number of leadership best practices are suggested and broadly agreed upon that school leaders should be prepared to use to create effective schools for 21st century learners.
One such practice, supported by both Hargreaves and Leithwood in interviews with International School Leadership (ISL) (2014a, 2014b) and the Ontario Principals’ Council (2013, pg. 9) is setting forth a compelling vision and goals to direct the school community.. School leaders should know the individuals that comprise their teams well enough to maintain a sense of urgency about pursuing the vision, provide supportive supervision, and ensure coherence by celebrating and connecting short-term gains to the broader goals (ISL, 2014a; ISL, 2014b; OPC, 2015, pg. 9; Schleicher, 2015, pg. 10).
Another task that faces successful leaders of 21st century learning is developing people and building capacity both in their faculties and for themselves (ISL, 2014b; ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2015, pg. 15). School leaders should provide differentiated professional develoment, mentoring, and coaching to empower both new and expert teachers and collect and use data in purposeful and balanced ways to improve instruction and student achieivement (OPC, 2015, pp. 9-15; ISL, 2014a), and take part in continuing professional development themselves (Schleicher, 2015, pg. 9).
Finally, 21st century school leaders should be prepared to collaborate within and outside of their organization to support innovation (ISL, 2014a; Schleicher, 2015, pg. 9). Following the example of leaders in education like Singapore and Finland, leaders shoudl be prepared to seek out latent strengths and nurture pockets of excellence to evolve their communities (ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2013, pg. 26). Collaboration and authentic partnerships with other leaders and outreach to community stakeholders should be sought out in order to learn from others and work together for whole-system reforms (ISL, 2014b; ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2015, pp. 9, 13, & 28). Despite the potential for learning from others, care should be taken not to mirror practices directly and to take into account contextual differences in local needs (ISL, 2014a; ISL, 2014b).
New views of leadership are required to address changing social, political, and economic dynamics of the 21st century and the needs of the students they serve (Murphy & Shipman, 2003, pg 70). Focusing clearly on a compelling vision, building capacity within the organization, and supporting collaboration between teachers, schools, and the community are skills that can support school leadership success ifor today’s school leaders.
International School Leadership (2014a, December 5). Uplifting Leadership. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=9V0GaLRmq20
International School Leadership (Producer). (2014b, December 19). Enacting School-Level Leadership Practices. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=13&v=PmeKIdw1-8I
Murphy, J., & Shipman, N.J. (2003). Developing standards for school leadership development: A process and rationale. In P. Halinger (Ed.) Reshaping the landscape of school leadership development (pp. 69-81).. London: Taylor & Francis.
Ontario Principals Council (2013). Preparing principals and developing school leadership associations for the 21st century. Available at https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Finternationalschoolleadership.com%2 Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2014%2F12%2FInternational-Symposium-White-Paper-OPC2014.pdf&embedded=true
Schleicher, A. (2015). Schools for 21st-century learners: Strong leaders, confident teachers, innovative approaches. Paris: OECD Publishing. Available at http://www.oecd.org/publications/schools-for-21st-century-learners-9789264231191en.htm
One of the true success stories of the 20th century, Singapore has grown from being an obscure “little red dot” on the map of South East Asia into a modern, wealthy hub of global commerce (UNDP, 2016). Singapore’s status as a global leader is reflected in its highly successful national education system. Though much of Singapore’s success in education can be attributed to the national character of the country’s citizens and the benefits of its small size relative to other nations (Hargreaves & Shirley, Chapter 4, Paragraph 54; OECD, 2012, pg. 115), there is much to learn from their approach to education that successfully supports innovation in a highly-competitive educational culture of high-stakes testing (Hallinger, 2003, pg.167; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 11).
