Rethinking what Learning Means

Jeff Bradley
Director, Commission on International Education at NEASC

Rethinking what Learning Means


The College Board cancels dozens of test dates across the globe. More than 1,600 higher education admissions offices drop their standardised testing requirements. Counting ‘seat time’ in schools is sacrificed to keep students safe – and yet still learning. Strict grading rubrics are tossed in favour of simple pass/fail grades. Such bedrock elements of schooling have faced criticisms for generations. It took a global pandemic for some to crumble, or at least to stumble.

So, let’s now ask ourselves, do these once-unassailable features of schooling offer enough benefits to outweigh their drawbacks? Do they deserve to live on post-pandemic? Can we continue to tolerate the many unintended consequences of outdated systems?

Historic intention

Before deciding if some structures and systems have outlived their purpose, it helps to know what their original purpose was. To be sure, much of today’s schooling architecture was erected in times and places facing much different circumstances than we face today. The College Entrance Examination Board – the ‘College Board’ – grew out of the muddle of late 19th century American education, where individual colleges and universities issued separate admissions tests to applicants, and where the quality of high-school preparation in America’s decentralised school system was uneven and unpredictable. A College Board exam gave a standardised and fair opportunity to all applicants. Or did it?

As the US entered World War I, the Army Alpha test was administered to 2 million recruits to help military officials hire, rank, sort and assign its soldiers and staff. That early IQ test with its coolly calculated outputs led directly to the creation of the College Board’s first SAT exam in 1926. Standardised testing and the College Board grew in proportion to the rapidly expanding American middle class and college-bound population. Confidence in how to efficiently organise people and institutions gradually embedded itself in the American landscape, crossing borders as American schooling spread abroad.

Seat time and GPA

The so-called Carnegie Unit, a common measurement reflecting seat time in specific courses toward meeting a required minimum of units – or credits – started as a measuring stick not for learning in schools but for teaching in universities. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s enormous donation to establish a fund for retired professors depended on a reliable standard of time since only full-time professors qualified – hence, teaching time became the standard measure. Soon that same standard migrated to high schools, and to the other side of the classroom where the students sat. And sat. Most student transcripts in US-style high schools around the world still count seat time (i.e., credits – usually 20–25 over a 4-year period in a distribution of subject areas). Since late March, many seat-time counters have simply looked the other way since learning online is not easily measured by seat time.

Single-score ratings – think grade point average (GPA) – arose from the early 20th century fixation with numerical ranking, efficiency and the belief that “the purpose of schools was not to educate all students to the same level but to sort them, according to their innate level of talent,” with weaker and stronger students all deviations from the all-important ‘average’ student. (Rose, 2016) Today, this spotty inheritance from earlier generations of educators and bureaucrats groans under the weight of a global pandemic.

Old habits die hard

Generations of students and recent research suggest that many of our closely held beliefs and structures around schools have outlived their usefulness. Notably, Carnegie Foundation President Henry Suzzallo publicly recognised that their vaunted standards to measure learning were impaired, writing: “None recognizes more clearly than the Foundation that these standards have served their purpose… They should give place to more flexible, more individual, more exact and revealing standards of performance as rapidly as these may be achieved.” When did the President Suzzallo admit this? In 1934! Old habits die hard. To confront old habits and structures that may have outlived their purposes is to bravely face the future. Here’s how we can start:

  • Question our closely held assumptions, including those that powered our own (highly successful, above average!) personal educational journeys.
  • Reflect on the world of today and what our students will face in 5, 10, 20, 30 years when they will have a significant influence on local, national and global matters.
  • Embrace pathways to “more flexible, more individual, more exact and revealing standards of performance,” as relevant an approach as when first articulated 86 years ago.
  • Rethink the role of learning in school. If learning – not test scores, not GPA, not seat time – is what we really value, then we should design everything at school that way. The Mastery Transcript Consortium ( offers a compelling, learning-focused, individualised record of student learning recognised by more and more universities, giving teachers license to focus more on mastery than measurements.
  • Reach out. Our own community of NEASC-accredited schools pursue an accreditation protocol that puts learning at the center and invites frequent sharing and collaboration. Schools are held to clear foundational standards while seeking to live out 10 learning principles; a format that we believe makes sense now and in the future.

A more recent president of the Carnegie Foundation, Lee Shulman, expressed the challenge we all face in moving forward, writing in 2013, “There is nothing simple about measuring the quality of learning. The reason for the robustness of the Carnegie Unit is not that it’s the best measure, just that it’s much more difficult than folks think to replace it.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

About the author

Jeff Bradley is the Director of the Commission on International Education at NEASC Formerly Headmaster of TASIS – The American School in Switzerland, Jeff served as a NEASC Commissioner from 2009 to 2015, and has conducted accreditation visits to dozens of international schools. Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.

Covid 19: Why the Arts?: Now more than ever

Christine Barling
Leader of Learning Arts, MYP Drama/DP Theatre teacher, DP Advisor
Sotogrande International School


Covid 19: Why the Arts? Now more than ever


Featured image by Banksy: Game Changer


I would like to share with you my thoughts about the place of the Arts within this current pandemic and why I believe that to be an Artist &/or part of an audience is more important than ever.


To understand

The Arts are life. Drama, Music, Film, Visual Arts, Dance; they all help us understand the world around us. Through these captured moments we learn more about ourselves and each other. They put life under the lens for us to explore and interpret. The world is FULL of drama right now and to stop and distil the whirl of news and social feeds for a moment allows us to reflect and consider. Through better understanding we can think about how we can best respond. Maybe we want to help bring about change, maybe we want to help support someone struggling or maybe we just need to find a way to get by and through this ourselves. These are challenging times and if we get lost in the stream of facts and stats then we will completely lose a sense of what is really happening and who we really are.


“Science helps us solve problems but the Arts is how we cope with them.” -Street artist David Zinn


Through the study of Verbatim Theatre M4 Drama students created monologues recreating a range of experiences of being in Covid 19 Lockdown.


The Lockdown Monologues performed by M4 Drama students (June 2020)

To be together

We all know how hard it has been being forced away from the people we love or care about. Many have found it very hard being in isolation with restrictions both on our movement and interactions with those around us. The Arts connect us together in a way like no other. Whether it is talking about a new series on Netflix, sitting together in the pre- show buzz of the auditorium or thrashing out power chords jamming as the guitarist in a band we take both solace and delight in having these experiences together. Best of all is when we can actually work together in creative collaboration. Creating a piece of artwork that can be shared with our own community or an even wider audience. This is a challenge with social distancing measures in place but with creative vision and a strong collaborative goal in mind we can break out of this restrictive confinement in a way that is still reaffirming, celebratory and still safe.


A great example is when the M3 Music students worked together to create this dynamic rhythm ensemble – Creating, collaboration, designing, performing, working to a schedule, and of course learning how musical notation works.


Drumming and beats performed & edited by M3 Music students (Oct 2020)


A highly impactful and pertinent exploration of what it can feel like to feel isolated and alone was developed through an M4 piece of film work. Many of us, during this difficult, time have felt strongly about not being allowed to be together. The Arts create an empathetic connection between the Artist and audience that makes us feel that in fact we are not alone and there are many life experiences that, in truth, we go through together.


