Sep 25

Strategically Global: a short transformational international course for female educational leaders

Dates for your diary: Thursday 27 September 2018 to Monday 1 October 2018

The Traidhos Community north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, is an amazingly beautiful and inspiring place … and this is why we have chosen it as the venue for ‘Strategically Global’, an intensive short course for female school leaders around the world who want to lead their school’s internationalisation strategies with knowledge and confidence. Increasingly, schools are realising that they need to develop comprehensive strategies to provide pathways and opportunities for their students to develop global mobility skills; schools are also realising that they need to invest in their female leaders if they are to release the huge resources that they have to offer.

‘Strategically Global’ has been developed to fulfil these needs of schools – and of female leaders in schools – and has the added advantage of enabling participants to develop a close international network of contacts and relationships, a solid stepping stone towards creating opportunities for students in schools. A unique feature of this course is the pre-course and post-course coaching, one-to-one for each participant; this course is designed to be both practical and transformational.

Course details

Over the 5 days in Thailand, participants will engage in experiential workshops at Traidhos, as well as going out into the nearby community to understand the power of internationally-focused education for all. The course focuses on personal as well as professional development, and aims to strengthen the capacity of each participant to lead her school’s global strategy when she returns home, armed with an array of valuable skills and new friendships.

The three key pillars of the course, outlined in the course booklet, encapsulate all that participants need in order to make a difference when they go back to their own schools. We are committed to making this a very special experience, and have striven to keep the costs low, as well as choosing timings that will minimise absence from school. Thailand is not hard to get to – it is a flight or two at most away from almost anywhere. We understand the needs of female leaders in schools, and we want to stretch, challenge and empower … because ultimately, it is our young people, growing up in a world that is inter-connected globally as never before, who will benefit from these deep learnings.

This is our passion and we want to share it. Please join us!

For further details, and instructions on how to sign up, please see the attached brochure . We are keeping it simple and direct – we are the people who will coach and guide you, and we are the organisers. Engage with us – we look forward immensely to meeting you and sharing with you.

Aug 17

Why open a school?

As I travel to Hong Kong again, this time for the grand and very exciting opening on Saturday of the brand new Dalton School Hong Kong, on whose Foundation Board I sit, I am minded to ponder on why people strive to open new schools. Over the past few years I have seen many, many schools open across the world, and I have been involved in several of these; of the defining features of these openings is that they are incredibly hard work – hours and hours, months and years of developing a concept, finding premises, persuading investors to provide working capital, navigating legalities, appointing a principal and staff (and harnessing their educational experience), bringing together an effective board, designing a unique curriculum, connecting with the world to ensure there are students … building, developing, growing.  It takes a phenomenal effort to start a school; what, then, drives so many people to make this effort and to pursue the goal of opening a new school?

One of the main drivers for new schools is that the envisaged school fills a gap – either because there are no schools at all in the area (which despite the overall success of the Millennium Development Goals is still the case in many parts of the world), or because the new school provides for a different kind of education – more student-centred, perhaps, more forward-thinking, or just refreshingly different from the education which is currently available. Schools across the world are on a journey of constant self-improvement and challenge, and sometimes it takes a completely new structure, freed of embedded expectations, to turn these ideas into reality. For some groups, the motive is financial, because education – like any business – has the potential to raise a profit, but even when this is the case, there is almost invariably a strong educational motive behind the school – no-one takes on the task of bringing a school to fruition without a compelling sense that a school is, of itself, an important thing to develop.

Dalton School Hong Kong

And this belief, I sense more and more strongly, the more deeply I am engaged in new schools across the world, underpins every single new school development: a very central, core understanding that education really, really matters in our world. Education has always mattered and always will; to every question worth asking, the answer involves learning and education. Schools – where we protect time and expertise for the young people of our world – are the prime facilitators of education in our world, and when we consider how far we have come to provide universal schooling globally, and our global ambitions for secondary as well as primary education for all, as elucidated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we should – at the very least – take pride in what our society has achieved, and how far we have come as a human race.

