My CIS Journey, So Far...
by Tejal Bhatt, Visiting School Evaluator
Introduction by Chris Durbin, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation Services, Council of International Schools
Research into happiness from many studies has shown that giving to charity, altruism, kindness and generosity towards others lifts the spirits of the donor in particular. Put simply, providing your own material needs in life are reasonably well met then people’s lives are enhanced by purpose, by variety and by community. In volunteering for CIS over many years, I personally have found real purpose in supporting educators across the world. We are still remarkably isolated as a profession. In a lifetime career in schools, we may only have up to a dozen school workplaces to draw on, and despite modern connectedness, remarkably few other experiences of schools and classrooms, unless we actively seek to offset this.
Volunteering for CIS adds to this variety of perspectives on education in many ways, but most of all through giving an opportunity to be a firsthand eyewitness to a school. To be effective, a CIS volunteer needs to be open-minded, especially about what is effective in education and reflect on the learning and well-being of students regardless of approach. I have loved witnessing firsthand the global variety of international education and have used the experience of a CIS team visit to enhance the education of students in the schools I have worked with. This gives CIS volunteering a dual purpose, mutual benefit for the school itself and for your professional and personal self too.
In conducting accreditation in this way with volunteers, CIS is one of the key players in ensuring that educators from international schools become an ever more connected community—an important part of the CIS mission. Not only do you make connections with the educators in the school you are visiting, but also you make connections with fellow team visitors. There is nothing quite like spending a week of intense collaboration with fellow educators, usually people who you have not met before, each with different experiences in education, different cultural backgrounds and a different glossary of educational terms. There can be tensions in this—disputing the meaning of educational jargon for example—however the best volunteers, recognize that disparate voices enhance the enquiry into international education worldwide.There is never one way to deliver an education, and in this enquiry CIS volunteers are seeking to suggest to the school what is best for their context.
In making sense of the school you are visiting with this micro-community of fellow educators, you are privileged to clarify your own educational values, your own understanding of educational effectiveness and in doing so you are helping a school improve. Volunteering is intense, but it is intensely satisfying as you will see from Tejal Bhatt’s account of her last year of volunteering for CIS.
As an educator having spent 10 years teaching in UK secondary schools, my understanding of external bodies coming in to ‘assess’ and ‘inspect’ the situation was from a very critical and judgmental point of view. During my first international school experience in India as a teacher and middle leader, I experienced a different form of an evaluation visit, this time from CIS! There were conversations between us, ‘smiles’ and questions asked with the opportunity to provide evidence. Being very new to this, I was not completely aware of the volume of time and effort that had already been spent during the buildup to the visit. Regardless, the experience was a very pleasant one, one of reassurance as well as of expectations and guidance on what we need to improve on further. I was sold; I too wanted to have that effect on and work with fellow educators globally, but felt I still had a lot to learn.
As time went on, I found myself diving into the world of IB, learning and creating Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme experiences for my students and colleagues. Four years later, during my second international school experience in the United Arab Emirates, we were due for a CIS evaluation visit. Once again, the fire in me had been ignited, and over a long weekend in September 2015, I booked myself into a one day ‘Visiting Team Evaluator’ workshop led by Graham Ranger, held at the Taj Landsend, in Mumbai, India. I enjoyed the day, and was engrossed by the whole experience, with talks of working as a global network of educators to help schools improve. We shared discussions on what was required for students to feel safe and learn, and how school leaders and communities could provide the care and support to ensure schools were a ‘happy’ place for all. As a ‘third-culture kid’ myself, living between Dubai, Egypt, and Nigeria—all by the time I was 13—I completely identified with this feeling of wanting to have fun and enjoy school life. Simultaneously as an educator, aware of the misfortune many children suffer globally, child protection and safe guarding our students (being a key driver for CIS) was a cause I was and am willing to do anything to support.
Within a few months, I was asked by my Head of School if I would like to join a team for an evaluation visit to a school in Dubai. A few months after that one in Mumbai, and now I will be going on my third CIS team evaluation visit, to a school in Oman. Through these CIS evaluator visits as an educator, I have learned to observe and understand the rationale behind the way different teachers conduct lessons with their students. There is no right or wrong, but there is always room for improvement and understanding how small changes can help our young learners engage and participate in gaining knowledge if the method is more appealing to their way of learning. Allowing students to think for themselves whilst guiding them through this journey is crucial in this day and age of fast paced technology and creativity. I am also more aware that we too, as learners, are constantly seeking for ways to better strategize on pedagogy, based on our experiences and exposures. We too need guidance and to be valued in order to be happy and excel.
As an evaluator, I have learned not to judge immediately, instead to observe and encourage improvement. It is important to have the informal discussions and conversations, search for evidence and help individuals understand the benefits of these small changes for a better outcome. I have learned to observe priorities in different cultures and countries, and what can influence these priorities. Through candid open discussions with educators, I have been ab
le to use my skill set to identify a school’s needs and help schools understand and realize the changes required and how to prioritize. In understanding the challenges educators face and coaching them to find ways to overcome these barriers as best they can, I use the lessons I learn from evaluating schools, with the hope to be aware and mindful when given the opportunity to lead and guide.
The feeling of being one member in a huge network of professionals, striving to make learning in the future more engaging and fun, brings an immense sense of belonging to me. I have witnessed the huge impact we have on our students and peers on a wider platform, what it takes to lead and empower others and the relentless efforts that do not go to waste, as there is this search for improvement and betterment in what we do. Being part of the CIS network, many like me will be able to relate to what I say. Coming together with 8-10 strangers, including a diverse range of educators from teachers to network school advisors, we work with a common goal, of ‘How can we help this school improve?’. Experienced and patient leaders are continually guiding and steering the team in motion at different paces, but always forward, understanding the emotions and requirements of working 16+ hour days at times, sharing stories with one another, building trust, encouraging voice and opinions, accepting each other as equals, regardless of age, experience, cultural background and nationality. This dedication is what I have absorbed from CIS.
Understanding and seeking the depth of what it means to be truly internationally minded, knowing the world is one with the determination to improve and learn from each other, is what I have experienced on the team visits. This thirst for opening the mind to new ideas and ways, based on cultures and what is relative and important, is growing in me. I hope to continue to experience this learning and professional development in this way, which I deem one of the best ways possible, as I immerse myself into schools’ evaluation and improvement. I am confident to take back and share my learning with others and my school, as well as open doors for other forms of school review visits. I am eternally grateful to those who have provided me with this opportunity, as I continue my journey as a global educator, be that in the ‘avatar’ of a teacher, leader, peer, friend or family member. I was recommended to be Co-Chair for future visits and look forward to learning more about the role. The enthusiasm and passion for helping guide schools to ‘be better’ in any and every way they can be is alive in me, and I would highly recommend every educator be a part of and experience such a talented and worthwhile cause dedicated to global progress.
If you are interested in participating on an evaluation team, read more about the process here.
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