I am not Alone: Music video by M4 Film student (April 2020)


“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso


2000 years ago the Greek playwright and philosopher explained how an audience could experience catharsis or a kind of emotional purification through a performance experience. This is basically that feeling you get after you have had a tough day and then watch a movie that makes you cry or laugh and you feel a whole lot better afterwards. Stand up comedians are brilliant at doing this for us. They can turn the most horrific narrative on its head and have us in tears of laughter. Humans also have the ability to laugh at themselves and through this self mockery find not only emotional release but a fresh perspective through which to critically analyse a reality which at times is too intense and intent.


Our M2 students have been writing their own scripts inspired by “10 Ways to Escape a Zombie Apocalypse” by Don Zolidis. Creating satirical and ridiculously exaggerated scenes that mock the apocalyptic and dystopian narrative that they are currently having to live through during this pandemic.

With schooling on site shutting down and students in complete confinement they used their fully scripted scenes to write and perform satirical monologues focusing on one of the highly hyperbolic ´stories´ of a protagonist. This was also a great opportunity for some home spun creative explorations of  dramatic production elements.


Monologue by M2 Drama student (March 2020)

Monologue by M2 Drama student (March 2020)


The ability to laugh at ourselves is a unique and very human quality. This hilarious and touching parody of a dinner date is a gentle mockery of the vulnerability and need of us all.


The Dinner Date by M4 Film student (May 2020)


Amidst the stress of exam uncertainty, revising online, submitting final EA coursework the D2 Theatre ensemble took time out to create this gentle mockery of teachers and students learning virtually to share at their D2 graduation event.


Trailer for D2 Theatre Online Learning skit (June 2020)


“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Thomas Merton , No Man Is an Island


Time out. Time out on the pandemic, time out on the positive Covid counts, time out of the ´new norm´.  Enough already! Just a couple of hours in front of a movie, just half an hour to listen to a few tracks on Spotify, just an afternoon alone with a sketch pad and 2B pencil. The Arts transport us to an alternative reality where we can disconnect, realign and recharge.


In DP1 Music students discussed, If you could only take 3 tracks with you into Lockdown, which ones would they be and why? This was very thought-provoking as it raised all sorts of ideas about escapism and connecting with other moments in your life. One D1 Music student chose tracks by Ludovico Einaudi, Drake and Hang Massive. All tracks are very different in terms of genre and instrumentation.


Warmth of the Sun’s Rays by Hang Massive


During lockdown where students were not even allowed to step out of their front gate for nearly 3 months we invited students, parents and staff to submit their best 10 photos of the week to be shared and enjoyed with the community on social media platforms. In total over 1,000 photos were submitted where each and every one was beautifully evocative  in encapsulating a moment within this surreal very personal experience. Through these photos we gained an insight into how this artistic initiative encouraged the individual to step out of their more repressive mental and physical confinement. Escape was through a lens that focused the mind elsewhere and captured an alternative perspective of the reduced world around them, often celebrating the miniature of what they now had time to note: A view from a window, a flower in the garden, a family pet.


These are a selection of the winning photos, judged by our online visiting international professional photographers.


Through the Arts we can choose to transform from passive spectators to the unravelling events to active participants on the stage of life. Knowing how to effectively voice an opinion and present an impactful message is increasingly vital in a society where the authentic voice is drowned out or even manipulated by the barrage of news and social feeds we get on a minute by minute basis. Never was truer a word said than “Don´t believe all you read in the (pandemic) papers.” It may all be ´good and true´ but we should be a questioning audience who can voice an opinion response to what we have been told. Through the Arts we ourselves gain a sense of audience and develop the ability to take ownership of how we ourselves want our own voices to be heard. Often this voice is not a personal one as we step into someone else’s shows to explore, interpret and present alternative perspectives and ethical viewpoints


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas


In M3 Drama SIS students explored the work of Brazilain theatrical practitioner Augosto Boal and Forum Theatre to analyse their own assumptions and investigate the perspectives of those around them. These were then voiced in performance work that asked the audience to consider the impact of messages conveyed through social media.

Three step collaborative, visual exploration of Boal´s alternative narrative structure. Individuals drew on ubiquitous experiences – social distancing and mask wearing – to asynchronously formulate the story of a dog that is adopted and confused by a family voluntarily wearing muzzles. This led to a practical exploration and analysis of the different perspectives considered during the creative process (May 2020)


….or even rediscover. Through the Arts we learn more about ourselves and the people around us. Through creative exploration we can develop and present shared experiences and narratives. Recognising or recalling moments that we have in common. Being taken on a journey of another person or travelling down a path of personal self discovery is life affirming and provides us with comfort in troubled times.

Our M1 Visual Arts students were asked to recall a moment of feeling loved. These moments were recreated using the soft and warm focus of Impressionist artistic technique. With some young (and older) people feeling unsafe and insecure, how validating to remember that we are loved and cared for.

Moments of Feeling Loved by M1 Visual Arts students (Oct 2020)

The artwork below is a by SIS DP2 Visual Arts student (March 2020) exploring the concept of how the artist can symbolise the constant liminality of identity and therefore symbolise how herself as a young girl is drifting into the unknown. The self discovery of your identity as you come of age and grow up. Representing this in a body of water helped convey fluidity of how identity is always changing and the path to self discovery is constantly in flow.


Floating into Abyss By Leonie Withoeft 


You may have seen the latest viral trend. Doctors, students, firemen, famous pop artists…all recreating a South African Wedding choreography to the song Jerusalma. Someone asked me “ Why do you love this so much? What is the point of it?” That is EXACTLY why I love it so much. There is no point as such. In a world so meaningfully serious and ridden with viral anxiety, how wonderful to celebrate life in a way that is essentially meaningLESS and so joyful. The Arts remind us that there is light in the darkness of all this madness and reason. Reason enough is just reason for being. The joy of being here, now and in the moment.


All our M3 students joined together to recreate Jerusalema in a moment of pure, uncomplicated enjoyment.

Jerusalema Dance by M3 students (Sept 2020)


Arts is all about expression. Self-expression, group expression, expression of the other. Artists take risks in exposing a truth that cannot or would not otherwise be seen or heard. A truth that often needs to be shared. The Arts are a highly impactful platform through which to communicate something essential about ourselves and/or the world around us. Through this expression, we can learn and grow and often bring about change for the better.


During Lockdown DP1 Music students were looking at atonal music and serialism. This music was developed by Arnold Schoenberg following a difficult period in his own life but it also gained popularity following WW1 as it was felt that it reflected the emotions of people at that time.


DP2 Music student composition using serialism and the twelve tone scale to express anxieties caused by Lockdown (Sept 2020)



´Leap of Faith´

Photograph by D2 SIS Visual Arts student (March 2020)


Good Art brings about change, even if only in the most infinitesimal amount. Good art changes the way we see the world and/or the ways in which we see ourselves. Good Art makes us want to bring about change. It prompts us to action for the better of ourselves or others. Arts can also be personally transformational and even more so if you are involved in the creative process itself. Making Art can make you more confident, more expressive, more knowing and more empathetic. Whilst many of us are coping with a loss of identity and a confusion of emotions as we wonder what kind of person we want to be throughout this time of crisis, Art can help us become the best versions of ourselves.


Afternoon written and performed by M3 Film student exploring the concept of relationships and making personal connections.


One Minute Movie by DP1 Film Student exploring how even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference for those struggling during this pandemic.