New schools are not just buildings or collections of policies and schemes of work; they are ideas and pinnacles of hope, of which we can be deeply proud. I, for one, am intensely proud to be associated with them. Saturday cannot come quickly enough …

Jun 27

Bridging the gap

I have spent quite some time recently looking at two iconic bridges – the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which rises in splendour above Circular Quay in Sydney, and the brand new Queensferry Crossing, visible from Edinburgh airport and for miles around. Each is remarkable in its own way – the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 m, from top to water level, while the Queensferry Crossing, at 1.7 miles in length, is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world, and also – by far – the largest to feature cables which cross mid-span. Perhaps even more importantly, each is immensely practical and is a beautiful sight to behold.

Sydney-Harbour-Bridge

Bridges are feats of human engineering, and must rate as one of humanity’s greatest inventions. They facilitate movement – physical mobility – by enabling people to travel to previously inaccessible places, and they connect people physically in ways that would otherwise be impossible. It takes a bridge to be able to cross a ravine or a river safely; bridges take us up above the dangers of road traffic, or let us move, as if in the sky, between high-rise towers. Without bridges, it is fair to say, we would get to fewer places, less easily, and some places might just be out of our reach entirely.

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And so it is with education – one of the greatest metaphorical bridges of all in our world. Education makes it possible to move from one side of a divide to a better life on the other side; education turns an apparent impasse into the start of a journey. Part of this is about earning qualifications, which opens doors to further study, but it is increasingly and powerfully obvious that the role of education – and schools – is much, much more that of an enabler, enabling young people to discover and have confidence in their own unique profiles, and providing opportunities for these young people to test out what it is like to cross different types of bridges in their lives. In a global world, these bridges come in many and varied shapes, sizes and directions; often they have yet to be built. The more that schools can do to open the eyes of their students to the multiple – infinite, perhaps – opportunities that await them, the readier each student will be to embark on the journey ahead of them – and, where they do not yet exist, to create new bridges of their own.

I firmly believe that anything is possible if we put our minds to it; I believe too that no child should be limited in his/her potential by early life experiences and social background. In showing students how to identify existing bridges to different experiences and opportunities, and in helping them understand (and have confidence in) how to create and build their own bridges, schools are facilitating mobility.

And the world is an easier place for everyone to navigate as a result.

Dr Helen Wright is the author of ‘Powerful Schools: how schools can be drivers of social and global mobility’, published by John Catt in 2016.

Jun 10

Technology, creativity and the power of the natural world

I am currently in Sydney, having flown in for a week to work with new principals in the Association of Independent Schools in New South Wales, as well as with other internationally minded teachers and school leaders. Wonderfully, my visit coincides with the annual Vivid Sydney festival, where landmarks such as the Botanic Gardens, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are transformed with astonishing light displays. I thought that last year’s displays were amazing; this year’s installations pushed the boundaries yet further; it is no surprise that this 8 year old festival attracted 2.3 million visitors last year.

In one of the most remarkable scenes of the evening, the sails of the Opera House morph into a jellyfish that is so realistic in its portrayal, so breathtaking in its natural power, and so beautiful in its shape, colour and apparent transparency, beautifully moulded to the sails of the Opera House, that the audience – on the packed quayside – were awed. It was, quite simply – along with, it must be said, the rest of the digital light performance – amazing to watch. The combination of the artistic vision, the creativity and the technological expertise required to represent this larger-than-life sea creature … this was a wonder in itself, and was a sharp and clear reminder of what human beings can do when respect, are inspired by, and work together with the natural world around us, drawing on their inner capacities to think, feel and imagine, as well as on the tools and advancements that their fellow human beings have made, and continue to make.

