Integrating core values to improve team culture and character


Luther Rauk
Middle School PE Teacher and coach, The American International School of Muscat


After attending the Way of Champions Coaching Conference in Denver, CO in the summer of 2019, The swim coach, Cori Lee, at The American International School of Muscat, Oman decided to implement a strategy she learned about Core Values with her swim team.


While at the conference, Jerry Lynch spoke for several sessions about the importance of identifying team core values to help intentionally develop character on sports teams.  He gave the coaches an opportunity to reflect on 20 core values he thinks are important.  Each coach whittled that list down to 10 after the first day.  Then in the next session, coaches spent time choosing the four most important values to them as it relates to the role of a coach and leader of a group of student athletes.  Lynch then gave a framework of how to implement this with their teams and get their athletes’ input on what was important to them.  Here is our swim team’s story.



At the first team meeting of the season, Coach Cori Lee introduced the 10 core values she thinks were important for her team’s success this year.  Then in age group divisions, they spent 20 minutes deciding which one of the values most resonated with them.  The dialogue was intriguing because each group had to come to a consensus on just one core value to share with the rest of the team.  It was also interesting to see what different age groups valued most.  Though most groups had overlapping core values on their top three lists,  none of the age groups had the same core value as their top choice. When this was all said and done, Coach Lee combined the team’s values with her own to land on six core values the team would focus on this season.


At daily swim practices, Coach Lee wove each of these values into her talks and conversations with the team.  Each week one core value was chosen as a focus for the team. At the beginning of the week, Coach Lee would lead a brief dialogue around how the value applies individually, as a team and specifically to swimming. Later in the week, the HS swimmers shared a quote they selected that connects with that week’s value and how they live the core value as a swimmer. Team captains led the way and also shared personal stories from their own training to illustrate the value and importance of living the team’s values.


Coach Lee also created posters to hang on the pool deck and locker rooms throughout the season.  Core values were also embedded into each of her email communications highlighting specific examples of ways the team was living out their core values.


One striking example came from a long time member of the team (and captain) who thought the idea of a Love Box would help the team to create strong bonds between them.  She made a simple box where swimmers could drop a note into about a fellow teammate.  Each week the kids would open the box and team captains would share aloud or deliver the messages.  Imagine the feelings of the students when a positive and caring message was read about them.  Think about the impact on those swimmers who wrote the notes, knowing they made someone else on their team feel special.


Coach Lee was able to use these core values when having a conversation with a group of swimmers who were having some social distractions on the team. They were able to revisit the values each of them agreed to and compare that with the behaviours they were exhibiting in the middle of the season. This was a very powerful tool to help them talk through and make changes to their behaviours and improve the relationships between them.


During the end of season SAISA swim meet held at The Lincoln School, Kathmandu, Nepal, Coach Lee displayed the Core Values in all of the team areas as well as on spirit bag tags for each swimmer.  This helped the athletes to focus on things they could control throughout the swim meet and work to do their best at each event.  Through the hard work of the swimmers and coaches, the team was honoured to take the first place team trophy and many members swam personal bests at the meet.


Here are a few responses from the swimmers when asked about their team’s core values.


How did the core values shape you as a teammate?

  • It showed me things I should focus on to help contribute to the team. When we came up with it I knew it would be really impactful.
  • As a teammate it made me more excited and motivated to train as hard as I could because everyone else lived by these core values.
  • They helped me to remember what was important and why I was doing it.  It also taught me to show love and commitment towards my teammates and coaches.
  • It brought out the “togetherness” and joy for the sport. It made me both a better swimmer and a better teammate altogether.


How did the core values play a role in your swim training and your performance levels at the SAISA meet?

  • It made me feel so much joy. 100 percent joy. Because not only did the perseverance and competitive part help but it felt like I was part of a family and that was what made me swim my hardest and try to win the title for my family.
  • Personally, some of the team core values that we focused on were already strongly implemented within my swimming and day to day life like Competitive, Integrity, Commitment, and Perseverance. However, with the values of Love and Joyfulness, it was a reminder for me to also be able in swimming (especially at conferences) to take a step back and remember why I am swimming and who I get to swim with. I thought that each of our core values was significant in helping each swimmer do their best in the pool and be the best teammate.
  • I was able to realize that it wasn’t about winning, it was about persevering, being committed, having integrity, being competitive, showing love and being joyful. This helped me to be less nervous because I knew that people would be proud of me whether I won or lost.
  • Exclusively performance-wise, I don’t think they made me drop time, but they helped me experience SAISA in a much more positive way. I wasn’t only focused on winning a dropping time anymore, but on being there for my teammates, supporting them. This positive mindset helped me be less anxious about competing and satisfying my own expectations, which, now that I think about it, could have made me more relaxed and perform better.


What will you remember most about the work you did with your swim team core values that year?

  • I’d say the aspect in which we all fully dedicated and put the core values to heart. We all persevered “when the going got tough”, we all were very committed to the sport and team, we all maintained integrity when or when not we were supervised, we were very competitive and loved that aspect to swimming, we loved the sport, each other, and became a family through it all, and finally, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the time we had together and enjoyed working and getting through things together. Swimming brought us close and I will never forget the family that originated from such a simple sport — swimming.
  • That year really solidified some of the realisations I’d been having about swimming for a long time. Over the years I realised that competing and performing well was not the most important part of swimming. Although it crushed my childhood hopes of taking the sport to a higher level, I realised that the most valuable experience was not winning or dropping time, but rather the connection that we had as a team. Nearly all of my closest friends I’ve met directly or indirectly through swimming, and I will always be grateful to Coach Lee for offering this new perspective on the sport, which places more emphasis on things like joy, compassion, and love, instead of competitiveness.


