What advice would you give an educational services company (ESC) that wants to break into the international school market? When I lived in the U.S. I consulted with a couple providers who offered afterschool activity programs so my experience is pretty minimal. But I can put on my instructional technology hat to think as a designer looking at challenges and opportunities to then develop some plans moving forward.
I am reminded that the first step to support clients is to determine their needs. My son Sam adds to this point that the ESC should not look at the client’s needs only within the scope of the services that they can provide. They should be ready to say “we don’t have the know how to help you with the difficulty but we can help find someone who does”.
With international schools it is important to focus on their mission and values at the center of one’s services. We need to recognize that schools in general are pretty conventional places so starting with making things run better comes first followed then by helping school leaders feel comfortable with new ideas.
I am reminded of a talk that Daniel Pink gave our staff at one of my schools. He said to be very careful in using words such as “innovative or cutting edge” in describing new programs. Even progressive minded parents who want their children to develop their thinking skills want pretty much the same experience that they had when they were students.
The elephant in the room for some international schools is that their students are so managed and over-scheduled outside of school. Some students miss out on the normal developmental learning opportunities of unstructured play and making independent choices. Having free time and opportunities to make decisions to become more independent is a problem that some schools are taking on through their parent education outreach. It is a subject that an ESC should seek to learn more about. I am guessing that the ESC could combine Outward Bound style activities along with unstructured times giving students more “real life” experiences.
My approach here is to list needs and support strategies for the stakeholder populations of international schools. The themes of personalization, coaching and accessibility as well as self-discovery and personal growth run through the strategies and constructs. As stated previously, the first step is to find out what the needs of the stakeholders are to then design the programs to meet the needs. The needs will vary depending on factors such as what programs are already offered, locality and school culture (i.e., school mission) and school leadership mindset (i.e., static “That Is The Way We Have Always Done It” vs a growth and openness to possibilities mindset).
The following are ideas that I have written or podcasted about that could be developed by an ESC to offer as services for their clients. The following strategies and program offerings cut across, in several cases, the student, staff and parent stakeholder populations.
Resource Websites/Portals: Challenge> Students, teachers and parents need access to valid information to support their roles as learners, teachers and parents. Students- Libraries often provide a good listing of databases for general research but too often students turn to search engines for their schoolwork. Teachers- Many teachers prepare learning modules posted in their school Learning Management System (LMS) so they often are looking for new resources. Parents- Some international schools have some form or other of a parenting resources web page or two but that doesn’t mean they might not need consultation to improve them. Another needed resource list for parents is orientation support not only to the school but to the community and country as a whole.
Students- Work with interested staff to build out the current LMS information resources portal for skill and subject specific content or develop a separate resource website, if needed. My Web Resources for Learning is an example site that was not created for one specific school so it is a bit general and some of the links need updating. There are plenty of web resource sites that an ESC can draw from to connect to the teaching and learning needs of their client schools.
Teachers- There is a teacher section of my Web Resources site that can be used as an example. Connecting to personalization, teachers need specific books, videos, instructional strategies, web resources, etc. to improve their day to day teaching and units of study. I am thinking that the ESC either has resource finders on staff or hires independent contractors (think Etsy model). I wrote about this in my Information Brokers blog post.
Parents- Parents don’t always have access to parenting books in their native language so they need valid information in their language on parenting along with other topics such as orientation to a new school and country, school calendars, events, parent workshops, etc. Parents also can be supported by helping them connect with one another.
In the early 2000s, Justin Hardman designed and built a multi-faceted community sharing and learning portal for Hong Kong International School (HKIS). It was called the myDragonNet. Justin was way ahead of his time with the myDragonNet Learning Management System (LMS) because it provided space in the portal for parents and the greater community to connect to one another. It had a social networking feel to it as groups could set up their mini-portal within the system. I don’t know if current commercial LMS providers offer modules for community members or not. So I can see an ESC working with the current LMS to adapt functionality to do so or to build a separate portal for parents and community groups. To give you an idea of what Justin created, you can read the article we wrote about it. Helping schools design and construct a parent portal would be high on my list of services offered. An added component would be to offer face to face and online courses for parents to help them construct their parenting toolkit.
Personal Learning Plan: Challenge> We want our students to be engaged and taking ownership of their learning. However, as students progress through the school divisions they sometimes become passive and reactive to the high stakes programs like AP and IB. They learn to play the game of school. Thus, how then can we give students more agency, engagement and control over their learning?
