Safeguarding: Best Practice and Process for Safer Recruitment

Screen Shot of the Webinar

Recruiting agency Schrole, hosted a webinar about Safer Recruitment. Schrole manager Sam Crowley hosted Jane Larsson, executive director of the Council of International Schools, and Laurie McLellan, the director of Nanjing International School (China) and they answered questions about recruitment. Below are my takeaways from the webinar.

  • Laurie is always surprised by the lack of calls he receives from schools that his leaving teachers are hired by. This year he did not receive a single reference check from the 10 teachers who left and the rate of reference checks are only about 10%. Jane reminded all of us to make video/phone calls! References often do not document inappropriate behavior, challenging behavior, etc. and the only way to get these out is through conversations with supervisors who worked with them.
  • Laurie always follows up when he gets CVs that list “travel”, “study”, or “leave” to describe gaps on their resume. People telling the truth usually give easy methods of following up to confirm what they did during their gaps.
  • To get rid of bias and safeguarding, Luarie’s school has a policy of at least three people interviewing or meeting candidates.
  • “What is on your front door?” Having the code of conduct, documents regarding child safeguarding, etc. on the school website and advertisements, will deter predators who may not apply at your school and find an “easier” target.
  • Laurie feels that peer references are not important, and prefers only supervisors. Perhaps at big schools, it might have some value, but he suggests going beyond the three listed references most candidates.
  • The Head of School reference is very important even though they are not the direct supervisor. Laurie has a child safeguarding script that he only uses with directors.
  • CIS recommends using their “Managing Allegations Protocols” when someone in a school community is facing allegations of misconduct.
  • Sometimes people embellish their resumes, especially with their job titles or roles at the school. Follow up with people with vague or odd-looking responsibilities.
  • Online recruitment is better than in-person fairs regarding child safeguarding because we are spending more time with candidates before hiring them with online recruiting. Years ago, directors and principals needed to make decisions quickly at in-person job fairs.
  • Schrole Verify is a good service they provide to conduct police checks, verify credentials and do an internet search of candidates.

Supporting International School Directors

Peter Welch, the director of the American International School of Bucharest, Romania delivered a workshop this morning during the spring CEESA directors meetings. Peter’s main message was that school leaders need to have a network of support around them.

Directing a vibrant, well-resourced, diverse international school community is such an honor and privilege. Every day, we have the opportunity to profoundly impact the lives of colleagues, students, and parents. With this meaningful work comes also much emotional energy, stress, and mental and physical challenges. Peter pointed out that in our roles as head of school, we face the following conditions:

  • Constant change (TIS average turnover is 100 students (and their parents) and 15 foreign faculty and staff annually)
  • Huge range of risks that we need to manage
  • The stress of being “public property”
  • Extraordinarily varied communication environment (I started my career as a biology teacher and now I am negotiating multimillion-dollar construction contracts.)
  • Changing board members and nurturing our relationships with them.

The stress on international school heads is increasing over time and creating an emerging crisis of leadership. The study cited below from 2011 showed that the average tenure of an international school head is under 4 years. Peter said that it is even less today. Heads are leaving the profession at an unprecedented rate. Much of it is due to school boards that administrators report to being mostly made of non-experts who may be biased due to having children in the school with limited time and energy due to their day jobs and they are changing regularly. The vast majority of board trustees I’ve worked with have been good people who have the best interests of the students and school guiding their actions. They are just put into a difficult position to govern the school under these conditions.

Quantitative and qualitative data from the 83 chief administrators who participated in the study suggests that the average tenure of an international school chief administrator is 3.7 years… (2011)

What can be done to help international school leaders? I am not sure much can be done regarding the system of international school governance. That is a whole other workshop. What Peter focused on in the workshop was the idea of directors thinking about their own network of support. The diagram below shows that directors need people around them to talk through issues and problems, people to encourage them, and people and ideas to inspire and give guidance. The biggest missing piece was to find people to listen to and converse with without judgment.