I would like to ask all those data-driven, stern and apocalyptic voices out there “How can being an Artist NOT be vitally important given the way of the world at the moment?” “Who else is going to fill the huge void left if we slice out the soul of our society?”  As a teacher and parent, I believe more than ever before that we need to help our children find a way to source, access and become involved in some form of artistic outlet. I would like to ask YOU as an adult in this struggling world to do everything you can to help the next generation find their creative voice and encourage them to shout, dance, act, rap or blaze in a bold array of colours across this grasping world of ours.


When things seem to be falling apart around us we look to each other and we look to the Arts. It is now that we need to see, hear and feel the Arts more than ever.


The examples of linked work above have been created since the outbreak of Covid 19 by MYP1-DP2 Arts students at Sotogrande International School. Some of these were experiences created whilst all of our students were confined within their homes for 3 months and some are from when most were able to return to school, with some still joining the creative explorations as online students working virtually.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Christine Barling teaches MYP Drama and DP Theatre and is Leader of Learning for the Arts at Sotogrande International School, Spain.  Even in a non ´new-norm´ world, Christine is a staunch supporter of how the key skills taught through the Arts are absolutely essential in helping students become fully effective people and learners. Christine also is a strong believer in using the Arts as a platform for change and for better understanding the world around us. When returning to site after lockdown she started the term thinking we should just temporarily  ´move to bin´ Drama…considering all the restrictions of masks, distancing and limited movement.  Better to give the drama studio over to put out desks 1.5 metres apart for other subjects so desperately searching for more space? How wrong she now knows she was! As the term has unravelled it has become more apparent than ever how important the Arts are for the well being of our students. Every Arts teacher out there will testify that delivering an Arts lesson in Drama, Dance, Film, Visual Arts or Music is far from easy at the moment but even on the most difficult of days we all know deep down that does not mean it does not need to be done.

Museums and Teachers

Joe Nutt
Author and Educational Consultant


Museums and Teachers


The recent appointment of Dr Douglas Gurr as Director of the Natural History Museum in London caught the attention of some news channels because of his unusual background. A senior executive at Amazon UK (he was President of Amazon China from 2014 to 2016) he worked as a partner at consultancy firm McKinsey, was Board Director at Asda-Walmart and the founder and CEO of internet start-up Blueheath. However stick-in-the-mud or rigid his colleagues may have been, I can’t imagine he had many dealings with fossils or stuffed Dodos in any of those jobs. His previous roles include teaching mathematics and computing at the University of Aarhus in Denmark and he has two degrees in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in Computing from the University of Edinburgh. None of which seems to point to him being the kind of person any museum would regard as a key leader. In all fairness, he was Chair of the Board of the Science Museum from 2010 to 2014 too, but his appointment made me sit up and pay attention because of something I’ve written about before.

In my most recent book, I argued that English teaching is now dramatically out of synch with the real world of English usage, a world dominated by technology. As one of Eton’s own English teachers recently discovered, when one of his online lectures resulted in his dismissal; almost everything you do with English these days is mediated by the technology you use to do it. So I can completely see why The Natural History Museum might want someone with a strong technology background at the helm. But I wonder if anyone there, or indeed in the wider cultural heritage sector, has really thought through the umbilical link between the astonishing wealth of material they own and maintain on behalf of the nation, and education.

Over decades, my work has involved partnering on several projects with a number of leading museums, galleries and archives. I discovered that if you are tasked with implementing a new educational project reliant on technology, one thing you can guarantee is an interest from museums, galleries and other collections. Many of these organisations have annual targets to meet that involve schools and visits. They are all incentivised to get teachers and children through their doors. One major museum I worked with had a laboratory teaching space, sponsored by a famous global brand, which most schools would die for. It was empty most of the time. In fact, so concerned were they about how difficult it was to get schools through their doors, they had funded a white van and a man whose job was to go out to schools. A wise investment because most of his trips resulted in a return visit by the school, to the museum.

A member of the British Museum staff told me she found it exasperating that school visits were so tightly determined by the curriculum that their Egyptian galleries were crowded for example, while the rest of that vast museum, remained largely untrodden by tiny feet. It’s a depressing truth, but schools do not benefit as much from the immense treasures and resources owned by the cultural and heritage sector, as they should.

The Victorians who actually built the Natural History Museum and most of our great galleries and archives knew something of immense educational significance we’re at risk of forgetting. They grasped the educational value of a physical artefact. They knew that contemplating a fossil, an illuminated manuscript or even a stuffed Dodo was fundamentally an educational experience because, at the very least, it added to one’s knowledge. Their desire to collect and catalogue was extraordinary and, as any curator will tell you, what’s on display today is a minute fraction of what we possess. The material stored up in the sector is educationally priceless.

If you’re a teacher, think for a moment about the way you might put a lesson together. I know from my own experience that many of the best lessons I taught were so often simply a matter of choice. Innumerable lessons were constructed around a single or series of educational assets, which, because I was an English teacher, often meant texts or extracts from larger texts. Choose something dull and you only have yourself to blame. But English teaching also offers you enormous scope to use assets that enhance the texts and, to resort to what I hope is a forgivable cliché; bring them to life. Images of authors, places, scenes and facsimiles of original documents, all have tremendous power in the English classroom. Imagine you are teaching a tiny little poem like Tennyson’s The Eagle, for example, six of the most compact lines of verse in the English language.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt, he falls.

Now imagine how much educational value is added by looking at an image of an Eagle, viewing a video clip, or simply an ornithological illustration; especially in an urban school. These asset choices are so often the key to good lessons because what matters, is the relationship you have with them. You choose them because they captivate or appeal to you. That’s what it means to own the lesson. Any teacher who has ever tried teaching someone else’s lesson will understand this immediately. I’ve no doubt the same basic principle about choice of asset is just as true of music, science or history, as it is of English teachers.

If I’m right, then there is indeed an umbilical connection between teaching and the entire cultural and heritage sector. Archives, galleries, museums are in essence, repositories of knowledge. If you think about conventional textbooks in a whole range of subjects, isn’t this partly what they do? The best textbooks are full of reproductions of these assets, often objects held in our most famous collections. Even science textbooks find invaluable material in these knowledge repositories. A slight sketch or illustration by Darwin is just as valuable as a Shakespeare Folio.

Many institutions have already digitised their collections and made them far more accessible and I’m sure the appointment of Dr Gurr by the Natural History Museum was partly in the hope that he might advance the technology cause even further. But I have a much more radical suggestion.

Why do we not actually educate our secondary school teachers in our great cultural institutions? Why not relocate the secondary teacher training industry, which is already under considerable scrutiny by government (in England at least) to the places where knowledge is stored?

Consider the message that would convey about the teaching profession to the wider population. Instead of being taught generic pedagogy and remote theory at a university, and then finding you have to completely relearn the job in real schools, as so many NQTs in recent years have claimed was their experience; teachers could be linked from the outset to prestigious institutions and organisations that own the educational assets which will form the centre of so many of their lessons to come.

We have become used to complaints from the museum and galleries sector about the shortage of funds. Would it really be impossible to transfer money and responsibility for teacher training to them, especially given that so much digitisation has already taken place and their assets are more easily located and shared than ever? The university sector is already bloated and being criticised widely for developing a wide range of courses the real world simply doesn’t value.

