Skills and Application for International School Leaders: How do you shape the future in the Age of AI?

by Conan Magruder

We live in a data-driven and complex educational landscape. There were windows behind the curtain for me before I moved into educational leadership when I learned just how small the treatment and control groups were in quantitative educational research. I saw that surveys and working effects in qualitative research might hold the potential to shut an entire programme down. In the worst case scenario, people could be fired from international education jobs that they spent months getting visas for based on surveys not explained to students and parents that were full of problematic wording effects. Add AI to that mix and earlier in this school year I received forcefully worded professional correspondence from another program, featuring HTML asterisk bold tags that were left in it, indicating that a document that might appear in a Chinese court was written entirely by ChatGPT. The lesson? Using generative tools for communication in our schools in the wrong way has the potential to destroy the authenticity of professional correspondence.   

It gets worse. For each overutiliser of data and electronic support, there are those that do not use it at all. Correlation in data is claimed to be causation quite frequently. There are few experiments in education and fewer certainties. Parental surveys often reveal that parents and students are not taught the definitions within them more than any performance issues. Learning Management Systems do more to reduce teacher workloads than almost any individual AI program. There are teachers that violently object to any grade format other than pencil and paper or Excel spreadsheets though.

You need to find the balance. I am not as anti-AI or as pro-AI as many. I am optimistic about education. We are put in our roles to prevent students from becoming the people of Wall-E. Those are the real enemies.

We do that with AI-proof skills to navigate our role and support teachers and students. Hat tip to Devon Erikson and Dan Koe. I’ll offer a run-through of their ideas for international educational leaders.

AI-Proof Skills

  1. Logic. Emotion is easy. We need to get the truth from facts to form policy and develop a curriculum. Policy and curriculum are individual to each school.
  2. Statistics. We need to analyse data to guide our strategy and improve results.
  3. Rhetoric. If you cannot persuade you cannot lead. This goes for parents, for investors, and for boards.
  4. Research. If we do not learn and evolve, we die. You need to look inside and look outside the building. This applies to school just like it does to people. 
  5. Practical Psychology. You need to know the motives of your staff, the parents, and the students so that you can support them. They are often emotional even when you are not.
  6. Investment. You need to manage the resources of a school well. Schools are hedge funds in a sense, too. Manage the funds of the parents and the alumni also.
  7. Agency. The school must be proactive. If you are a Head, there is no choice. If you are a middle leader, you need your boss to tell you where you should be proactive and where you should not be proactive now. Your entire organisation must adapt to changes.
  8. Marketing & Sales. There is never a moment when an international education program does not need students and teachers. There is never a moment when you do not need development funds. If you think there is not a moment you are wrong. Heads of School are fundraisers.
  9. Writing & Thinking. Even before I moved to China, I studied Lee Kuan Yew. Clear communication and clear thought are a circle. AI can never provide that to you.
  10. Entrepreneurship. Your students, staff, and parents all want to own things. They all want ownership, equity, and accountability over what they own. They want to do this together with you and each other. If they can the entire institution grows.

Do tell me how you’ve used all these skills, in your schools, classrooms and wider career development pathways. Feel free to add to the list in its development. Maybe we can own the results together too. 

When it comes to context, we teach students and teachers to acquire background and skills. We must do the same. In the multicultural environments that we work in it is how we justify our presence. We are what people in our care can count on us for.

AI may well fade. The costs and environmental impact are tremendous. Conrad Hughes and Christopher Rice both made me aware of some of the pitfalls. These skills will not fade. They may well evolve. 

If you link the use of data, AI, and these skills you can develop a style. When you possess style, you can tell people what is cool as well as what works. We teach students about an unknown future. We like to imagine that we can make them ready. We should be ready too. Are you?

Conan Magruder is the Vice Principal at Nova Academy, Beijing, China

To connect with him on LinkedIn, click here

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