Notes from India: Educators as risk-takers

I just returned from ASB Unplugged, a 1:1 school laptop conference hosted by the American School of Bombay in Mumbai, India. If you can imagine nearly 300 educators from international schools all across the world – all talking about technology integration and implementation, effective instruction, and empowering leadership within the context of 1:1 laptop programs – then you probably can guess what a great time I had. I was in charge of the leadership strand of the conference. Jamie Fath and Nick Sauers, whom many Iowa educators know from the Transitioning and Boot Camp training that CASTLE is doing with the School Administrators of Iowa, accompanied me. The conversations that the three of us had with the international educators were extraordinarily robust, meaningful, and insightful. My time in India sparked some thinking about educators and risk-taking…

Part 1: International educators are risk-takers

One of the things from the conference that resonated with me was the international educators’ willingness to take risks. If you’ve been teaching the same thing in the same school for the past 15 to 20 years, it may seem like a fairly big deal when someone then comes in and asks you to start integrating this technology stuff into your daily teaching practice in a meaningful way. On the other hand, if you’ve already packed up your entire family and headed off to work in Nairobi, Kenya – and then Caracas, Venezuela – and then Budapest, Hungary – and then Doha, Qatar – and then Shanghai, China – you’ve already taken the enormous risk of repeatedly uprooting your entire lifestyle and adjusting to a new school, city, and country. For international educators who already have proven themselves as risk-takers, being asked to pull technology into their educational practice may not seem as big a deal.

So I think one of the biggest assets these international schools have – even more than their globally-minded students and parents and their tremendous financial resources (tuition often is upward of $30,000 per student) – is that they have buildings full of educators who already have established themselves as risk-takers. It seems to me that a school full of people who are willing to try things – to ‘give it a go,’ if you will – is extraordinarily well-poised to be successful in a rapidly-changing climate such as that in which we now live. The challenge for those of us who don’t work in such schools is how we create this kind of learning climate within our own organizations.

Part 2: Wouldn’t Google’s CSI event be a good model for educators?

Google has an annual event called Crazy Search Ideas (CSI), for which employees bring their most offbeat ideas about Internet search to the table for vetting. This is a classic technique to foster innovative brainstorming. Why don’t schools do this? I’m sure that front-line educators have plenty of out-of-the-box ideas that might potentially be breakthroughs for school organizational and/or instructional logjams. Until we find ways to empower school employees’ risk-taking and innovation – and then scale successes to the larger school system – we’re never going to become the true learning organizations that we need to be.

Part 3: Assessing educators’ willingness to take risks

I’m working with an ISU honors Psychology student, Hana, to identify assessments of individuals’ proclivity to take risks. What we’d like to do is run some educators against the assessment(s) to see if they’re more likely to be high or low risk-takers. We may even do some comparative work where we also assess professionals in other industries. If your school or organization might be interested in participating in this project, please drop me a note in the next couple of weeks.

2 Responses to “Notes from India: Educators as risk-takers”

  1. Right on…the number one challenge facing education today is not the budget it is the ‘will’ of the people (all of us not just teachers or just administrators) to be willing to change the way we’re preparing our students for their future…

    Until the ‘will’ of the individuals, and then the group, changes we will continue to do a very good job of preparing our students to live in the 1980s…

    We need to start over and build our educational system from the bottom up!!! Keep showing us the examples of how this is actually working in different parts of the state, the country and the world. It is possible!

  2. I’m not going to disagree with you but I do need to clarify a few things.

    You’re probably right saying that overseas educators are risk takers in a relative sense. After nine years overseas life seems so normal to me. I go to work every day, work lots of hours, try to manage the day to day stresses, enjoy time with my family, and then take exotic trips during the vacations. Doesn’t seem to risky to me, but then again, things are relative. I remember well the interviews with teaching candidates in NC when I asked the question, “Why do you want to work at our wonderful school?” All too frequently the answer was, “Because it’s closer to my home.”
    Those of us at IB schools know all too well the Learner Profile where we strive to help students be “risk takers”.
    There are two items that I need to comment on.
    1. $30,000/year is the very high end of tuition at international schools around the world. I’ve been at two and they weren’t even close to that amount. With that said, we are relatively well resourced.
    2. The overseas educators that you met at ASB are at schools that are moving ahead with one to one and they are the leaders in this area. In terms of technology and education, the ASB Unplugged attendees are not representative of the majority of overseas educators. There are many who are not enthusiastic about pulling technology into education.

    It’s very interesting to look at others’ perspectives. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to experience working in an international environment. For me it just seems normal, and sometimes dull.

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