In the U.S., students who have documented special needs by law must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). I have heard of some schools with leadership who realized that all students could benefit from personal learning plans so they create them for all students.
Teachers- See Personal Teaching System response below as teachers can benefit from having a professional learning plan to improve their Personal Teaching System. Too often schools bring in consultant PD providers who offer a one size, sit and get delivery experience. Teachers, just as their students, deserve a differentiated approach that hopefully involves some individualization.
Parents- The often used line is that parents don’t receive a how to parenting manual with the birth of their children. Fortunately we have a wide range of authors and websites that can help us create our parenting toolkit.
Students- I cannot see the ESC coming in to help design learning plans for all students for a number of reasons. But I can see them consulting and coaching providing a template and menus with learning strategies to draw from. My big take is that the students should be at the center of the learning plan design process working with their teachers and parents as coaches to design and follow through on their plan. Each student should have a learning plan as part of his/her portfolio.
Here are a couple related blog posts.
Parents- I think one of the first steps parents can take in designing how they will raise their children is to construct a family mission statement. Over time we bring our children into the mission statement development process to redesign our statements with the byproduct of helping orient our children to the process of understanding one’s values and how to act with them in mind. I can see the ESC providing face to face and virtual workshops to give parents the blueprint to then work with their children to create their family mission statement.
Personal Teaching System: Challenge> Many international schools provide lots of ongoing professional learning opportunities for their teachers. This doesn’t sound like a problem. The difficulty can be with teachers feeling overwhelmed with instructional strategies, assessment techniques, etc. The reality is that good teachers really do develop their personal “teaching toolkit” to design and deliver learning experiences for their students. Teachers choose from approaches such as Project-based, Problem-based and Inquiry while creating activities that help differentiate the content, process and products for flexible grouping of students. Fortunate young teachers have mentors and Personal Learning Communities (PLC) in their schools and Professional Learning Networks (PLN) that also help grow their teaching system.
Teachers- I wrote about this topic in a blog post where I noted a place for consultancy companies to be like an information broker but for finding thought leaders and practitioners for teachers to follow via Twitter, blogs, podcasts and other conduits to improve their teaching. An ESC could provide mentoring and coaching in person and also virtually, possibly starting a network of retired teachers interested in coaching teachers new to the profession. As mentioned earlier, I don’t think bringing in consultants to deliver a one size fits all PD experience is as effective as guiding teachers to personalize their PD by giving them a menu of podcasters, bloggers, authors and other experts to include in their Personal and Professional Learning Network (PLN). When you add in the process of being coached to develop a learning plan with goals and activities, I think our teachers really take ownership of their PD which then has more follow through in the classroom. Here is our Edtech Co-Op podcast show on the topic of personalizing PD.
Personal Life Plan: Challenge> Children and adults face an information overloaded world with ever increasing expectations for performance in school and at work. This is leading to growing levels of anxiety and declining well-being in our populations. Students and Teachers- The overlapping with Personal Learning Plan and having a Life Plan seems pretty obvious. We don’t just plan for and learn at school. We learn for life so a pathway forward is helpful.
Students- Just as with the Personal Learning Plan, the ESC would work as consults and coaches to help schools design and implement this program. The Personal Life Plan would encompass the whole child with sections dedicated to life skills, character development, wellness to include physical and mental well-being, etc. In other words, take a look at the Positive Education model with its six pillars and supporting character strengths in designing the plan template for your students. A possible helpful connection would be to also design a process for students to create their own mission statements with the learning plan providing actionable strategies to living the mission statement values.
This is where the coaching services come into play. I can see an ESC especially in MS and HS providing one to one life coaching services for students. In the Elementary School, the ESC consultants could partner with the school counselor (life coach) and the teachers to develop a robust wellness program. Looking at the physical, intellectual, emotional and social needs of the students, the students could use a number of learning systems (e.g., portfolio, personal planner) along with goal-setting to map out their plan to be well and to thrive. Here are a few blog posts on wellness and the counselor as life coach.
Teachers- I can definitely see the ESC providing life coaches to help teachers design and implement individual wellness plans including the writing of individual and family mission statements.
