Are International Schools Hotbeds for Top Educator Talent?

International educators are amazing. Okay, so that is a sweeping generalization. I’m sure that we can find enough non-examples to challenge my claim. Nonetheless, I’ve been reflecting on my February trip to Hong Kong and Vietnam, where I had the pleasure of interacting with teachers at Hong Kong International School, Concordia International School in Hanoi (as well as couple other international schools in Hanoi), along with an impressive collection of international school educators from Asia and beyond who gathered in Hong Kong for the 21st Century Learning Conference. It left me considering the idea of international schools as hotbeds for top educator talent.

I’ve spoken at and attended many conferences over the years (well over a hundred), but I’ve never been to an event where educators collectively and individually demonstrated so much engagement, curiosity, and love for their work. It was the antithesis of events like [I originally┬áreferenced a specific event here, but decided it was in better taste to leave it out] which, I hate to say, have this subtle but evident┬áintellectual stench of a dying education system. Instead, this conference of international educators was vibrant, inspiring, intellectually stimulating, and had the sweet aroma of hope for the future of education. I wasn’t with them long enough to better understand the impact of their practice, but I can say with confidence that, as a group, they conveyed a level of passion for the profession that was inspiring and heartening.

While I’m sure that some of these schools are grappling with plenty of serious issues, it was refreshing to attend an education event where people were not lamenting the latest external mandate and its implications on their school (although I’m sure that they must have at least some parallel challenges). They were not obsessing about external policy and self-preservation. Instead, they were talking about teaching and learning. As a group, these teachers cared about curiosity and a love of learning. As best as I could tell, they were largely interested in creating world-class learning communities and experiences for young people.

Again, I realize that my limited time in these contexts leaves some of these ideas as conjecture, but I’ve been to enough education conferences to trust my subjective experience to some degree, at least enough to know that the attendees at the 21st Century Learning Conference helped to create a wonderful and positive ethos, one that I would love to see at more education events, conferences, and communities. In fact, the ethos at this event was comparable to the climate at many of the innovative and student-centered learning organizations that I’ve highlighted on this blog over the years.

While it varied from school to school, there was certainly a consistent challenge among many of these international schools. Parents, for example, tend to have high standards for their children academically, wanting them to attend the best higher education institutions in the world. As such, you can find plenty of families interested in the traditional GPA, test scores and whatever else gives their student an advantage in the competitive admission process to these top Universities. At the same time, and I realize this is easier said than done (not to mention a bit presumptuous coming from an outsider), these are parents who are invested in their children’s education. If you can introduce them to the broader range of possibilities in education and the benefits for their children’s future, then you have a potent combination that can launch such a school into the stratosphere when it comes to student engagement and learning.

At minimum, reflecting on this trip and some of the distinctives of these teachers and their communities, I am certain of one thing. If I were starting a new school or I was leading a high-impact and innovative school in the United States, and I wanted to find top education talent, I guarantee you that I would be scanning the teaching rosters in top international schools around the world. I’m convinced that they have a special concentration of teachers with a sense of adventure, a commitment to excellence (in themselves and others), and an openness to trying something new and impactful in the education space.

With regard to the last paragraph, I should be more direct. I know the audience for my blog pretty well. I realize that one segment of my readership consists of many founders and leaders of innovative education organizations and schools. As such, I’m really writing this for you. If you are looking to find top educator talent for your school, check out the international schools.