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



Luther Rauk is currently a Middle School PE Teacher and coach at The American International School of Muscat, Oman.  Originally from Minnesota, USA, Luther has also lived and taught in Thailand and Bahrain.  Luther spent four years as the Athletic Director at TAISM where he developed a passion for learning how best to help coaches do their important work with kids.  A desire to make real connections with students again led him to return to the PE classroom in 2018.  To connect with Luther please follow him on Facebook, twitter@lutherrauk or email him at

Action Research Supported by Online Observation


Alice Jackson
Science Teacher, Leysin American School, Switzerland


I consider myself to be a reflective practitioner driven by continuously improving my practice. Although evaluative observations may have their place in schools, their apparent focus on inspection and control of classrooms may not best serve the development of the teacher. I propose that observations are most useful when they support the action research cycle; identify an issue, collect data, and reflect with a colleague to improve my practice and student learning.


One student in one of my science classes was frequently making poor choices. He was disrupting other students’ learning, lacked motivation, and was not making good progress. I felt that I had done everything that I could for this student; I believed that I was being positive, scaffolding appropriately and that I had been imaginative with visual cues and had set consistent expectations. Yet the situation was not improving.



A colleague offered to observe the class, remotely, through Google Meet, to trial a coded observation tool. Together we set a framework for what I would like him to observe: the student’s behaviours, my teacher behaviours, and the behaviours of the seven other students in the class. We agreed that the observer would note his observations every five minutes using a coding system and write any other comments he felt were appropriate throughout the Wednesday afternoon lesson. As part of this pre-observation conference, I shared my goals, the lesson content, and a little background information. It was easy for my colleague to adapt existing data gathering tools and changed the descriptors for our needs.


There were eight points in the lessons where the observer noted the activity of the people in the room. In the majority of observations (fifty-nine of the sixty-four data points) the students were on task, either solo, communicating, or teacher-aided, at no point was anyone observed to be off-task and disruptive. It was cause for reflection that for four of the eight observation points, I was working with the key student. At no point in the lesson was I observed to be simply listening to the students as they worked. The result from reflecting on the data points is that I would like to build the independence and confidence of the focus student to be able to work independently, perhaps with an expert partner, to allow me to distribute my time more equitably.



My colleague noticed in his extra comments that the key student was constantly moving and craving praise. While I did give the student praise, he would often blurt out during the lesson that he wanted to show me something. If I was talking to another student and did not give an immediate response, the focus student would feel discouraged and no longer want to share his work or idea, for example cleaning his whiteboard of the correct answer. Finding a way for him to understand that I care about his work and that he is deserving of praise is critical perhaps with a hand for five, an agreed system of showing him my palm to ask him to wait five seconds for me to respond. This will be a challenging task for a student who struggles with their own self-moderation. This non-verbal cue would prevent me from disrupting my conversation with other students and allow me more frequent opportunities to praise the focus student.


Nine negative choices were observed to be made by the focus student during the lesson. In response to these, I gave a positive redirect in three cases, a negative redirect in two, and chose not to respond or did not see the behaviour in four cases. I found this very surprising, I felt that I had been consistently positive with the student, so this was a really useful reminder to be mindful of my tone. I simply would not have considered this to be an action step with only self-reflection on my practice. I hope that by trialing the hand for five systems, the focus student will have less reason to feel discouraged and likely to make a poor choice and I will have more opportunities to share praise.



Sharing my reflections with my colleague in the post-observation conference I felt empowered to create meaningful action steps, this formative observation tool felt like a move towards a collegiate system with a focus on growth and improvements; a far cry from the evaluative, inspection, and control model which seemed to focus on compliance and supervision.


The success of this peer-to-peer observation structure hinges on two critical ideas. Firstly, the observed teacher must be genuinely open to improving their practice, as I was surprised at the comments that I was given about my negativity, there is a danger that a teacher may not choose their genuine weakness and this type of observation becomes cosy and not developmental. The second critical point is that both colleagues in the partnership must have the ability to formulate helpful criteria for the observation, a consciously (or unconsciously) incompetent new teacher may not develop fastest using this observational style.  Accepting these critiques I found that this observation tool supports my own development and reinforces my action research cycle


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





Alice Jackson is a science teacher at Leysin American School with a physics specialism. She is originally from the United Kingdom and is finishing her fifth year of teaching.

Find a Space for Every Language


Susan Stewart
Head of Multilingualism at The International School of London and ECIS MLIE Chair (Multilingual Learning in International Education)


What do international teachers and students bring to our schools? In general, they come to us with a wide range of literacies, that is, they can express themselves, and possibly read and write in multiple languages.  These teachers and students are also a rich source of cultural experiences.  And possibly a more important question to ask ourselves, is in what state do these members of our communities leave us a few years later as they go onto a new international school or possibly returning back to their home country? Do we explicitly leverage our students’ linguistic and cultural resources for both their own academic and socio-emotional development, as well as enriching the school community?


Let us consider three (intertwined) questions:

  • Why is it important to monitor our discourse and practice around languages and multilingualism?
  • Why is this so important for our students and our schools?
  • How can we take simple, cost-free steps to create a linguistically inclusive environment?


One of the most common statistics you will hear regarding international schools, and quoted on all our websites, is the number of nationalities present within a school. Whilst an interesting fact and an indication of the level of diversity, we cannot assume that a passport holder has proficiency in the nation’s official language or indeed any of the related cultural references.  We have all met students who have spent little or no time in the country of their passport. I dream of the day in international schools where we no longer hear the question ‘Where do you come from?’ This question can perplex a large percentage of international school students and many a teacher.  Indeed, it is an impossible question to answer for many people without using a ‘but’.  How about we rather ask two simple questions: ‘Where have you lived?’ and ‘What languages do you speak?’.  Further questions as to the type of school attended and the medium of instruction can allow us to build up a language portrait of the student which will be a lot more nuanced and accurate than ‘Where do you come from?’.



