Educators with global outlooks are in demand.
An international school education is highly sought-after in Hong Kong, with parents looking for institutions of good standing that will bring a global perspective to their children’s upbringing.
According to a study commissioned by the Education Bureau, the total demand for international school places is expected to reach 29,281 by 2016, an increase of 5,378, or 22.5 per cent, from 2011. At the same time, the proportion of local students joining international schools is projected to increase at both the primary and secondary level. This projected increase in demand is coupled with career opportunities for teachers with an international outlook.
One such educator is Ian Clayton, who joined the French International School (FIS) as its new head of the international stream in September.
Clayton recognises that schools in Hong Kong need to ensure they adapt and produce students who exhibit some of the attributes needed for success in the 21st century.
“Schools must strive to produce students who can be team players and yet are critical and independent thinkers; who acquire good learning habits and are effective communicators; who have the values of honesty, trust and respect; and who can appreciate themselves in a global setting,” Clayton says.
Interestingly, research has shown that while teachers are aware of student-centred approaches to teaching such as problem-based and project-based learning, they do not use them enough in their classrooms. Nor do enough teachers focus on allowing students to develop collaborative skills through authentic problems.
Many teachers fall back on traditional didactic teaching methods, even when class sizes are small.
Another challenge the education sector as a whole is facing is the advent of new technology. Its presence in the classrooms has teachers having to take on a new role – one of a facilitator – and is again in conflict with the traditional function of a teacher.
Because the use of computers is an intrinsic part of teaching every discipline, as well as curriculum mapping, assessment and recording, teaching in international schools requires being comfortable using technology in its multiple iterations.
“Teachers today need to be flexible and open to new challenges and new methodologies,” Clayton says. “They need to exhibit attitudes of life-long learners. The old certainties have gone – teachers need to embrace the new and make it even more exciting.”
However, he is quick to add that it is possible to “over-intellectualise” teaching, because ultimately, teaching really boils down to the relationships teachers develop with the students.
“In all my time and all the research I have done, this is the key thing. When I talk to kids about why they choose a particular subject, they don’t answer about the subject or the content – they talk about the teacher.
“They say Mr so and so makes it interesting. Students will seldom remember what a teacher does, but they always remember how a teacher made them feel.”
Clayton believes schools should have a strong organisational structure so that they are systems-driven. Guidance and pastoral care for students is an absolute priority for him, as is continuing professional development for teachers. “Teacher need to get together regularly to discuss pedagogy,” he says.
He also believes strongly in engendering excellence in teaching, as well as measuring student learning. As such, he is looking forward to leading his team of teachers and attaining his vision of a “high challenge and high support” teaching and learning environment at FIS.
He says he is simply enjoying walking down the corridors of his new school – something he has done at various institutions for more than 40 years, first as a student and then as an educator. Other than the gap year he took after completing his A-levels, he has always been in an educational institution. “Teaching is the best job there is,” he says.
Moving to FIS has been part of a natural progression in his career that commenced with him being appointed head of department within a few hours of joining a school as a newbie teacher. He moved to Hong Kong in 2009 as vice-principal of West Island School, where he was part of a five-member leadership team overseeing 1,300 students and 99 teaching staff.
He says it feels as if his entire training and background has prepared him for his current position. He taught French and history after studying it at both the tertiary and secondary level. In his capacity as the head of school and the deputy head of the British School in Manila, he oversaw growth of the senior school from 35 pupils to 350 in seven years.
Wherever he has taught, he believes the best teachers have been those who realise they have a responsibility “to continue turning out students who are doctors, journalists, engineers, teachers, architects, opinion formers, and movers and shakers of the next generation,” he says. “Hong Kong is well-placed to make a massive contribution and I am proud to be a part of that contribution.”
Seeking student-focused teachers with positive attitudes
Parents and schools are becoming increasingly concerned about student well-being, as students today encounter stress from several areas in their lives.
Teachers who can rise to the challenges of educating in today’s highly competitive, technology driven society have an advantage, says Ted Faunce, headmaster of Chinese International School (CIS).
Faunce believes the best way to ensure student well-being in Hong Kong is by introducing strength-based positive education.
Because of the correlation between strength-based education and quality teaching, when recruiting for his international school, Faunce seeks teachers who are “student-focused, team-oriented, with a willingness to relinquish control of learning [and who] have strong subject-area knowledge with intellectual liveliness that leads to inter-disciplinary links”.
It is an approach to education that has its roots in positive psychology’s emphasis of individual strengths and personal motivation to promote learning, he says.
Research has shown children who experience a greater sense of well-being are more able to learn and assimilate information in effective ways. They are more likely to engage in healthy behaviour, fulfil social relationships, and are able to handle stress better, Faunce says.
With a BA and PhD from Princeton University, Faunce was previously director of the American section of the Lycée International in St. Germain-en-Laye in France. He is also a director of Teach for China.
Faunce’s aim is to lead students and staff at all levels of his school to adopt the “PERMA” model developed by the positive psychologist, Martin Seligman.
PERMA is an acronym for the “five pillars of well-being”. P is for positive emotions; E is for engagement activities that use personal skills and are challenging; R is for relationships; M for finding meaning through serving a cause bigger than oneself; and A is for accomplishment.
“These five elements are the best approximation of what humans pursue for their own sake,” Seligman says.
Faunce says his school has customised the principles of positive education for a Hong Kong Chinese context by “bottom-up experimentation as well as leadership from the top. We have been mindful throughout this journey that well-being, as promoted through positive education, is seen for what it is – foundational – rather than another layer of effort on top of a full programme.”
CIS formally adopted Seligman’s PERMA model and instituted school-wide use of its values-in-action, character-strengths methods.
In 2013-14, the school integrated positive education into its primary and secondary classrooms and provided professional mindfulness training for its staff, followed by parent education sessions.
Faunce says students are happy with the new approach, which they say has instilled, to varying degrees, mindfulness and character strengths throughout the school. “Festina Lente, or ‘make haste slowly’, has been our guiding motto,” he says.