Webster University Grand Opening

We tour the Webster Book Store with students

TIS University Admissions Counselor and I attended Grand Opening of Webster University’s Tashkent campus program. It is remarkable at the speed that they started with 500 students enrolled in this first semester. Webster University’s main campus is in St. Louis, Missouri, USA was founded in 1915 as a Catholic women’s college. They were one of the first universities to take advantage of the transnational education trend and now have campuses seven different countries and several cities in the USA. They have an NCAA Division I championship chess team and an unusual nickname, The Gorloks, an portmanteau of two streets on their suburban St. Louis campus.

The palatial entrance of the former Architecture School

A $3,000 annual tuition is quite an incentive for students to attend. Webster is the first American university to open in Uzbekistan. The students were enthusiastic hosts to Mr. Ross and I and we received a nice tour of the campus. The rooms are modern and we met an American film professor on the faculty. The campus is in a great location, near the canal. Current classrooms are in the former Architecture Institute Building and they have expansion plans. I think it will be a successful venture and Webster is bold to take a chance in an emerging market. Uzbekistan is a young country demographically and there is a lot of bright, young people thirsting for education. My only concern would be if there is enough money here to keep up student numbers as the university matures.

A TIS alumna is the Public Relations Officer for the university. It is great for our students that another option for English language university education is opening in Tashkent. I would like to thank Webster for their hospitality, congratulate them on their success and send them best wishes for continued growth! Go Gorlocks!

Opportunities for Transnational Education in Uzbekistan

The British Council invited me to participate in a roundtable as part of their Study UK Fair 2019. The discussion took place in the beautiful Youth Creativity Palace in the center of Tashkent. “Transnational education” means an educational program that is delivered in a country other than the awarding institution is based. Transnational education is a growing trend in higher education with universities setting up schools in a range of countries. For example, Westminster University (UK) and Webster University (USA) have programs here in Tashkent.

The roundtable started with a presentation by an education minister. He talked about the education reforms taking place in Uzbekistan. The big issue here is a demographic one, with 37% of the population under that age of 19. There are a lot of young people coming up through the school system requiring higher education and jobs. For example, last year over 1 million students applied for only 100,000 places in local universities. The demand here is overwhelming the supply. The British Council is promoting UK higher education and it is the second most popular destination for university study after the USA. Some of the educational reforms taking place here in improving vocational education, creating Presidential Schools that teach STEAM through the medium of English, raising scores into the Top 30 of PISA and revising the university credit system to match international standards. With an economy growing at over 5% per year, it is an exciting time to be here.

There were probably 50 people around the table and most being in education, they love talking. It was difficult to get a word in, but I did get a chance to make one comment that gave the perspective of foreign families living in Tashkent and university admission trends for our school. More of our families are choosing to study in the Netherlands because of the high quality of education, low cost and ease of visa and living in the country. The Netherlands is smart to try to attract foreign students to their country in a time of Brexit and anti-immigration sentiment in the USA, more students are looking elsewhere for higher education in English.

CEESA Autumn Directors Meeting

Tech Directors & Directors Table Top Exercise

This weekend the directors of member schools of the Central and Eastern Europe Schools Association (CEESA) met in Istanbul for their annual meeting. The goals of the meetings were for the directors to connect with each other, benchmarking our schools and sharing ideas and advice in an open and supportive environment. CEESA is one of eight regional associations supported by the US State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools. The regional associations combat isolation of international schools. CEESA covers mostly the post-Soviet countries and is celebrating 30 years. The major topics were as follows:

  • police background checks of employees and screening new hires
  • data protection of students and families
  • international health insurance for expatriate faculties
  • implementing an Academic Continuity Plan (online) in case of short and medium term school closures
  • learning analytics
  • managing complex interactions
  • learning spaces

Recruiting: We mostly ask teachers to provide their own police clearances and in the case of sexual predators with a record, they would probably forge a document. Some schools are using companies to search social media, financial and legal records and credential checks. These can be expensive. A good idea is to offer “letter of intents” to hire “pending background checks” instead of offering a contract immediately if one is rushed for time at a job fair.

Academic Continuity Plan (ACP): We did a tabletop exercise of a threat to foreigners causing a temporary school closure. The ACP allows for school to continue online. The Tech Director and I drafted a plan that we need to add to our emergency procedures manual.

