The International School Connection: An Evolving School Development Platform for a Global Age

Elaine Sullivan
Ed. D.

During the last decade the International School Connection has evolved into a dynamic network of educational leaders from 13 Countries on four Continents, to create a responsive focus for shaping a story of schooling for this global age. In its various phases as a multi-national, multi-university cooperative, to a non-profit organization with an international Board of Directors and international Leadership Team, it has sought to develop new kinds of connections between schooling and the drama unfolding on the global stage. Today the centerpiece of our work is Benchmarks for Schools as Global Learning Centers, which are designed for a school to prepare students for success in this global age of living and working. A brief foray into the history of our work may be instructive to others about the journey towards the Global Learning Center focus for schools.

Phase I: Four Pillars for Global School Leadership

In the formative years of 1997-2000, leaders from seven universities in seven different countries signed an official document of intent to cooperate in shaping global partnerships for school development purposes. Global Educational Leadership was the emphasis for ISC research, dialogue, international visits and meetings, graduate programs, and other activities during this phase. The major purpose during these years was to design and share promising practices for global educational leadership. School visits and exchanges were common for studying promising practices of schooling and connecting school leaders and others across borders to learn with and from each other. The guiding purpose was to develop leadership capacities for becoming more globally oriented, which were organized around the Four Pillars Framework: (1.) dynamics of globalization, (2.) emerging careers and the workplace, (3.) developing a learning organization, and (4.) personal mastery of global leadership capacities.

The Four Pillars Model was the conceptual framework for designing the On-line professional Development programs (Mid Sweden University: Sweden), and the Masters Degree and Ph.D. programs (University of South Florida: USA), both named Global Organizational Development. The Four Pillars played out in the work of on-line international learning communities, dialogue in the common virtual rooms, and the content of professional development and degree programs for increasing knowledge about globalization, school development and leadership. Annual working Conferences were conducted in Europe and North America to increase the fund of knowledge on globalization, to provide face-to-face experiences, and to learn about schools in places other than home. A Research Program documented trends in learning online to increase the knowledge base about educators using technology as a medium for connecting and working globally.

A watershed event for the ISC was becoming a non- profit organization in 2002, which allowed it to become more responsive and adaptive to the changing environment of schooling and global networking. The journey to define ISC’s role on the world stage of education began in Fall 2002 during its first official meeting as a Non-Profit organization, with a working retreat in Haines City, Florida, USA. The Leadership Team’s mission was to determine its niche among all the world players. A question emerged from an exercise with Scenario Planning as identified in the World Caf� notes26: “Why is the ISC important to the World?” Follow-up activities revealed that the Four Pillars Model was too static to serve as the main framework for the ISC’s future work. A major aha or breakthrough was that the Four Pillars Model did not take into consideration the school development processes for schools. School development had been at the periphery of the ISC work with the accent on building the capacity of the leader. At this working retreat, the Leadership Team determined to explore options for working with schools and their leaders in the school improvement process. These turning points became part of the Strategic Plan of 2002-200427 setting the ISC on a path to bring forth innovation and creativity to our thinking and to find new and different ways for collaborating with a clearer, stronger school development vision and purpose.

Phase II: Growth Promoters and an E-Portfolio for School Development

After the Haines City Retreat, two parallel developments occurred during 2003 that stimulated energy for ISC Leaders and resulted in a stronger focus on school development. Returning to the core knowledge base of ISC development, the new theory of school development within a Systems and Chaos Context was lifted up for consideration as the core concepts for ISC development (Living on the edge of chaos; Leading schools into the global age, Snyder, K.J., Acker-Hocevar M. & Snyder, K.M., 2000). The Model for Living on the Edge of Chaos replaced the Four Pillars Model, which offers a dynamic approach to school development as a living system within a global society. The book had been important to ISCers when working with the Four Pillars Model as a resource. The emphasis from the research base and the Systemic/Chaos theory formed a new model with an integrated framework about school development. The Chaos Theory of School Development, which is based on the theories of complexity, chaos and natural living systems, evolved into the ISC Seven Growth Promoters for Leading Schools into a Global Age. School development for student achievement and success became the core of our thinking about the context and conditions for working systemically with organizations, both globally and locally. The model mirrored the way strategic, adaptive, and responsive organizations work in the new ever-changing context of world conditions.

