Two weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of traveling to Doha, Qatar as a consultant for Qatar Academy. I have to admit, it was a little ironic, being invited to speak about 21st Century Literacy at the school where Julie Lindsay is Head of Information Technology. I mean, really, who knows better about 21st Century Literacy and global collaborations than the co-founder of the Flat Classroom Project? She’s the one mentioned in The World is Flat, not me!

But, that’s the interesting thing about schools, isn’t it? Working together day in and day out, we often lose sight of the experts in our own midst, and can’t see the trees for the forest, so to speak.

One common remedy for this problem, in international schools, is to bring in some new trees every year. We spend about 6 months out of the school year actively recruiting the absolute best of the best, selecting the top candidates in their field, interviewing and weeding through the hundreds of applicants for each position. Then we proudly share our spectacular staffing for the coming year, ensuring that everyone both inside and outside of school knows what amazing new teachers we have on board.

And then the new year comes, those outstanding new hires get to work, prove themselves, show their stuff, and by October or so they’re part of the institution. Everyone’s heard their message, their voices become routine, their ideas stitched into the fabric of daily life at school.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little longer than those first few months to create change, sometimes it takes a little more than those first few months to really get that message across, sometimes those first few months go by in a blur and you’ve really only scratched the surface. Yet once someone is established within the daily routine of a school, their voice becomes less powerful to those who work in close proximity to them.

So how should schools go about fostering constant change and growth within the faculty, if, as seems to be the case, even expert teachers gradually stop feeling energized by each other’s ideas the longer they work together? The answer can’t be to simply wait for the new hires to inject some excitement every autumn. Schools need to keep their teams of teachers working productively for personal and institutional change throughout the year, whether they’ve been working together in the trenches for two years – or twenty.

That’s where the power of the “outside voice” can really make a difference. There’s something special about having someone who doesn’t sit in all the faculty meetings, who you don’t see in the hallway every single day. There’s something exciting about knowing that there are other “experts” that are recommending the same thing that your stellar staff are talking about. There’s something enticing about that “outside voice.”

So, although I am fairly certain that I didn’t say anything that Julie hasn’t already said, and while I know that there are a number of amazing staff at QA that have been working diligently on the exact type of issues I raised during my two days on campus, I think that my “outside voice” was able to make an impact – just by virtue of the fact that it was an outside voice.

Julie and I talked about creating a network of “outside voices” that can come and inject some excitement into our international schools. Teachers who are currently in the classroom, working with these tools every day, who know the ups and downs and ins and out of teaching and learning in a 21st century classroom in an international setting. Instead of (or in addition to) sending groups of teachers out to conferences, from which new information can be filtered back to the rest of the staff, what if we brought these practicing experts in, to deliver a consistent message to the whole staff within the comfort of their daily working environment, with their tools and their on-site experts? What if we could rotate through each other’s schools, presenting and consulting on our individual areas of expertise, ensuring that the momentum that starts each August continues through until June every year? What if all of the teachers in our schools (those with an RSS reader, and those without) could benefit, in person, from the learning that some of us read about online every day?

What do you think?

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Image 2 from hebedesign

Tags: julie lindsay, qatar academy, 21stcentury, consultant, professional development, training, internationalschool,  21st century literacy, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development, professional development, training

9 thoughts on “The Outside Voice

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. It is fabulous to have outside people to work with outside your school, outside your country and to share ideas and projects with them. We had Jeff Whipple come into our library to teach our students how to use a wiki and to introduce the 1001flat tales project. The most exciting thing was that Jeff was in his own home, in Canada, late at night, using his laptop with his laptop projecting onto our IWB in the library. I wish the time slots were not so different, but with a country like yours and other Asian areas our timeslots would coincide more readily for all this wonderful e-connectedness.

  2. I’ve always loved this great Doug Johnson quote left on one of Leigh Blackall’s posts back in early 2006.
    “The biblical expression for this is “a prophet is without honor in his own land.” Or as we say in Minnesota, an expert has to be someone from at least 75 miles away.”
    On a footnote, if you scroll right down, you’ll find my comment about how new voices don’t always work in their new environments. It still rings pretty true two years on.

  3. Kim, I love the term ‘outside voices’! I think the energy you brought to Qatar Academy and now the ongoing interaction and positive conversations and actions amongst the Primary teachers who worked with you on those 2 days are evidence of the power of an outside voice. Now it is also up to the ‘inside voices’ to cultivate this enthusiasm and encourage it…..but of course with our Ning and international membership we have a whole new way to share our findings and achievements!
    Yes! Let’s talk more about an ‘outside voices’ collaboration for next year!

  4. Hi Kim,

    Glad you had a good time in Qatar. I was going to say what Graham already said, so I needed bother again. But yes, that “expert” from more than 75 miles away is often listen to more carefully than is the local. I know this from personal experience in my own district.

    Just a bit of trivia… Another “facilities expert” and I were hired by an architectural firm to consult with the Qatari Academy back in 2003. While they wanted a design for a new learning space thinking that a building would give kids good IL/IT skills, we argued they needed staffing and program more. I don’t think we were the most popular consultants at the time!

    But seeing as Julie is there, maybe we did SOME good!

    All the best and congrats for what I am sure will be the first of many, many consulting jobs for you,


  5. Spot on Kim!
    Funny but sometimes it is not even from outside of your school but outside of your region! I think Doug has the distance about right at 75 miles as 3 of us were greeted so well in Nanjing 3 weeks ago and we all struggle to work with schools here in Hong Kong.
    I think a change is coming though! Pity we couldn’t get you to Hong Kong this year but it will happen. I’ll stay in touch.

  6. murcha,

    Isn’t it fabulous to be able to connect with exceptional educators all around the world – for free! I have to say, though, I do think there is something special about having a physical visitor, someone who can experience the actual teaching and learning environment and then share insights and ideas about how to improve.


    Perfect! You’re both right on!


    Thank you! I totally agree that the hard work is left up to the inside voices. QA is so fortunate to have such exceptional inside voices! And such excellent PD and networking opportunities provided by your team!


    Thanks Doug! I believe I sent much the same message when I was there – but as you say, Julie has the reigns and she has made such amazing strides in her short time there already.


    I agree – there’s something exciting and inspiring about that outside voice. No worries about HK – I would love to take part next year if it all works out!

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