For far too long, schools have been unwitting victims of technology change, not beneficiaries. The history of technology in education has largely been one big con, repurposing tools designed entirely for business and pretending they have education value. It would be easy to compile a long list of tools and applications here that begins with Powerpoint. If appointing a technologist to lead The Natural History Museum is going to replay the same old con trick yet again, I’m definitely not interested. But if it’s going to make the treasures it holds in trust for all of us, more available and powerful, I’m all for it. Maybe the best way is for them all – to start training teachers.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Joe Nutt is the author of several books about the poetry of Donne, Milton and Shakespeare and a collection of essays, The Point of Poetry. His most recent book, Teaching English for the Real World was published in May by John Catt.

He is an international educational consultant who spent almost 20 years teaching, unusually in schools ranging from the highly selective, private sector to challenging, inner-city state schools. The second half of his career has been in business and he has implemented a number of major educational projects including the national intranet for Scotland, Glow, which won the Global Learning Impact Award in 2009.

The Public Perception of Teachers

Joe Nutt
Author and Educational Consultant

The Public Perception of Teachers

Even while teachers continue to battle on as key workers, and some state schools buckle and close under the pressure of trying to operate effectively under politically imposed restrictions, curiously the profession remains in the public and press firing line. All kinds of voices have been raised against teachers, even in the midst of such remarkably difficult circumstances.

Which got me thinking hard about why teachers so often polarise opinion and provoke negative reactions amongst none teachers, because like it or not, they do.

A company I worked for some years ago set up a regular event to invite leading educational figures to talk to its senior managers about current educational issues. I invited an extremely high profile headteacher to one of these events and on this occasion, almost everyone in the business with a senior role was there. Nonetheless, my guest addressed a room full of experienced, professional businessmen and women, as though he was teaching an A level Economics class – bottom set.

I recognised immediately, as an ex-teacher myself, that his tone and demeanour were exactly the same he used in his own classroom. Yet throughout he appeared totally unaware of this, as well as the detrimental effect he was having. He simply could not abandon his role as the single voice of authority in any physical space. It was as though someone had secretly flicked a teacher switch, located somewhere on his spine, the moment he stood in front of the lectern.

His gaze wandered infuriatingly somewhere midway between the ceiling and the adults sitting politely in front of him but never engaged with them. Statements were delivered relentlessly, one after another, as though no one could possibly challenge them and I can vividly remember the parade of glowering faces that left the room. For around forty-five, deeply uncomfortable minutes, instead of helping them better understand the market they all worked in, he successfully confirmed every negative prejudice those professional adults already had about teachers. As one of a small number of ex-teachers working for that company, in less than an hour he had made my job exponentially more difficult.

I finally grasped what is really going on much more recently while watching a CPD event the pandemic had forced to go online, delivered by a teacher. The software application he was using allowed viewers to see the presenter in a tiny window, at the same time as he was writing on a larger whiteboard. The content was fine. It was informative, relevant and interesting but his tone, even online, really grated because it was exactly the one he would have used talking to twelve-year-olds. He didn’t shift register at all to match his adult audience, even whilst occasionally using a researcher’s vocabulary. Even though none of us were in the same room and everything was done digitally, the experience was no different from the one I’d unwittingly imposed on colleagues, at my previous employer.

I suppose you could argue this might not matter in the least if you’re a teacher addressing other teachers, but if you’re being interviewed on the BBC’s flagship news programme Today, because you’re the leader of the largest teachers’ organisation in the country, it might be wise to understand this. It might stop you from replying to every question from Nick Robinson with the barked imperative, “Listen” as though you are reprimanding a rude toddler. Because that is exactly what Mary Bousted, the CEO of the NEU did, in the middle of round two of her union’s bare-knuckle fight with the government over Covid policy. What Radio Four listeners made of it I can only imagine, because she did nothing to enhance the public perception of teachers.

If I needed any confirmation that I was right about this, then it came even more dramatically, when I was attending another online educational event. It wasn’t long before I was witnessing yet another teacher doing exactly the same and I was so frustrated I tweeted this: A general plea to all teachers ever put in the position of delivering a presentation to any adult audience. Please don’t use exactly the same tone and register you would use talking to twelve-year-olds. It is so off-putting.

It struck an immediate chord, judging by the reaction. But far more interestingly, it earned me immediate removal from the event by the organiser, who was clearly not prepared to tolerate even anonymised criticism, as I made sure not to put the link to the event in my tweet which the organisers had asked everyone to use.

If teachers really want the public perception of them to improve, they need to understand the real world much better. They need to appreciate that addressing adults requires they think extremely carefully about how they go about it.

There are undoubtedly aspects of their routine work that can transfer effectively to the real world. The confidence it takes to address an audience; the ability to structure information so that it’s easily assimilated; emphasis, repetition and even humour, are all tools good teachers routinely carry with them. But all of these count for nothing if you don’t grasp that grown-ups expect to be addressed as such.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Joe Nutt is the author of several books about the poetry of Donne, Milton and Shakespeare and a collection of essays, The Point of Poetry. His most recent book, Teaching English for the Real World was published in May by John Catt.

He is an international educational consultant who spent almost 20 years teaching, unusually in schools ranging from the highly selective, private sector to challenging, inner-city state schools. The second half of his career has been in business and he has implemented a number of major educational projects including the national intranet for Scotland, Glow, which won the Global Learning Impact Award in 2009.

The Senior Leadership Team: Collaboration and Communication

Duncan Partridge
Leadership Coach & Mentor


“Generally, I think we’re quite good at communication in our school. Feedback suggests that our home and educator communities feel informed and are satisfied with the systems we have in place. However, I do have a concern about our Senior Leadership Team meetings. It’s hard to get everybody together as often as I’d like. And when we do, there’s always so much to go through. I don’t think any of us is very satisfied with our meetings. We’ve established some protocols in terms of agendas and minutes, as well as listening to each other and not interrupting. But I still don’t think we’ve got it right.”

Fatima, International School Headteacher


What’s going on here? Fatima has an experienced and talented team around her and everyone is committed to working together to move the school forward, yet still, she feels they are underperforming in meetings. A lack of time, as well as the general pressures of running a school are very likely to be significant contributory factors. But maybe there is an additional explanation for what is happening. A professional meeting is a complex sociological phenomenon where numerous influencing factors come into play. When we are aware of a particular dynamic or behaviour that is derailing a meeting, we can take measures to correct matters. However not all such factors are immediately apparent and often we struggle to identify what is going wrong.


Developing an awareness of our communication palate, the ‘voices’ we use when we are engaging with our colleagues is an important starting point for putting things right. We all have our own favoured talk styles, default approaches which we deploy in meetings and other interactions. Gaining insight into what these styles are and the extent to which we use them is the first step to being able to consciously manage their deployment. Self-awareness of our go-to communication styles can help us to tailor our approach, ensuring we are not using them inappropriately or excessively.


Similarly, by developing an understanding of where the ‘gaps’ are in our talk palate, we can work to bring greater variety and flexibility to our interactions.


One way of gaining such insight is through Voice-Print, a model which defines 9 ‘voices’, which everyone uses to greater or lesser extents in their professional interactions. Through the Voice-Print self-assessment, the characteristic but usually unconscious patterns in the use of these voices are surfaced. Armed with their Voice-Print profiles, school leadership teams can use a common language to monitor, analyse and modify the way they are communicating.

