ECIS – supporting best practices in international education – part 2

Here is part two of our interview with Mary Langford, Deputy Executive Director of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS). In this piece Mary discusses what some of the main issues for ECIS members are and what prospects there are for teachers who wish to embark on an international career.

Whereabouts are your members – could you give some examples?

I tend to describe the ECIS membership as a ‘broad church’. We have small schools with under 100 students, and large schools with over 2000.  We have schools that offer the International Baccalaureate programmes, US curriculum including Advanced Placement, UK national curriculum, CIE IGCSEs and A-Levels, International Primary Curriculum, host country curricula, bilingual programmes, and a combination of any of these. Some schools are populated almost entirely by students from the host country, some are entirely international with no majority of any single nationality or culture, and anything within that spectrum. Some are ‘company’ schools set up by corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell who want to ensure quality education for the children of their expatriate employees, and ‘state funded’ schools such as the JFK School in Berlin which is largely supported by the German and US governments.

Despite the ‘E’ in our name and our European location and legacy, ECIS has member schools throughout the world. The International School of Havana, Cairo American International School, Western Academy in Beijing, French-American International School in San Francisco and Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, Venezuela illustrate that!

What are some of the main issues for your members, and how does ECIS help?

I think our schools generally have two ongoing challenges that are pertinent to ECIS. One is the possible threat of ‘professional and institutional isolation’. Our traditional international schools are usually quite unique and different from local schools in a given country. Therefore, access through ECIS to cutting-edge professional development that enables everyone in the school – teachers, administrators, academic leaders and board members – to keep up with best practice is often a priority.

The second challenge is the cost of maintaining and sustaining quality 21st century education, attracting the best educators possible and maintaining and developing suitable facilities, while relying on the income generated by the school – through tuition fees, in some cases development fundraising initiatives, but also by creating alternative income streams. With the exception of a very few ‘state’ funded schools, most of our members are independent and completely self-funding, unlike the many schools that are supported by national or local public funds.

ECIS provides this support through conferences and our more sustainable training programmes, publications and web-based resources as well as through ECIS Consultancy Services. Our members can be assured that ECIS attention to cost efficiency and quality control means they are receiving value for money.

What’s the significance of ECIS for those thinking about working overseas as teachers?

Although international schools provide a truly invigorating, enriching and exciting professional context in which to work, the points I made in the previous answer mean that teachers can find they become out of touch and disconnected from what is going on in their field. This is particularly the case when a teacher or specialist finds he or she is the only one in the school with the particular area of responsibility.

International schools come in all sizes, and it is not unusual to be the only teacher per year group if there is single stream entry, or the only subject teacher (such as art, music, chemistry, librarian) teaching children ages 5-18. There may not be any similar schools nearby, and so it can be a lonely job with no ‘job alike’ colleagues to share ideas with or with whom to discuss curricular matters. The ECIS links and networks can prove to be vital in such cases.

Also, I am sure Eteach would agree, teachers need to carefully vet the overseas schools they are considering. Some schools are increasingly aware of the value that prospective teachers place on the school’s support of professional development as part of the benefits offered. Schools which are members of ECIS are more likely to ensure that their staff are aware of those opportunities and experiences. It is important to ask those questions at interview.

If ongoing professional development is a concern for the teacher (and it should be!), by working at an ECIS-member school, the ECIS conferences and certificate programmes are available at a reduced rate. ECIS is no longer an accrediting association, but schools that are members either must be accredited (for example by CIS or COBIS), or they will have had a visit from someone from ECIS to ensure they are complying with the ECIS Ethical Guidelines. So it is a form of quality control.

What are the prospects for the future for those wanting to embark upon an ‘international career’, and how can they best prepare?

The data about the increase in the number of international schools is staggering. There will continue to be growth in the numbers of teachers and senior leaders required for these schools, and it is a wonderful career path for any curious, adventurous and open-minded educator who is internationally-minded. As Mark Twain said, ‘travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’.

We believe the ITC and the ILMP make good nationally-trained educators even more attractive candidates for positions in international schools, and welcome any interested educators to find out more on www.ecis.org. They may choose to do this even before they leave Britain while still in their host country school, provided there is an international context within which they can do their school-based course-related assignments.

This may be a school with an international/intercultural student population, a school with a mission or curriculum that embraces global studies or an international dimension, or schools such as those affiliated with the British Council international schools. It is a great way to enhance ones CV, but also to gain insights into the life of the international school before making that significant life-changing journey along what Robert Frost described as ‘the road not taken’.

Many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with Eteach.

Mary Langford is Deputy Executive Director of the European Council of International Schools, and Instructor for the ITC. She’s worked in almost every facet of school life: administration and personnel, admissions, alumni, public relations, marketing and communications, teaching (ESL and Spanish), and as head of school in both the European-based schools offering a combination of US, UK and IB curricula. She has also been a consultant advising expatriate families seeking school placements in the UK and abroad, and in her early years worked in diplomatic and political positions in Washington. Mary’s graduate research published in 1997, focused on global nomads and international schools. Many of the conclusions and recommendations resulting from her quantitative research and published in her dissertation are now incorporated into the ITC syllabus, and Mary’s articles have been published around the world.

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