Vivid Sydney picture

The resulting work, displayed for all to see, is all the more uplifting because it is a step up on last year’s work, when improvement was nigh impossible to imagine, and because, most likely, it will be improved upon yet further for next year. The human spirit is indomitable; its quest for ever greater improvement is unquenchable.

And this, of course, is what we need to be showing our children in schools, from the earliest age. We need to be igniting in them the spark of curiosity that will lead them to explore new territories, new understandings, and new ways of interpreting and using what we already know, as well as discover what we don’t. We need to be showing them pathways that others have forged to find and create the new – not so that they can follow in their footsteps, but so that they can see that such pathways can be imagined and created, and so that they can develop the confidence and self-assurance to set off on their own trajectory. Each of us has our own paths and journeys; schools need to be wise, flexible spaces where adults guide and nurture, but where ultimately they help children release their imagination and are emboldened to set off on their own unique journey through life.

Does this sound like a school you know? If so, please contact me and tell me! I see glimpses of this (or often more than mere glimpses) in many schools across the world, and I encounter many, many young people who are well on the way to becoming their unique selves … but I also see many hurdles that stand in the way of children developing their strengths, and I see much mediocrity.

Vivid Sydney reminds us of what we can achieve as human beings when we set our minds to it; our young people deserve nothing less than that we help them to achieve the equivalent in their own lives.

May 10

The exciting future of international school leadership

The annual COBIS conference in London is always an inspiring event, where leaders in British international schools gather together to share good practice and be inspired by innovative ideas for forward-thinking education. This year’s theme has been ‘Transformations’, and in listening to the many speakers interpreting this theme in different ways, it struck me just how exciting a time it is to be engaged in international school leadership.

The world, as we know, is in a state of flux and fluidity, which may appear daunting at times, but is actually a gateway to a phenomenal range of opportunities. In amongst this melee of opportunity, English medium international schools are flourishing: the latest figures from ISC Research indicate that there are now 4.61 million students studying worldwide in 8,646 English medium international schools (up from less than 1 million students in 2,584 schools in 2000). English – and an international education – is in huge demand, and this demand is growing. In part this is because English continues to provide a gateway to personal success for students all over the world, and in part it is because international schools often offer a high quality, forward-looking education which students, quite rightly, crave. When this education also takes them on to an international stage, or into a state of mind where they appreciate the real and immense value of connecting across national boundaries, it takes them to a place where they are best empowered to make a collective and positive difference in the world.

All schools have the ability to make a difference in the lives of young people; high quality international schools (like the COBIS-accredited schools who attended this most recent conference) have the ability to make a high quality, international difference in these lives. And what an exciting education this can be! With schools pushing the boundaries in technology, in staff development and in student-centred, personalised learning, this is a time like none before to be involved in education on an international level. Education opens minds and hearts; for leaders in international schools, who are entrusted with the keys to this education, it can be one of the most satisfying – and important – endeavours they ever engage in.

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Mar 25

Social mobility, global mobility – why navigating the world is so important for young people

I have had a whirlwind few weeks, with a distinctly global focus. In the second week of March I attended the British Schools of the Middle East conference, where Heads of British schools gathered to hear Professor Yong Zhao remind us that in a marvellously connected world, where we can reach anyone we want, then young people can truly be whoever they are, and can (and should) develop their passions, because someone, somewhere, will want what they can do.

Then – after a brief venture back in London where I was amazingly fortunate to be invited to the astonishing last night performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House, which made my spirits soar – I travelled to Hong Kong for a curriculum summit of the new Dalton School Hong Kong, a deliberately child-centred, dual language primary school due to open in Kowloon in August 2017, and on whose board I sit. The work that is going on in preparation for this opening is impressive, underpinned by a powerful understanding that children learn best when they are enabled to discover for themselves, and when teachers respond to their individual needs.