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Voice-Print can also help teams to identify each other’s ‘hot buttons’ when it comes to communication. Each of the nine voices has a ‘dark side’, an unhelpful counterpart which can be perceived by colleagues if a particular voice is being over or inappropriately used. So for example, someone who uses the ‘advocate’ voice a lot is in danger of being seen as preaching by some members of the team. Similarly, a person who has a tendency towards employing ‘probe’ is at risk of coming across as intruding. The secret to development here is not to stop using certain voices, simply to be aware of how often and when the voices are being used and crucially to be aware of the impact of one’s approach on others.


Communication and collaboration are at the heart of effective practice and leadership in international education; indeed one of the International Baccalaureate Standards for IB World Schools is: ‘The school promotes open communication based on understanding and respect’. This sort of high-quality communication is especially important at a senior level in international schools, in order to ensure leadership teams are truly harnessing their strengths for the purpose of improving student learning.


Fatima and her colleagues, as skilled and committed as they are, could well be underperforming as a team because of a lack of awareness of themselves and each other as communicators. A better understanding of how approach and expression impact conversations could enable them to improve their collaborative potential, to the benefit of everyone in the community.


Another international school head demonstrated this when he spoke about the impact a ‘voice aware’ approach had on his own team’s work:

“An organisation which seeks to teach effective communication skills to young people should be acutely aware of how well it communicates with itself. At Senior Management Team level we have already noticed a difference in terms of our awareness of each other’s profiles and how we move forward meetings that might otherwise have got ‘stuck’.”





Duncan Partridge is a leadership coach and mentor working with international schools. Duncan has held headship roles in three international schools and has also been Director of Education at two education third sector organisations.

Duncan is a qualified coach and Voice-Print practitioner

He can be contacted at:

QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Maurice Dimmock, Chairman, ASIC Accreditation


QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Effective, internal quality assurance has never been more critical to the successful governance and running of a school. In a time of crisis, as normal daily challenges are compounded and new ones are seemingly never-ending, the foundations a school is built and run on are crucial in maintaining a strong sense of community and in achieving desired outcomes for pupils. From what I have witnessed in communicating with our schools, and in undertaking remote inspections throughout the pandemic, there are three key characteristics which signal a school is weathering the crisis better than others.

Adaptive. The schools who were already champions of innovation, and who actively nurture this attitude in their operations, have found the shift to online teaching and governance the easiest.

Collaborative. Those with established links and partnerships with other schools and sector networks (with whom to share best-practice) have found much-needed reassurance and support throughout the pandemic.

Robust and healthy leadership. Schools who have strong leadership and governance, with clarity of vision, ethos, and direction have been able to draw upon their defining characteristics and maintain both purpose and effective communication with pupils, parents, staff, and their local communities.

It is a difficult time, and with much being outside of a school leaderships control, it can be tempting to assert and direct to get things done. However, though it may seem easier to pull rank and dictate (often done with good intentions of improving accountability and streamlining processes) this method breeds dissatisfaction and eventual distrust in leadership. Over time this erodes the school’s sense of fellowship, harming pupils, staff, and outcomes. Instead, we find that schools who have continued to operate with the guiding principles of quality, equity, and collaboration have found it possible to continue to work efficiently in pursuit of their goals, whilst also strengthening their school’s community.

While it seems hard to take time amidst chaos to sit back and take stock, it is a far greater task to battle against the consequences of lost time and opportunity. The health of your school’s leadership and operation needs attention now. ASIC does not believe in busywork, and all the questions we ask below, if acted upon, have proven benefits for a school’s operation and reputation. The areas covered below are by no means exhaustive, nor will one school be facing identical challenges to another. My advice is to reflect on which areas may have been overlooked or need raising with the schools governing board.


School Leadership health check:

Governance and Management, Quality Assurance and Enhancement

  • Are you ultimately operating and making decisions in line with pupils’ best interests and outcomes?
  • Do you continue to govern inclusively, welcoming feedback and input from a diverse range of voices and experiences?
  • How is the leadership and governance of the school continuing to set and safeguard high standards and expectations?
  • In your response to the pandemic, is the school’s vision and mission reflected consistently in both its policies and practices? If not, why? What are you doing to address this?
  • Have you taken the time to review your risk assessment, learning from the current difficulties to ensure the school meets future challenges with knowledge and hindsight gained from this experience?
  • Do not neglect self-evaluation; the pandemic will have shed light on both areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. Are you continuing to evaluate the impact of decisions made? Is this being fed into the school’s self-improvement plan?
  • Parental engagement (in addition to representation on the governing board) can have a sizable positive impact on children’s learning. Is the school continuing to communicate and seek the views of parents and caregivers, including disadvantaged families, ex-pat families, and families where the school’s language of instruction is not the family’s first language? How are you demonstrating, and feeding back, that these views are acknowledged?

Student welfare, learning, teaching, and systems management

  • There are inherent challenges in remote learning, particularly for vulnerable, SEND, and disadvantaged children. Are these pupils and their caregivers being catered for (as best you can) in decisions made?
  • Have you re-assessed your safeguarding policies and arrangements?
  • With more learning being undertaken online, and often without supervision, how is the school ensuring that it keeps pupils safe from bullying, harassment, and online grooming? Is your school aware of the risks of extremism/radicalisation; how are you building awareness, and resilience, to this in your pupils?
  • Are global citizenship activities still taught alongside the curriculum?
  • How is a sense of community being fostered?
  • Are international students at risk of isolation; if so, how are you making sure that this is not the case?
  • How have you adapted your record-keeping of attendance, behaviour, and bullying? How are you monitoring behaviour, progress, and attainment of all pupils?
  • Which groups of pupils are the highest and lowest performing? Why is this? The achievement gap is growing for the most disadvantaged pupils, do you have credible plans for addressing this? How will you know if current approaches are working and how will the impact of decisions and interventions be monitored?
  • Is the school still encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle for its pupils and staff? There are many extra-curricular activities and sports which may not be practical to run at present, but can you share materials to encourage additional learning and engagement at home? Are you using your networks and partnerships with other schools and bodies to full advantage?

Staff welfare and resources

  • Whether you are still teaching remotely or are back in the classroom, you can use these experiences to assess how you holistically teach soft skills and digital skills alongside the curriculum. Do you have staff who have been previously reluctant to embrace technology? Encourage them to see that they are helping to teach and shape the attitudes of a generation who will need digital skills as standard in their futures. Can you provide more support and training?
  • Are you continuing to hold all staff, including leadership, accountable for their conduct and professionalism?
  • Are teachers and support staff being used as effectively and efficiently as possible and in line with best practice and guidance?
  • To what extent are staff reporting a positive culture? If they report dissatisfaction, are you taking steps to understand why this is so and change your approach if necessary?
  • Are you continuously seeking feedback about work/life balance and understanding that this can change for individuals over time?
  • Conversations with parents to alleviate concerns and to assess the impact on individual pupils are more important than ever. Do staff have time to do this?
  • How are you reviewing workloads and ensuring tasks are completed to a high standard, whilst streamlining and dropping unnecessary activities?


Strong leadership and governance set the expectations and standards of a school. Quality assurance involves the systematic review of all areas of educational provision to maintain and improve its quality, equity, and efficiency – this is more important than ever in times of crisis. Schools must also look past the current pandemic to the future. The skills and capabilities which their pupils need for fulfilment and development, for further study and employment, and for social inclusion and engaged citizenship, must not be compromised by the challenges of the present.