Advanced Statistics for Education: “Big Data” and analytics is becoming important in many fields such as crime prevention and professional sports. There are CEESA schools experimenting with advanced statistics that I found interesting. One school is looking at the impact of the cohort on student performance. Others are gathering all the learning data of students together and most importantly, trying to get the statistics into the hands of the students.

Learning Spaces: Two directors talked about building projects they recently oversaw. The idea of “learning-focused” school is to move away from boxes (rooms) that belong to teachers and go towards “neighborhoods” students live.

Managing Complex Interactions: The CEESA director, Kathy Stetson gave a workshop on difficult conversations, something that often comes up with leadership. The idea of separating the data or problem from the people involved is useful advice. She also broke interactions into result, of course the best outcome is collaboration, but it also depends on the situation.

  • victory/defeat (low relationship)
  • avoid/withdraw (low relationship)
  • compromise (medium relationship)
  • accommodate (high relationship
  • collaborate (high relationship)

TIS Teacher Well Being

We are making a commitment to taking care of the well being of our community members. This includes teachers and in the middle of teacher work week, we took time out Wednesday afternoon for taking care of ourselves.

Teachers could play sports (disc golf, badminton, table tennis), be creative (clay, painting, music) or just relaxing (mindfulness, reading) and best of all, with a group of colleagues. Friendly relationships with the people with live and work with is so vital for our individual happiness. Humans are a social animal, the devoting time to being together while doing a pleasurable activity is so refreshing. It allows us to perform our work of educating young people at a higher level because of our positive psychological and physical state.

It is easy to say I am too busy to take time out for leisure and socializing, but I think those busy times are when we need it the most. I would like to thank the TIS faculty and staff for giving it a go!

TIS Teacher Work Week

Morning Session Day 2 (Multi Purpose Room)

The full faculty and staff are back to work this week in preparation for next week’s start of school. I am trying to participate in as many of the events, meetings and workshops as possible. This morning the assistant principals led us through a session helping us reflect on and think about the mission, vision, learning principles and the idea of international mindedness. My takeaways from the session were as follows:

  • When I am trying to learn about an issue as the new director, I receive different viewpoints from a variety of sources. I think this is the same for our students, who get information not only from the teacher, but from their classmates, parents and internet. Critically evaluating information and fitting it into your understanding is a key skill in today’s complex work environment.
  • International mindedness is difficult to assess. I was thinking about the verbs in our definition, “receptive to”, “valuing” and “communicating through” another culture. Yes, I see international school students interacting with each other in the classroom, but does that always carry over socially? Does it have to be truly internationally-minded?
  • Robert Jackson who led the session, asked participants to focus on one of the TIS Learning Principles this year. I chose, “Learning is enhanced in a physical environment that is safe, welcoming, adaptable and inspiring.” I see in my short time here, that I can contribute quickly to the physical environment.

Thinking in Bets: Making smarter decisions when you don’t have all the facts

On the long flight from Japan to the USA, I read Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets. Annie is a world champion poker player. The premise of the book is in order to make better decisions, one should “think in bets” which means to consider luck or uncertainty, don’t expect sure things and don’t mix results with decisions. My main reason for reading it was to consider Duke’s ideas when hiring teachers. As the head of school, they are most often the most important decisions I will make. Often when hiring teachers, I do not have all the facts. I think of myself as a professional manager of a professional sports team when evaluating a young player’s talent. What skills do they bring, how do they fit in with the team we already have and how will they develop in the position. Professional sports managers have performance statistics, video analysis, etc. and they still often make mistakes. When hiring teachers, we have much less information. We have 1 to 3 interviews and I try to collect as many references as possible. As I get more experience, the less stock I take in interviews. People can interview well and not be strong teachers and vice-versa. I would like to use Duke’s insight into behavioral psychology and poker to make better decisions. I learned that I could systemize how we make hiring decisions.

Poker is a game of making many decisions quickly and involves a combination of circumstances and luck. It involves multiple people, hidden information and changing conditions. The philosophical father of game theory, John von Neumann modeled his theory after a stripped down version of poker. It is the study of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers. Here are some of my takeaways from the book to help me make better decisions.

