Education Matters What Makes a Good International School?

by Dr Andrew Davies

Parents face one of their most challenging lifetime decisions when selecting a school for their children and this decision is amplified when selecting an international school. Transient families face many hurdles related to things practical, culture shock, isolation from family and friends, lack of employment opportunities for an educated spouse – to name but a few. Selecting the right school, however, can bring enormous peace of mind, a greater sense of belonging to a community, and an important sense of stability. So what should parents look for in selecting the best international school for their children?

Teacher Quality

First and foremost, a school must have highly effective teachers and this ingredient is far more important than any other factor. Researchers have slowly come to realise that a school’s effect on learning is nowhere near as significant as an individual teacher’s impact on learning, that an effective teacher brings value-added learning gains for years to come, and that an ineffective teacher will have the reverse effect. Parent should ask the schools they are considering. Q: How do you make sure your teachers are of the highest quality?

A Focus on Learning

In his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins writes that the most successful organisations often have a fixation on being “great” at one particular thing that they are passionate about. This is referred to as the “hedgehog concept” as the hedgehog can protect itself incredibly well just by positioning itself

into a spiky ball. For a school, the hedgehog should always be student learning – both academic and personal. Certain aspects peripheral to learning are important (finance ,facilities, etc.), but the first, second, third and fourth priorities for schools (after student safety and wellbeing) are to focus on improving student learning. Q: What do you do to ensure the school is focused on student learning?

A Caring and Supportive Environment

Students are significantly more likely to flourish as learners and as people if the school they attend provides a caring and supportive environment, invests in specialists such as counsellors and psychologists, and intentionally hires teachers who genuinely care for young people. The conscientious and well thought out commitment to the development of social emotional competencies and values is also vital. Q: How to you care for and provide support to students?

Clear and Valued Mission and Vision

Vision and mission statements can sound wonderful and can beautifully decorate websites and schools brochures. They can also sound pretty hollow when parents dig below the surface. Clear and valued missions and visions, however, ones that are adhered too and used, can serve as very valuable agents in the school improvement process. Almost all decisions made should filter through the mission and vision to ensure schools are working toward their aspirations. Q: What are some examples of how your mission and vision live in the classrooms?

Professional Development

Research has recently suggested that many teachers learn most and improve the most in their first few years of teaching and after that their learning either plateaus or stops. This is why it’s important for schools to invest in the professional development of their teachers and staff. Q: How do you support professional learning for your teachers?

A Listening School

Schools should routinely offer several forums where the community can give valuable input. In international schools we have highly educated parents and teachers with considerable experience of what works elsewhere. Students are also very astute about what works and what doesn’t. Q: How do you create opportunities for feedback to improve as a school?

Promoting International Mindedness

It is easy to assume that because international schools often have students of many nationalities that the school promotes international mindedness. However, in the words of Professor George Walker, “more than the rubbing of shoulders is necessary” and schools need to be very intentional in ensuring that their students truly receive the benefits of this diversity and a true international education. Learning experiences that foster international mindedness and cross-cultural competence should be built into course materials, into the learning outcomes, and should be supported through school events and activities. Q: How do you intentionally promote international mindedness?

The lady-speech

Thinking Ahead

Schools are incredibly busy places and when the daily needs of the students come first, one can be forgiven for focusing on the here and now and addressing the issues on our desks. However, schools must also have one eye firmly on the future to be able to adapt as needed to the kind of school students will need. The world is changing incredibly fast and schools need to be able to challenge the status quo, adapt to changes, and prepare students for a world they can’t themselves fully envisage. Q: What are you doing as a school to plan for the future needs of students?

Being Inclusive

Good schools embrace the challenges of meeting the learning needs of as many students as possible, including the highly able. Each child is unique and the role of the school is to meet the needs of the children in its community. Q: What is your inclusion policy? How will my child’s unique needs be met?

Providing a Well Rounded Education

Good schools also support student development through a vast range of extracurricular activities including the arts, athletics, community service, clubs, cultural exchanges, trips, outdoor education and much more. Students must not only reach their academic potential, but also develop as people, as artists, as athletes and as caring, contributing members of society. Q: How do you provide opportunities for my child to be involved in a variety of activities and opportunities?

College Support

Schools often have students from many nationalities and it is incumbent on the school to provide specialist support for the college application process whatever the destination country. This can be a confusing and stressful process for both students and parents and expert support is very much needed. Q: How do you engage parents and students in planning for life after high school?

A Choice To Make
Product for student

Parents of today are fortunate as there are so many excellent schools around the world, including Bangkok, and this range can often make the decision a more difficult one. Hopefully, this list of important qualities and key questions can assist with this important choice.

Dr. Davies holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Philosophy, a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and a Doctorate Degree in International Education. He also serves on the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) Heads Council as well as the EARCOS Board.
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