I urge school leaders to ultimately concentrate on what matters – making decisions regarding safeguarding and outcomes in the interests of your pupils and their futures. Communicate effectively with staff, parents and caregivers, and your pupils about how you will achieve this (alongside explaining the limitations that you face) and ask for their help in trying to address any problems you encounter. At ASIC, we work on the premise that quality assurance is about people and attitudes. If, in your leadership, you take people along with you, nurturing collective responsibility and accountability, your school and its pupils will make it through this period of uncertainly stronger, quicker to adapt, and more resilient. Traits the world needs from its citizens more than ever.


For more information about ASIC Accreditation for International Schools, and how our services can help you, please get in touch with us at or call UK office-hours 09:00-17:00, Mon-Fri, on +44 (0)1740 617 920.




Maurice Dimmock is the Chairman of the Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities (ASIC) and the ASIC Group of Companies. He has 40+ years of experience of working in education, with this expertise grounded in working at all levels in the sector throughout his career. He has taught at schools, colleges, and universities as well as leading institutions as both Head of Sixth Form and College Principle, before becoming more involved in development and project management in his role as Director of International Development and as International Project Manager at universities in the UK and overseas. He has a diverse and comprehensive consultancy portfolio, having worked as a consultant for universities, governments, the World Bank, and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS World University Rankings.)

Picking up after an unsuccessful college experience

Dan McManmon

President, College Internship Program (CIP)


“I have had nothing but negative experiences when it comes to school. I went to a university, flunked out because I was struggling with depression. I didn’t eat, sleep, shower, etc. So I went back to community college and failed the next semester. Went to another university, where I am at currently and I see the same pattern of me failing to attend class. I go at first, then I’ll miss once, and then I’m too ashamed to go back.”

Does this story sound familiar?

Failing in college as a teen or young adult with learning differences is a stressful time for the entire family. Parents have already invested countless hours obtaining a diagnose and related services, attending and advocating at IEP meetings, securing accommodations, creating transition plans, planning social time, dealing with legal matters, and much more.

The student may experience failure internally and become depressed or anxious about their future, making it more difficult to motivate them to pursue a productive path forward.

When things don’t go as planned at the college level, it’s a good time to…

Step Back & Look at the Alternatives

Because of the developmental delay that often coexists with a learning disability, many young people with special needs are simply not prepared to manage the transition to college, even after making great strides during high school or while living at home. To quantify this further, about 40% of students who enrol in CIP’s transition programs have come after having a failed college experience.

When young people with learning differences experience this type of failure, it’s important to pick up the pieces as soon as possible and not allow the situation to define the individuals self-worth or long term outlook.

At CIP we continually reinforce that those with learning differences are made for good purpose and inherently valuable — meaning that they have strengths and challenges just like everyone else and deserve opportunities to define their own lives in the way that works best for them.

The most common scenarios that cause an unsuccessful college experience for young adults with learning differences are:

  1. The inability to manage executive functions (such as time management, organization, and multi-step planning)
  2. Social isolation (often seen in the form of excessive video games or electronics usage)
  3. Difficulty managing ADLs (Activities of Daily Life) such as laundry, hygiene, and money management
  4. Not having the self-advocacy skills to ask for help such or the self-disclosure skills to share that they learn differently than others
  5. Mental health issues such as elevated anxiety and/or depression (often due to a combination of the above)

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Often all these factors can occur in the first couple of months in college, and parents are surprised to find out that their academically bright student was not prepared for reality of what is required to self-manage in a new setting with completely new expectations.

Examining Expectations

The classic college experience is not for everyone. Many people with learning differences such as ADHD develop special interests and/or specialized skills and talents that can serve as productive pathways to a more independent and financially sustainable lifestyle (albeit sometimes these can serve as escape routes too). Tapping into these areas of interest often generates motivation, drive, and progress.

Individuals with neurodiverse learning issues can experience great success, but this often takes trial and error, and unfortunately, much of the research shows that generally, lifespan outcomes for those with learning differences are poor. Therefore, a holistic support system that works to meet the individual at their present level understands their underlying needs, focuses on self-determination as the end goal, and provides an abundance of opportunities to facilitate mentors and friends is considered “best-practice” by many in the field of transition services.

The primary features of a productive educational program or support system often includes:

  • A setting that overall reinforces adult behaviour and is flexible enough to recognize and reinforce positive behaviours and incremental gains over rules and regulations
  • An independent living setting that allows for increasingly more independence in ones living setting but has close oversight and proactively deals with common issues before they escalate
  • Access to a variety of higher education and employment pathways and encourages hands-on exploration through volunteering or internships
  • Specialized supports and programming that are individualized to the person’s needs
  • A diverse yet close-knit group of participants that maintain an overall focus on growth
  • Experienced staff members who receive a multitude of relevant training and work closely as a team

There are numerous examples of highly successful people with learning differences. (Check out this slideshow of famous people with learning differences created with the help of Judy Bass, founder of Bass Educational Services).

Conducting Your Needs Assessment

Researching and planning for your young adult’s next moves can be difficult as access to information is not generally available. Many families turn to their trusted friends and advisors or utilize the services of an educational consultant to help determine good fitting alternatives.

Many families begin to ask questions such as: Is college really the best pathway? Would vocational training be a better option? What strengths and challenges are unique to my young adult and how will they be addressed in an educational setting? Will my student be happy?

Identifying Programs or Services

Once you’ve identified and priority areas that are important to your family, it’s time to start to look at your options. But before you jump in, first take a look at the variety of alternatives that exist:

Types of Programs & Services

From support programs developed at colleges to residential or gap year programs, there exist many solutions depending on who you talk to. However, the most important piece of making a well-planned transition back into college, employment, and life are to base realistic goals on an individual’s dreams and aspirations.

  • Summer Programs: Shorter-term experiences in a more relaxed environment usually focusing on socialization and fun
  • Therapeutic Programs: May be especially helpful if underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression are larger factors
  • Vocationally-Based Programs: For families primarily looking for employment preparation or on-the-job support
  • Colleges with Support Programs: Provide support options alongside a typical college experience
  • Gap Year or PG Programs: Provide a development or enrichment year prior to moving on to a college or vocational program
  • Transition Programs: Specialized and individualized support programs that typically provide an array of social, academic, life skills, and counseling services individualized to ones needs with supported residential living setting

Conducting Your Search

Many families head to the internet, ask friends and family members, or get advice from their student’s therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. There are a few things to consider when conducting your search:

Involve Your Student

You are probably saying “easier said than done”, however even the slightest involvement can go along way to involve your student in the search for a “good fitting” support option. Focusing on the specific interests of the student can be motivating for them and keep them within their comfort zone. Preplanning and going over expectations can lessen anxiety for all. Have your student come up with a few questions that they can ask in advance. Try to avoid early mornings, traffic, long periods without snacks or refreshments, and give plenty of downtime when touring or visiting

Enlist the Help of an Educational Consultant

A person or team of people who have highly specialized knowledge of programs and services for young adults with LDs and can guide a family through the process of identifying a great option based on the student’s unique needs. (IECA provides reputable options)

Dig Deeper

While many websites offer great content and overviews, typically families will begin by having an exploratory phone call with a program, then arranging a virtual or in-person visit as a next step. These calls and visits allow families to ask important questions. Many programs suggest that the prospective student attends to visit.

Tip: Download this Shopping for a Program Checklist to help identify the various features and benefits of different programs and services as you research your options.