Another question we could consider avoiding is ‘What is your mother tongue?’. The term ‘mother tongue’ is confusing as it implies first of all that mothers are better sources of parenting languages than fathers. It also sometimes carries the assumption that it is a person’s strongest language, which is very often is not.  And finally, the term mother tongue assumes that the child only has one language spoken within the home, which is not the reality for many of our students.  How about adapting the question into ‘What languages do you speak at home?’ and then drilling down further to ask which language is spoken between mum, dad, and siblings, and any other member of the household.  It is here that you will uncover more interesting facts, such as the child being spoken to in Fulani, but responding back to the parents in English.  In fact, it is only when the family goes to Guinea in the summer that the children actively use Fulani, with the grandparents.



Parental attitudes towards languages are passed onto children but also find their way into the school ethos. A language that is claimed to be ‘just a dialect’ or ‘not useful’ (which most often means ‘not as useful as English’) will become a second-class, low-status language within the linguistic landscape of the school. A question to ask ourselves here, is ‘what is the moral responsibility of the school to correct these statements?’ as we would if we were to hear similar statements around gender or ethnicity.  There are hidden languages in international schools, languages which our students use to express themselves on a daily basis at home, to build family ties and conceptual understanding, which are left at home or in the car park. Can we only rely on parental advocacy for home languages, or should we, as experts, also play a role in defending our students’ home languages?


Let’s also think about how we use flags and other symbols in our schools in association with languages. Seeing a red, white and blue tricolour flag with a friendly ‘bonjour’ outside a Kindergarten class is a wonderful way to welcome a new French student at the start of the year. But what does that same image do to the other French-speaking students, staff, and visitors to the school who might have grown up using French in Benin, Congo, Guinea, Algeria, Ivory Coast, and the other 29 African nations who use French alongside other languages, as well as Belgians, Luxembourgers, and Canadians? You can see a similar use of flags to label books in a school library.  Here we are sending a message to the school community that certain varieties of a particular language are the standard, highly desired form of the language, and thus superior to other varieties.



The same can be said for the frequently heard parental requests that their child acquires a so-called ‘native-like accent in English in our schools. Just as we have little power over how a student looks physically, so it should be of little interest that we dwell on a student’s accent.


Inadvertently creating a hierarchy of languages or varieties of a particular language can only reinforce other negative attitudes towards certain members of a school community.


Something else to consider is the place of the host country language in your school?  Is it even taught within the school? If so, is it because you are mandated to do so, or because you believe as a school that it is important to connect with your host country?


Which languages do you offer as acquisition/second languages? Is it the classic French, Spanish, and possibly Mandarin we seem to see in schools all over the world? Are there other languages that could afford more interesting opportunities for students to engage in authentic language exchanges either within the school or within the local community of the host country?  At the ISL, we offer our Grade 6s the opportunity every year to study British Sign Language, which opens their eyes to a language within the host country.  When this same group of students was recently asked which languages they would like to know more about, an overwhelmingly large number expressed interest in Japanese and Arabic. Why?  Because we happen to have a relatively significant number of Arabic and Japanese speaking students in our school. This was a heart-warming example of linguistic curiosity and respect.



Why is it important to reflect on the need to find a space for every language in our school?  The first principle is that we should never view a student through a narrow lens, though the lens of only one of their languages.  Imagine if you, with your teacher qualification, possibly a Masters or Ph.D. also attached to your name, as well as countless years of experience in international schools in Europe and North America, imagine you went to work in a school in Asia, where you needed to work in the local language, within the local expectations of teaching and learning.  Your Ph.D. is not recognised in this new school as it does not conform to local requirements.  You are learning the new language, but you are not allowed to use English at all to build an understanding of how the language works.  Everything is explained to you in the new language. And so, you are left with no other choice than to work really hard to become proficient and literate in the new language and new ways of teaching to be able to function in this school. By ignoring your literacy in English as well as your expertise in education, you have not only been disregarded as someone who could offer new perspectives on things but also put at a disadvantage as a language learner.


What can schools do to move towards the creation of an equal space for every language? The first would be to ensure you have at least one expert linguist on staff who can work on creating a language policy that is put into practice across the whole school community.  This should be evident when families have their first contact with the school in the admissions office, as well as in the staffroom, in the classroom, in the playground, and in all recruitment meetings.


Secondly, within this language policy, agree on common terminology around languages. Buried within an IBO document entitled ‘Ideal Libraries’ is possibly the best terminology out there, one which can capture the nuances mentioned above.


We can distinguish between:

  • personal languages – languages that you speak without thinking too much, that are part of your everyday life, that you have a good degree of fluency in
  • academic languages – you have literacy in these languages. This means that we can recognise that a student might have verbal or oral fluency in a language spoken in the home (a personal language), but not necessarily have literacy in that same language.
  • functional languages – languages in which you can function (make yourself understood, order a drink).


These three terms allow us to speak with more nuance about a students’ language portraits, as well as recognising how their portraits change over time, for example, they might start at school using English as a functional language, which later becomes a personal language and an academic language.


The next thing to do would be to do a visual and auditory audit of the school environment?  Is what you see or hear around the school contributing to languages being put in a hierarchy – are they being ranked in any way?  In a recent initiative at ISL to display student-produced multilingual signage around school, it was interesting to see which languages students chose, which was sometimes a language they use in the home but also included some students advocating for their classmates and producing signage in Behasa, which is one of our hidden languages. Another student asked for permission to text her friend in her former international school in Nepal as she wanted to have a sign in Nepali on our walls. Giving such simple opportunities to students can open up new conversations about languages and increase a school’s respect of their linguistic diversity in interesting ways.


Our students come to our schools with complex, fluid, and dynamic cultural and linguistic repertoires. Let’s harness this richness for the benefit of the individual, the school community, or let’s be ambitious and think about what this could bring to the global network of international schools.


This article came out of a presentation delivered at the ECIS Leadership Conference in April 2021.


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





Susan Stewart is Head of Multilingualism at The International School of London and ECIS MLIE Chair (Multilingual Learning in International Education).

She has lived and worked in Thailand, the UAE, South Africa, Belgium, Oman, Sweden and the UK. She holds a degree in French & Linguistics from the University of South Africa and is currently completing a Masters in Applied Linguistics & Communication from Birkbeck, University of London. Susan’s role focuses on developing an understanding of students’ languages and cultural experiences, and then developing these further within and beyond the curriculum. Susan is the chair of the ECIS Multilingual Learning in International Education (MLIE) committee.