Singapore’s success in education begins at the national level: the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) stated vision for education is “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” and its goal is to create a network of learning organizations and lifelong learners (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 164). In order to ensure that the country can “compete and stay ahead”, Singapore’s education system seeks to create citizens who are able to think creatively and critically, and act as responsible global and digital citizens (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 165; MOE, 2009; MOE, 2015a). The MOE is well-regarded for its strong and stable leadership, and well-funded, with support for education resources making up 20% of the country’s national budget (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2; OECD, 2012, pg.117, 123). Members are competent, carefully-selected, generously-compensated, and well-trained in the use of data and evidence in decision-making (OECD, 2012, pg. 120). Strategic planning for national educational policy is highly-integrated with the Manpower Ministry to ensure that the nation’s education system remains dynamic and able to meet the country’s current and future workforce needs, promoting sustainability and long-term success (OECD, 2012, pp. 118-119, 124; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 101). Strategic leadership for adaptive learning that accounts for future needs and trends and involves leaders from diverse sources, such as is done in Singapore, is a hallmark of positive national and district leadership in education (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 26; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 29).
Despite the government and MOE’s significant investment and support, much power is decentralized and given over to individual schools, empowering them to determine how to align their practice with government strategy (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 37; Grogan, 2013, pp. 380-383; Sheppard, 2009, pp. 87-88). Schools are organized into ‘clusters’, led by former principals, that support innovation and collaboration between members of different schools, take advantage of the potential for district leadership to support collaboration, and serve as a mediating layer for implementing policy (OECD, 2012, pg. 116; Hallinger, 2003, pp. 165-166; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 34; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 66). Near-constant communication between clusters, schools, and the MOE provides accountability and support, helps schools function as effective PLCs, aids implementation and policy development integration through close collaboration between leaders at the ministry, cluster, and school levels, and is exemplary of a strategic “whole-of-enterprise” approach to educational leadership (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 61; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 104; OECD, 2012, pg. 124; Hallinger, 2003, pg. 26).
This close integration between stakeholders is evident in Singapore’s approach to school leadership training as well. The National Institute of Education (NIE) at Nanyan Technological University is Singapore’s sole provider of educational leadership training, and works in close collaboration with the MOE to develop and implement policy (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 59; OECD, 2012, pg. 119). In addition to principalship training, programs for departmental management, level management, subject management, and teacher mentorship are provided, leveraging the potential of teachers as instructional leaders, coaches, and mentors within PLCs, and acknowledging the value of shared-leadership and supportive middle-management in schools (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 166, 172; Grogan, 2013, pp. 322, 337; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 67). The MOE and NIE work closely with schools to assess and track teachers for potential leadership roles and provide a clear plan and process for career development, including support for up to a year of paid, full-time training for selected candidates and funding for international study, meeting the need for foresight in recruitment of school leaders and support of capacity building within the system (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 167; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2; OECD, 2012, pg. 122; Grogan, 2013, pg. 336).
Principals trained by the NIE’s Leaders in Education Programme (LEP) undergo an intensive program focusing on project-based learning in school environments, and are supported by a steward principal, cluster superintendent, and NIE tutor in a field-based approach that supports retention and understanding (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 62-65, 92-93, 169). The curriculum offers modules focused on a number of best practices in school leadership (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 170). Vision building is supported by Hallinger (2003, pg. 64) and Robinson (Grogan, 2013, pg. 306) as being a practice implemented by expert principals. School and community interaction is addressed in the same module and supports parent involvement to increase student achievement (Grogan, 2013, pg. 352). Principal candidates are trained in using data and evidence for decision-making, addressing the ethical need for leaders to base decisions on valid information as an interpersonal value guiding the formation of Open Learning Conversations put forward by Robinson (Grogan, 2013, pg. 110). Modules on team building, team learning, and building human intellectual capital within schools support practices put forward by Fink and Markbolt (Grogan, 2013, pp. 317, 323) and Sergiovanni (Grogan, 2013, pg. 376) as being favorable for improving instruction and student achievement and developing group expertise.