We discussed the fact that one of the most precious resources at a school is the director. The head of the school usually is the highest-paid employee and boards should be thinking of the head as a precious resource. They must be protected and nurtured to help push the business forward. This led to a conversation about executive coaching. The term “executive coach” might not capture the role. Alternative terms include mentor, ally, critical friend, associate, etc. One director in the meeting has an executive coach and he values the objective, independent voice that filters and makes sense of what is happening in a complex international school community and gives you advice on what actions to take.

There were two resources mentioned in the workshop. The first is the work of Richard Lewis, an expert in cultural intelligence and global communications. His chart to the left summarizes general communication styles in different cultures. I’ve worked mostly in the “Multi-Active” cultures which Uzbekistan fits right in. Prior to coming to TIS, I was in Japan which is a “Reactive” culture. I am from an American style of communication “Linear-active”. There is a lot to unpack here and it might be worth my time to read his seminal book, When Cultures Collide.

The other person mentioned was Viv Grant who is a UK-based school leader coach.

In the CEESA region, the chief executive of the school is referred to as the “director”. In other parts of the world, the CEO may be referred to as “head”, “head of school”, “headmaster”, or “lead teacher”.

Toxic Masculinity & Its Consequences

Mentoring young men is one of the most satisfying aspects of my work as an international educator. I get to do this through coaching athletics (basketball, cross-country running, track & field). Young men have always needed guidance and role models to help them build careers, and become good husbands and fathers. It is even more important today, however, because of the rise of women in education and the workplace. The traditional role of males in our society has changed due to the empowerment of women to excel in school and in a range of career fields. This is long overdue and I am glad to see many countries finally taking advantage of 50% of their population to be productive members of society in more than just child rearing, nursing, and teachers. Society is changing faster than many men can keep up with and schools can help.

I completed Stephen Whitehead’s workshop about Toxic Masculinity (TM) last week. The workshop was sponsored by our regional association, CEESA (Central & Eastern European Schools Association). I was bothered by the term, Toxic Masculinity (TM) as I thought it was another of the new “woke” terms bandied about on the internet. However, after attending the insightful workshop, I understand why it is used. Boys and men are struggling in K-12 and higher education. As Scot Galloway points out in this blog post, the percentage of men enrolled in US universities has dropped to 40% over the past 25 years.

CEESA leadership brought Dr. Stephen Whitehead to our schools because several schools reported male students being influenced by Andrew Tate. He is an influential social media personality that encourages young men and boys to value money and power over all else and treat women and the LGBTQ community rudely. Tate is taking advantage of the fear, frustration, isolation, and confusion of men who are reacting to the rise of women.

As Dr. Whitehead pointed out and from what I see in our school, the majority of males have progressive, masculine attitudes. Thanks to a supportive home and school environment, international school male students have role-model fathers and male teachers to guide their development into functioning adults. There is a significant minority, however, that are wholly unprepared and are susceptible to the ideas of people like Andrew Tate. Many males, especially men of color and poor, are isolated and frustrated because they are being left behind. I learned the term Incel, which means “involuntary celibate”. This is the phenomenon of men not being able to attract women. In part, this is due to a lack of success in school and hence, a lack of earning power post secondary and tertiary education. I also see all of us, including boys and men becoming more socially isolated due to individual digital devices (iPhone + Airpods means you do not need to interact with anyone). Ezra Klein in his podcast interview with professor Sheila Liming, “The Quiet Catastrophe Brewing in our Social Lives” talks about this increasing loneliness in our society.

Dr. Whitehead prescribes to help change the attitudes of male students is to become a school that practices Total Inclusivity. This is a systemic approach that recognizes, values, protects, and nurtures diverse identities. A school where no one is isolated, no one is discriminated against and all belong and all matter equally. He says you can’t cure TM through criticism or negativity, but by giving them the opportunity to love and understand themselves. He defined the concept of “self-love” as a regard for one’s own well-being and happiness by appreciating one’s physical, psychological, and spiritual growth. He also advises showing students that identities can change and deconstruct, what is a “normal” or traditional, male and female identity. Practically, this should start with a focus group of 5 female and 5 male older students that will inform the school on what is going on with social dynamics in the school. This then leads to a Total Inclusivity Group of faculty and older students that advocate for valuing all identities in the community.

