As teachers and administrators, we seek to improve our knowledge and skills, and our expertise manifests in what can be called “best practice”. That is, we aspire to improve, refine and apply the full range of skills in all of our roles in a school.
Best practice becomes the hallmark of our identity. We become proud to be excellent practitioners. Teachers and administrators who venture overseas are sought-after because they are experts. That expertise is manifest in their “best practice”. Private schools and international schools that offer an international curriculum for host country students are eager to have access to this cohort of international experts.
The expectation is that because the curriculum is “international”, the teachers need to be “international education experts” in order to teach it. The administrators who are brought in are expected to facilitate the processes of implementing the curriculum and to take responsibility for school operations. This is particularly the case when some sort of accreditation process is anticipated.
“An excellent teacher in their home country might not be an excellent teacher of Vietnamese or Indian students.”
It is not a surprise, therefore, that teachers and administrators launch into their roles and apply their skills and knowledge based upon their experience and the expectations of the schools: being hired as the international expert means demonstrating that ability.
However, educators in this situation are from a culture different from that of the school community. Just because a person is an excellent teacher in their home country does not mean that they will be an excellent teacher of Vietnamese or Indian or Angolan or Arabic students, particularly when they are teaching those students in their home countries.
And just because a person is an excellent administrator of schools in one cultural context does not mean they will be an excellent administrator in other contexts. What is being experienced is the meeting of cultures. The “best practice” of a Western-trained teacher or administrator has been designed by and for members of a Western culture. For students and teachers of other cultures the best practice may be inappropriate. When an international curriculum is offered, the “best practice” is perceived to be based on the Western culture model.
The missing piece in this puzzle is awareness, and understanding that learning is culturally bound. This is a disconcerting idea because it means that if students are from a culture different from the teacher, the teacher’s teaching and learning processes are not guaranteed to be applicable. The conclusion that has to be reached is that the teacher and administrators have to change to fit the context of the audience for their contributions to the school. As Kennedy points out: “The main point made by the body of research is that culture needs to be respected if we are to understand deeper processes such as learning” (2013: 6).
“The missing piece in this puzzle is awareness and understanding that learning is culturally bound.”
The respect noted here has to mean more than recognising the problem. It means that what is best practice in one culture is not necessarily best practice in another. Being respectful means changing our best practice to be effective and successful. Leask and Carroll make the important point that “No learning environment is value-free, and moving between systems with different expectations and assumptions will almost inevitably result in intercultural incompatibility”.
The incompatibility inherent in bringing one cultural perspective into the world of another culture requires a new understanding of what best practice means. As argued by Crozet et al: “An intercultural interaction is neither a question of maintaining one’s own cultural frame nor of assimilating to one’s interactant’s cultural frame. It is rather a question of finding an intermediary place between these two positions – of adopting a third place.”
The third place in the international school context is an international version of best practice. International best practice is one in which the teaching and training methods are based upon the culture of the learners. That is, the educational and cultural context of the school community shapes the way the pedagogy is developed and applied. It also impacts the way the school is operated while implementing an international curriculum. Within this has to be culturally attuned communication and a conscious avoidance of imposing one culture upon another.
“International best practice is one in which the teaching and training methods are based upon the culture of the learners.”
International best practice also impacts the providers of the international curricula. Since these curricula are shaped by a particular culture, provision has to be made to allow teachers and administrators to adapt in order to ensure that students and teachers are accessing the learning and training in ways that reflect and support their culture.
In addition, provision needs to be made to identify the teaching methods being used that are compatible with and supportive of the school’s culture and to share this information with other schools. This includes incorporating these pedagogies into training programs. Within this approach to international best practice has to be recognition that there will be implications for international accreditation agencies.
To evaluate a school based upon the standards applicable to schools in one cultural context is not appropriate if it is recognised that people in different cultures think differently, perceive the world differently, have different value systems and traditions and have different expectations of education and schools.
The challenge is to see the situation for what it is. Instead of inadvertently imposing one form of teaching, learning and administration on all schools, teachers and administrators expand their repertoire and diversify their skills for the benefit of all learners. This is an enriching process that confirms the notion that culture impacts the way we function. When bringing together people from diverse cultures, educators have the responsibility to find the appropriate pathways. That is the basis for international best practice.