Singapore’s education system and strategy has a long history of success. In 1995, the country ranked 1st on the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) Trends in Maths and Science Studies (TIMSS) for 13-year-olds and has continued to be among the top in subsequent TIMSS studies in 1999, 2003, and 2007 (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 1; OECD, 2012, pg. 114). Singapore placed 4th world-wide in the 2006 Progress in Literacy Study (PIRLS) and was the top performing nation in the 2015 PISA report, ranking highest among all nations in the Science, Reading, Math, and Collaborative Problem-solving categories, with 39% of students global top performers in at least one subject. (OECD, 2018). The IMD World Competitiveness yearbook ranked Singapore in first place for having an education system that meets the needs of a competitive economy (OECD, 2012, pg. 114). Singapore’s success on international standardized tests relative to other nations is undeniable, and an outcome of the country’s commitment to recruiting high-quality teachers and supporting them throughout their careers as ethical, collaborative learners, leaders, and community builders, and rewarding them on the basis of their service to their peers, students, and profession rather than student test scores (MOE, 2015b, pg. 6; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 67). Given the nation’s competitive school culture and commitment to genuine international benchmarking and policy learning, Singapore shows no signs of losing its status as a global top-performer in education in the near future and is likely to remain an exemplar of positive practices in educational leadership (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 70; OECD, 2012, pg. 123; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 59).
Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco: Wiley. Retrieved from: https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca
Hallinger, P. (2003). Reshaping the landscape of school leadership development. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from: http://www.myilibrary.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca?ID=14611
Hargreaves, A., and Shirley, D. (2012). The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence [Kindle for PC version]. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2009). The desired outcomes of education [PDF]. Retrieved from: https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/files/desired-outcomes-of-education.pdf
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2015a). Annexes A to C [PDF]. Retrieved from: https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/21cc/files/annex-21cc-framework.pdf
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2015b). Bringing out the best in every child: Education in
Singapore [PDF]. Retrieved from: https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/about/files/moe-corporate-brochure.pdf
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2017). Every school a good school. Retrieved from:
OECD (2012). Singapore: Thinking ahead. In Lessons from PISA for Japan (pp. 113-131).
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OECD (2014). Singapore. In PISA 2012 results: Creative problem solving (volume v): Students’
skills in tackling real-life problems. OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/978926420870-16-en
OECD (2018). PISA 2015 results in focus. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from:
Sheppard, B., Brown, J., and Dibbon, D. (2009). School district leadership matters. Toronto:
UNDP (2016). Human development report 2016: Human development for everyone: Briefing
note for countries on the 2016 human development report: Singapore. Retrieved from:http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/SGP.pdf
When discussing public education, it seems like there is generally a 'hair-trigger' response, at least in the popular press, to complain about funding and the disconnect between leadership, policy, and what really goes on in the classroom. Though every state or province's public education has room to improve, it's not all bad out there. Ontario, Canada's most populous province (and my home province!) is globally well-regarded for its high student performance on international tests and for its success in managing education in a 'target-driven' climate with high numbers of urban and immigrant students (Hargreaves, 2012, pg. 109).
Ontario’s success is supported by sound leadership strategies to manage capacity building at all levels of leadership, from the Ontario Ministry of Education, tasked with setting targets and providing funding and external expertise, to district leadership, in charge of aligning hiring policies with strategy and supporting schools in learning, to school leaders who create local collaborative learning communities (OECD, 2011, pg. 75).
Ontario’s success begins with teacher and principal preparation. Teachers are selected from the top 30% of graduates and implement a standard provincial curriculum developed by teachers and subject experts (OECD, 2011, pg. 69). In 2008, the ministry initiated the Ontario Leadership Strategy, outlining the skills and traits of effective school leaders and a province-wide appraisal program (OECD, 2011, pg. 76). The province also has a mandated, problem-based principal qualification program including face-to-face mentorship and problems of practice as a basis for learning (Arlestig, Day, & Johansson, 2015, pg. 222; Ontario College of Teachers, 2017, pg. 18; Hallinger, 2003, pg. 62). In Hallinger (2003), Chin states that such an approach promotes understanding and skill-retention (pg. 62) and supports the field-based approach to leadership training (pg. 65) mentioned as a hallmark of effective programs by Littky and Shen (pg. 93).
The Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) Principal Qualification Program Guideline (2017) outlines instruction for the principalship that includes six facets: setting directions, relationships and capacity building, developing the organization, improving instruction, securing accountability, and developing personal leadership resources (pp. 5-7), all of which are cited by Chin, Littky, and Shen as being best practices in principal preparation (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 62-64, pp. 91-92). Robinson further supports shared vision and trust-building via collaborative cultures and exhibited personal integrity as positive leadership practices (Grogan, 2013, pp. 306-308). In Grogan (2013), Fink and Markbolt state the need for instructional leadership in schools (pg. 317) and Sergiovanni highlights the need for teacher capacity-building (pg. 376).
The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat (LNS) and Student Success Division (SSD), created by the Ministry of Education in 2003 and 2004 respectively, work to promote initiatives supporting increased student achievement in Ontario (OECD, 2011, pg. 72). The LNS is tasked with increasing Elementary literacy and numeracy achievement and the SSD with increasing rates of high school completion, both considered prime factors in preparing students for life in the 21st century (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 25). Following the creation of the LNS, and including members as representatives, the “Essential for Some, Good for All” (ESGA) project was initiated by the district-level generated Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) to answer the call of the Education for All (EfA) special education initiative in 2005 (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 130). The implementation of the CODE’s ESGA project was centered around professional learning communities (PLCs) engaged in studying how to leverage Universal Design for Learning and assistive technology to improve academic achievement for special education students, enhance teachers’ capacity and practice, and connect schools across districts (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 112).
The LNS, SSD, and ESGA initiatives are examples of the benefits of strategic leadership promoting integrated policy development and leadership strategies that leverage middle-leadership development and two-way communication and feedback, both laterally and vertically, to foster trust and professional respect between stakeholders at the government, district, and school level (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 26). The LNS, SSD, and ESGA were all created separate from ministry bureaucracy and composed of field-based, relationship-building teams of respected district and school leaders tasked with promoting an integrated, shared vision of improving instruction and data-driven, practice-based collaborative learning with the support of Ontario’s teachers (OECD, 2011, pg. 74; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 129-130). Their expertise and directive to serve as ongoing mentors and confidants rather than evaluators supported their ability to facilitate successful PLCs and support capacity-building in teachers and school administrators through constant feedback and trusting relationships (Grogan, 2013, pp. 299 & 322; Sheppard, Brown, & Dibbon., 2009, pp. 87-88). EQAO testing is implemented as a measure of accountability, but results are not made public and struggling schools receive extra support, not punitive measures (Arlestig, et al., 2015, pg. 228; OECD, 2011, pg. 74) encouraging measured risk-taking (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 97).
At the policy level, ministers worked closely with the government and OECD to develop shared goals among ministers and advisors (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 110; OECD, 2011, pg. 73) and align with other provincial policy strategies when forming the LNS (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 125-126). This strategic leadership relates problems to the wider mission, supports effective PLCs, fosters sustainability and success, and is representative of Caldwell’s ‘boundary spanning” domain of best educational practices (Grogan, 2013, pg. 306; Sheppard et al., 2009, pp. 101-104; Hallinger, 2003, pp. 26-32). The province provided districts with funding and freedom to hire their own Student Achievement Officers (SAOs) and plan autonomously (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 124; OECD, 2011, pg. 74). Districts distributed leadership further by encouraging schools to find solutions to meet local needs, with school leaders encouraging teachers to engage in problem-based learning in PLCs (OECD, 2011, pg. 73-75). The ESGA project was initiated by middle-leadership and sought to further “break down silos” between specialists and teachers at the district and school level while providing mentoring support to each district, a practice that Sheppard et al. (2009, pg. 88) state is conducive to successful professional development learning (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 112). Schools were further encouraged to communicate across districts with other schools facing similar problems (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pp. 129-130).