Making the leap from adolescence into young adulthood is a critical step in one’s life and sets the course for future years to come. Failure and challenges will happen and are part of being an adult. Building the knowledge, tools, and resilience to continue one’s journey as a happy and productive person is the real goal for all of us and should be a priority in your journey ahead.




As President of the College Internship Program (CIP), Dan strives to achieve long-term vision and alignment with CIP’s core values and founding principles by ensuring operations, marketing, strategy, and programming are effectively implemented across the organization.

The College Internship Program (CIP) is a comprehensive transition program that has specialized in the educational needs of teens and young adults with autism and learning differences for over 35 years, offering year-round and summer transition programs across the US since 1984.

Building a Culture of Inclusion

Anu Monga, Founder & Chairperson at TAISI, Former Head of School, Bangalore International School


When we speak of inclusive education, we refer to an approach in which children with different skills, needs, strengths and weaknesses learn together. The school adapts and integrates the specific learning requirements of students. Not only are differences valued but, more importantly, they are celebrated. As an administrator, I have been trying my best to put inclusiveness into action. While the word ‘inclusion’ can easily be found in every international school setting as part of the vision, mission, curriculum, or learning principles, we need to ask ourselves whether it is reflected in the school itself.


Journey to inclusion


I could say that my journey began very accidentally twenty years ago, when on the day of my interview for the position of Head of School, while walking around the school to get a feel of the space, I saw a boy sitting outside the classroom and felt that something was not right. When I asked the teacher why he was excluded from the classroom, she mentioned that the child was not able to understand anything and that handling him was beyond her capacity. Later on, I got to know that he had cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. Shaken by the incident, I went inside the office and expressed to the School Board that if I was hired, I would like to ensure that this would not happen again, after which they gave me a green signal to initiate a change.

The first thing I did was to hire special educators, which marked the beginning of the Learning Centre journey. The most important change, however, was to move away from the idea of ‘handling’ children, which we perceive differently to ‘nurturing’ them, and creating real learning opportunities. I could say that was where my journey began, but truth be told, it began when I, myself, was a child growing up in Kashmir. I remember my teachers treating me different merely because I was left-handed. Teachers used to tie my left hand forcing me to use only my right hand.


The inclusive education environment


Although inclusive education is built and advocated on the principles of equity, more than anything else, experience has taught me that it requires a commitment of care. Apart from providing resources such as hiring the right staff, building facilities, and professional development opportunities, it is about building a culture of inclusion which is founded on awareness, sensitivity and resilience.

Every child in my school has an individual lesson plan; in some cases, students are fully integrated into all the classes, and in other cases it is a mix of integration and having their needs met through an individual lesson plan by specialised teachers. The needs can include visual impairment, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder and learning difficulties, along with emotional, behavioural, language, speech, and communication disorders. Students who are unable to cope in the mainstream educational set-up can participate in the IGCSE and open schooling programme.


Cultural change


Working in India especially requires one to be very sensitive since awareness about inclusive education is still very much in its initial stages. The Hindi film Taare Zameen Par (‘Stars on Earth’), which addressed dyslexia, helped in creating more general awareness and acceptance about this, but there is still a long way to go. What we eventually need is patterns to be changed, and I believe that success is connected to our intrinsic motivation. While advocacy is important, we have to be careful not to overlook what drives us. Let us be honest with ourselves: why are we doing this? Is it because it is a trend, because it looks good, or because policies demand us to do so? The reason why this matters is because sometimes the motivation can mould the pattern, and when that happens there is a stronger force that drives change.

There are many instances where I faced parents in tears because they found it difficult to accept their child’s situation, or where parents persistently refused to accept certain learning interventions, or situations in which I or the staff had to deal with anger outbursts. I remember an incident when a parent refused to accept that his child had autism. The child was exceptionally talented in music; whatever anyone would hum the child would be able to translate into notes. I even ensured that the child was admitted into one of the top music schools in India, but all was in vain. The parent did not want this and persisted on his child taking the IGCSE exam which he kept on failing, and slowly we witnessed the child’s confidence fading away. One day the parent called me up in tears: “Who will take care of him after I die?”

Nothing can prepare you for this. However difficult it may be, I always try to keep an open mind, visualise the child and remain compassionate. As an educator you know that acceptance and harmony at home makes a real difference for each child.

Inclusive education includes much more than we initially think of. Once, parents came to meet me and told me that their two children were not getting accepted into any international school because of their gender identity. I chatted with the kids and accepted them on the spot. Today, one of them is a famous artist and the other one runs a chain of beauty salons. Over the years I have witnessed many beautiful stories: from a visually impaired child getting acceptance into Brown University, to a child with severe dyslexia winning the Princess Diana Cup for Art.


Developing a skilled professional community


To build a culture of inclusion takes work and a community-wide approach. The growing demand for Learning Needs trainers led me to develop the professional development platform under the TAISI umbrella where we curate regular, ongoing learning events for teachers, leaders and students within the region. We have organised workshops and training for schools across India to build a culture of inclusion. Beyond India, I am part of the Advisory Board of Next Frontier Inclusion, which supports schools across the world on their journeys towards inclusion. My next step is a new initiative I’m working on called ‘Structures of Joy’, of which one of the main pillars is to promote inclusive education. The journey continues.



Anu Monga is recognised for her leadership of international and inclusive education in India. She has led schools in New Delhi, Kodaikanal, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Contact Anu via her LinkedIn profile.


What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

Michael Thompson, Director/CEO of Hillel Academy, Kingston, Jamaica



What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

(This article first appeared in International School Leader Magazine, October 2020 issue.)

I was recruited for my present job in 2019 because of my experience and yet nothing that I had experienced in a long career in international school leadership had prepared me, or any Head, for the events that have rapidly evolved in 2020. The international school community has shown that it will emerge from this global pandemic in a new and potentially better position due mainly to the sharing and caring of the international school’s community and flexible, decisive board and school leadership.


In its simplest form, the main responsibility for the Board, pre-COVID-19 was policy and oversight of school finances. The rapidly changing situation caused by the global pandemic has required a different mindset where the board and school leadership had, by necessity, to respond effectively and quickly to the rapidly involving situation. I will give an example of one week in the life of our international school:

  • Monday, March 9th – The accreditation visitor informed me that much of our teaching was very old fashioned with minimal use of technology.
  • Wednesday, March 11th – In anticipation of a worsening coronavirus situation I wrote to parents and said from Friday 13th students should keep their books at home.
  • Thursday, March 14th – The first COVID-19 cases were reported in Jamaica and we announced school closure.
  • This was followed by a weekend of the most committed staff professional development on how to use technology as the medium of instruction.
  • Monday, March 16th – The campus was closed but school re-opened with online education. Many mistakes were made but we continued working and learning and by the end of the Easter break we had an online programme we were proud of and comparable with many in the international schools’ world.


However, we were faced with a crisis. The country’s economy is largely based on tourism and the island was in lockdown. Consequently, many parents had financial difficulties. We have a very attractive campus and strong co-curricular programme, both of which were not available due to campus closure. When this was added to the difficulties parents had in guiding their young children’s online education, there was a demand for a fees reduction.