Perseverance and Resilience: How to land on Earth in the Covid19 era

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt


Perseverance and Resilience: How to land on Earth in the Covid19 era and Learn Effectively in an International School 


…and touchdown confirmed!

This past week Humanity has witnessed a great achievement in Space Travel which took eight months to be completed. The Perseverance vehicle reached the surface of Mars. The name of the vehicle is so important, so distinctive, for us, earthlings, living in the era of the 2021 pandemic, of social and political upheaval, and of financial insecurity.  It takes time for important decisions, crucial steps, and successful milestones to be reached, in life, in work, at school.


Since NASA’s Perseverance touched down on Mars on 18 February, it has been researching the atmosphere, rocky formations and rocks, air and chemical composition of the planet. Ken Farley at NASA’s  Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) in California, during a presentation at the virtual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on 16 March 2021, reported: “We had no major technical issues…The rover’s first drive on 4 March-which lasted 33 minutes and covered about 6.5 meters-demonstrated that it can, in fact, rove, and the other tests are going smoothly as well, he said. Perseverance has a microphone, which has allowed us to hear the Red Planet for the first time. It recorded more than 16 minutes of audio as it drove around Mars on 7 March. And Dave Gruel ( JPL) stated:  IF I heard these sounds, I would pull over and call for a tow. But if you take a minute to consider what you are hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”



Such a great adventure undoubtedly took a lot of time and will require even more in order to be completed and provided Scientists with the answers they are looking for.


But Time is only one aspect, one dimension. The other ones, the most paramount, are Perseverance and Resilience, our IB AtL skills, which can help us to go one step further and not to quit under the pressure of everyday hurdles, personal obstacles, and work or family predicaments.


In our students’ life, there are a lot of challenging, rocky moments and great barriers. But at the core of learning, at the absolute heart of every learning experience, there is failure or error or miscalculations which help us immensely in locating the correct way ( even if we only discover 1000 ways that do not work as Thomas Edison’s quote goes: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”) in finding the right mental and thinking route and in reaching our Learning Goals.


In our journey to discover the limitless universe of our capabilities and skills, resilience, perseverance, adaptability, spirit, curiosity, and ingenuity are our vessels.


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




Eleni Armaou studied Psychology and Philosophy and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, in UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS and ALN Coordinator at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt.
Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, and Conflict Resolution. Website

How will schools diversify, innovate, and evolve in the future?

Paul Montague, International Digital Learning and Curriculum Manager, Edmentum


How will schools diversify, innovate, and evolve in the future?


Educational provision has been forced to evolve during the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools have adapted and adjusted to the significant challenges of maintaining health and safety, ensuring education continuity, and providing social and emotional learning and wellbeing support. Every school is unique, and each has responded differently. This unexpected, unplanned, and rapid transition to remote learning with little preparation, training, and in many cases, access issues created problems for governments, states, schools, teachers, students, and parents to resolve. Transitioning from face-to-face to remote teaching in the space of a week was a remarkable achievement but is certainly not an ideal way to develop new online teaching pedagogy.


Many experts have differing views on how schools will, and should, emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. All would agree that it has been a catalyst for change and a disservice to our learners worldwide should we return to ‘normal’ without evaluating how EdTech can be used to complement, enrich, and enhance education. In an article for online magazine, Quartz, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education, commented: “All the red tape that keeps things away is gone and people are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see… Real change takes place in deep crisis… You will not stop the momentum that will build.” Speaking during his 2012 TED Talks discussion, he also stated, “Education is not a place; it’s an activity.” So theoretically, it can be delivered anytime, anywhere.


What will we learn from this great global remote learning experiment? We have an opportunity to develop an educational approach that will finally service our learners’ needs and strengths. It is an opportunity for education systems worldwide to reimagine learning to meet the 21st-century learner and workplace needs.


I have had the pleasure of supporting hundreds of international schools while providing planning and consultation meetings. I have watched in awe as bespoke solutions have been adopted and thousands of teachers have adapted and innovated using different combinations of our programs. With their skill, energy, and enthusiasm, educators have continued to engage students in learning as they adapt to new pedagogies, processes, systems, and technologies.


Education technology has had a positive impact on teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effectiveness has varied by age group, and there is a consensus that online education for the oldest learners has been particularly beneficial. Many schools had already begun integrating technology and developing their own blended learning model, but what impact have EdTech solutions made during Covid-19?


The most successful solutions have common characteristics, which include: facilitating personalized learning underpinned by science, being pedagogically appropriate and aligned to curriculum standards, including elements of instruction (teaching). Progress checks and real-time formative feedback for both students and teachers driven by adaptive technology and the automatic creation of grade and mark books are also essential. A customization tool that enables teachers to add content, functions that reduce the administrative burden on teachers, and the offer of a range of lenses so that other decision-makers within the school can make informed decisions that lead to improvements in teaching and learning need to be incorporated.


My most recent consultations have been focused primarily on evaluating the impact of our solutions, discussing both credit and learning recovery options, and planning education provision for a potentially less-Covid-19 affected new school year in September 2021.


Credit and learning recovery continue to be significant issues that schools are seeking solutions for. Our online teachers can specifically focus on credit recovery by providing a digital curriculum while the school’s staff delivers on-grade-level teaching and learning. This is a powerful partnership that enables the students to recover quickly and protects their in-school teachers’ wellbeing. Some schools are already looking to develop bespoke online spring break and summer schools utilizing our teachers to provide targeted support for their learners.


I am currently working with governments to help their students recover learning and skills by embedding Exact Path. This solution identifies learning gaps, personalizes learning, and provides instruction, practice, and mastery opportunities that adapt to the student while continually feeding back progress and attainment data to teachers. One government is combining Exact Path with FEV Tutor, a personalized one-to-one tutoring service. Our partnership with FEV Tutor means we now have an on-demand tutoring service that can support students 24/7, ensuring engagement is maintained, and motivation increases as they experience more success and improve grades.