When this development is considered in hindsight, it seems to have been an obvious starting point. Even though from the beginning the student was the centerpiece of our work, it was not the strategic driver. ISC work was fragmented and not consistently driven by the vision of student achievement and success for participation in the global society; the emphasis was on school leaders. The Seven Growth Promoters amplified the need to have information to create visions and to assess progress on the journey towards the vision. An alignment occurred between the vision and the organization’s actions to prepare students for success in a global society.

The main focus of ISC activity included on-line collaboration, school study visits and conferences. Participants gathered information from international tests and standards, and school visits, and from information gathered within on-line learning communities that focused on a school’s development journey. The information was fragmented and not used as a system. Additionally, emphasis was given to leadership qualities and practices, becoming a natural form of benchmarking and sharing ways to use global and local information. The model relied on the idea of leaders using the context of world and local trends to use data to drive change with both factors depicted as part of the evolving system. This process of using local and global data highlighted the importance of context in the change process and the role of the leader.

The idea of developing a school online portfolio system emerged in 2003 at the annual ISC Board Meeting in Helsinki28 and described in the Board minutes. Kristen Snyder proposed that the “ISC research niche is to develop a portfolio of capacities around global educational leadership that is based on a self-diagnostic tool, within an on-line portfolio system. A portfolio system could provide the context for personal growth in the Professional Development and School Connections functions of the ISC. The ISC website could offer access to data bases that universities have, as well as those of professional organizations such as SOL.” The databases might include test data, trend information, research results, literature information, and conditions of all the major aspects of globalization.

During the spring of 2003 both the concepts of an E-Portfolio and the Seven Growth Promoters continued to evolve, which led to the idea of the Global Learning Center Benchmark Framework and System. The Portfolio System was to become an integrated system with the Growth Promoters within an interactive computer program. The decision was made to present the Portfolio Proposal at the ISC Ottawa Summit in 2004. The metaphor of a backpack was used, which included compartments for the tools needed to make the school development journey. After the presentation, participants dialogued about the value and possible uses of the Portfolio. The ISC was encouraged to develop this project further, with guidance from Finland, Sweden, and Canada at the Summit. Each country had excellent success on the PISA Test and other international standards, and each member had exemplary schools. It was believed that the expertise they brought to the table would afford the ISC an opportunity to accelerate the development of this project at a high standard.

At the Ottawa Conference Kristen Snyder presented, as evidenced by the conference agenda and 2004 Annual Report to the Board29, a proposal for the creation of a Portfolio system titled Interactive Global Education Navigator (IGEN). The information described the two-part system as a technological tool for educators to chart the global development of their organization and their own personal growth. The tool would give access to global indicators in education, politics, economics, social and technological research and policy. The school trend data were to focus on curriculum, pedagogy, leadership, organization and work culture literatures. Stories and other narratives were to be included. The response was overwhelmingly positive about IGEN. John Fitzgerald and Elaine Sullivan facilitated round table discussions through the afternoon and the next day, which sought to determine if the idea should be pursued, and in what ways it could become useful. In this spirit, the ISC Board, in an Ottawa February 2004 meeting, decided that the ISC would become a Global Learning Network of Hubs of schools around the world that seek to become Global Learning Centers.

As this work continued in late 2003 and early 2004, Kristen Snyder shared information about the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and of a Global Positioning Systems (GPS) as metaphor for the Portfolio system. Discussion about this metaphor and especially the GPS section made clear the use of the section two of the portfolio system as a benchmarking tool. The idea was to give a leader or school community a relative measure of how prepared the school is for responding and adapting to the local and global conditions while using the 7GPs as a guide to facilitate and understand change. Energy then coalesced around working to further develop the idea of a benchmarking tool for the ISC. Benchmarking within this proposal was an action verb for identifying the best practices and literatures reporting the most useful ideas for building responsive schools for this global age.

It became apparent that the essence of school development today is to create a school with a global orientation, using benchmarks as guides. The Global Portfolio System would be needed to include information important to schools and student success in relation to global standards, as well as local standards and needs. Student success was defined as having the capacities to be a global citizen and to develop preparedness or competence in the new work skills required for the 21st Century. The idea was that schools would become global schools or schools prepared for the global age. Global schools eventually became known as the global learning centers, which gave rise to the niche for the ISC: to work with schools in their development journey to become globally oriented schools, or Global Learning Centers.