Response from the Board

The Board reacted promptly. Senior leadership produced various cost-cutting scenarios and we were able to reduce the term three fees and maintain most of our student enrolment. We began the 2019/2020 academic year with 702 students. We had more student withdrawals than usual during the year, without enforcing the usual financial penalty for withdrawal which was unrealistic in these times. We commissioned a professional video showcasing our use of technology in education, and opened the new school year with 702 students, online, at last year’s fees level. This was only possible with the support of a flexible, responsive Board.


Preparation for a new and different year

As a leader who believes in empowering others, I set up a task force for planning the school’s re-opening in September 2020 and had expected to involve the full Board and parents as much as possible. According to reports on the weekly Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) online conversations, many schools have succeeded with that model. But that was not how we developed, in reality.


Teachers, and parents, who were burnt out from the unusual four months of online education as well as all the other changes in their lives, needed a break. And so, we decided to keep the community informed with regular newsletters and to involve them by obtaining their opinions through parent and teacher surveys. The drive for preparing the school for the anticipated re-opening of campus, with student safety as the priority, was led by the Senior Management Team, Board Chairman and Finance Committee with regular updates and additional meetings for all other Board members.


A leadership model through crisis and change

In the crisis caused by the coronavirus, we discovered that our community expected and needed clear and decisive leadership. They wanted reassurance that the school was rapidly evolving to provide for the safe and appropriate education for their children.


The community wanted to be consulted but expected the board to show leadership. We found the ‘executive’ model, of a dynamic, hard-working School Management Team supported by a fully informed Board Chair, to be the most effective way of leading this school out of crisis mode. In my opinion this was only acceptable for a maximum of four weeks but moved us into planning for the future sustainability of the school.


I am a firm believer in open governance and community decision-making but, in these times, the more streamlined model was required in order to respond to the unique situation that we faced this year. Now, as we return to the new reality, the Board must be prepared to revert to its usual, more distant role of overseeing the direction of the school.


The global pandemic forced schools to totally re-think their purpose and delivery of international education. I firmly believe that we must take the positives from this time and move forward confidently. Past norms have been challenged and often found wanting. The international schools must continue with the best of its practices and incorporate the new achievements in order to develop and move forward.


Advice for Board and Leadership collaboration

  • The key school relationship is between the school Head and Board Chair; work on it.
  • AAIE is providing an outstanding source of ideas and support through its weekly online conversations.
  • Keep wellness and sustainability a priority. We are asking a huge amount of ourselves and our colleagues. If we are to lead them, we must look after their, and our own health.
  • It is essential that Board members understand their roles. An excellent, easy way to achieve this is by using the Educational Collaborative for International School’s (ECIS) Board Governance Training online platform.
  • The school community deserves to see clear, decisive governance and leadership.
  • Boards should mirror their community in terms of diversity.
  • Grow your own talent; perhaps schools should re-think their recruitment strategy as a core, professionally developed local teachers and administrators provide stability in uncertain times.
  • Always be moving forward. To remain in the same place does not work in international education.





Michael Thompson is Director and CEO of Hillel Academy in Kingston, the largest international school in Jamaica

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn or Twitter @mickthompson49


Building the pathway to inclusion

Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist, Texthelp

Building the pathway to inclusion

If there’s one thing we can say with confidence this year, it’s that education has become increasingly dependent on technology for teaching and learning. As learning evolves, we are finding new ways to engage, motivate, assess and teach students. We’ve jumped headfirst into tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in live video lessons and discovering the power of polls and analytics. We’ve struggled too – from the repetitive cry of ‘unmute’ through reducing distractions to figuring out how best to support differentiation when technology is an increasing portion of learning time. But, no matter how the ‘where’ of learning occurs in the coming months and years, we know that technology will continue to become increasingly central to all that we do. Why? Because with all the challenges we can see the upsides. We see new opportunities for engagement and for helping our students express their learning. It’s about the balance of putting teaching and learning first and skillfully using technology to underpin solid pedagogical strategies.

There’s a second thing though. The diversity of the students we teach stays the same – everyone with a differing approach to learning, and many requiring additional help and support to ensure that they continue to receive equity of access and stay included. For most students, as teachers, we only ever see the tip of the iceberg – the 10% of everything that contributes to our students being who they are. We don’t see the impact or challenges of home life, challenges around language or their mental health and wellbeing, and this is never more apparent than when students learn remotely.

Consider individual needs – statistics show that on average, around 5% of our class is identified and supported as being Dyslexic, yet the stark reality is that on average 17% of all students struggle with Dyslexia. The move to technology can not and must not forget this, and it behoves us as educators to ensure that the tools and supports that were in place inside our classrooms continue to be planned for and provided, wherever learning occurs. We need to rethink our notion of diversity and we need to start to redefine what it means to be inclusive, and how technology can reach and support every student.

Diversity stretches across language, culture, ethnicity and individual needs. It must, though, also include respect of the fact that research shows us that our students have an almost infinite path to learning. It’s their very differences that make them unique. Technology is inherently flexible, and when used well can and does support students in enabling a personalised, tailored approach to learning that can support this uniqueness. We all need to make a start, but how?

As, always, it starts with learning. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework is based upon the simple tenet of universal design – it’s aim is to make learning accessible to all by recognising that each and every student is unique and the learning community they are in is truly diverse. It seeks to encourage the provision of pathways for educators to adopt basic, practical approaches to designing learning from the outset, by focusing on designing learning for the margins and not the centre-ground of the student experience. In doing so, it postulates that we can reach every learner in an almost endless variety of ways that are personal to them.

We can start to embrace UDL by rethinking how we approach learning. Instead of objectives, we can focus on goals. Why? Think of it like skiing. Head to the top of any slope and there is one simple goal – get to the bottom. Every slope has its map providing alternate routes to reach that goal – at various levels of challenge and difficulty. As a skier, you take the route that works best for you or choose to stretch and challenge yourself with the more difficult path to your goal than the last time you tried. If we move to goal-orientated strategies, we open up the paths to our diverse learners to reach their goal in a multitude of ways.

The key then is to create these paths, and this can be achieved in many ways – not least of which today is through the effective application and use of technology tools. Once integrated into learning design and technology platforms, these tools can be used by everyone to ensure content, knowledge, expression and understanding is available in countless, unique ways across digital platforms and devices. As an example, tools like text-to-speech provides students with specific needs a way to support comprehension and understanding but also support high achieving students to prepare for effective answering for exams. Simple forms provide a quick way to monitor progress and understanding or provide fast, effective feedback for every student. Providing the right range of technology tools delivers multiple paths to engagement and expression, and in turn, expands accessibility for all students.

To embrace the opportunity before us, we have to be more deliberate, more flexible, provide more opportunities and take more risks. We need to endeavour to remove more barriers by shifting our focus to providing the widest range of tools and paths to learning if we are to support every student.

The technology journey ahead will give us the ability to innovate, to engage with and to support students like never before. If we embrace it, the result is that every learning experience can be representative of, and tailored to, the individual.

The goal is inclusive education, wherever learning occurs. It’s time to build the pathways to achieve it.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? Please share your thoughts below.



Resident Education Technology Strategist at Texthelp, Patrick is a passionate educator, and an accomplished international speaker, panellist, blogger and contributor across a wide range of media. His content is engaging, inspiring and motivating – focused on how technology can make a real and meaningful impact on teaching and learning for all. An Apple Education Mentor and Google Certified Educator, Patrick received the UK Digital Leader 100 award and was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the University of Ulster (School of Education) in 2016. His specialisms include literacy, inclusion, assessment educational vision, leadership, and change management.