What lessons have we learned, and what will, could, and should school look like in the future? Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Director-General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, sees, according to The National News, an opportunity for there to be a significant evolution in the way education is provided. Dr. Abdulla envisages that “In the future, there will be as many models of education as there are pupils with a possibility that children could attend several schools at the same time as a shift to remote learning helps usher in a new flexible era of teaching,” Education in Dubai is primarily provided by the private sector and is home to some of the biggest brand names in education. Fierce competition between providers drives innovation and change in Dubai. Schools will respond to new opportunities and create new business models to meet parents’ and students’ changing demands and expectations.


Some international school groups, such as the Inspired Group, have already developed their own online school (King’s College, which is being offered to parents at a different, reduced price point to their physical schools). Theoretically, children could enroll in this school from anywhere in the world. Does this suggest that provision will go even further and enable students to take math in one school, English in another, and science in another while attending a physical school for elective, technical, or option courses?


Our priority at Edmentum is designing learning solutions that help educators become more effective and enable students to learn wherever teaching is taking place. We are perfectly placed to support American curriculum schools as they embark on their journey toward inclusive and personalized learning and are already partnering with schools and educators to provide personalized education models. Our Cognia accredited online school partners with existing schools to offer additional courses, provide credit recovery, and Advanced Placement courses. We also have standards-aligned digital curriculum that supports schools to deliver online, face-to-face, distance, and hybrid learning. This digital curriculum is rapidly replacing traditional textbooks and contains all the learning content a student would require. It has built-in assessments and is customizable, enabling teachers to combine material from different courses or grade levels. Exact Path, which is well known worldwide, is a supplementary adaptive tool that supports math, reading, and language arts development. Our partnership with BASE Education provides digital social-emotional and wellbeing courses. Our partnership with FEV Tutor means that any of our solutions can be supported by additional on-demand tutors 24/7.


Our partnerships with schools add flexibility to their education provision by providing age-appropriate solutions driven by adaptive technology and underpinned by learning science. We support schools to build a truly personalized provision around each learner that can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Teachers are, and will always be, critical to education. Their role may change as they become facilitators of learning, but technology will never replace them. Similarly, Daisy Christolodou (2020), in her book, “Teachers vs. Tech,” points out that “a top teacher knows when, how and why to use each of their tools and techniques and can effectively implement them in different situations and with different students.” To do this, she says, “they combine science (from educational, psychological, and organizational sciences) with art and creativity to produce learning situations that are effective, efficient, and enjoyable for their students and themselves.” Technology will certainly allow teachers to become more effective by relieving some of the planning, administration, and assessment burden, enabling them to focus their skills on improving the quality of learning that is taking place.

Please join me and my colleagues at the ECIS Leadership Conference where we have a session to evaluate the best practice that has developed in international schools over the last year and considering new innovative approaches to both school provision and learning.


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



Paul Montague, International Digital Learning and Curriculum Manager, Edmentum







About Paul Montague

As International Digital Learning and Curriculum Manager, I partner with schools worldwide as they introduce Edmentum’s curriculum and learning solutions in their school. We put educators at the centre of everything we do and work with schools to improve digital teaching and learning opportunities.

I am an experienced education professional who has worked with governments, school groups, and individual schools. The focus of my conversations is always school improvement. I have extensive experience of international schools and the UK education system and regularly speak at international conferences and write thought pieces for educational journals.


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About Edmentum

Edmentum is a leading curriculum and assessment company, putting educators at the heart of everything they do. Providing award-winning solutions that support educators and students aged K-12, it’s used across 80 countries, offering schools, school groups and governments the addition of hybrid, blended and distance learning solutions.

Edmentum’s commitment is to make it easier for educators to individualize learning for students using simple technology, actionable data, quality content, and a passion for customer success, redefining the 21st-century classroom. Learn more.


Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Valentina Spyropoulou, Teacher of English / EAL / Dyslexia Specialist
Optimist International School


Many people believe that when you move to a different country, you should try to exclusively practice the host country’s language in order to learn that language faster. This notion has also been adopted in many schools across the world. However, is this really the best approach?

A monolingual approach in schools has been vastly adopted for a long time now and, oftentimes, has resulted in many international parents and their children feeling excluded or even embarrassed to use their home languages. However, over the past years, we have seen a positive shift towards including languages in schools more and there are many good reasons why. Here are some of the most important ones:


Language as cultural identity
Language is an inherent piece of who we are. A valuable part of our identity. The more we explore and develop our languages, the more we develop a sense of belonging and self-value and this is of crucial importance to our children’s wellbeing and success when it comes to their personal and academic development.


Multilingualism and brain
Extensive research on the impact of multilingualism on the brain has proven that multilingual people’s brains do function differently and in a more advantageous way compared to monolingual people in areas such as complex thinking, mental flexibility, communication, and interpersonal skills, and even reduced risk of age-related mental diminishment conditions.


Home languages benefit the learning of more languages
Dr. Jim Cummins, a prominent researcher in bilingual education, has stated that developing language repertoires at the same time, actually accelerates and deepens understanding and acquisition of languages already mastered, but also of more, new ones.


Ready for the global community
Multilingual individuals are more prepared for the global community, as they are able to communicate with an open and flexible mind, having possibly been exposed to various cultures. Is this not a goal worth pursuing?


Language skills and structures, as well as concept knowledge, many times, already exist in the children’s educational toolkit, and the only thing missing is the words in the new language to prove it. I am sure, if you are an international living outside your home country, you probably have experienced a situation in which people are talking about a certain matter that interests you and you know a lot about, but the language spoken is one you have not yet mastered. If you were given the opportunity to talk and write about it in your own language, would you feel more confident and included? Do you think you could have contributed to these conversations? Maybe if you were reading a text translated in your language with the foreign language next to it, you would be able to understand some words? Maybe sentence structures? The answer to all the above questions is yes, and this is exactly how it works for multilingual children as well.


