Objective: The objective of this case study is to highlight some of the key features of a sustainable professional development model towards establishing an effective curriculum and instruction plan within the “revolving-door syndrome” of international schools (Hawley, 1994; Benson, 2011), particularly in the middle east.
Why it matters: The key findings that emerged from a 4-year research-inquiry (2012-2015) on school-based curriculum development initiatives in international schools in the middle east (conducted towards earning my doctorate in education at the University of Bath, UK) highlighted that teachers unanimously agreed that moving beyond the regurgitation of content to a concept-based approach to curriculum and instruction to promote deep conceptual understanding is immensely rewarding and valuable. Be it teaching in IB programs (across the continuum – Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program, Diploma Program) or implementing the U.S. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in American International schools, the value of teaching for deep conceptual understanding cannot be underestimated.
However, findings showed that implementing school-based curriculum initiatives with consistency, rigor and intellectual clarity is often a challenge- particularly when the schools’ teachers and leaders are constantly changing. At issue: well-intentioned curriculum development initiatives unintentionally result in “hodgepodge curricula” that look good on paper but become “lost-in the-sauce” when it comes to classroom practice.
Although I am not proposing that I can offer a quick-fix to this challenge, through my work as a curriculum consultant with international schools for the last 4 years, I’ve found that key features must be in place to facilitate professional development that leads to sustainable improvement of curriculum and instruction.
I applied this understanding to build a sustainable professional development model for the American United School of Kuwait, where I currently serve as a Curriculum and Instruction consultant. The school wanted to establish a k-12 balanced literacy programme, implementing the U.S. Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
KEY FEATURES OF THIS MODEL:
- The professional development plan at AUS is based on an overarching Curriculum and Instruction Plan developed by the school, that clearly identifies short, medium and long- term goals of the institution. This ensures more dependency on systems and procedures versus depending on individuals.
- The professional development agenda is co-created by the consultant, Curriculum Coordinator and the Literacy coach at AUS. A number of virtual conversations are arranged before the in-house professional development days with the consultant so that the in-house training is need-based and goal focused.
- Professional development days include both push-in and pullout sessions where the consultant not only shares and trains staff on research-based effective practices, but also models instructional strategies in the classroom for teachers. During this time, the Curriculum Coordinator and the Literacy Coach also take the opportunity to model these strategies for teachers.
- PD days include plenty of opportunities for teachers to model newly learned strategies for peers and receive valuable feedback from the consultant and the leadership team. Thus, ample opportunity is provided during the PD days for teacher feedback, debriefing and sharing of experiences and challenges in an open, yet non-judgmental environment.
- Leadership participation is almost always an essential component of PD days at AUS- and this in turn can instantly improve accountability and ensure consistency. It is an orchestrated team effort.
- PD days conclude with a debrief (with the consultant, all leaders, and team leaders) in order to identify the next step – how the learning is going to be applied consistently and sustainably towards improving student learning outcomes after the consultant has left the building. Following discussion, an Action Plan is created.
REFLECTIONS ON THE PROCESS:
Dr. Jennifer Beckwith, Director of the American United School of Kuwait
Each year International Schools face an influx of new educators to their school communities. It is not enough that we assist them to manage the transitions and challenges of living and adjusting in a new country for they will grasp this sequence in a relatively short period. It is the curriculum initiatives, common language and expectations for student achievement that must be monitored throughout the year, requiring a tailored professional development plan for the school.
This balanced professional development plan is not only data driven but necessitates a financial commitment for more than one year to make a difference. We know educators who do not experience effective professional development do not improve their skills, and student learning suffers. According to Hayes Mizell, Why Professional Development Matters, “When time set aside for professional development is used effectively and parents receive reports about student results, they realize the benefits to teachers and their students far outweigh the scheduling inconvenience”. Thoughtful scheduling during an educator’s work day and fund allocation in support of mentoring, coaching and observation of expert teachers are keys to successful PD opportunities.
At AUS, we have found modeling to be a highly effective method to introduce a new concept and to help teachers understand a new practice. The reality of professional development that works is to hire consultants not vendors who can provide actual support for classroom practices over time. When our teachers witnessed the consultant coming into their classroom and applying a strategy and/or practice of a new skill with students she did not know and it worked, their underlying beliefs changed because they saw success. Teachers now recognize they have a supportive collaborator that happens to be a consultant. Furthermore this supportive person will return in 6 weeks, is available via social media, webinars, and will follow-up with them.
It is not increasing the time spent in professional development but rather spending time wisely in supporting teaching. Providing support helps teachers navigate the frustration that comes from using a new instructional method. There is no better approach than having an actual practitioner to build support, respect and share the craft of teaching. We will continue to increase our PD Instructional Support budget over the next few years to include non-educators, technology, HR and finance to attain an inclusive plan for the AUS school community.
What clearly emerges from the above is two-fold: One: in order to bring about sustainable and effective changes in curriculum and instruction, curriculum experts in the role of consultants need to work alongside the school leadership team with focused short-term and long-term vision. Two: in order to be translated into effective classroom practice, research-based effective practices delivered by consultants also call for curriculum consultants to model the same in classroom settings.
More about Dr. Sudha Sunder’s work with international schools is available here:
- IB and the Next Generation Science Standards:
- Concept-based curriculum and instruction:
- Balanced Literacy and implementing the Common Core State Standards:
- Research presentations at international conferences
Jennifer J. Beckwith, Ph.D. is the Founding Director of the American United School of Kuwait. Dr. Beckwith has over 30 years’ experience in Education. She has lived and worked in the Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Italy, Japan and Bahrain.