He provided a summary of the workshop:

  • Males needing help with their identity and role in society is not new.
  • The female revolution is unstoppable.
  • Men at the end of the TM “cave” need help through education and counseling.
  • Most young males are not filled with TM, but see it as fashionable and cool.
  • TM males are rapidly becoming unemployable.
  • Male backlash against female empowerment is inevitable.
  • Traditional masculinity is becoming socially marginalized.
  • A Totally Inclusive environment and self-love cures male toxic behavior, bolsters the “immune system of girls” and improve learning for all students in the community.

I am interested in this topic and will conduct a workshop for parents, faculty, and student next school year. The resources I need to read are as follows:

New England Association of Schools & Colleges Visitor Training

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) ACE Learning Principles are a useful framework for accreditation. Trillium Hibbeln is the associate director of the NEASC wing of international education. I attended a full-day workshop led by her. My goal of the day was to get a better understanding of the ACE Ecosystem and how it is used by schools for accreditation. NEASC reaccredited TIS last month but we were not able to use the ACE Learning Principles because we were jointly accredited by the Council of International Schools. IB World Schools jointly accredited by NEASC/CIS use the CIS Domains and not the ACE Learning Principles. After learning more about the ACE Ecosystem, I am strongly considering dropping CIS accreditation and only going with NEASC because I think the ACE Ecosystem will be better for our school community. The CIS Domains are traditional in that they cover all areas of schools, not just curriculum or teaching and learning. This is important, but I think too much faculty time is spent on non-teaching issues. These can be covered with leadership concisely and not take up too much of our energy. 

Trillium explained that the ACE Learning Principles are designed to help schools continue to grow during accreditation years, instead of documenting their compliance with school fundamentals such as finance, facilities, etc. These things are important, but for an established school like TIS, they should not be the centerpiece of our reflection during an accreditation cycle.

Another big takeaway from the day to help my current position as director of an international school was considering my role in creating and implementing big learning plans at the whole school level. We are in the final stages of completing our new Strategic Plan and the day assisted me with getting the plan together at a reasonable length. I also learned more about NEASC and the work it does. 

NEASC is curriculum neutral and they accredit many types of international schools with different pathways for schools in different stages of development and curriculum types. Trillium recommended the book by Tod Rose, “The End of Average“.

The basic level is the six FOUNDATION STANDARDS. The foundation standards serve as the gatekeeper for new schools and check-in for the basics for accredited schools. The six big areas are as follows:

  • Learning Structure – A clear purpose/mission and shared understanding of teaching and learning is the top level. Underneath would be a written curriculum (vertically and horizontally aligned) and policies that support the academics such as Special Needs, English Language Learners, etc.
  • Organizational Structure – Solid governance (Board – Leadership)
  • Health, Safety & Security – Are the students, employees, and parents safe?
  • Finance, Facilities, and Resources
  • Ethical Practice – Miscellaneous documentation (policies/handbooks) and practices (website, climate survey, etc.)
  • Boarding/Residential – Special look at boarding students that are particularly at risk

ACE Pathways – The idea behind this was to change the process of accreditation. NEASC thought accreditation hijacked two years of innovation and growth by forcing schools to be compliant. Schools take time to evolve and the teaching and learning plans you are working on now will impact students in the future. In looking at the principles, there is much for schools to latch on to and grow.

What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050

Israeli author, public intellectual, and history professor Yuval Noah Harari’s essay, “What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050” is one of the first I’ve seen that mentions the 22nd century. He speculates on what the world will be like 27 years from now (2050) and 77 years from now (2100). I might make it to 2050 and will not make it to 2100, unless science finds a way to prolong the human life span. Most of our current students and those born today will be alive in 2100 and the article is great for educators to reflect on what skills, attitudes, and facts we are teaching to young people today that will be useful to them when they are our age. Harari is a bit pessimistic that older adults (school leaders) can do this.