Language Friendly School
Optimist International School, an international primary school, recently became a Language Friendly school. This means that all languages spoken by students are welcome and valued.

In our classes we allow students to use the languages they feel most comfortable with in order to show their understanding and develop their skills, while we try to methodically use their languages to support the development in English, as well. For this purpose, children can read, write and do research in their own language, while teaching staff guide them to create links between their languages for deeper and effective acquisition.

Moreover, we often use the children’s languages in various aspects of school life, such as greeting them in the morning, asking children to translate keywords in their languages for us to learn or even learning to sing ‘happy birthday’ in all the different languages we have in school.

The smile, confidence, and safety that the children feel in our school by feeling included, respected, and valued is what fuels our teaching and learning. The results in children’s academic and personal development are outstanding as they can be themselves, navigate through their cultures and identities, while being respectful and tolerant of others.

Multilingualism is an asset and we, as a school of multilingual and intercultural educators, are committed to promoting and improving our multilingual approaches in order to support happy, respectful, inquisitive global citizens.



Bartolotti, J. and Marian, V. (2012), Language Learning and Control in Monolinguals and Bilinguals. Cognitive Science, 36: 1129-1147.

 Brainscape Academy. 2021. The cognitive benefits of being multilingual. [online] Available at: <

Craik, F., Bialystok, E. and Freedman, M., 2010. ‘Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve’, Neurology, vol. 75, no. 19, pp. 1726-1729.

Cummins, J., 2017. ‘Multilingualism in Classroom Instruction: “I think it’s helping my brain grow”’, Scottish Languages Review, vol. Winter 2017, no. 33, pp. 5-18.

Goossens, F., 2019. Monolingual Practices in Multilingual Classrooms. EAL Journal, [Online]. 10, 16. Available at: [Accessed 19 January 2021].

Keysar, B., Hayakawa, S. L. and An, S. G. (2012) ‘The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases’, Psychological Science, 23(6), pp. 661–668. doi: 10.1177/0956797611432178.

NALDIC. 2021. EAL Journal E-Issue 10 – NALDIC. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 February 2021].


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






“Ever since I remember myself I wanted to be a teacher. My studies include specialisms in English Language and Literature, SEN, EAL, and SpLD. I have over 12 years of experience in education within various roles of teaching and middle management in Greece, the UK, and the Netherlands. I have always worked within multicultural environments and with students of different ages, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I am currently working as a Group teacher and EAL Specialist at The Optimist International School in Hoofddorp and I am loving every moment of working with students and colleagues from all around the world. Education is my passion and I always strive to support my students and colleagues to feel welcome and safe to be who they are, explore their identities, and develop their talents. I love reading, cooking, and enjoying the company of my friends, while recently I have taken up painting and discovered that I am actually really enjoying it.”

How Social Determinants Affect Young Adults with Autism and Learning Differences: Creating a Plan for Future Success

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, Program Director, The College Internship Program

Social determinants of behavioral health (SDBH) can have a significant impact on young adults on the autism spectrum, especially as they enter adolescence and young adulthood. Research indicates that most graduates with autism and other learning differences will have a difficult time following high school for almost any outcome – working, continuing school, living independently, socializing and participating in the community, and staying healthy and safe (Thompson 2018). Repeated social failures may generalize to all events and can develop into a passive, failure-prone attributional style consistent with learned helplessness and depression (Abramson et al. 1978). These symptoms only intensify during the transition to adulthood.

Society has begun to embrace the unique characteristics and strengths that belong to individuals on the autism spectrum and those with learning differences. One has to look no further than Netflix to see an explosion of television shows and documentaries that warm our hearts and enrich our understanding of neurodiverse children and adults. Even still, many societal conditions exist that impact the mental, physical, and emotional health of individuals on the autism spectrum – workplace discrimination, academic and school supports that fall short of what a person needs to succeed, community programs that can be overwhelming for adults with social anxiety and fears, inaccessible clinical services for those in lower socioeconomic groups, late or missed diagnoses for young women on the spectrum… just to name a few.

At the College Internship Program (CIP), one of the first things shared aloud with prospective families and students is this: obstacles exist in life and, in all likelihood, you and your family may have faced more obstacles than other people your age. When you leave this program, you will have a sense of what you want to do with your life. You will be prepared to face challenges head on by forming a path that is marked by self-awareness and self-determination.

How can a young person with autism or learning differences begin to carve a path for him/her/their self, a path of productivity and purpose?

Young adults with autism or learning differences should prepare a plan to address the challenges brought on by social determinants by focusing on several key domains of their lives: academic, career, independent living and wellness skills, and social-emotional health.

Academics – know what you need and how to ask. Self-advocacy paves the way for accommodations and support. Whether it be a college exam or a Learner’s Permit test, you must be the voice behind your accommodations. Put them in writing, role play with a trusted friend, speak to your instructor and then verify that the instructor followed through in putting the plan in place. It is important to assist young adults in all areas of post-secondary learning. Asking the DMV for testing accommodations can be just as daunting as asking a professor for extended time on an exam!  Students must understand what they need in order to succeed. Transferring individualized education plans to post-secondary settings and mastering executive function skills needed for studying and classroom preparation are all part of the work it takes to succeed in a post-secondary education.

Careers – know when to whom and how to self-disclose. Grab all the literature that you can on resume writing, current interview formats, workplace attire, and job application trends. For example, many businesses are now asking applicants to participate in group interviews, oftentimes over a computer screen. Social nuances of workplace communication aren’t easy to navigate for individuals on the spectrum. At CIP, students do a deep dive into these and many other workplace scenarios in workshops such as: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Job Application and Resume Support, etc. Many young adults recognize that they have to work hard to overcome the assumptions and stereotypes that come with their diagnosis. Ask a social skills coach to role-play various workplace scenarios with you: what do you bring to your first workplace potluck, what does small talk around the water cooler really look like, and what will the job force look like in 2020 and beyond? Many can relate to the embarrassing Zoom backgrounds or noises that we have finally learned to work around or at least laugh about.

