Fragmentation in International Schools

The modern world, with its emphasis on individuality and self-promotion, has fostered a culture of fragmentation that is contrary to what international schools seek to achieve by preparing global citizens capable of interacting with various cultures. These fragmenting characteristics are mirrored in international schools and must be dealt with in order for schools to fulfill their mission (Hayden & Thompson, 2002). At the micro level (within schools), schools face the challenge of bringing unity out of a very diverse group of teachers, staff and students who come from various backgrounds and cultures, and who have various interests and goals that may not always be compatible. In order to deal with the problem (and opportunity) of fragmentation in international schools, three courses of action are recommended: the school should focus on its mission, the school should foster a culture of professional interaction, and the school should rely on good governance.

Focus On Its Mission

One of the ways that fragmentation may be addressed in international schools is by focusing on the school’s mission. International schools have at their core the mission to be inclusive and to prepare students who understand the differences in the world and can successfully interact with a diverse world (Korsmo, Barrett, Friesen, & Finnley, 2012). Fragmentation runs counter to an international school’s mission, but it can also be naturally incorporated in a strategy that seeks to equip students to deal with a fragmented world.

Fragmentation itself is not a bad thing (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007) and it can be used as a teaching tool. By focusing on the mission of inclusiveness and equipping students to become global citizens, the school may successfully reap the benefits of diversity of cultures, opinions and interests. International schools should not seek to impose a culture or create one that supersedes all others, as “the idea of creating a school culture and meaning is at odds with international schools that are about cultures and diversity” (Hayden Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 347).

A clear focus on the school’s mission can help guide all interactions, programs and activities developed by the school. Instead of focusing its efforts on minimizing naturally occurring fragmentation along cultural, ethnic, or religious lines, the school can use them as educational opportunities in a globalized culture that encourages students and professionals to be independent. When a school practices true diversity by not seeking to impose a culture and instead focuses on allowing and enabling diverse groups to interact and find synergies, it is being true to its mission and achieving its stated goals.

Culture Of Professional Interaction

Fragmentation among teachers, administration and other staff can hurt the ability of a school to fulfill its mission. There seems to be evidence that the relationships between school working adults have a direct impact on the school’s quality (Barth, 1990), making it vital that time and effort be invested in fostering professional interactions that will strengthen a school’s position to provide the highest possible quality of education.

Conflict is inevitable, but it can be used as an opportunity for growth and better understanding of various points of view and interests. And conflict can be used to prepare new leaders, providing them the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, helping to fulfill what Hayden, Levy and Thompson (2007) refer to as the “ultimate purpose of school leadership” (p. 353). When school professionals are interacting in a respectful manner, working out their differences in a way that seeks to enhance student learning and fulfill the school’s mission, they are producing “thoughtful, reflective and highly productive teams” (p. 355). These teams are the heart of the learning experience at international schools because the staff is likely comprised of individuals from various countries and ethnic backgrounds that may have very few things in common—one of which is the school’s mission.

Good Governance

Governance, by definition, “deals with the legitimate distribution of authority throughout a system” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 318). Fragmentation at the school level many times takes the form of authority figures (whether legitimate or not) taking active roles and disrupting the intended flow of activities or deviating the entity from the path it should be taking. Good governance is a very powerful remedy for this type of problem because it holds individuals and groups accountable to the school’s mission and values.

As the “guardian of the school’s mission” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 318), the board interacts with the school in deep and meaningful ways, steering it back to course when needed and keeping it heading in the right direction. Hayden, Levy and Thompson (2007) propose that good governance is “participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law” (p. 319). These eight characteristics are ideal for dealing with conflict because most of them deal either directly or indirectly with fragmentation. A law-abiding and approachable board is the foundation of good governance, and the remaining characteristics allow it to include different points of view and interests in its decision-making process, and to seek the well being of all stakeholders.

Conclusion

Fragmentation can be deadly for an organization, but it can also be seen and used as an opportunity by a school that is intent on fulfilling its mission. By focusing on its mission, fostering a culture of professional interaction, and relying on good governance, an international school can take advantage of natural fragmentation and turn it into synergistic relationships that work for the benefit of the student. In the process of using fragmentation for the good of the school, administrators and teachers at international schools can also call for assistance from professional organizations, such as the ISA (International Schools Association), which offers consultancy services that can help resolve conflicts and re-focus the school’s efforts in achieving its stated goals (“Consultancy services,” 2012).

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References

Barth, R. (1990). Improving schools from within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

“Consultancy services for ‘internationalism in schools.” (2012). Retrieved from http://isaschools.org/services-view/consultancy-services-for-internationalism-in-schools-a-self-study-guide/

Hayden, M., & Thompson, J. (Eds.). (2002). International education in practice. London: Kogan Page.

Hayden, M., Levy, J., & Thompson, J. (Eds.). (2007). The SAGE handbook of research in international education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Korsmo, J., Barrett, W., Friesen, S., & Finnley, L. (2012). Mission possible: the efforts of the International Baccalaureate to align mission and vision with daily practice. International Schools Journal, 32(1), 29-39.

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