Personal Learning System: Challenge> Back to the stress and information overloaded world we live in, students, teachers and parents can benefit from a framework that harnesses technology and learning hacks to support their learning.
Students, Teachers and Parents- With technology being so intrusive into our lives and at times managing us, I think an ESC could work with instructional coaches and teachers to help students manage the technology to support and enrich their learning. I write a lot about this at the Personal Learning System page of Web Resources for Learning. I can see the ESC offering workshops for teachers and parents along with coaching services to help them find the apps, websites and other resources to be more efficient and productive and hopefully more “digitally” well in their lives. The ESC could offer online courses at the parent portal not just for developing a learning system but also for other needs as requested by the parents.
There is the overlap with technology in life planning, life coaching and the personal learning system. The focus point is using technology to enhance lives which means developing a technology/media use plan that supports balanced living and well-being.
The themes of personalization, coaching and providing web-based resources run through these programs in some form or another. Schools have been working on “personalized learning” for some time now especially as it supports individualization and differentiation while also connected to inquiry and student agency. The teacher and instructional coaches work as designers who coach students to own and guide much of their learning. It is similar in the adult world with life coaches.
When I was living outside of Washington DC I spoke to many many driven, on top of their game people. I noticed that several of them had a personal chef, a financial coach, a fitness coach, a life coach, etc. My experience with international communities is similar in that I meet lots of very driven people. Sometimes people who are busy and have the funds want to be as efficient and productive in covering their needs as possible while working towards actualization with their personal growth. Coaching brings expertise into their lives. Thus, it makes sense for international schools to see how they might adapt to provide the coaching model in how they support their stakeholders. It seems like an excellent opportunity for educational services companies.
Offer Afterschool Activities (ASA)-
While this post is aimed at what an ESC can offer international schools, it is also the case that schools can go in-house, hire co-coordinators and build their own programs as in afterschool programs. This is in fact what schools do. Hopefully these ideas especially on ASAs make some sense for school leaders as I believe that ASAs offer a huge opportunity for international schools to further meet the learning needs of their students and parents while supporting the mission of the school.
My first advice to an ESC with afterschool activities is to see what some of the big dogs of Asian international schools are offering. Here is what I found for Hong Kong International School. This doesn’t mean you are going to find groundbreaking approaches. I see a huge opportunity to the bringing of fresh eyes and some unconventional thinking to view how international schools do afterschool activities. A couple starting points in rethinking afterschool programs would be to look at the needs and interests of the students and also the mission of the school. We then work backwards as designers to come up with an overall plan while at the same time piloting some classes to gather data in developing our overall blueprint.
Thinking beyond elementary school, an ESC can also look to the Middle and High schools to offer skill-based afterschool enrichment and mentoring for student-led clubs. Here is a listing at the Shanghai American School offering 100+ clubs for their students. While probably a great many of those clubs are student-initiated and student managed as they should be, I can see lower level international schools needing consultation and coaching to offer clubs connected to the school’s mission and student interest. They also at times will need outside expertise for mentoring with clubs especially ones looking for community outreach and real life experiences. And something tells me that some schools need athletic coaches as well.
I could see when developmentally applicable to offer “junior versions” of MS clubs as David Perkins says of activities that work for older students and can be redesigned for younger students.
One challenge for elementary schools is to ask teachers after long days of teaching to then offer afterschool classes. I am not sure where the big schools are in making teachers teach afterschool classes but I do remember seeing lots of outside contractors coming into the Upper Primary at the end of each day when I was at HKIS. I have a few ideas listed below that can take teaching afterschool classes off the plates of our teachers.
When I consulted a couple years ago with an ESC specializing in afterschool classes, we spoke about developing and documenting their curriculum so that new teachers could walk in and access the web-hosted lessons. This also meant that the Educational Services Company was not as dependent on the individual interests and talents of their teachers. Of course this didn’t apply to specialized classes like instrumental music or upper level painting but for most lighter content offerings it could work.
With the curriculum ready for new teachers, I can see international schools supporting their teaching assistants to teach the afterschool classes to earn some extra pay. Here is an example of a web-hosted class that I started that could be taught by someone other than myself.
One category of offerings could be to offer classes to prepare teams for international enrichment competitions as in Future Problem Solvers, Odyssey of the Mind, etc. One can offer standalone classes built around themes such as peace and reconciliation (i.e., The World Peace Game, speaking and presentation skills (i.e. perhaps a student version of Toastmasters that includes ICL presentation literacies, etc.) and of course all the possibilities that come with STEAM. There are also a lot of individual competitions that students could mentored to compete in.