Independent living and wellness skills: master your routine. Before succeeding in a career, one needs to know how to navigate a day. The common phrase, every successful day begins with a well-made bed is a great starting point. Develop a morning and evening routine, learn to navigate your local grocery store, plan 21 meals for the week, develop an exercise and sleep routine, and use a HALT check (am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?) to monitor needs on a moment by moment basis.

Social and Emotional Health: understand your diagnosis and develop a well-rounded plan. Create a support team and become part of a community that embraces you and supports your wellness routines or coping skills. A support team may include psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches, parents, peers, and trusted mentors.

A young woman was recently coached through a difficult pandemic-related workplace situation. As an employee at an assisted living facility, she learned that close to 120 employees and residents had tested positive for COVID-19. With a roommate’s health to consider, along with her own, she began the delicate process of sending inquiries to her employer. How was the situation being managed? What safeguards were being put in place to address the outbreak? What was she expected to do as she returned to work? Was she entitled to a leave of absence? Situations like this one are difficult to navigate, let alone in a pandemic situation and for a young woman who struggles with the nuances of workplace communication. It took an effortful strategy and a support team to put together email communications and phone calls in order to obtain the information she needed and in order to make an informed decision about whether she should return to work. This young woman had a trusted team of individuals that she could lean on. She had developed a voice when it came to self-advocacy and was able to obtain the answers that she needed in order to make a decision, confidently, and with self-assurance.

With support, forethought, and determination, young people can lead a life marked by passion and productivity. There is much to contribute and even more for society to gain when young people on the autism spectrum are embraced and encouraged as they forge unique paths toward development and growth.

Original article: Behavioral Health News.

Learn more about What is Regressive Autism.


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




Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, is Program Director at The College Internship Program. She has worked in the field of clinical psychology and program administration for the past ten years. Jenna worked in a private practice with adolescents and their families providing intensive wraparound and therapeutic services. She has been an adjunct instructor in both Community College and private University settings at the graduate and undergraduate level and held administrative roles in both the outpatient and residential setting.

What is Agile?

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.


What is Agile?

ECIS and several partners recently launched the Agile Research Consortium for Schools, or ARC.

Agile is relatively new on the educational scene. If you as an educator are not familiar, you are in the majority. Its origins are in the software industry, where it was needed, according to Steve Peha (listen to his podcast on Future Learning Design), to handle the large and expensive projects developers were working on in order to avoid wasting a lot of money.


References to agile as a set of principles and practices in education began showing up in the literature around 2005, mostly in courses and disciplines related to computer programming. This makes sense, of course, since agile was making a name for itself within that particular domain.


It didn’t take long, however, for agile to spread further, with early references and calls for its application in schools. (See Steve Peha again, this time in a 2011 Youtube video filmed at Yahoo.) Peha, speaking at the time ten years after the adoption of the failed US federal education law called NCLB, makes the point that it might be technology, not centralized testing programs, that save education … just not the way we might think.


Don’t wait for the next best app or technological fix for education, Peha was suggesting, but do consider learning more about how tech companies are working. In other words, learn about agile. In 2021, that might mean learning more about the way the folks at Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla are working. Jeff Sutherland, speaking at a Boston University (BU) Agile Innovation Lab conference last fall (BU is one of the ECIS partners guiding ARC), put it like this: Companies that don’t work agilely aren’t going to be able to compete, period. Might it be the same for schools? Sutherland, by the way, knows a thing or two about agility. He co-created Scrum, one of agility’s best-known formulations.


Lots of folks in education do think we need agility – or agile values and an agile mindset – in school. Beginning with John Miller around the time Peha spoke to the folks at Yahoo and continuing with Willy Wijnands and others, the agile mindset as a guide for education has gotten more and more attention. Wijnands, for example, adapted Sutherland’s Scrum for his high school chemistry class. Less than ten years later, eduScrum has organizations in over 30 countries, with a host of trainers and workshops and model projects in schools.


Those who have already adopted elements of agile in the classroom are not surprised by its growth at all. Any system and manner of thinking that is about increasing student agency, sharing the management of learning, focusing on short iterations, and delivering frequent low stakes feedback is welcome in our schools. In fact, as I’ve met and interviewed people working with agile, it’s common to hear of its transformative power. People who have adopted agile approaches report that their personal lives changed and their way of thinking about work and colleagues changed. This quote, paraphrased, comes up so often it cannot be a fluke: “After adopting an agile mindset, I could never go back to working how I used to.”


But there are still far more anecdotes of success using agile in education than there is research. ARC would like to address this lack. The co-founding organizations of ARC hope to organize existing research and contribute their own as we learn more about agile and how it works as a mindset for educators and students. We would like to know if agile stands a chance of offering a significant and sustainable contribution to school reform.


We hope the website raises interest in agility for those of you new to it and that it is useful to current agile practitioners who are continuing to “inspect and adapt,” as agilists say, as they find their way forward. Everyone is invited to contribute resources and research; see the link on the site:


Want to find more stories of agile in the classroom? Read Spotlight, a publication of Leysin American School, and visit Agile in the Alps, Blueprint Education, EDgility, and the resources mentioned in the text. 


Paul Magnuson is a founding member of ARC. He and colleague James Costain will be presenting at the April ECIS Leadership Conference on pulling agile into education.

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


Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.

A Contemporary Problem of Practice in the Classroom: Linear Classrooms

A Contemporary Problem of Practice in the Classroom: Linear Classrooms

Sarah Graham, English Language Acquisition teacher, Leysin American School

Characteristics of Linear Classrooms

Linear classrooms are commonplace among educational institutions. Linear learning and instruction are derived from the notion that students learn uniformly and dissimilarly. “We remain in a culture that promotes one curriculum for all, one age group and one grade at a time, and one set of tests to determine learning” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 1). This classroom environment can only be successful in an idyllic setting, as it assumes that students all share the same personal learning preferences and interests. If education is meant to be a platform to a prosperous experience in life and workforce, then our current educational missions and ideologies need to balance students’ needs and desires with that of the demands of their future. Linear classrooms are malapropos, as they do not foster an enriching and best supportive classroom environment. These classrooms embody a host of characteristics, that more or less facilitate teacher-centralism.

