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I’ve been passionate about 21st Century Schools and 21st Century Education for quite a while now. You see I’m a passionate educator just like you and I want to change schools to meet the needs of 21st Century Learners.

Researching at Columbia University, New York City, reading books by great educators, following inspirational and informative articles in social media, attending conferences and workshops all around the world, visiting contemporary schools and reflecting on all that I learn by blogging has helped me form new ideas and new theories.

But something amazing happened to me a few years ago that really accelerated my learning. Out of the blue I was offered an opportunity to learn more about 21st Century Schools in an incredible way. You see I was offered the chance to start a brand new IB school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as the Founding Head of School. OMG!

My initial reaction was to say “No,” but as my voice rang in my ears, I thought, “don’t be ridiculous Maxine, you should never say no to opportunity and this could be a once in a lifetime experience.”

Most educators believe that you don’t really learn something until you do it and that learning should result in action. Well I was given a white canvas to start a brand new K-12 school as a huge learning opportunity and I have learnt so much more by doing.

The school opened in 2017 with new teachers and students from Early Years to Year 6 and we were enrolling students for our secondary school to open in 2018. Yes it was challenging but a huge learning opportunity too.

So I thought I’d share with you the most valuable strategies that I’ve learnt in creating a truly contemporary school.

  1. Adopt an Entrepreneurial Mindset. To be honest with you I’m a huge advocate of Professor Yong Zhao. I love his thinking and I love the way he challenges educators to think using an entrepreneurial mindset. In fact, I resigned from my headship of a 4-program IB school in 2014 to design my own start-up so I could learn more about being entrepreneur. Most tasks I have undertaken to get the new school up and running have been accomplished by applying my new entrepreneurial mindset; for example, curriculum design, developing teacher profiles and recruiting, purchasing resources, marketing, creating our reputation, product quality, customer relations, public relations, community collaborations and connections, professional development for teachers. All these areas have enormous entrepreneurial opportunities to be explored by schools to empower teachers and students to grow and develop.  You don’t need a PhD or international education masters degree to get started – just the right attitude!


  1. Create the Dream. People today want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. People want to have a purpose in life that will make the world a better place. They want to contribute in some way. So create a BIG DREAM that is worthy and will capture the hearts and minds of others. Turn it into a vision and a mission statement and invite teachers, parents and students to believe in it and live it. This will create an amazing culture in your school for your students and teachers to thrive. Don’t just limit yourself to thinking about your local school – consider international school leadership and ways of increasing connectivity through technology.


  1. Recruit, Grow and Inspire Passionate Teachers. Review your recruiting policy and procedures. Be open to employing teachers who are risk-takers, go-getters and who have a variety of experiences and different careers than teaching. They bring many different perspectives to the collective genius of your school and will be crucial to successfully create a culture of innovation, change and disruption.


  1. Create Flexible Learning Spaces with Flexible Teachers. We’ve all heard about flexible learning spaces for a long time now and there are many creative combinations of furniture on wheels and exciting new furniture designs to allow students to create their own learning spaces. The problem emerges when teachers still want to teach using a teacher-centric approach. This is not the best way to teach in the 21st Century. Student-centered activities where students have agency to take part in their learning journey is an absolute necessity if we want to move beyond the conformity and compliance of the Industrial Age. Challenge your teachers and provide training to increase their ability and their confidence to be flexible, agile, innovative teachers who will pilot changes to better meet the needs of 21st Century Learners.


  1. Simplify the Complexity in your School – The world and our schools are complexity rich and this can create inaction because of overload. We are focusing on four major 21st Century Skills and integrating them into our mission, curriculum, policies and procedures. It is so much easier to focus on just these four; Communication, including Digital Literacy, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. That’s it! For students and teachers.


  1. Protect your energy and That of Your Team. Time is one of our greatest resources. Don’t waste your time or your teachers’ time. Be aware of your peak time to operate and train your teachers to know their peak time too. Offer smart food at break times. Avoid interrupting others. You will also encounter frustrations but don’t let them sap your energy. Frustration creates decision fatigue and one of the most important leadership strategies is effective decision making.  So when frustrated recognize it and move on immediately. We pivot and look for new solutions. Be ready to pivot and pilot new perspectives. It works!


  1. Be Grateful. Thank your team repeatedly in many different ways. Value them, praise them and they will contribute over and over if they feel valued and appreciated. At the same time you will be creating a culture of trust.


  1. Be the Cheerleader. Develop strong relationships within your school community, the local community and the global community. Tell everyone about all the amazing things happening at your school. Tell people personally when they have achieved something notable. Gradually you will develop a culture of trust in your school.


  1. Believe and Persist. Never, ever doubt that you will succeed. You will succeed. Whenever you come to a problem see it as something to learn from. Pivot. Be creative. Never, ever give up. Persist no matter what. You are creating something amazing for generations of children and teenagers to come. How wonderful is that?


How can you bring change to your school to truly be a 21st Century School?

Why not attend my next workshop Leadership for the 21st Century Workshop on 16 & 17 March 2019 at NIST International School Bangkok, a leading 21st Century School. You can find out more about the 2-day workshop here.


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