All three initiatives were resounding successes: the LNS increased provincial pass rates by 15%, the SSD increased secondary school graduation rates by 10% (OECD, 2011, pg. 72), and the ESGA was very successful in decreasing gaps in reading and writing by almost 10% and 20% respectively (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, pg. 113). While Canadian education spending is comparable to other OECD nations, the country ranks in the top 10 in many key categories on the PISA test, especially impressive given the high immigrant population and resource based economy (OECD, 2011, pg. 77; OECD, 2015, pg. 5-7; Arlestig, et al., 2015, pg. 215). Ontario’s approach of strategic policy development, shared vision, distributed leadership, and respect for educators as professionals is an exemplar of leadership development successfully increasing achievement and building capacity in the province’s public education system.
Arlestig, H., Day, C., & Johansson, O. (Eds.). (2015). A decade of research on school principals: cases from 24 countries. Heidelberg: Springer.
Bernard, J., Wade-Woolley, L., Barnes, M. A., Beitel, M. G., Bergeron, B., Bouffard, J., . . . Woloshyn, V. (2005). Education for all: The report of the expert panel on literacy and numeracy instruction for students with special education needs, kindergarten to grade 6. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco: Wiley.
Hallinger, Philip. (2003). Reshaping the Landscape of School Leadership Development. Taylor & Francis.
Hargreaves, A., Shirley, D. L. (2012). The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
OECD (2011). Ontario, Canada: Reform to support high achievement in a diverse context. Lessons from PISA for the United States. OECD Publishing.
OEDC (2015). Pisa 2015: Results in focus. OECD Publishing.
Ontario College of Teachers (2017). Principal’s Qualification Program Guideline.
Sheppard, B., Brown, J., & Dibbon, D. (2009). School district leadership matters. Toronto: Springer.
Global citizenship, like international education, is a popular idea in education (Sutherland, Price, & Harris, 2014, p. 35). As schools try to address the desires of various stakeholders, including business, governments, and NGOs for global citizenship and international education, questions arise as to how best to approach it (Marshall, 2011, pg. 2). Given the different agendas of the actors crying out for global education, from pragmatic and economic concerns to idealist desires for international understanding, it is not an easy question to answer.
To further complicate matters, Cambridge (2014) makes the important observation that whether or not a school provides a truly international education is not solely determined by its status as an international or non-international school (pg. 17). Both accredited international schools and schools teaching national curricula may or may not provide international educations to equal degrees. In fact, even in schools with visions stating a dedication to global citizenship education, it is rarely addressed in the curriculum as written (Sutherland, Price, & Harris, 2014, p. 42).
Berenstein, as cited by Cambridge (2014) outlines how a curriculum might be strongly or weakly framed and classified. A strongly classified curriculum is likely presented as a discrete subject. This approach allows for more teacher autonomy with regards to instruction and assessment (pg. 21). While this offers the potential for individual teachers with a strong global mindset to produce great results in their classroom, conversely, less motivated individuals would have difficulty meeting the goals of the curriculum (Sutherland, Price, & Harris, 2014, pg. 37, 42). This type of learning can be described as 'education about global citizenship' (Cambridge, 2014, pg. 27).
A more integrated approach to global citizenship in which learning crosses subject boundaries and saturates the culture of the school seems to be a more common approach (Sutherland, Price, & Harris, 2014, pg. 43). Many schools, despite working towards visions that support global citizenship, don't mention it in their 'curriculum as written' (pg. 42). Rather, global citizenship education takes place more as 'interstitial learning' present in the school's 'hidden curriculum', the attitudes and disciplines that it supports (Cambridge, 2014, pg. 27). Cocurricular activities that allow students to seek out others experiences and experience global concerns are one approach to providing this (Sutherland, Price, & Harris, 2014, pg. 48) A challenge of this approach is that teachers in such a school must share a similar vision of global citizenship education and approach pedagogy and evaluation in the same way (Cambridge, 2014, pg. 22, 27). This approach can be thought of as 'education for global citizenship', in which students develop values and competencies that support acting as global citizens (pg. 27).