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Finally, I travelled on Wednesday back to London to present at the BECSLink conference in Wimbledon, which was run in conjunction with the Tim Henman Foundation, and focused on how business, education, charities and schools can work together to facilitate social mobility for children who start life with one hand tied behind their back. Together, the message was clear, we can make a real and visible difference for these children.

My contribution to the BECSLink conference focused, unsurprisingly, on the importance of global mobility for young people, and I sought to energise the participants in thinking about why this mattered, and how we could all do something about it. The adult decision-makers of today have grown up in a very different world from the world in which young people are growing up, and we need to be very aware that we do not – consciously or unconsciously – inhibit the global potential of young people by not recognising the limitless opportunities they have at their fingertips through the digital medium, through cheap travel, and through the immense social and business networks which span the globe and touch us all.

(Where are you today, as you are reading this? Where was your phone or laptop assembled and programmed? With a tap or a click, how many people, in how many parts of the world, could you reach out to?)

The truth is that today, young people are literally only a second and/or a click away from the other 7 billion human beings on this planet. The opportunities that they have to connect, to work, to learn, to experience the world … these exist as never, ever before in our history. They can use these opportunities to discover and do what they are most excited by in their lives – their prospects for work are vast.

But they cannot do this alone. If they tune into the subliminal messages from the adults in their lives that the wider world is foreign, strange and physically hard to access, and if they don’t see people going out and connecting with ease, relishing learning new languages and experiencing different cultures, then they are effectively slashing the scope of their horizons. We have to help them build cultural resilience together with a spirit of curiosity and invention, and we have to show them pathways that others have taken to become globally confident.

Global mobility, social mobility … the two are inextricably intertwined, and the sooner we can embrace this, the quicker our young people will benefit.

 

Mar 07

‘International Women’ – focusing on the international on #IWD2017

International Women’s Day this year focuses on women in the changing world of work, with a goal of equality in the workforce by 2030 (in line, of course with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). In many ways this is a perfectly straightforward vision, in line too with all the work that has been done over the past few years (decades, even), to help develop and sustain equality across the globe, in all aspects of life, so that we eventually reach a stage where all human beings are valued equally.

InternationalWomensDay-portrait

What struck me this week as I travelled internationally, on a plane travelling to Bahrain for an education conference, was that we are absolutely missing an opportunity to pursue this vision if we do not think more ambitiously about the ‘International Women’ in International Women’s Day. For most of us, we recognise Women’s Day on 8 March as International because – amazingly, if you think about where we have come from over the past years – it is celebrated across the world, with women (and men) standing in unity and a shared commitment to gender equality and normalising this equality in local and national contexts across the world. We have come so far, in such a short space of time, in fact … and while there is much more to do to tackle bias (unconscious and conscious), International Women’s Day is also a celebration of what we have managed to achieve.

There is something missing from the dialogue, however. Much of the celebration and focus on 8 March is country-centric, and yet we live in a world which is globally connected as never before. Digital technologies give us the opportunity to work with anyone, anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice; our transport infrastructure means that it is easier, quicker and cheaper than ever before to travel internationally. The financial and economic hurdles to our global understanding are smaller than they have ever been, and the global opportunities are greater than they have ever been. When we become truly international, we learn to embrace others as they are, and to appreciate both difference and essential sameness. International understanding is a foundation stone of global understanding, and it presents countless opportunities that can break cycles of poverty, and emancipate individuals and systems.

We know that opportunities are meaningless unless they are grasped, and if we are to encourage our next generations of women to go beyond where they currently are, and grasp the opportunities which are now available to them, then we need to set an example now. International women – women who think internationally, act internationally and live internationally … this is who we can become if we stretch ourselves and make the effort to break down the social, emotional and practical barriers that stop us from being internationally minded role models.

And in doing so, we will make the life pathways of our daughters – across the world – just that little bit easier.

 

Feb 09

Diversity – a blindingly obvious choice?

