ECIS – supporting best practices in international education

Eteach caught up with Mary Langford, Deputy Executive Director of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), to find out why the organisation is such a leading player in the world of international education and to learn more about its events, professional development programmes and its significance for anyone considering a career working overseas.

Firstly, could you explain what ECIS is and what it actually does?

To paraphrase our mission statement, ECIS is the leading collaborative global membership organisation that promotes and supports the ideals and best practices of international education.

ECIS is unique in that it has over 30 professional committees, consisting of volunteers from member schools who are at the coal face of current practice and pedagogical development.

They keep us informed and recommend important innovations in their particular area that we should highlight, such as potential topics, speakers and workshop trainers. They also source and supply articles for our publications. ECIS school membership supports everyone in the school; senior leaders (heads and directors, board members and proprietors, business managers, advancement directors); class, subject and specialist teachers (for example, ESL/Mother Tongue, ICT, Librarians, SEN, Science) and support staff such as Administrative Assistants, ICT Technology Directors, etc. The range of professional development activities is comprehensive.

We also have Affiliate Members representing other organisations and NGOs (such as the International Award Association, University of Cambridge International Examinations and Eteach International) involved in the delivery of international education or training and supporting members who are suppliers of other services to international schools (such as Follett International, Pearson Education and Sodexo). Individuals may also join ECIS and use many of these services.

While access to the professional development programmes is the focus of membership, we always hear from our members that it is the fantastic ECIS network of like-minded professionals that they most appreciate. When conferences are planned, the location and the cultural amenities that international educators may experience are part of the equation. The collective wisdom and experience of the ECIS membership is impressive.

What are the main benefits of membership for schools, organisations and individuals?

The main benefit is access to ECIS conferences, certificate programmes, benchmarking statistical survey and the opportunity to benefit from our strategic partnerships through our Affiliate and Supporting Memberships. An example of this is the newly launched ECIS iTunes U with Apple Computer, which enables members to access and interact with online courses and presentations.

ECIS also publishes IS Magazine, the International Schools Journal (ISJ) – now in its 30th year and highly regarded by researchers in the field of international education – and the Effective Series with books on a range of topics relevant to international schools.

ECIS Fellowships make financial grants available to educators doing research. The most recent project was the design of a generic International Individual Education Plan (IIEP) for international schools with students with special needs, that can be downloaded for free from our website.

There is an ECIS Outreach Grant for students working in worthy projects promoting community service learning, and the Peter Ustinov Fellowship granted through ECIS similarly is awarded to students working in projects that break down barriers of prejudice. We also offer international awards for adults and students to honour their ‘international mindedness’ and contributions to international education and international schools.

Could you tell us about some of the events you organise?

Our major conferences are the first that come to mind. The November conference is aimed at teachers and administrators and held in a different European city each year. They attract up to 2000 participants from all over the world and feature inspiring keynote speakers such as Professor Sugata Mitra. He’s an Indian professor, now at Newcastle University, whose famous ‘Hole in the wall’ longitudinal research project, installed computers in the slums and villages of India and other impoverished settings and sheds light on how students evolve as independent learners. Professor Mitra was the inspiration for the story behind Slumdog Millionaire. In addition to keynote speakers, there are approximately 240 workshops offered over the course of the three days.

Our April conference is for the senior leadership of our schools and attracts about 600 participants. This is for heads, boards and governors, business managers, development directors and even spouses (a sometimes lonely and challenging role in the school community). This year we had several keynote speakers, including Dr Kyung Hee Kim, a Korean professor of education at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. Her ground-breaking empirical research has changed what we know about diagnosing and nurturing creativity in children and was the feature cover story for Newsweek Magazine last summer. Dr. Kim told us she had turned down invitations to appear on CNN and Oprah Winfrey’s show, but was keen to come to ECIS to speak to international educational leaders!

These major ECIS conferences feature pre-conference workshops offered by organisations such as the Global Issues Network, Martin Skelton and his team at Fieldwork Education, amongst other major players in the field of international education.

Our subject committees also organise their own specific conferences that attract up to 400-500 participants. Especially popular are Librarians, or ESL/Mother Tongue that feature top speakers and workshop leaders, such as the ever-popular Jim Cummins from University of Toronto at ESL or the English Poet Laureate Children’s Poet Michael Rosen at the Early Childhood Conference.

Please tell us about some of your certificate programmes, and in particular your International Teaching Certificate, which is currently open for enrolments.

ECIS has responded in recent years to recommendations from our members to develop more sustained ongoing professional development opportunities, and here we have been strengthened by our collaborative partnerships. With Fieldwork Education and the National Association of Head teachers, we have developed the International Leadership and Management Program (ILMP) for senior school leaders. The Sustainable International Governance Diploma Program (SISG) is a fresh and dynamic approach for training those people responsible for the strategic oversight of the school. Unlike previous programmes that have tended to draw heavily on ‘national’ governance models, the SISG reflects the diversity that characterises our member schools.

Diversity means in terms of nationality and culture of the governing body, diversity in ownership models such as state-funded, not-for-profit, and for-profit schools (the biggest growth sector in the international schools market), diversity in terms of size and student population, or new schools and well-established schools. Our collaboration here has been with the London Business School and IMD in Switzerland, top business schools that provide speakers for our SISG modules who help to attract key international school governance stakeholders to our programme.

The International Teacher Certificate is a blended professional development programme that ECIS has developed in partnership with University of Cambridge International Examinations, who are the independent examiners. It seeks to take experienced teachers and challenges them to become more internationally-minded, reflective practitioners. The ITC’s merit is being recognised by universities in the UK, USA and Australia which offer master’s credit for the ITC, by AdvancED – a US accrediting agency that regards the ITC as teacher certification for their overseas teachers, and most recently by the International Baccalaureate who have made it a pathway to the IB Level 1 Teacher Award. The ITC is the only non-university pathway to the IBL1, and is one of four institutions in the world authorised to prepare teachers for the IB Primary Years Programme, IB Middle Years Programme. There are still places available for the next ITC – there’s more information and an application form on our website here.

To read the rest of Mary’s interview, come back in a few days when we will be posting part two …

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