A deeper understanding of ISC’s niche materialized from the work with the Portfolio system. The Ottawa Conference round table discussion and reports were innovative and united the ISC’s members in determining the overarching purpose for ISC as a world education player. Suggestions were made to develop Benchmarks as indicators of what a school might look like as a Global Learning Center. The centerpiece of ISC work identified by the participants was to be working with schools to become Global Learning Centers based on Global Benchmarks and indicators. The Growth Promoters and the Global Benchmarks would become the fundamental frameworks for creating an integrated system and would drive all ISC work.

Benchmarks for Schools as Global Learning Centers

Karolyn Snyder and Elaine Sullivan assumed responsibility for identifying potential Benchmarks for schools as Global Learning Centers, involving the ISC community in its development. Eventually ten major concepts evolved, and it was time to establish their importance for becoming the official Benchmarks for school development within the ISC. Members of the ISC Community were invited to provide feedback on The Benchmarks for clarity, importance, and comprehension. Another check was made to determine whether any major areas of schooling had been omitted. A new benchmark was added on global and local student performance measures. Ten Global Benchmarks finally emerged that have become the centerpiece of ISC work. This marks the beginning of having a common language within our global learning network of schools, school districts, businesses, and universities.

To assist school leaders in developing the Global Learning Center perspective in school development, the School Observation System (SOS) was designed by Karolyn Snyder and Elaine Sullivan. With the participation of John Fitzgerald, observation guide was produced for use with a Spanish Group of Principals in Tampa Florida USA, and for the Swedish Study Visit to Ottawa, Canada. This instrument reinforced the global benchmarks as the centerpiece of the ISC work. The SOS was further refined for the visit of Sochi, Russia principals to Tampa Florida USA in 2004.

An observation tool, the School Observation System (SOS) to be used as a lens to collect information during school visits, was developed by Karolyn Snyder and Elaine Sullivan, working with John Fitzgerald. Elaine further developed the instrument to be an inquiry-oriented guide for using school observation data as a springboard for thinking about a personal and organizational school development journey. The Global Learning Center (GLC) Benchmarks functioned for assessing and planning: ‘Where am I on the Journey?’, ‘Where do I want to be?’, “What is my plan to get there?”, and “What ways can we organize projects or programs in my school?’. The Benchmarks were designed to help clarify the vision, setting strategic intent and plans for continuous improvement. The GLC Benchmarks were to be used as the framework (or glue) that held together the process of forward movement.

The School Observation System (SOS) integrated the 7-Growth Promoters and the Global Learning Center Benchmarks in guiding school observation and note taking. The SOS could be used for diagnostic and formative assessment, and as a self-rating assessment of the organization. This school observation system has since been used to support school development workshops and events for the ISC. The GLC Benchmarks have enabled leaders to think systemically about school change within a global context. In facilitating change, school activities, processes, and structures become features of the big picture of interconnectedness and interrelatedness.

Members of the Spanish Hub and Tampa Bay Florida USA Hub began to explore ideas for a school to become certified as an ISC Global Learning Center School. The Tampa Bay Hub prepared a proposal for consideration at the ISC Madrid Summit in 2005. After discussion among participants at the Summit, it was agreed that for the next several years schools needed to explore the application and implication of the Benchmarks before considering the idea of becoming recognized as a Global Learning Center School.

Another pivotal advance was the creation of an integrated School Development Platform created by Elaine, which was shared at the 2005 ISC Madrid Summit (Sullivan, 2005). The Benchmarks were a critical piece of the School Development Platform in guiding school change and to guide professional development activities. This School Development platform pulled together the two guiding frameworks of 7GPs (Snyder, 2005) and the GLC with its emerging Benchmarks. This current ISC School Development Platform, with its focus on the Global Learning Center and its Benchmarks, has become the springboard for new ISC energy. Ideas and ISC work agendas are now more focused and aligned with the ISC’s overarching purpose to facilitate the development of schools as Global Learning Centers. The integration of the frameworks and guiding principles into a common platform provides support for the school improvement process. It enables the school community and leaders to facilitate school development in an informed and influential manner. In today’s rapidly changing environment, schools are challenged to prepare students for success in both a local and a global environment. The ISC School Development Platform creates a systemic process to meet the challenges of this new global age. Using the 7GPs as the systemic process, the Global Learning Center recognizes the disequilibrium that is found when collecting trend data and measuring progress against the Benchmarks. The strategic leader uses these data to collaboratively find the leverage points to create pathways for change. The GLC Benchmarks provide an overall configuration to present a focused school development system for the flat world, and to create the concept of the Global Learning Center.