Listening to Jayne-Anne Ghadia last week was a refreshing experience. Ms Ghadia – CEO of Virgin Money and author of the 2016 Ghadia report into women and finance, ‘Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services’  – was speaking at an event in Edinburgh aimed at demonstrating to private sector companies why board diversity makes economic sense; this was a message supported by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who also addressed the assembled company – and it was a pleasure to reinforce this myself when I presented at a session later in the morning in my capacity as a Trustee of Changing the Chemistry, alongside our esteemed CEO. The message of the morning was clear – diversity makes fundamental sense, and as Ms Ghadia said, quite straightforwardly, ‘Diversity is about success for men and women. It’s obvious.’

Picture from Diversity on Boards eventThe thing about diversity on boards – or on any decision-making group, committee or body – is that once you have seen how it makes a difference to have a range of voices around the table, there is no going back. In fact, once you have experienced the breadth of often unexpected perspectives that come from people with different backgrounds, skills, life experiences and world views, you will find it hard to accept the group-think that often masquerades as thoughtful decision-making amongst people tasked with such responsibilities. Most of us think that we are broad-minded enough and sufficiently capable of careful reflection to be able to see issues from all angles, but the truth is that we aren’t, and we should stop assuming that we are. Each of us brings our own unique understandings of the world to the groups in which we are involved – each of us brings our own diverse part – but we can only ever be a part of a much bigger picture, and the sooner we embrace this, the better. All the emerging evidence now points to the fact that diverse companies with diverse boards perform more effectively, and if the social argument of the importance of representing your customer base doesn’t win you over (and it should), then maybe the hard financial success facts will.

Achieving diversity on a board requires thought, commitment and action. As in so many areas of our still unequal world, people with much to offer do not realise just what they can bring, often because it has never been expected of them and they can’t see enough role models, and also because innumerable hurdles stand in their way – who really wants to join a board where the culture is subtly patronising, their ideas are dismissed, and they feel uncomfortably alien? A welcoming board which embraces and respects difference is a healthy board, and while we would all like to think that this is what we do, and who we are, the reality is that without conscious and unremitting focus on the value of diversity, actively seeking out and supporting diversity, and a deep, constant challenging of our own unconscious bias, our boards will not be the diverse – and effective – places we want them to be.

So – there is work to be done, but it is eminently do-able, and the longer we wait, the longer it will take to achieve. Join with others and just do it.

www.changingthechemistry.org

Jan 05

My New Year’s resolution: to coach more international school leaders (both aspiring and in situ)

As a closet introvert, I love the opportunity to think and reflect between Christmas and New Year. So few people send emails (or expect replies), and the resulting space and time allows indulgence in delicious contemplation and rumination. Inevitably, part of this looks backwards, in a kind of scorecard of the year: what has gone well, and what has been less fulfilling; inevitably, too, part of this looks forward: what do I want the new year to bring, and how will I help make this happen, for myself and for others? And in the course of my deliberations this year, I realised just how much I have deeply enjoyed the executive coaching I have been doing with a number of international school leaders in various parts of the world – and how much I want to extend this to others.business-growth-and-personal-growth-tree

Executive coaching offers the leader being coached a space – often a challenging and very personal space – in which he or she can evaluate what needs to be done in order to ensure that he/she is the very best leader possible, able to have the greatest and most meaningful impact on, through and with others. The role of an executive coach for school leaders, I believe, is to help the leader they are coaching to identify and then succeed in what they know, (deep inside but may not yet be able to articulate), they need to do in order to align their personal and professional lives in their own very specific educational context. When they can do this, they are able to release their potential, turning them into amazing and super-effective leaders of organisations and people, and able to have the positive impact on the world and its future that they are seeking.