The content of global citizenship education is up for debate as well. Cambridge (2014) outlines two broad categories of values that global citizenship education might support: expressive values and instrumental values. The former include modes of conduct, character traits, and manners that we share when we interact as global citizens. The latter includes skills and knowledge that we can use when interacting (p. 17). Marshall (2011) outlines a number of different agendas that global citizenship education might support, which would likely affect the expressive and instrumental values given priority in different circumstances: capitalists, reformers, environmentalists, networkers, and cosmopolitans (pg. 3).
In my view, one of the most promising approaches to global citizenship programming lies in supporting the development of cosmopolitan citizenship. Generally, it presumes that a connected world community will produce multiple identities in individuals, and takes certain universal human rights to be shared values among all people (Cambridge, 2014, pg. 18). Marshall (2011) provides a list of cosmopolitan capitals that such an approach might support the development of, such as global knowledge of current conditions and issues, different social or economic orientations to global engagement, and global competencies required to interact with the world (pp. 6-7). He cites Andreotti's four types of 'post-colonial' learning for global citizenship (learning to unlearn, listen, learn, and reach out) as competencies that global citizenship education might develop, as well as Rizvi's epistemic virtues of historicity, criticality, reflexivity, and relationality (p. 13).
There is a danger of western bias in creating global citizenship curricula that often locates itself in discourses of modernity and progress (Cambridge, 2014, pg. 20). Eurocentric views of international education often assume that the west is at the center and in possession of Universal knowledge, while other knowleges are 'traditional' (Marshall, 2011, pg. 11). Perhaps approaching global citizenship education as a set of competencies like the ones outlined by Andreotti and Rizvi can help to mitigate this. As Marshall states, the "imagined global futures of adults might not necessarily be appropriate for the next generation" (p. 4). Focusing on metacognitive and inter/intrapersonal skills that allow students to be adaptable learners might be the best global citizenship education, or education in general, that we can hope to provide. Tomorrow's global citizens should be prepared to engage in their own debates about what matters in the world while being fully and critically aware of all of the actors and agendas at work.
Cambridge, J. (2014). Global citizenship education as pedagogic discourse. In Dobson, D. P., & Silova, I. (eds.) Globalizing minds: Rhetoric and realities in international schools. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc. 15-34.
Marshall, H. (2011). Instrumentalism, ideals and imaginaries: Theorising the contested space of global citizenship education in schools. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9 (3-4), 411- 426. Retrieved from http://opus.bath.ac.uk/27859/1/Marshall_Globalisation_Societies_Education_2011_9_3_4_411.pdf
Sutherland, I. E., Price, D., and Harris, D. (2014). Where is global citizenship? How international schools are fulfilling their mission. In Dobson, D. P., & Silova, I. (eds.) Globalizing minds: Rhetoric and realities in international schools. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc. 35-50.
Pearce (2013) argues that the defining characteristic of international schools is their diverse student body (p. 61), highlighting how difficult it is to create a unified 'profile' to describe 'who' the typical international school student is. Hayden (2012) outlines some of the different types of students and schools that can be classified as 'international'; such as national schools with multicultural student bodies resulting from mobility and permanent immigration, temporary immigrants engaged in international tertiary studies, locals studying in international satellite campuses and offshore schools, and children of internationally mobile parents (pg. 59-60). One of the challenges that emerges is the difficulty that international school students have in forming identity in situations where the child and environment are of different cultures (Pearce, 2013, pg. 62). In addition, students of mobile parents may face language acquisition issues depending on the instruction of the schools they attend and their unique language needs (Pearce, 2016, pg. 185).
