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Turning Point School – A Deep Dive into Global Citizenship


by Stuart McLay, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation, Council of International Schools

In my career which has included over twenty years leading international schools around the globe, the concept of global citizenship has loomed large, not just in my thoughts, but in my everyday working life. Indeed, I vividly recall a mission statement review meeting that dramatically stalled on what global citizenship actually meant in the context of our school. What followed was literally months of debate as stakeholder representatives from across the school community wrestled with the task of turning an oft-used phrase into something of substance that could be clearly articulated and effectively measured. In truth, I am not sure the school ever really succeeded in getting beyond the bigger concepts of ethics, diversity, global issues, communication, service and leadership that are well-identified by many CIS schools, but which also require a commitment to explore and understand multiple perspectives whilst acquiring new skills, to truly develop global citizenship within a school community. Not all schools can, or in fact have the desire to take this extra step and in this particular example the school in question was not comfortable in its understanding of what lay beyond these headline concepts, nor did it possess the tools to genuinely deliver what everyone believed was best for the students in this context.

All schools are unique, but I am equally sure that my story is a common one. When I subsequently started talking to schools about CIS International Certification, I engaged in a repeated dialogue with schools about how they know they are developing global citizens. Not surprisingly many schools say they are committed to developing global citizenship and probably just as many believe that is what they are delivering, but some of the same schools are struggling with the question of how to validate their commitment and beliefs. In many respects the International Certification Service was developed to give such schools the tools and a structure to answer this fundamental question whilst engaging the whole community in the process.

Of course once schools start looking at global citizenship in greater depth, what they discover can be both affirming and unexpectedly far-reaching in its positive outcomes. How many educators reading this blog will recognize their own school in the reflections offered below by Deborah Richman, Head of Turning Point School in California (USA)? Turning Point was one of the pilot schools that achieved CIS International Certification in June 2015 and readers will note the aspects of the process, the benefits and the transformative nature of the activities. Holding up a mirror to current practice with an open-mind to change requires both confidence and commitment, but the example of Turning Point will surely inspire others to follow the same road to seek similarly beneficial outcomes.

Reflections from Turning Point School

Looking back on the year-long process, Deborah Richman remarked, “It exceeded our expectations. I knew that we would be responsible for looking closely at our programmes and how well we were doing as far as global citizenship, but I did not expect the projects to take us into so much depth.” To schools familiar with the CIS International Accreditation process, they might recognize similarities in the focus on global citizenship, but the International Certification process is working towards a completely different end. This service provides a focused roadmap for schools to better understand and develop global citizens. The magnitude of the investigative process sustained a focus that encouraged the entire school community to take stake in Turning Point’s process towards achieving CIS International Certification. Richman explained, “The faculty and staff and community at large took it very seriously because of how in-depth it was.”

The international competencies instilled as a result of achieving CIS International Certification have spread throughout the school and the Head of School declared that one only has to “walk into the classrooms or walk down the hallway to see how International Certification has informed the work that the teachers are doing. The teachers are always looking for ways to embed global citizenship and the competencies into their curriculum.” Richman recalled that the lower grade classrooms (including preschool) demonstrated this evolution in teaching. “The teachers better understand now that the focus now is not necessarily on flags and festivals and such, but on the community. That really helped [the teachers] feel more comfortable about what they were teaching and how to go about it.” One young student echoed the change in her own words at the school’s International Village, one of the projects used for the certification process, “It wasn’t boring this year like a bunch of facts. It was plays, songs, and stories and I really liked the face painting.” Other projects included data-driven environmental initiatives like the Carpool Challenge and Compost Program, which involved the school community beyond the classrooms, and a collaborative effort on behalf of the staff to develop Global Citizenship Standards and Benchmarks.

In all networks in the school—the classroom, the administration, and even interactions with the parents and larger school community—the vocabulary in practice has been transformed as a result of this investigation into global citizenship. Discussions of diversity, previously framed in common institutional definitions, have been broadened. Faculty meetings have continued the International Certification practice of identifying essential questions. Staff faculty development sessions host speakers with a focus on global citizenship and 21st century skills. This new toolkit has allowed the school to revisit and revise their core values, which now includes global awareness. The process and outcomes have also served to inform the school’s new strategic plan. Individuals outside of the immediate school community have taken note of Turning Point’s achievement. The school has experienced an increase of admission inquiries, as well as more employment inquiries from outside of the United States than ever before—an outcome that Richman did not expect.

Richman foresees any school that incorporates project-based learning and has a history of full-term accreditation by a state or national agency would manage the requirements of the CIS International Certification process. She recalls, ““I thought the workload was heavy, but I liked it…It beautifully integrated into the work that [the staff] was already doing. So it was, more than anything, making us focus our attention at most of our meetings and when the teachers were planning their lessons.”

Schedule a personal consultation with Stuart McLay, CIS Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation, to discuss a timeline for your school to enter the International Certification process.

Posted by CIS on Friday January, 1, 2016

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