The best advice I can give a 15-year-old is: don’t rely on the adults too much. Most of them mean well, but they just don’t understand the world.

Harari, September 13, 2018 Forge

He argues that with the extremely fast rate of technological and cultural change schools need to radically reform how they prepare young people. The role of schools was the “3 Rs” (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). Harari refers to pedagogical experts that think we should change to the “4 Cs” (Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) because…(quote below)

More broadly, they believe, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again

I would push back a little bit regarding teaching information and technical skills. The argument is with the world’s information available at your fingertips through your phone, why memorize any history or facts. I think there should be some of that in schools to give students a mental framework to make sense of the world. I agree that the 4Cs will bring more success to a student than the 3Rs, but going too far is not good for them.

I’ve been thinking about my Russian language learning. I am trying to find time to improve my Russian language, but with Google Translate improving daily, one can easily get around and I wonder what the equivalent of Google Translate will be 27 years from now. AI is just starting to transform how we work.

His take on technology is provocative. I’ve seen his example of technology enslaving people in the past with the advent of agriculture. People before agriculture would hunt and gather, live in smaller groups and most importantly for Harari’s argument, have more free time. Agriculture caused them to devote more time to producing food.

So on what can you rely instead? Perhaps on technology? That’s an even riskier gamble. Technology can help you a lot, but if technology gains too much power over your life, you might become a hostage to its agenda. Thousands of years ago humans invented agriculture, but this technology enriched just a tiny elite while enslaving the majority of humans. Most people found themselves working from sunrise till sunset plucking weeds, carrying water buckets, and harvesting corn under a blazing sun. It could happen to you too.

I agree with him in that I hate seeing “zombies” staring at their screens constantly instead of the world around them.

He ends the essay with a call to “know thyself”, the adage from Socrates. Students are bombarded with ideas, marketing, etc. through ubiquitous access to the internet. It is easy to get caught up with what the algorithms are telling you. Harari’s main message is that schools need to help students find their identity through what makes us human. Our relationships with others and our own senses interpret the world around us.

In my opinion, today’s students are looking for mentors. Adults can help guide them through the intricacies of digital information overload. I disagree with Harari’s assertion that young people can’t rely on older people, including teachers and school leaders.

Teaching Strategies Don’t Make You an Expert Teacher

New Zealand Education Professor Emeritus John Hattie is publishing a new book this month, “Visible Learning: The Sequel“. It is a follow-up to his 2008 Visible Learning. That work was based on Hattie and his team statistically analyzing thousands of research studies on influences on student achievement (learning) in schools. His team published a ranking of influences (teaching techniques / personal circumstances) on student achievement. I am looking forward to reading his book and was interested in hearing what he had to say in this TES Magazine interview from January.

His book was all the rage in education and we offered teachers in one of my previous schools, consultants from Hattie’s Research Group to work with our faculty. We focused on the strategies that had a highly positive impact on student achievement.

The problem is: we are hopeless at identifying successful teaching and scaling it up; that’s one of the most frustrating things in our business.

So, we need to ask less about how students engage in doing work, and more about how students think, know and solve. We need to shift from focusing on the impact of talking to focusing on the power of listening.

Tes Magazine – January 11, 2023 John Hattie interview

Hattie’s thinking has evolved and the sequel does not have any tables of influence. Hattie mentioned a new observation technique in Australia of filming an expert teacher talk through his/her thinking behind lesson planning, then filming the lesson and afterward, filming the teacher breakdown the decisions made during the lesson based on what was taking place in class.

We stopped a couple of years ago because the technology is now far ahead of where we were. But one of the things we found, from our work in England, was that 89 per cent of classroom time is spent with the teacher talking. Teachers asked around 150 questions a day, most of which required less than three-word answers. That’s the norm. Most teachers don’t know that, and they deny it. But the evidence is undeniable, and when they do see their own results, it drives them to improve.