An executive coach is a trusted confidant, providing leaders with the opportunity and freedom to share and explore their leadership and business concerns. An executive coach is akin to a discerning thought partner or an intelligent sounding board, who stands a confidential step away from the leader’s organisation. A good coach will hold a leader to account, and will provide insightful and honest feedback. I have been enormously gratified over this past year especially to have seen the leaders I have coached grow in strength and undergo personal transformations – whether they have been seeking and preparing for new roles, or transitioning into a new job, or working out what it is they want to do in the next phase of their lives. To be able to contribute to personal and professional growth in people who are moulding the next generation of students is a huge privilege, and I now know at first-hand just how much of a difference this can make, and how this will impact positively on the wider communities for whom these leaders have responsibility.

Executive coaching works. It is now de rigeur for executives in private companies to have regular coaching, as their boards recognise that to coach them is to invest in them. Where the education system in general falls down, however – even in the generally enlightened world of international schools – is in the lack of expectation that coaching support will be naturally offered to school leaders. Appointing, sustaining and developing a school leader is one of the biggest investments that a school board can make, and it is obvious – blindingly so, one might argue – that it is absolutely worth nurturing and growing this investment with high quality external support.

I believe passionately that great schools depend on great leadership – and that a great leader is someone who is in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing for the right reasons. I know I have helped numerous school leaders to realise their personal and professional potential, and I want to help more. So … if you are interested, and want to talk more, drop me a line. I very much look forward to connecting and helping.

 

Dr Helen Wright is a highly experienced and insightful former school leader turned international executive coach and consultant. She can be contacted on helen@drhelenwright.com 

 

Nov 24

Ice, International Schools and Madame Doubtfire: a snapshot of a day, and a lesson in appreciation 

I derive great pleasure from the deep insights that come from making unexpected connections and links. Whilst I very much value (and enjoy creating) structure, organisation and routine, I robustly value the creative perspectives that emerge from changes and variations to daily patterns, because they add dimensions and layers of innovative understanding and appreciation to our world view, and they deepen – often breathtakingly – our human experience.

I have just returned home to Edinburgh after a day in Bath, judging the entries for the 2017 British International Schools Awards – a  really tough (but exciting) call, given the high quality and variety of the schools and the projects represented. The meeting alone, with its glimpses into brilliant teaching and learning around the world, would have given enough material for positive reflection; it nestled, however, within a day’s worth of experiences – each perhaps relatively unexceptional, but all of which reminded me of the deep value of observing, engaging, reflecting, and then sharing with our fellow human beings.

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There was ice on the cars and the streets of Edinburgh as we left – minus 6, according to the thermometer – and as I was conversing with my taxi driver about this, we came round to talking about where he had grown up in Edinburgh, and his memories of a particular shop run by a certain Madame Doubtfire. Memories of the late Robin Williams leapt to mind; this Madame Doubtfire ran a secondhand shop in Stockbridge, selling clothes, and was clearly a renowned character. Long dead, she came back to life for me in the narrative of the (now grown up) little boy who remembered her in the 1960’s and who was transporting me to the airport at 6am (his third fare of the day). For a few minutes I had the privilege of seeing a sliver of the world through another’s eyes, and of enriching my own understanding of the local area and heritage as a consequence. In the context of a day travelling to discuss what schools are doing globally to help develop young people, it was a potent reminder of the depth and potential of each and every human being, and the value of our journeys across countries and through history – countries and history which we shape by what we do and who we become.

Every day brings unexpected connections, if only we keep our eyes and ears open, and are ready to see, hear, experience, think and feel. Each of us, in our daily lives, encounters different people, different perspectives and different ideas. Not only do each of these encounters shape us, but we are shaped further by the unique combinations of these encounters. We inhabit an astonishingly complex – and, if we make it so, potentially amazingly and powerfully positive – ecosystem of people, thoughts, feelings, understandings, histories and geographies. It is without question our moral responsibility to try to make the most of this, contributing in our turn and helping others – especially our children – understand how to make the most of it too.

Begin each day with openness and appreciation, and it will take you to breadths and depths of gratitude for the world and society in which we live. And don’t forget to teach children to do the same.

 

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