Global Learning Center Benchmarks and Implications for School Development

The ISC Global Benchmark System provides an integrated approach to managing the school’s development process. It generates a way to rate the global orientation of a school. A school can use the Benchmarks to establish areas of strength and areas for development. The Benchmarks make it possible for the school community to make sense of the internal and external trends that impact the school’s growth. These trends present a compass on the direction that a school should move to as it adjusts its strategic plan. The benchmarking process helps a school to get off to a right start. A portfolio of progress motivates staff to continue the journey. The Benchmarks offer the information needed to make informed decisions during the school development process, and are the foundation for producing a world-class school. The Benchmarks focus on what matters, student success.

The Global Learning Center Benchmarks guide the vision of school development. The benchmarking procedure creates buy-in and commitment to the vision, which enables the school to connect to its external and internal customers in responsive and appropriate ways. The Benchmarks supply the information to assess all aspects of the school to determine where to facilitate change and what needs to be changed. This benchmarking procedure makes available the information needed to strategically align structures, process, work culture, and ways of organizing in both the short and the long term. It is important to have an aligned short term or tactical day-to-day operational plan to build on for moving towards the long-term vision.

The Benchmarks are the strategic drivers of all decisions and create conversations that matter about school development. The benchmarking method enables staff to shape and maintain the vision, and to look for and maintain congruence of the interrelated parts and processes of the system. The Benchmarking process increases stakeholders understanding of the system and of the vision. The Global Benchmarks help to build new mental models from the stories, factual information, data, and research available from using the process. Old agendas and assumptions can consciously be replaced through collaboration, learning communities and personal inquiry in the context of the comprehensive Global Benchmarking system.

The GLC Benchmarks are the guides to develop a global orientation within the school’s curriculum. Student learning is geared to meet the needs of the global age as. Instructional activities can be developed from the Benchmarks and their indicators to create a student culture of learning. Specifically, developing a learning culture based on the two clusters ensures that a student’s learning is preparing him/her for the global society. The data bank of examples for each of the indicators will contribute to a school’s fund of knowledge of what a globalized school will look and feel like. This data bank will also act as a resource for crafting possibilities for the school’s initiatives. The stories and examples of others’ will afford the school the opportunity to build on the promising practices of Global Learning Centers, and to tap resources of the network of these Centers.

Already the journey towards building a network of Global Learning Centers has begun. A high school from Ottawa, A. Y. Jackson, has applied for credentialing as an ISC Global Learning Center, and will present its E-Portfolio of evidence at the ISC Global Summit in Tampa Florida USA in November 2006. Another school, Independent Day School-Corbett Campus, in Tampa Florida (Elementary and Middle School) is seeking to become the second school to demonstrate well all ten benchmarks of a Global Learning Center. The ISC is only beginning now to link schools across borders to share and learn from each other in school projects with students while they transform their school culture to feature a New Story of Schooling for a Global Age.

Benchmarking is critical to the school development and the change process because school leaders and the school community can influence and impact the direction and momentum of change to the organization’s advantage and for students to achieve the high performance in new work skills and in global citizenship. The ISC Global Benchmarks allow the school community to take charge in transisting to new ways of organizing. In the constant stream of changes and uncertainty existing in today’s complex, global environment strategic leaders use global benchmarks to meet challenges and to pursues the opportunities and possibilities for schooling in a global age.

The ISC Global Benchmark System provides an integrated a system for the school development process to construct ways for schools to meet the needs of students and their community, as well as to function in the complex environment of today and in the future ever-changing setting. The ISC community provides a venue for the Benchmarks to be continually reviewed for timeliness, importance, and relevance. The ISC ‘s work provides the process for forming dialogues among its participants across borders on how schools can organize to achieve high standards on each Benchmark The Global Benchmarks system affords school communities and leaders a process to intentionally fashion new stories of successful schooling.


26.   Bibliographic reference 1

27.   Bibliographic reference 2

28.   Bibliographic reference 3

29.   Bibliographic reference 4—5


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