Tes Magazine – January 11, 2023 John Hattie interview

Hattie’s quote above shows teachers often rely too much on direct instruction. There is a place for this, but Hattie is stresses for educators to switch from focusing on what they are doing, and moving to what the students are learning, in other words, the impact of the teaching on students.

My final takeaway from Hattie’s interview is his key finding in his work, that teacher expertise and quality is the most important factor in student learning. As the leader of the school, I need to make sure we hire teachers with this expertise and support the improvement of the teachers we have.

This reminds me of admissions and thinking about why families choose a K-12 school or a university. Often they focus on the campus, facilities, marketing literature, etc. They should be choosing schools based on the teachers and professors.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

DEIJ is a hot topic with international schools worldwide. We are beginning our journey at the Tashkent International school through an Equity Task Force that is defining what our initiatives will look like over the next couple of years. The group asked me what I envision for DEIJ and I wrote the following:

“I would like to have a DEIJ strand in our Strategic Plan, enhancing our Global Citizenship strand. The Central & Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) DEIJ Recommendations for CEESA Schools provides a comprehensive framework to define our initiatives over the next couple of years. I think we should start with making sure our policies and guiding statements address the best practices of international school DEIJ standards. This means a brief statement in the Board Governance Manual and detailed guidelines in operational handbooks such as Child Safeguarding & Protection and Recruitment. DEIJ is a mindset or lens that all TIS employees should view their daily work and interactions with students, parents and colleagues. Our first job is to raise awareness in community members so it is in everyone’s consciousness and to continually bring it up in all the work we do here. Eventually, all TIS employees will have a DEIJ mindset in their actions and conduct.  For our context of Uzbekistan, I think we should prioritize empowering women and decreasing income inequality.”

We targeted May 19 as a Professional Development Day to introduce DEIJ to our faculty and staff.

Chat GPT: A New Era in Computers

(update – The IT Director sent me a link with good ideas:

I am fascinated by artificial intelligence (AI) and the new Chat Bot, Chat GPT (Generative Pre-Training). A “chatbot” is a computer program that allows people to have a simulated conversation with the program. Simple chatbots are quite common, for example, a chat dialogue that appears on the screen of a website you visit, or entering voice commands into Siri on an iPhone. Chat GPT is the most sophisticated and user-friendly chatbot to have wide public use. It is data-driven and predictive (conversational) and the GPT is a big jump in complexity from the Siri assistant I use on my phone. It is contextually aware and uses natural-language understanding (NLU) and machine learning (ML) to learn as they go.

The software was developed by a non-profit company called, Open AI. The research laboratory received large donations from Microsoft, Elon Musk and others. They are based in San Francisco and in 2015, decided to go the non-profit route to make sure they are developing AI for the good of humanity. The co-chair, Sam Altman, expects it to surpass human intelligence in the coming decades. The New York Times has a lot of articles on AI and ChatGPT including a good introduction to the technology on its podcast, The Daily, “Did Artificial Intelligence Just Get Too Smart?”.

Of course, my 20-year-old son already has been using it and yesterday morning he helped me get started. I was preparing a script for a holiday message to our school community. Instead of me writing it, I asked Chat GPT to do it with including some basic instructions to reference our school’s Purpose Statement and the importance of relationships. I was amazed at what came back and with a few tweaks and personalizing it a bit more, I had a strong script. I would compare it to someone using a Wikipedia entry to start a research paper, but even more sophisticated. The software has the incredible ability to scour much of the internet and quickly synthesize ideas into a coherent structure. Of course, it is only as good as what is posted on line, so it makes mistakes. I do not see it replacing humans yet and I view it as a tool that can be used as a base to work from, but we will be grappling with ever-improving versions of AI in the next coming years.

I do think this is a really big deal for education, our economy, and the world as a whole. I am going to experiment more with it over this holiday break. I can see why Google is “declaring a code red” for its search business. Why should I bother doing a search for components of a good holiday message when I can just ask the computer to write the speech for me. My son also showed me Open AI’s digital image software, Dall-E 2, a program that creates images from descriptions you can input. I asked Dall-E 2 to create a Monet-like painting of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. As you can see below, it looks like the Tashkent Television Tower in the background and the Japanese Garden in the foreground.