Teacher instruction (direct instruction) is a systematic way of communicating, planning, and content delivery in the classroom (Cagiltay, et al., 2006). Although this method provides a strong structure for concentration on an academic task (Cagiltay, et al., 2006), it assumes that students learn at the same speed and in the same way. The formula for direct instruction is to learn through teacher-directed instruction, stay on task at a predetermined time set by the teacher, and perform or demonstrate learning based on teacher-made assessments (Cagiltay, et al., 2006), which heavily reduces students’ capacity for being the captains of their own learning.

Again, linear classrooms assume homogenous learning styles. All students are given the same style of instruction and expected to complete the same demonstration-of-learning activity. These teacher-designed activities assume sole responsibility that sufficient learning will take place, and then be measured by the teacher-selected/teacher-designed assessment. A homogeneous learning environment ignores individual differences of skill, ability, and interests.

In addition, linear classrooms, by design, presume a homogenous pace of learning. Based on the aforementioned formula, students receive direct instruction and perform the academic activity, whilst remaining on task. Teachers have a predetermined time frame of when students will master the skill/content objective. Within this realm, teachers have the full responsibility of creating academic content/skill objectives, designing the way in which students learn (teacher-planned learning initiatives), providing feedback to reinforce learning, and administering assessments; all with the assumption that students will need the same amount of time to complete each step.


Pitfalls of Linear Classrooms

We need students to become metacognitively familiar with what they want to accomplish and who they want to become (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017).  With linear classrooms, opportunities for self-exploration, growth of social capital, and development of voice are limited. “Students from even the most privileged schools may suppress their aspirations- their passions and intense interests- because their deepest desires are held captive to the practicality of what others call success” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 2). Standardized learning and linear classrooms prohibit and incapacitate the opportunities to enrich and deepen learning experiences. Although our economical world is shifting globally from industrialism to personalization, which is revolutionizing music, medicine, politics, publishing, etc., our schools remain stagnant and immobilized in tradition of teaching to a one-size-fits-all standard through our linear classrooms.

Linear classrooms create an environment of automatic learning. In other words, it creates habits of valuing rote recall and memorization. Imagine driving a car, you engage your long-term memory automatically to turn on the engine, shift gears, accelerate, merge, and pass other drivers. Relying solely on automatic learning doesn’t prepare for drivers in unpredictable disruptions, such as sleet or the engine overheating (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017). Automatic learning can be helpful in acquiring academic knowledge, but it doesn’t aid in developing a skill set beyond standardized testing. In other words, it doesn’t help students to pursue strategic abilities and “expand their resourcefulness and capacity for engaging with and solving challenging problems” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 9). Heretofore, teachers in linear classrooms utilize discipline-specific learning goals, which are “woefully insufficient if we want students to thrive in a modern world (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 13).”

The prevalence of linear classrooms perpetuates common classroom issues, such as low motivation, fewer opportunities for social-emotional and metacognitive development, and fewer opportunities of content-mastery and multiple displays of learning. When teachers set the learning target, the time frame, the tasks, and assessments, students will have little to no ownership of their learning and abilities development. In shifting responsibilities to students, the changes will be positively irrevocable, as they develop academic and dispositional competencies. Learning should be teacher-led and student directed, which is oppositional to that of linear classrooms. The teacher-determined curriculum can encompass broader learning goals that extend beyond the academic objectives to incorporate cross-disciplinary and dispositional goals, in which student-teacher collaboration will empower students with a voice in their own learning (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017).

Linear classrooms are not self-paced, personalized, differentiated, or individualized. It is un-customizable to student’s interest and style of learning, and leaves the potential for negative stigma for “branded” special education students that are unable to match the pacing set by the teacher. A flexible and personalized classroom can allow for student equality even amongst our higher-achieving students. It can help our students to “pursue aspirations, investigate problems, design solutions, chase curiosities, create performances,” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 2-3) and most importantly expose students to meaningful problems and challenges, which will ultimately help them to develop skills such as striving for accuracy, taking responsible risks, and developing persistence.

The roles of the teacher and student have been widely researched, and thus more questions have been asked than answered. What has become undoubtably clear is that the role of the teacher needs to be radically changed from a linear, teacher-centric role to a learning mediator and coach (Wismath, 2013). Teachers shouldn’t be the tap that turns on or off the nozzle that determines a student’s learning capacity; instead we should have a meta-role as the mirror that reflects students’ action and decision-making in their pursuit of knowledge and ability. In evaluating the characteristics and pitfalls of linear classrooms, it is clear the glass ceiling created by a linear mentality prohibits and demotes necessary and valuable non-academic skill sets. Stepping outside the linear classroom into a multi-directional (non-linear) learning environment is of great interest and remains non-negotiable.



Cagiltay, N. E., Yildirim, S., & Aksu, M. (2006). Students’ Preferences on Web-Based Instruction: linear or non-linear. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 9(3), 122–136.

Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017). Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind (1st ed.). ASCD.

Wismath, S. L. (2013). Shifting the Teacher-Learner Paradigm: Teaching for the 21stCentury. College Teaching, 61(3), 88–89.


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





Sarah Graham is an English Language Acquisition and psychology teacher for 9th and 10th grade at Leysin American School in Switzerland. She has worked as a teacher for 7 years and in the international market for 5 years. She is currently pursuing an Ed.D in Educational Practices and Leadership with an emphasis on Teacher Education. Sarah’s aim is for students to gain skills beyond discipline-specific goals and to develop dispositional competencies, such as listening with understanding and empathy, persistence, taking responsible risks, flexibility, etc. She believes that if we want our students to be successful in a quickly evolving workforce and rapidly changing modern world, our education needs to reflect that in a holistic manner. 

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.