‘There needs to be a systematic shift in how teachers are trained’

Dr. Ahmed Hussain, senior director of academics at Wellington College China, discusses implications for professional learning and school improvement in international education

International school education is growing rapidly. There are currently over 10,000 such schools worldwide, serving 5.8 million pupils with more than half a million teachers (ISC Research, 2019). This represents between a sixfold to tenfold increase relative to 2000, depending on which region.

Growth is currently most dramatic in China, which has more international schools than any other nation with indications that the growth will accelerate in the coming years. Independent school education from the UK has played a critical role in the expansion of international school education.

Education across the world, however, is changing, reflecting economic, social and technological transformations; nowhere more so than China. So international schools in China, and beyond, must respond to offer a truly world-class education.

To achieve this, I suggest that schools must:

Define what ‘world-leading’ practice entails in their setting.

Create conditions for educators to innovate practice.

Recruit teachers that are rigorously prepared for international education.

Each of these points will be addressed in turn to propose a way forward for schools in China and across the globe.

Define ‘world-leading’

All schools draw on best practice and guidance from external sources. For instance, research conducted in universities informs national or local policy and initiative that in turn drives development and improvement in schools. This is sufficient to create great schools, but not sufficient to be a leader in education.

Being the generator of research, initiative and contextual best practice is the domain, I believe, of world-leading schools.

The international and bilingual model in China is a particularly notable example that requires an organisation or institution to be such a generator – one that is firmly the ambition for Wellington College China. This direction has been set because:

Much of the research that informs policy and practice is not conducted in a comparable context to bilingual or international school education.

Policy and practice must be contextualised to maximise impact on learning and teaching.

To achieve this, the Wellington College China Institute of Learning (IoL) has been founded to support, not only the practice of the six Wellington College China schools, but to be accessible to educators of all schools working within the international context.

Moreover, if sufficient high-quality research content is generated, this could influence policymakers and universities to engage with research that is contextually appropriate.

The challenge has already been embraced across Wellington College China, and Huili Education schools with research initiated in the following areas:

Comparative analysis of leadership in Chinese and international schools.

The impact of pedagogical approaches on pupil engagement, drawing on the application of AI technology.

Language acquisition in a range of bilingual models.

The relative impact of assessing wellbeing and involvement on pupil learning and development and the quality of teaching.

The impact on pupil achievement in mathematics of implementing assessment for learning strategies in primary schools in Shanghai.

To strengthen research work undertaken, the IoL has established a strategic partnership with Durham University, the leader in the UK for education, and University of Leuven, a world leader in wellbeing. The IoL will also work alongside leading universities in China such as the University of Nottingham, Ningbo and East China Normal University and indeed the local Chinese education system.

A summary of initial findings from these projects includes:

The introduction of an immersive story talk strategy for young learners in a bilingual context has been resulted in significantly improved communication and language outcomes.

AI technology has the capacity to measure levels of pupil engagement and initial studies provide an indication of the relative influence of pedagogy on engagement; for example, different questioning approaches result in varying levels of engagement.

The introduction of assessment for learning into the practice of primary school maths teachers in Shanghai resulted in significantly greater outcomes, most markedly with middle ability boys.

School-based research methodology has been taken beyond the Wellington College China family of schools and is now being led in areas such as Europe and the Middle East along with East Asia.

Together, the IoL is aiming to create a research movement designed to strengthen education in China and beyond.

Wellington College China

Create conditions to innovate practice

Great learning is a consequence of excellent teaching. The conditions for excellent teaching require effective professional learning that directly has an impact on practice and, in turn, learning.

The relationship between continued professional development (CPD) and its impact on learning is often murky, indeed often there is little, if any, correlation. What we know works is when CPD is:

Embedded over a sustained period and woven into the ‘rhythm’ of the school.

Coherent and meaningful in terms of desired outcomes, process and content.

Structured around effective professional learning approaches.

Supportive strategic priorities for the school and staff, and fully endorsed*.

This suggests that professional learning has impact when it focuses on the empowering teachers to take ownership, occurs locally and occurs in context. Importantly, Coe et al. (2015) indicate the importance of a sustained model.

The very best professional learning occurs when the teacher(s) perceive themselves as researchers, working to find answers to the questions posed in their own classrooms.

Being the generator of research, initiative and contextual best practice is the domain, I believe, of world-leading schools

The model of professional learning described above is that offered through the IoL not only for Wellington College China schools, but also for educators across China. The professional learning we lead is designed for impact and supported by the creation of a professional learning community that collaborate and communicate through a format that ensures sustained application in the school setting.

Moreover, the IoL draws on support from award-winning partners; for instance, SpaceZero, Karen Ardley Associates and Evidence Based Education, who share values and approaches to professional learning.

Recruit teachers that are rigorously prepared for the challenges of international education

There exists a truism that the most significant impact on learning is a great teacher. Therefore, world-leading schools will recruit teachers that are rigorously prepared for teaching in an international or bilingual context.

However, education systems in nations across the world are not designed to prepare teachers for international or bilingual schools, and, as such, it is necessary, in the long term, to cease pretending as such. With the rapid expansion of international education in China and across the world, there needs to be a systematic shift in how teachers are trained.

For instance, the IoL has established a strategic partnership with Durham University to offer a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in an international or bilingual context, with a specific focus on the demands of being an excellent teacher in an international or bilingual school, including a specific programme to prepare teachers in the early years. This is the way forward in ensuring world leading schools recruit suitably prepared teachers.

Finally, great schools are underpinned by a universal focus on learning. That is, each and every member of the community views learning as their goal, starting with the leader.

Robinson (2008) in her meta-analysis of what effective leaders do demonstrated that the relative effect size on learning when leaders promote and participate in the development of teachers, teaching and learning (0.84) is double that for more traditional features of effective leadership such as goal setting, strategic resourcing, coordinating and evaluating teams and ensuring systems are effective (0.27–0.42). This fits with points one and two above.

Together, the three points above may prove to be the progressive and innovative approach needed to secure a world-class education in international schools in China and beyond. As a team of passionate educators, the IoL is seeking to establish partnerships with schools in China and beyond to lead school-based research and offer high-impact professional learning and training opportunities.

For further information about the Institute of Learning, visit: http://iol.huilieducation.cn/the-inspiring-learning-conference-2019-coming-soon/


*Guskey (2009) and Coe et al. (2017)


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