Identifying leadership challenges when building capacity for professional development in an international school setting

Greenwood, Jane (2017) Identifying leadership challenges when building capacity for professional development in an international school setting. [Dissertation (University of Nottingham only)]

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Independent international schools form a myriad of schools that have established around the world. These schools offer a style of curriculum whether it is British, Australian, American or the universal International Baccalaureate, however, they operate outside a national framework and the implementation and adherence to the chosen curriculum can vary, in part, from school leader to school leader, school to school and country to country. Variations exist that may be influenced by the cultural, economic and financial constraints, as well as the leadership and power within the schools themselves.

The premise for this essay stems from my own experience as a principal and the professional challenge to promote a school’s vision in line with the individual and collective development of teachers in an international setting. Ensuring the relevance of continuous professional development for a school and its teachers and securing improved outcomes for its children is a challenge for many schools. Offering professional development in an independent international setting can bring a wealth of learning opportunities from a wide range of influences. Equally, when operating outside a framework of national guidelines it can bring challenges, raise questions and draw out feelings of frustration, apprehension and scepticism from leaders, managers and teachers alike. Finding continuous professional development opportunities and creating the right balance to meet the needs of the range of stakeholders is the challenge faced by many principals and academic leaders. Achieving this balance is often dependent on the contextual and situational factors pertinent to an individual school, its location and it governance rather than an organised and planned long term vision for it.

Having worked in independent international schools for over ten years I have come to appreciate that each school has held varying degrees of participation and commitment towards continuous professional development. The longer one remains on the international teaching circuit, the broader one’s perception grows of the challenges faced in offering continuous professional development. The relatively small international teaching community does not reflect the rapid expansion of independent international schools and the separation from the rigour of a national


framework for education can expose teachers and leaders to feeling vulnerable and isolated. Social media, education forums and blogs keep international teaching successes and issues in the forefront of educators’ minds and help keep people connected. It is to this community of educators that I have turned in order to gain perceptions, opinions and evidence when trying to understand the complexities that shape continuous professional development in independent international schools sector.

In the independent international school community the contrasts in understanding and perception of continuous professional development from school level, to ownership, management and teacher level is vast. Some schools holistically embrace the concept of ‘learning communities’ (DuFour: 2004, Hargreaves: 2003), others build discrete units according to specific needs identified on the school development plan, whilst a few may pay lip service to the whole concept. There is no hard and fast rule that states independent international schools have to implement continuous professional development and no overall governing framework for how these schools should support it. My experience with international professional development is not unique. Online forums such as the Academy for International Schools (AISH) or Public Schools Principals’ Forum (PSPF) actively encourage open discussion on critical issues such as the problems school leaders face when trying to gain relevant professional development or obtaining funding to implement it. An opinion often mooted by school leaders on such forums is that much of what is offered is done so in-house and is often in the form of transmission of skills to meet the needs of the school at a moment in time. Unlike the vast array of literature based on national frameworks and programmes, there has been little in the way of consistent analysis of continuous professional development offered at an international level; the take-up of it, the relevance of it to the school or the individual teacher, and there has been little formal monitoring beyond individual school analysis. Although literature surrounding independent international schools is still limited, it is now becoming an area of focus for researchers and in particular, for those working within the field.

This small piece of action research is based on my current experience as a principal in an international independent school in a remote part of the world and from my experiences in schools on three continents. It will also reach out to a small number of


leaders, managers and teachers to gather a sample of experiences relating to their own situation. The focus of this research will look at available literature on the purpose and impact of continuous professional development and attempt to apply a critical study of the perceptions of educators working beyond the reach of national systems and frameworks. This is a small piece of action research and does not claim to seek overall solutions. It does, however begin to look at key indicators, perceptions and barriers that may exist in relation to continuous professional development and which may support or hinder effective programmes of professional development for schools, leaders and teachers in the schools within an independent international school setting.

Item Type: Dissertation (University of Nottingham only)
Depositing User: Gigg, Diane
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2017 15:01
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2017 18:22

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