  • Our lives are too short for a good sample size, so there is not often enough data in our own experience to evaluate the quality of a decision.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty and that outcomes are not always black and white. Instead think in percentages. Expressing confidence as less than 100% is OK, it shows you are trying to get to the truth. By saying I am 80% sure of something, you open the door for others to tell us what they know.
  • The world is structured to give us many opportunities to feel bad about our losses or bad outcomes. Separate the decision from the outcome. Even the world’s best poker players lose 40% of the time. If you did everything right in the decision or action, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way due to luck or other circumstances.
  • “Hiring an employee, like offering a bet, is not a riskless choice. Betting on the wrong person can have a huge cost as well as missing out on the right person. “
  • We have a lot of beliefs that are not true and conventional wisdom is shown to be wrong often. Always question decisions and beliefs and learn. Use experience and information to more objectively update our beliefs to more accurately represent the world.
  • Our capacity for self-deception has few boundaries. Just because someone is confident, that doesn’t mean they are right.
  • Our default mindset is to believe what we hear and see. Humans very easily believe and find it difficult to doubt.
  • The smarter you are, the better you are at constructing a narrative that supports your beliefs. Always consider your biases and blind spots or have someone on the team to play that role.
  • “Being asked if we are willing to bet money on a decision lessens bias.” Do a 1-10 scale, on how confident you believe in an outcome. This also allows us to consider a greater number of alternative causes.
  • Don’t always chalk up good outcomes to skill and bad outcomes to luck. Look for the truth.
  • A senior leadership team can be a “truth-seeking pod” helping us overcome our blind-spot bias. Good groups talk about their decision-making. The discussions are open-minded and exploratory, not confirmatory thought. DIVERSITY & DISSENT – Exposure to diverse viewpoints, improves our decision making.
  • A truth-seeking charter – 1) focus on accuracy (over confirmation) 2) accountability 3) openness to diversity of ideas
  • When a detail makes us uncomfortable or needs more clarification, that could be the most important part of a conversation. When someone leaves out a detail, that might be pushing their narrative.
  • Express dissent “Are you sure about that? – Have you considered thinking this other way? Instead of you’re wrong. An idea is to create a “devil’s advocate” for your group. This term comes from the Catholic Church deliberations of sainthood.
  • Time travel when making a decision, looking at the consequences of the decision in the future.

My main criticism of the book is Duke gives too many examples and repeats herself to give the book more length. She had many strong points, but watered them down a bit by referencing too many case studies, research and anecdotes to make her points. The book could have been shorter and more focused on her experience of poker.

State Department Orientation

I recently completed the Orientation for new directors to American assisted overseas schools in Washington DC.

The Department of State of the United States government is the equivalent agency as the foreign affairs ministry of other countries. The State Department in its role of international relations, supports K-12 schools all over the world that US government dependent children attend. The Office of Overseas Schools (OS) manages this program and recently hosted an orientation for directors new to American assisted international schools. The international schools are private and independent, but cooperate closely with the Office of Overseas Schools. There are 193 schools in 133 countries with a total enrollment of over 125,000 students and over 7,000 American teachers.

OS helps Department-assisted schools in several main areas.

  1. Regional and Global Education Associations Due to isolation of international schools in their local markets, regional associations overcome this by facilitating sharing best practices, resources, etc. Tashkent International School belongs to the Central & Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) and are members of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). These are a valuable network for its members schools.
  2. Security The Department has granted over $116 million dollars since the Soft Target Security Initiative began 20 years ago.
  3. Child Protection The International Task Force on Child Protection started in 2015, sets standards and trains faculty in international schools. The OS worked with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) to create resources schools can use in their Education Portal.
  4. Training Programs This includes board members, college counselors and teachers.
  5. School Initiatives They have a lot of projects like AERO standards, Presidential awards, etc.

My big takeaways from the workshops were as follows:

  1. The Regional Education Officer (REO), Regional Security Officer (RSO) and Regional Medical Officer (RMO) are strong problem-solvers and a lifeline in times of crisis or need.
  2. Consider an executive or life coach to help me develop as a leader. AAIE has a good mentor program.
  3. I will prioritize child protection and emergency plans upon my arrival to make sure the policies and practices are in order.

I would like to thank everyone at the State Department and the Office of Overseas Schools for the orientation!