International school students face challenges forming identity while dealing with cultural dissonance they experience in their studies due to potentially different conventions regarding roles and communication (Pearce, 2013, pg. 62). Most teachers at international schools are nationally educated, often in the United States or the United Kingdom, cultures that may not easily view other cultures as equals (pg. 64-66). In addition, the multicultural upbringing of some international school students can result in the development of normative objectivity (pg. 74), which may result in conflict developing in the classroom due to different value placed on adherence to rules and norms. International teachers as a group tend to be risk takers or committed to internationalism as a group (pg. 63), and this self-selected approach might also lead to conflict with students from cultures that prize other values.
Other challenges can result specifically for Third Culture Kids (TCK), the transient children of internationally mobile parents, who report little connection to any home culture due to frequent migration to new countries and schools (Hayden, 2012, pg. 65). Though these students often move on to tertiary education and ultimately benefit from the language and cultural skills they gain in their migrations, these cross-cultural skills are often learned in response to suffering 'cross-cultural shocks' in youth (pg. 69). Their transiency results in many reporting their concept of 'home' as being bound less to place and more to relationships with loved ones (pg. 68). That said, their ability to form close bonds and relationships may be hampered by unresolved grief due to breaking of relationships due to their mobile existence (pg. 69). Hayden (2012) quotes McKillop Ostrom as stating:
"They tend to mesh and mimic, which cuts down the need to gain acceptance. They travel lightly, entering relationships that are typically short-term and intense, and they develop ease in saying goodbye, leaving very from people from whom they cannot walk away."
Another group of students encountered more and more in international education contexts are host country nationals who have chosen to study in international schools rather than the national educational system. While these students are frequently privileged or children of local elites, this may not always be the case (Hayden, 2012, pg. 65-66). Depending on their socio-economic reality, they may feel privileged among their peers in international schools or out of place due to their local culture and upbringing (pg. 66). Nationals studying in schools with curricula based upon foreign national systems and serving mostly expat student bodies run the risk of rejecting their local traditions and trying to take on the affectations and beliefs of their British or North American schoolmates (pg. 71).
Language issues may arise for both transient TCKs and nationals depending upon the language of instruction of the institutions in which they find themselves studying. The required multiple years of study, up to 7 years, to learn a new academic language, is made difficult to achieve by the frequency with which many international school students move (Pearce, 2016, pg. 185). This can limit their ability to benefit from their studies in general and may hinder their cognition in general (p. 185).
The diversity of student experiences in international schools requires a differentiated approach to meeting student needs that sets aside traditional reliance on cultural typology and approaches student need on a case-by-case basis (Pearce, 2016, pg. 188). Different groups of students will have different needs and experience different dissonances based on their unique situations: The child of two British parents studying in a British international school in their second year abroad will have different needs and experiences than the child of a Chinese father and Dutch mother who is in their final year of secondary studies after a transient life spent abroad who studies at the same insitution (Hayden, 2012, pg. 68). As such, the concept of differentiation is of great value to meeting student needs in international schools and international education contexts in order to minimize the cultural dissonance they face, especially with regard to values education (Pearce, 2013, pg. 65). Individual student observations can help to discover which students have come from groups that are 'good movers' and tolerate change reasonably well (pg. 188), and which students need specific support emotionally or through mother tongue programs to meet language needs (Pearce, 2013, pg. 74).
The stereotype of the wealthy, privileged international school student is one that is perpetuated by the globalist drivers of the expansion of international education and schools worldwide. However, in addition to the fact that the economic spectrum of students enrolled in such institutions is expanding to include and increasingly mobile middle class and local 'aspiring indigenous' learners (Hayden, 2012, pg. 63-64), it is also important to note that despite the economic advantages that many international students enjoy, they also face unique challenges. There may be a tendency to minimize these challenges and the negative effects that international students might suffer due to their privilege. To do so is unfair. Much as the child born into poverty has not had control over their starting conditions in life and shouldn't be judged for having been born poor, so too is the child born wealthy blameless in their privilege. As children of the world and students in our classrooms, they deserve to be cared for and treated as unique and valuable individuals deserving of care and understanding from the teachers and administratiors who serve them.
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Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Director at a private elementary school. in South Korea. Matthew has lived in Seoul since 2004, and is a proud husband and father.