I wonder how K-12 international schools and universities will deal with the technology. I can see students using ChatGPT to help them complete essays, lab reports and other writing assignments. Schools will need to work AI into their honor codes and academic honesty policies. For example, it can come up with a decent International Baccalaureate Extended Essay including a bibliography and in-text citations. I like CNBC Sofia Pitt’s take on the technology, “ChatGPT’s value really lies in its ability to explain complicated topics as if you were talking to a human, and to do simple writing tasks.” I am sure this will not be the last AI post I do this school year.

How to Detect a Liar: Daniel Pink’s Latest Recommendation

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors. I read several of his books and subscribe to his PinkCast newsletter. He always has useful recommendations. The latest edition of the PinkCast features author Eric Barker. Barker’s latest book is “Plays Well With Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships is (Mostly) Wrong”. Relationships are the key to success for students, teachers, and parents in a school community when it comes to happiness and learning. Humans are hyper-social animals and interactions with other humans is integral to our well-being.

In the Pinkcast episode above, Daniel talks about how to detect a lie. This could be especially useful to educators when they are gathering information from students. I was surprised at how often humans tell lies. I would guess some of them are “white lies” that lubricate social relations. I will read a .pdf preview from Eric’s book and see if it will be worthwhile to purchase his book.

What I Learned from the Pandemic?

What did school leaders learn from the pandemic? It finally feels like we are mostly out of the crisis management mode we’ve been living in since the novel coronavirus spread out of China in March of 2020. I think this is a good time to reflect on what we learned from this horrible experience.

My biggest takeaway was a crystallization in my mind that the relational aspect of learning is the most important part of education. Many people think that school is all about facts and figures on a test. It is not. It is all about the relationship between teachers and students, between students and their parents, and between students themselves. This creates an environment that causes us to care about the information we are teaching and learning. David Sax, author of The Future is Analog, articulates this brilliantly in his interview with The Gist’s, Mike Pesca. Learning technology enhances how teachers deliver information and plan lessons but it will never replace human-to-human education. Larry Cuban, a professor of Educational Technology at Stanford writes about the history of new educational technologies being introduced to schools. It always goes back to the relationship between teacher and student. This cannot be developed on Zoom/Google Meet. Teachers will always be necessary, and even with Artificial Intelligence coming soon to common use, daily human contact will always be at the heart of schools.

Emily Oster’s article in the Atlantic, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty” reminds me of the uncertainty that surrounded the pandemic at the beginning. It was a “novel” coronavirus and we didn’t know the impact. Some people panicked, some ignored it, and most people were a mix of caution and getting on with their lives. It is easy to look back and see what we got wrong and what we got right. In my mind, I think it was shown that schools were not “supersites” of viral spread and school closures did more damage than good for students. I also am taking away that mask mandates are not necessary. A well-fitting K95 surgical mask protects individuals and people should be encouraged to wear them if they feel like it. mRNA vaccines work (prevent serious symptoms) and schools should strictly enforce vaccination policies for all contagious diseases. It is wrong to allow unvaccinated children to enroll in schools.

“The Fog of War” applies to pandemics as well. The deluge of information, misinformation, opinions, etc. was overwhelming for school leaders to deal with. I remember panicked teachers desperately looking for flights out of Uzbekistan, people wiping down groceries with disinfectant, the WHO advising us first NOT to wear masks and then later to wear masks, etc. It reinforced for me that a school leader needs to take in a wide range of information, but in the end, he/she needs to reflect on it and make his/her own path forward based on what is best for the school community as a whole.

Final learning was to pair with experts. No school leader was a public health official before the pandemic. I felt like I became one over the last three years :), but bringing in the Head of the World Health Organization, seeking advice from the US embassy medical team and forming stronger bonds with our sister Tashkent International Clinic helped me figure out what was going on in an ever-changing viral pandemic.