A second idea that the owner of the ECS and I spoke about was to offer a series of classes in a discipline that students would earn badges towards a certification in. Here is an example in what I called The Digital Scholars Program which covers study skills, (digital) citizenship and some digital literacy skills. Another example could be certification in wellness following the PERMAH model making sure to include the “H” for health and the Positive Education approach to strengths education.
A third idea is that once the classes are created and taught face to face to then think about offering them first in blended fashion and possibly later in virtual form for students outside one’s international school. This takes me back to a meeting a long time ago at HKIS when the instructional technologists were meeting and talking about possibilities. We had come off the successful running of virtual school during SARS. This led us to think about how the school might start offering online courses for students outside of HKIS. We noted that the HKIS brand was strong and worth expanding.
A fourth idea is to work with one’s PTA and counseling staff to design and teach classes for parents. Helping busy parents expand their parenting toolkit already happens in many international schools with counselors teaching parent workshops and PTAs bringing in guest speakers. The next step would be to do a needs assessment to then design a curriculum for the workshops. Whether they are offered during regular school hours and/or after school is fine but marketing them as adult ASAs is just another way to make a connection with parents. And just as for the students, it would be a bonus to offer them in blended and virtual fashion for parents who cannot attend face to face classes. Check out my blog post on creating a parent portal for more information on this topic. And who knows, maybe the ESC offers more leisure-oriented classes as in cooking, fitness, etc. This connects to the life coaching and wellness theme mentioned earlier.
And then there are “academies”. Academies are where some overworked and over-managed international students go at the end of the school day to study languages, math, test prep, etc. Students start attending academies early in elementary school and continue through high school. I don’t know if this situation takes place in international schools around the world but it is prevalent in Asia.
I won’t get into the politics and parenting of sending students to academies but I am curious about what they would look like if offered on the campus of the international school. The optics might be bad especially with schools that try to get families to let their children go home after school to play and rest before they do their homework. I wonder if school-based academies might offer school leaders opportunities to improve the content and delivery while working with families to think about decreasing time their children spend at the classes. Academies could be a place for supporting all the personalized support strategies listed in this post including tutoring. Coaches at the academy could facilitate skill building in their students across several life categories including character strengths, wellness and communication skills to name a few possibilities.
This is an area where the ESC could advise and possibly run the academies for the school making sure to connect to the mission and values of the school.
One of the providers I worked with in the U.S. ran summer camps at schools and parks all around the Washington DC area. I can see an ESC doing the same for their client international schools not just in the summer but also during the long winter break for families that are not traveling.
Offer Blended to Virtual Delivery Support–
Blended learning is becoming more and more the norm in schools with the growth of Learning Management Systems with less time spent in class providing direct instruction. I can see many international schools having the personnel and systems in place to support blended learning. But something tells me that some schools have the tech infrastructure but they need guidance to leverage it to deliver the opportunities that blended learning can provide. Educational services companies could provide the needed expertise in this area.
One big lesson that we learned at HKIS was that providing blended learning is the first step towards being equipped to handle a school crisis that leads to school closure. I can see an ESC providing schools the know how to not only fully develop their crisis plan but also to prepare the school to go virtual in case of closure.
Offer Administration Support–
I am listing this stakeholder group on their own because they have so much to do in their jobs especially around planning, accreditation, local regulations, budgets, etc. etc. With so much to do operationally, some schools might need the expertise and outsourcing that educational services companies can provide to support new initiatives and program management. Here are a few examples of normal programs and processes that some schools might need support with.
- professional learning opportunities for staff
- curriculum development and mapping
- school crisis management plan development and implementation
- policy and procedure documentation
- change management
Schools leaders already naturally turn to the world of consultants. Educational services companies are consultants, yes, but something tells me that there are not many who offer a wide array of expertise. I then wonder if enterprising ESCs might offer a broker service giving their school clients menus of specialized consultant options with their backgrounds, costs, etc. to help in deciding who to hire.
I enjoy reading business articles and books. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts with interviews of thought leaders. Something tells me that educational service companies led by business and education minds offer their client schools wonderful opportunities to support all their stakeholder populations.